From Kylian Mbappe taking over on the biggest stage to Jose Mourinho getting the boot, world football served up plenty of memorable moments in 2018. Here, in no particular order, are 18 events that defined the last year, broken up into three distinct categories.
The 2018 World Cup
Naturally, the World Cup looms large when reviewing the past 12 months.
Julen Lopetegui fired by Spain
Talk about killing the vibe. Spain went into the World Cup as one of the tournament favorites – they were unbeaten in 20 matches under Lopetegui – but their preparations were rocked to the core when the manager was fired on the eve of the competition. His sacking, a furious response by the Spanish FA to his under-the-table deal with Real Madrid, ultimately saw a disheveled Spanish side get bounced by Russia in the round of 16. At least his spell at the Bernabeu worked out well…
Toni Kroos’ incredible free-kick
Defending champions Germany were on the brink of catastrophe in the dying seconds of their second group match against Sweden, knotted at one apiece and staring elimination in the face. It’s been overshadowed because of what ultimately transpired against South Korea, but the free-kick Toni Kroos conjured up in the 95th minute versus the Swedes was otherworldly.
Diego Maradona’s, um, emotional rollercoaster
The star of Argentina’s dramatic late win over Nigeria didn’t step foot on the pitch at all. As is so often the case with Argentine football, Diego Maradona was the center of attention. And what an eventful few hours he had. From dancing with Nigerian fans to looking possessed while praying to flipping off the entire world in manic celebration, Maradona endured – and probably enjoyed – a surreal day.
Belgium’s idyllic counterattack
A memo to coaches everywhere: any lesson about counterattacking should begin and end with video of Belgium’s exquisite move against Japan. It was picture-perfect in every way – it could have been constructed in a lab. The timing of the passes, the movement, the speed, and the Romelu Lukaku dummy to top it off. It was truly a work of art.
“It’s coming home”
Alright, so it didn’t actually come home, but England should be applauded nonetheless for their inspiring run to the World Cup semifinals. A dynamic, likable young core helped changed the perception of English football and a monumental shootout win over Colombia finally put to rest the demons that have long tormented fans of the Three Lions.
Kylian Mbappe leads France to World Cup
Kylian Mbappe had already announced himself to the world, but he took the next step into superstardom in Russia, assuming his mantle as the undisputed heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He steamrolled through the World Cup – sorry, Marcos Rojo – fittingly capping his dynamic display with France’s last goal in the final. And he did it all at 19 years old. Few things in sports bring a smile to the face like watching a truly transcendent talent make the leap.
The Champions League final
Club football’s showpiece contest had a little bit of everything.
Sergio Ramos cements his status as the ultimate villain
Mohamed Salah never stood a chance. When the humble Egyptian star, one of the more delightful characters in the game, got locked up with uber-villain Sergio Ramos, there was only one possible outcome. The Spaniard may feign innocence for the rest of his days, but he knew what he was doing when he administered an armbar that ultimately dislocated Salah’s shoulder. Tweeting about it was simply the piece de resistance.
Loris Karius’ blunders
Poor Loris Karius. The German goalkeeper’s Liverpool career seemed to be on the right track after some early blunders, but any progress he made was rendered meaningless with two staggering errors in the Champions League final. Throwing the ball at Karim Benzema and seeing it careen back into the net was bad enough, but he put the nail in his own coffin by allowing a speculative effort from Gareth Bale to slip through his hands and solidify Real Madrid’s win. Karius is now toiling away at Besiktas while the Reds are sitting pretty in the Premier League with Alisson between the sticks.
Gareth Bale’s bicycle kick
It was arguably the greatest goal ever scored in the Champions League, let alone in the final. Bale’s outrageous piece of skill, which elicited an equally brilliant response from Zinedine Zidane, was the standout event in a contest littered with them. His relationship with the club – and its fans – hadn’t always been smooth, but none of that mattered as he trampolined off the ground and acrobatically found the back of the net.
The daily news cycle
There’s never a dull day in the world of football.
Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal
The time had come. The end of Arsene Wenger’s decorated tenure with Arsenal was probably overdue. But that didn’t lessen the emotional impact when the French gaffer finally called time on his 22-year spell at the Gunners’ helm in April. A true Premier League titan, Wenger’s influence on football – both in England and abroad – was immense.
Juventus fans can’t help but applaud Ronaldo
It was quite the year for feats of pure athleticism. Gareth Bale’s aforementioned bicycle kick came on the bigger stage, but it can be argued that Cristiano Ronaldo’s entry in the Puskas conversation ultimately shook up the football landscape. The Portuguese star received a standing ovation from Juventus supporters when he beat Gianluigi Buffon with a sensational bicycle kick of his own in the Champions League, later admitting the applause factored into his decision to join the club.
Manchester City reach 100 points
Manchester City had long wrapped up the Premier League crown when Gabriel Jesus scored the winning goal against Southampton on the final day of the season, but you couldn’t tell based on the reactions of the players. Even Pep Guardiola leapt in the air and pumped his fists wildly as City became the first team in Premier League history to crack the 100-point barrier, setting a bevy of other records in the process.
Roma’s comeback vs. Barcelona
“Roma have risen from their ruins.” Peter Drury couldn’t have put it any better. Nobody gave Roma a chance to overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit when they returned home to take on Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, but that’s precisely what they did. Kostas Manolas’ decisive late goal had fans in tears, spawning a seminal celebration from the Greek defender as well as Drury’s instantly quotable commentary.
Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid
Just how significant a role did that standing ovation play? Ronaldo, after nine trophy-laden years with Real Madrid, stunned the football world when he made a €100-million move to Italian champions Juventus in July. The 33-year-old attacker is the Old Lady’s leading scorer this season, being relied upon to help Juve get over the hump on the continent while his former side struggles for goals without him.
Copa Libertadores descends into chaos
It should have been one of the grandest spectacles in the history of Argentine football. Instead, the Copa Libertadores was marred by a combination of fan violence and ineptitude from the authorities: an attack on the Boca Juniors team bus by rival River Plate supporters forced the second leg of the final to be postponed multiple times. It was ultimately shifted to Madrid, of all places. What a shame.
Zlatan makes his MLS mark
Zlatan Ibrahimovic sure knows how to make one hell of a first impression. Of course he does. The well-traveled superstar didn’t waste any time making an imprint on Major League Soccer, scoring with an absurd 40-yard dipping strike in his LA Galaxy debut. It came against the club’s new city rivals, LAFC, no less. And he wasn’t done there. Late in the season, he scored the 500th goal of his outstanding career in typical Zlatan fashion: a spinning karate kick into the top corner. Nobody else has a flair for the dramatic quite like Ibra.
Atlanta United win MLS Cup
Atlanta is a soccer hotbed. Over 70,000 people packed the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December to watch Tata Martino and Co. capture the club’s first MLS title. Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron led the Five Stripes to a championship in just their second year of existence while the rabid fan base is already among the most passionate anywhere in the world.
Manchester United faithful everywhere – and Paul Pogba – got the perfect Christmas gift when grating bench boss Jose Mourinho was mercifully sent packing. Having overseen the Red Devils’ worst start to a league season in nearly three decades, his firing was inevitable, but it still sent shockwaves throughout the football world.