The 2018 Football World Cup in Russia has already been called the greatest in history – full of intoxicating sporting drama, shock upsets and unexpected triumphs all played in a warm and friendly atmosphere – the perfect showpiece for the World’s favourite game.
Relive a truly memorable tournament with our top ten best world cup photos selection.
1. Hosts Russia exceed pre-tournament expectationsThe tournament proved to be a roaring success for Russia both on and off the pitch. Pre-tournament concerns of violence and hooliganism did not materialize and the team made it all the way to the quarter finals, losing on penalties to eventual runners-up Croatia. This greatly exceeded expectations and helped fuel the goodwill felt by local fans and visitors alike.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Hat-trick free kick
Football’s greatest showman Cristiano Ronaldo made his presence felt very early in the tournament with a virtuoso performance in a thrilling 3-3 draw with arch rivals Spain in their Group B encounter. One of the best world cup photos perfectly captures his stunning 88th minute free kick to complete his hat-trick and ensure the game ended in a draw, virtually guaranteeing that both Spain and Portugal progressed to the knockout stages. Sadly for Ronaldo, Portugal made an early exit anyway, losing in the Round of 16 to Uruguay.
3. England finally win on penaltiesThis stunning photo captures the joy and relief of the England players as they celebrate Eric Dier’s winning penalty in the shoot-out against Colombia in the Round of 16. The shoot-out win slayed the ghost of previous penalty shoot-out disappointments in major tournaments – World Cup 1990, 1998 and 2006 and most significantly Euro 1996 where England’s manager Gareth Southgate missed the crucial penalty in the semi-final against Germany at Wembley.
4. England manager Gareth Southgate (and his waistcoat)
England’s hugely enjoyable and equally unexpected World Cup run to the semi-final represented a major triumph for England’s manager Gareth Southgate. Southgate took over the role in a caretaker capacity following England’s disastrous exit from the 2016 Euros and a short spell under Sam Allardyce. Gareth Southgate reconnected the broken link between the team and the fans, as England fell in love with football again during World Cup 2018. Gareth Southgate’s honesty, eloquence, steely determination and obvious passion built his status back in England to a cult-hero level and even led to a boom in the sale of waistcoats – his trademark attire on match days.
5. Kylian Mbappe – A superstar is born
Football World Cups are remembered both for the winning teams or stellar individuals and, on rare occasions, Think of Pele and the Brazilian legends of 1970. Eusebio (Portugal) in 1966, Johan Cruyff (Holland) 1974, Diego Maradona (1986), Zinedene Zidane (France) in 1998 – just some of the legendary footballers who have lit up previous World Cups. The star of World Cup 2018 was undoubtedly French teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe. His breathtaking pace combined with superb skill and vision electrified the stadia in which he played. His standout performance arguably came in the classic last 16 encounter with Argentina where Mbappe was man of the match in France’s epic 4-3 win. Kylian Mbappe continued to impress for the remainder of the tournament, fittingly scoring the final goal of the 2018 World Cup as France became World Champions.
6. The Old Master hands over to the Young PretenderThe 2018 World Cup saw multi Ballon D’or winner and all- time-great Lionel Messi leave the World Cup stage. The defeat at the hands of eventual winners France in their classic Round of 16 encounter gave the assembled sports photographers the chance to capture the moment Messi “The Old Master” shook hands with Kylian Mbappe “The Young Pretender”, and give us one of the best world cup photos of 2018. Football fans around the world can only hope that Kylian Mbappe will live up to his huge promise and produce similarly glittering performances to Messi for many years to come. The symbolic changing of the guard brings to mind instances in other sports – Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer and Michael Johnson to Usain Bolt to name a few.
7. Jordan Pickford saves England
England went into the 2018 World Cup with some uncertainty as to their number one choice goalkeeper. The young Everton keeper Jordan Pickford took the gloves in the opening game against Tunisia and the rest is history. After fine performances in the group stages England progressed to the last 16 in what was to prove a historic encounter for England and Jordan Pickford in particular. After England had conceded a 93rd minute equalizer against Colombia the game progressed to penalties and the spotlight turned to Pickford as he tried to save England from the almost inevitable despair of losing in a World Cup penalty shoot-out. Jordan Pickford had other ideas, as two fine saves helped England to finally win on penalties, and give us another of the best world cup photos!
8. The Big Guns MisfireMany of the pre-tournament favourites suffered shocking early exits – Germany, normally ruthlessly efficient at progressing deep into major tournaments, suffered a shock of seismic proportions losing to 2-0 to South Korea seeing them crash out at the group stage. It was Germany’s worst performance since 1938. Five time winners Brazil also left the World Cup stage earlier than expected, with a shock loss to Belgium in the quarter-finals. Likewise Spain, World Cup winners in 2010 and back-to-back European Championship winners in 2008 and 2012, lost to hosts Russia on penalties in the Round of 16.
9. Luka Modric – Croatia’s Little MasterVoted Player of the Tournament - Luka Modric of Croatia had a truly outstanding World Cup and was instrumental as his team defied the odds to reach the World Cup Final. Understandably, this has since become one of the most popular World Cup photos of 2018! His performance would have come as no surprise to football fans throughout Europe, who have marvelled at this diminutive genius during his spells at Tottenham and Real Madrid. Midfield playmakers of this stature are an invaluable asset in a team and have brought great success to teams lucky enough to have them in their ranks - Pirlo (Italy), Maradona (Argentina), Gascoigne (England), Iniesta (Spain) to name a few. His standout performance at the World Cup also helped Modric secure a place on the shortlist for 2018 Ballon d’Or.
10. France become World ChampionsFrance produced a stunning display to conquer a spirited Croatia side 4-2 in the final in Moscow with goals from their star names – Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. By winning the 2018 World Cup the team will join the legendary France team of 1998 in French football folklore. The 1998 vintage was full of household names - Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires. The 2018 team are a superbly balanced side, with pace, skill and flair in abundance. The fact that the majority of the team is still so young will be a huge concern for other teams in major tournaments over the next few years.
If you want to see more of the best photos of the 2018 Football World Cup and from past tournaments? Check out our gallery and get your very own commemorative print sent directly to your home today.