Just two days in and we’ve already had 13 goals to enjoy at this World Cup. There have been some brilliant performances, a couple of dull affairs and two goals that are already Goal of the Tournament contender. This is my review of Groups A and B.
Match 1: Russia vs Saudi Arabia
The match started evenly with both teams exchanging possession early on. Then it got sloppy for a while with no team able to take control of the midfield. Once the hosts scored, it was pretty much game over. The Saudis looked like a tired unit, both mentally and physically, and the Russian took full advantage of that. Scoring five unanswered goals, this was just the start that they were hoping for. Aleksandr Golovin ran the show for the hosts, contributing with two assists and a goal to wrap up proceedings in injury time. Denis Cheryshev also scored two, with his second being a spectacular half-volley.
Final Score: Russia 5 – 0 Saudi Arabia
Match 2: Egypt vs Uruguay
The big news at the start was that of Salah starting on the bench and not in the first team. Egypt were the better team in the first half, with better coordination and composure on the ball. Tarek Hamed was everywhere, breaking down opposition attacks and linking up play for his team. Suarez was woefully short on pace while Cavani showed glimpses of good touch without any final product. As the match progressed into the second half, the Uruguayans took control with Egypt sitting deeper and deeper in their own half. The injury to the afore-mentioned Hamed did not help. Substitutions came and went but there was no sign of Salah. The strategy nearly paid off as the North Africans held forte for 89 minutes, when a towering header by José Giménez broke Egypt’s hearts and sent the Uruguayans into dreamland. It was a heart-breaking moment for the former, and the lasting image from the game has to be Salah’s dejected hanging of the head in the dugout as the final whistle blew.
Final Score: Egypt 0 – 1 Uruguay
Match 1: Morocco vs Iran
A late late show gave Iran an unlikely victory and almost surely looks to have already sealed Morocco’s fate in the tournament. Morocco were the better side for most of the game, but that’s not saying much in this drab affair. The game had a lack of flair and creativity and looked to be coasting a 0-0 scoreline when disaster struck for the Moroccans. Aziz Bouhaddouz headed into his own net, trying to clear a free-kick in the 95th minute, completing Iran’s smash and grab. It was a nightmare moment for the substitute and it looks to be very difficult for his team to make any further mark in this tournament. As for Iran, they’ll now just be looking to take a point from one of their other games, to give themselves a chance of progression.
Final Score: Morocco 0 – 1 Iran
Match 2: Portugal vs Spain
It was a Friday night bonanza for the fans in Sochi as the Iberian rivals played out a draw to remember. Portugal were on the front foot inside 3 minutes, as Ronaldo was fouled inside the box and ably put away the resulting penalty. Their lead lasted for about 20 minutes. Diego Costa clobbered Pepe in the follow-up, then showed great close control under pressure before slotting into the bottom corner. At the end of the first half, Ronaldo fired a low, seemingly harmless shot straight at De Gea, but the Spanish stopper inexplicably let it deflect off him and squirm into the net. Who would’ve thought that was possible! In the second half, Spain came out firing, and very soon they were level again, thanks to Costa being at the right place at the right time, to score his second. Sergio Busquets headed a David Silva free-kick across the six yard box and Costa tapped it in. Spain then took the lead thanks to a stunning half volley from Nacho who got on the end of a bouncing ball at the edge of the Portuguese penalty box. He was the player who gave away the penalty and this was some way to get atonement. Spain dominated possession in midfield for most of the match, with Portugal able to make inroads via counter attacks. The former looked to have things under control with the elegant exchanges between Isco, Silva and Iniesta in midfield. Isco, incidentally, was my Man of the Match. A couple of minutes before the 90 were up, Portugal were awarded a free-kick from around 25 yards. Ronaldo lined it up and from the moment he did there was a sense of inevitability about it. And it turned out to be true, as the ball sailed into the top corner with De Gea rooted to the spot. Ronaldo’s hat-trick was complete and he had just doubled his World Cup goal tally in this match alone! No further action till the full-time meant the heavyweights shared points. Ronaldo’s celebration at the final whistle perhaps an indication of how important it was for both teams not to lose this one.
Final Score: Portugal 3 – 3 Spain