The Qatar World Cup has delivered a rich feast of soccer for the past month, with shocks, great goals, incredible celebrations and record-breaking feats served up by the assembled cast.
Here are 10 of the highlights as chosen by the Reuters team of reporters covering the tournament.
SAUDI ARABIA STUN ARGENTINA
Argentina was cruising in their opening Group C game after Lionel Messi scored a first-half penalty. But the Green Falcons swooped after halftime with Saleh Al-Shehri squeezing in a low shot to equalize and five minutes later Salem Al-Dawsari curled in a scorching second to leave Argentina in disbelief and Saudi fans joyously singing ‘where is Messi?’.
MAGICAL MESSI BAMBOOZLES CROATIAN GVARDIOL
Such has been the Argentine number 10s impact in Qatar that the seven-time Ballon D’or winner could have multiple entries on the memorable list. But the way he held off Croatia’s masked defender Josko Gvardiol, then bamboozled him with an electrifying twist to set up the third goal in a 3-0 semi-final win encapsulated the 35-year-old’s genius.
SOUTH KOREA’S NERVOUS WAIT
When Hwang Hee-chan scored a stoppage-time winner for South Korea in their final Group H game the hard part was just starting. The Korean players then had to spend almost 10 agonizing minutes in a tight huddle in the center circle peering at phones, hoping Uruguay would not score another goal against Ghana. Finally, with a last-16 place assured, they sprinted en masse towards their delirious fans.
RONALDO EXITS FINAL WORLD CUP IN TEARS
Portugal’s talisman became the first male player to score in five World Cups with a penalty against Ghana. But the 37-year-old was subsequently left out of the starting line-up and after he was unable to save his side after coming off the bench in the quarter-final against Morocco he was filmed walking down the tunnel in floods of tears.
FIRST FEMALE REFEREE AT A MEN’S WORLD CUP
Frenchwoman Stephanie Frappart was handed control of Germany’s final Group E clash against Costa Rica, becoming the first female referee to officiate at a men’s World Cup.
Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez described it as a big step forward in ‘sexist sport’ and the 39-year-old Frappart produced a calm and assured display in Germany’s victory.
JAPAN HIT BACK TO SHOCK GERMANY
Before kickoff in their Group E opener Germany’s players covered their mouths in protest at FIFA’s threat of sanctions against the wearing of the ‘OneLove’ armband.
At the final whistle they were left gobsmacked after Japan’s substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano secured an unlikely 2-1 comeback win for the Samurai Blue whose fans celebrated hard before bagging the litter in the stadium.
Thousands of them descended on the Arabian Gulf to roar the Atlas Lions and were richly-rewarded as Morocco became the first African and first Arab country to reach the semi-finals.
The noise the red-clad hordes created in the stadiums was deafening and reached fever pitch in the penalty shootout defeat of Spain in the last 16 and against Portugal in the quarter-finals when a cacophony of whistles greeted every touch by the opposition as Morocco protected their 1-0 lead.
GROUP E FINALE MAYHEM
A group that began with Germany losing to Japan and Spain putting seven goals past Costa Rica concluded on a tumultuous night that almost turned the football world upside-down.
Germany needed a win over Costa Rica and for Spain to beat Japan to go through as runners-up, and at halftime that was exactly what was happening. Then everything went mad.
Japan scored twice in three minutes early in the second half and Costa Rica flipped their game against Germany to lead and for four minutes the live table showed Japan and Costa Rica in first and second place with Spain and Germany going home.
Germany ended up winning 4-2 to save Spain’s bacon, although they were on the flight home the next day.
MBAPPE DESTROYS POLAND
Kylian Mbappe has enhanced his reputation as one of the best players in the world in Qatar and the Frenchman was simply unplayable in the last-16 against Poland.
First, he set up Olivier Giroud to open the scoring then took matters into his own hands with two sublime finishes to seal a 3-0 win. The speedster was clocked at 35.3kph during the game.
CAMEROON’S ABOUBAKAR SINKS BRAZIL, THEN SENT OFF
A manic group phase concluded in almost comical fashion as Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar scored a stoppage-time winner against an already-qualified Brazil, took his shirt off, and was immediately given a second yellow card by an apologetic referee who shook the player’s hand.