The 2018 World Cup will be remembered as a tournament where football dazzled. Between stoppage time winners and startling own goals, the withdrawals from the conclusion of this tournament began as soon as France were officially crowned champions of the world, beating Croatia 4-2. Twelve United players traveled to Russia with the intention of returning with the FIFA trophy. Only one was successful in that feat: Paul Pogba. That’s right, United’s “troublesome” midfielder, at the age of 25, can add World Cup winner to his already impressive resume.
Even though the Frenchman will be the sole Red Devil to begin the 2018/2019 campaign as a champion, there are plenty of other moments that José Mourinho’s men contributed to make the 5-week competition the best World Cup in a while. Let’s count down to the best Manchester United moments of the World Cup.
Marcos Rojo’s stoppage time goal
It’s been a long time since United fans have seen Marcos Rojo on the pitch for an appropriate amount of time. The centre-back suffered a serious knee sprain during Europa League play in April 2017, thus limiting his role in club play. While his return has boosted United’s defense, his most shining moment since injury came in the final match of group play against Nigeria. Desperate to advance to the knockout stages, everything had to work in Argentina’s favor. In stoppage time, Rojo drilled a delicious volley from inside the box to give La Albiceleste victory and promote them to the knockout stages. Jorge Sampaoli’s side were eliminated in the next round by the eventual winners, but let’s hope that Rojo keeps that same energy next month as United look to challenge Manchester City for the title.
Fellaini: United’s underrated super sub?
Third place winners Belgium had a remarkable run this summer, and arguably played their best match in the knockout stages against Japan. After fighting back from a 2-0 deficit that Japan created early in the second half, Roberto Martinez’s squad waited to the last seconds of regulation to secure a win. We’ll get to the moments that lead up to that game-winning play, but for now let’s focus on the second goal that evened the score. They say if you have a problem no one else can solve, sub in Marouane Fellaini. Manager Roberto Martinez did just that in the 65th minute. In the 74th minute, Eden Hazard crossed the ball from the left corner into the penalty box. The 6’4” midfielder towered over three Japanese defenders to send the ball into the bottom right corner and level the score. Fresh off a two-year extension with the club, fans are just optimistic Fellaini maintains his form and produces more outstanding shots.
Lingard’s goal v. Panama
There are plenty of great goals to choose from in England’s 6-1 win against Panama in the group stages, but Jesse Lingard’s screamer undoubtedly reigns supreme. From 20 yards out, and off a pass from Raheem Sterling, Lingard curled the ball into the top right corner, putting Gareth Southgate’s men up three goals just in the first half. After a momentous group play spell and an equally exceptional run in the knockout and quarterfinals, England came up short in the semifinals, crashing out against runners up Croatia and then again in the third place match against Belgium.
Lukaku’s sensational fake
Fellaini’s goal was great and all, but this play won’t soon be forgotten. After making a save in the final minute of the match, keeper Thibaut Courtois surveyed his options for a last-minute power move. What ensued next was the best counterattack you will ever see. With Belgium’s five to Japan’s four running down the pitch, Thomas Meunier closed in on the wing and from there was faced with two Japanese defenders to Belgium’s three offensive players. This is where Romelu Lukaku comes in. Knowing that only one defender could control both him and teammate Nacer Chadli, the striker faked a shot on goal, drawing attention to him, tricking the defense and allowing the ball to cross Chadli’s way and into the back of the net. The play will be studied for years to come, and Lukaku will be revered as the mastermind behind that last-minute win.
Pogba’s game-sealing strike
What else can be said about this French national team? Questionable tactics from manager Didier Deschamps aside, his roster produced some of the most incredible memories of this tournament. After beating out other expected victors Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium, France found themselves in the finals against the underdogs Croatia. Mistakes from the opponents gifted France their first two goals; however, their third belongs to none other than our very own Paul Pogba. After a Croatian player blocked his first shot on target, Pogba buried his second attempt with his left foot, essentially guaranteeing Les Bleus the win. After 20 years, France is back on top in the football world, and Paul Pogba returns to Manchester as not only a hero for his country, but ready to add Premier League champion to his credentials.