After 15 days of action and 48 thrilling matches, the FIFA World Cup has gone from 32 hopefuls to 16 contenders.
The first phase, featuring just one goalless draw and already a record number of penalties, has been marked by Germany's stunning exit, their earliest in 80 years.
The group stage was a crossroads of cultures, a mixture of multitudes filled with happiness and hope. This edition of the World Cup in Russia is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining ones in recent history, with many fans and pundits already calling touting it as the best World Cup ever.
Late goals, plenty of penalties, conflict over VAR and traditional heavyweights put to test — there has been plenty of drama in the opening fortnight of the biggest sporting event in the world.
Here's a recap, in the form of tweets, of some of the most memorable moments, some shocking stats and hilarious memes from the group stage.
We should have known that we were in for a thrilling ride in Russia after Robbie Williams kicked off the tournament in some style in the opening ceremony.
Extraordinary scenes, as Robbie Williams has put out his middle finger to the entire world during the #WorldCup opening ceremony. Mad lad.
— Marwan Zaki (@Marwan_Zaki8) June 14, 2018
And hosts Russia got off to a flier in the very first game, scoring five goals against the unfortunate Saudi Arabians.
Russia's total goals at their last three #WorldCup tournaments:
2002: 4 goals
2014: 2 goals
2018: 5 goals
This is their first game. pic.twitter.com/RMF9LQ6tT7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 14, 2018
Spain's thrilling 3-3 draw with Portugal in the first round turned out to be the best match of the World Cup so far.
We are watching a game that will live in the World Cup annals. That Nacho strike. The Diego Costa grit. And a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick in which he mustered the self-restraint to keep his jersey on the whole time. We are living in Days of Wonder. Good God I love the World Cup — roger bennett (@rogbennett) June 15, 2018
— Mark Robinson (@robboma24) June 15, 2018
Senegal had already won hearts with their funky warm-up dance, but add the Ducktales theme to it and you have a viral video on your hands.
And their coach Aliou Cisse was a hit on the internet as well.
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) June 19, 2018
For fans of the beautiful game in India, the regional commentators turned out to be a treat.
But of course, the greatest thing about yesterday's Messi goal was the mallu commentary. "THE LION HAS ARRIVED...LIONEL MESSI...SINGAM...SINGLE A DHAAN VARUM" pic.twitter.com/AEyYHys2SH
— 50 Shades Of Saffron (@atlasdanced) June 27, 2018
Neymar's antics and dives soon became a very popular, and repetitive meme.
Spain beat a spirited Iran team 1-0 in the second round but Iranian substitute Milan Mohammadi stole the show.
— The Bean (@adamjneilson) June 20, 2018
World Cup debutants Panama were inarguably considered the worst team in the World Cup and ended with three losses and a minus nine goal difference but when they scored their first goal, the celebrations from the fans made for a moving moment.
Fans celebrating Panama’s first ever goal in the #worldcup! #WorldCupRusia2018 #WorldCupNow #FifaWorldCup2018 #FIFAWorldCup #FifaWorldCupRussia2018 #PanamaEnRusia #EnglandvPanama #Inglaterrapanama #fifa pic.twitter.com/NU80r7wnJX — Guzyal Gabi (@guzyalita) June 24, 2018
Panama losing 6-1 and their fans celebrating outside of Rommel Fernandes their first world cup goal. pic.twitter.com/YVqDxHR8YE
— J (@lcardismo) June 24, 2018
There was only one goalless draw in the 48 matches of the group stage but it infuriating enough for everyone to label it as the worst World Cup match ever.
After defending champions Germany's earliest World Cup exit in 80 years, Twitter was overflowing with jokes and memes at their expense.
— Patrick Titus (@PatrickTitus14) June 27, 2018
AHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA — FOX Sports Brasil (@FoxSportsBrasil) June 27, 2018
update: dead. https://t.co/8k0EUSwrVy
— Adam. (@asxlfc) June 27, 2018
Lionel Messi may have dominated the on-field action in Argentina's victory over Nigeria, but from his VIP box in the stands, Diego Maradona reigned supreme as the undisputed centre of attention.
Oye Maradona... pic.twitter.com/t4VLbjPf7a
— emilioelmago (@emilioelmago) June 26, 2018
The use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) at this World Cup has seen an increase in the number of penalties awarded with 24 given in the group stage. The previous record was 18.
| #WorldCup Recap 15 Days of actions 48 Thrilling matches 122 Total number of goals ⚽ 24 Penalties (10 VAR reviewed) 158 Yellow cards 3 Red cards What's your best moment so far?#MakeItCount pic.twitter.com/BDfrBD5Gdm — SportPesa (@SportPesa) June 29, 2018
But not everyone has been happy with the results of VAR.
“I’m coming, hold on. I’m just going to speak to the bouncer...” pic.twitter.com/ht84k0oU8e
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) June 25, 2018
If you like late goals that turn football matches on their head, this is the World Cup for you.
20 - There have been 20 goals scored in the 90th minute or later at the 2018 #WorldCup finals so far. This is more than in the group stages at 2014, 2010 and 2006 combined (19). Drama. pic.twitter.com/L98yHVXBey
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 29, 2018
In a farcical end to Japan's 1-0 loss to Poland, once the Japanese players knew that they had qualified for the last-16, they slowed down to walking pace and hardly made a single tackle.
But the best moment of the World Cup so far came in the very final game of the group stage – Michy Batshuayi's failed celebration after Belgium's goal.
Great goal from Januzaj - but Batshuayi has just immortalised himself in the form of internet memes. pic.twitter.com/JXar2T5hFy
— Richard Conway (@richard_conway) June 28, 2018
On Saturday, the Round of 16 starts with France vs Argentina and Uruguay vs Portugal. Heading into the knockouts, the top half of the draw is definitely more loaded with past winners Brazil, France, Argentina and Uruguay, European champions Portugal as well as dark horses Belgium. The other two teams are Mexico and Japan.
The bottom half, on the other hand, features hosts Russia, former champions Spain and England, the most impressive team of the World Cup so far in Croatia, Colombia, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.
In the last 50 years of this prestigious tournament, only six countries have lifted the trophy. Will this year see a new finalist or champion emerge? Buckle up for the next fortnight as we wait and find out.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 20:47:45 IST