After a dramatic round of knockouts, the FIFA World Cup 2018 contenders have been cut down to eight. Five of the eight Round of 16 matches were absolute thrillers, needing late goals or penalties to decide the winners.
England became the last team to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals after a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Colombia to join Sweden, Croatia and Russia in the quarter-finals of the bottom half. England are the only former winners of the four teams.
The top half contains more heavyweights, with 1998 champions France taking on two-time winners Uruguay and favourites Brazil set to face dark horses Belgium.
The prevailing theme of the Round of 16 of this World Cup — which is already being labelled as the best edition ever — has been the triumph of the underdog. Heavyweights Argentina, Portugal and Spain have been left behind. And even in defeat, teams like Japan and Denmark won hearts and impressed with their fight.
Before we move on to the quarter-finals — Uruguay vs France, Brazil vs Belgium, Sweden vs England and Russia vs Croatia — let's look back at some of the memorable moments, shocking statistics and hilarious memes from the Round of 16.
The knockouts got off on the most dramatic note possible with the sport's two biggest superstars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, exiting on the same day.
0 - Neither Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi have scored a goal in a World Cup knockout match:
Ronaldo: 0 goals in 6 games from 25 shots (514 mins)
Messi: 0 goals in 8 games from 23 shots (756 mins)
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 30, 2018
People calling Mbappé the 'next big thing' are underrating him. He's won back to back leagues, torn up the UCL and now World Cup at 19. He's the current big thing. World class forward already. — TFN (@TheFalseNein) June 30, 2018
Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.
Putting Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the shade at the World Cup. pic.twitter.com/TGhb8LWBpH
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 30, 2018
Spain followed Argentina and Portugal out of the tournament on Sunday when they were beaten on penalties by hosts Russia.
Me, for the last 120 minutes watching Spain pass 1000+ times pic.twitter.com/PuVD25mx7y
— Kristen Soltis Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) July 1, 2018
191 - Russia have eliminated Spain from the World Cup despite completing only 191 passes in 120 minutes ! Spain have completed 1006 passes today, new record for a team since Opta started to collect this data (1966). Punishment. #ESPRUS #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/MuYvJPaSgl — OptaJean (@OptaJean) July 1, 2018
— Mad E'Leine ♀️ (@badgalmaddie_) July 2, 2018
On a day of penalty shootouts and goalkeepers stepping up, Croatia avoided the same fate as Spain as they were rescued by their keeper Danijel Subasic.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) July 1, 2018
#Croatia won the match, but Kasper #Schmeichel and his Dad #PeterSchmeichel won all the Hearts! Beautiful play even before shootout, What saves and the way he was cheering and motivating his team during break. What beautiful save during play! #CRODEN #WorldCup #Denmark pic.twitter.com/V0YCqFRP91 — anju antony (@RJanjuCityangel) July 1, 2018
Brazil defeated Mexico 2-0 to make the quarters but it was Neymar's histrionics that stole all the limelight.
— Arustamyan (@_Arustamyan) July 2, 2018
Belgium were on the brink of another major tournament failure when trailing 2-0 with 21 minutes to play against, only for a magnificent breakaway goal by Nacer Chadli in the fourth minute of injury-time to cap a stunning fightback.
What. A. Game. pic.twitter.com/Jh62TF2Qrx
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) July 2, 2018
Staying behind to clear rubbish after that heartbreaking defeat.
Japan, we don’t deserve you. pic.twitter.com/enxpEL5WC8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 2, 2018
Amazing from Japan. This is how they left the changing room after losing v Belgium: cleaned it all. And in the middle, have left a message to Russia: “Spasibo” (Thank you) pic.twitter.com/lrwoIZt2pR — Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 3, 2018
Sweden edged out Switzerland 1-0 in the last-16. Emil Forsberg grabbed the only goal of a tight encounter midway through the second half to send his country into the quarters for the first time since 1994.
2 - Sweden have won back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time since 1958, when they won the quarter-final and semi-final on their way to the final as host nation that year. Rising. #SWESUI #SWE #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/tAWajEqBDE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 3, 2018
And for England, three words sum up their entire experience at the World Cup.
So that was the Round of 16... pic.twitter.com/6nrOpSBcVS
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 4, 2018
Favourites Brazil will come up against Belgium's 'golden generation' in Kazan on Friday while an exciting young France side spearheaded by Kylian Mbappe take on a shrewd Uruguay outfit in Nizhny Novgorod.
Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne are likely to give Brazil's defence the biggest test of their campaign so far, although the South Americans have only conceded once in four matches.
France never got out of first gear in easing through the group stage but turned on the style as Mbappe dazzled in a classic 4-3 victory over Argentina to set up the clash with Uruguay.
Uruguay's success has been built on a solid defence led by Atletico Madrid pair Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, with the old-fashioned strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani doing the damage at the other end with five goals between them.
On Saturday, England play their quarter-final against Sweden in Samara, with a last-four clash against either Croatia or Russia up for grabs.
No South American sides have won on European soil since a Pele-inspired Brazil 60 years ago, but in a World Cup of shocks and surprises, nothing can be taken for granted.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jul 04, 2018 17:20:28 IST