With few of the tournament heavyweights hitting the ground running, John Newsome looks ahead to further crucial group fixtures at the 2018 World Cup.
RUSSIA v EGYPT
The hosts got off to the best start possible against a very poor Saudi Arabia, beating the green and whites 5-0. Russia will argue they can only beat what’s put in front of them, but surely the biggest of big Russian fan will know that much sterner tests lie ahead starting with this game against Egypt. Krasnodar midfielder Yury Gazinskiy started the rout, with Denis Cheryshev, who was an early substitute getting the 2nd. Another substitute, Arsenal’s Artem Dzyuba got the 3rd, unfortunately, Artem is not a Gooner, he plays for Russian Premier League side FC Arsenal Tula. With the clock winding down, Russia managed to add to their goal tally with Villarreal’ Denis the menace Cheryshev getting his 2nd via a superb left-foot volley. There was still time for a 5th, CSKA’s star man Aleksandr Golovin rounding things off with a right foot free kick beating the Saudi Goalkeeper. The referee immediately blew for full time straight after the restart.
Egypt lost against Uruguay to get their campaign off to a poor start. Liverpool superstar Mo Salah wasn’t fit enough to play and was sorely missed by the Egyptians. It was vitally important for Mo’s men not to lose this opener as the advantage would have been handed over to Russia. With Saudi Arabia being the worst team of the 4, the team’s who progress from the group will be the 2 who collect the most points in the little round-robin of Russia, Uruguay and Egypt. If Mo isn’t fit for this one, the Egyptians might as well start packing.
Russia Win 3-0
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PORTUGAL v MOROCCO
Portugal gained a brilliant draw with neighbours Spain in the game of the tournament so far. One player stood out for the Portuguese, the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo or CR7 as he likes to be called. He gained a Penalty, dispatched it superbly and then hit a long-range shot which David De Gea spilt giving Cristiano his 2nd. Admittedly De Gea was at fault but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score. In the second half, with time running out and trailing the Spaniards, CR7 coolly slotted home a superb free-kick past a static De Gea, getting a well-deserved point for his Country. What a player.
Morocco thought they had gained a draw in their opening game against Iran, but the unfortunate Aziz Bouhaddouz, who came on as a 77th-minute substitute scored a 94th-minute own goal, undoing all of Morocco’s hard work. They had started the game brightly and should have capitalised on superior possession but were unable to score. This came back to bite them in the way of the AB own goal. Morocco will find it tough to progress now and may not gain a single point with this tough game against Portugal and their finale against Spain.
With the talisman that is Cristiano, Portugal should get their first win in Russia.
Portugal Win 2-0
URUGUAY v SAUDI ARABIA
Uruguay got a late winner in their starter against Egypt to keep on the coat tail of hosts Russia. Superstars Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez missed a hat full of chances and left it to Central Defender Jose Giminez to get the late winner in the 89th minute.
Saudi Arabia lived up to their reputation as whipping boys of the tournament when the lowest ranked team in Russia, got hammered by the hosts in a very entertaining if not skilful encounter to open the tournament. Whilst they had energy and enthusiasm, they lacked real quality and will get home before the postcards.
Uruguay should continue their winning run and comfortably beat the Saudis with the aforementioned Cavani and Suarez looking to get off the goalscoring mark.
IRAN v SPAIN
After beating Morocco in the opening game, with the help of a 94th-minute own goal, the mighty Iran now face Spain. Unfortunately for Iran and Morocco, they are paired in a group with high flying Spain and CR7’s Portugal. Carlos Queiroz will do his utmost to beat Spain being Portuguese, but he simply doesn’t have enough talent in his Iranian troops to take Spain on despite his adopted country leading Group B after the first round of games.
Spain were at their sublime best against Portugal amidst the turmoil of recent events. The sacking of Julen Lopetegui won’t have harmed them, it will probably have galvanised them and with Bolton’s finest Fernando Hierro in charge, they’ll not be far off, how good is Andres Iniesta? Diego Costa got 2 and Nacho scored a technically superb 3rd to briefly put Spain ahead. The Spaniards should be too strong for Iran, however, if the Iranians can get a positive result in the way of a Win or a Draw they will have one foot in the last 16.
Spain Win 3-0
BRAZIL v COSTA RICA
Pre-tournament favourites Brazil got off to a flyer against Switzerland then eventually let the Swiss back into the game and ended up only managing a draw from their first game. Ex Liverpool ace Philip Coutinho scored a superb goal to get the Brazilians hopes up, collecting the ball and curling a shot from 25 yards which was unstoppable. Neymar was his usual busy self but all in all the Swiss performance was excellent and The Green and Yellow will come again in this battle against near-neighbours Costa Rica.
The Coffee Beans played in a tight affair against Serbia in their opening game and put on a good show eventually succumbing to a superb Aleksander Kolarov freekick. They will have to up their game against Brazil who eased into the competition and will only get stronger as the tournament progresses. Brazil should be too strong.
Brazil Win 2-0
SERBIA v SWITZERLAND
Serbia got off to a great start against Costa Rica and gained the win via a superb Aleksander Kolarov freekick from all of 30 yards out. The game didn’t live up to the excitement of some of the previous games of Russia 2018 but the Serbians won’t care too much, especially with Group E favourites Brazil only managing a draw in their opening game. A win here would guarantee that Serbia are in the last 16 and will allow them to rest a few for the game against Brazil, not that the players will want to rest for such a high profile game.
Switzerland got arguably one of the results of the competition so far coming from 1-0 down against the might of Brazil to earn a point. Steven Zuber scored the equaliser for the Swiss who showed discipline, energy and enthusiasm to frustrate the talent on show in the Brazilian shirts. They will feel that a win against the Serbs will give them 1 foot in the last 16 and know that they have got the hardest game out of the way and their final group game against Costa Rica will be considered easier than that of Switzerland who face a Brazil side who will surely be stronger in the final round of Group games. This will be another tight game with not many goals.
SOUTH KOREA v MEXICO
South Korea put up a game effort against Sweden in their opening game but a controversial penalty awarded by VAR gave Sweden all 3 points. They were unfortunate that defender Park Joo-Ho only lasted 27 minutes due to injury and this may have affected the flow of the Koreans. Whilst energetic and enthusiastic, like their fellow Asian counterparts Japan, they lack any real threat up front and rely on the occasional set piece to try and get a goal. Ultimately they are not good enough and will unlikely progress from the group.
Mexico got arguably the result of the first round games, beating current World Cup holders Germany in the opener. The Mexican Coach, Juan Carlos Osorio got his tactics spot on against the Germans, allowing the holders to have possession then quickly counter-attack when the ball was won back. This lead to the goal when West Ham ace Javier Chicharito Hernandez fed the ball quickly to Hirving Lozano who ran straight at the German defender who just happened to be Mesut Özil. Right Back Joshua Kimmich had once again ventured forward and left the space for Hirving to utilise. With space to run into, Lozano received the ball from Chicharito and turned Mesut inside out and shot past Germany stopper Manuel Neuer. The Mexicans had several more chances similar to the goal but failed to increase the score, which could have come back to haunt them. They hung on for a famous first win against Germany and a win against South Korea will virtually guarantee them a last 16 spot.
Mexico Win 1-0
GERMANY v SWEDEN
One of the pre-tournament favourites and current holders of the World Cup Germany were sensationally beaten in their opening game against a very good Mexico side. The Germans haven’t shown any form coming into Russia and whilst methodical, Joachim Low’s men just didn’t perform to World Cup-winning standard. Young starlet Timo Werner never got into the game and Right Back Joshua Kimmich was too eager to bomb forward. On one of the numerous occasions, he was out of position, Mexico managed to capitalise and get the winning goal. The deepest defender for Germany at the time of the goal was Mesut Özil who was in the Right Back position which is completely alien to Mesut. Mr Low will have to work on the shape of the Germans to get a result against Sweden.
Sweden got off to the best possible start in a hard-fought opener against South Korea. They needed the help of VAR, when, similar to the France v Australia game, the referee waved play on when a foul was committed in the area. After a couple of seconds, the referee stopped play, went over to the Video and then immediately awarded the penalty. Despite protests, this again was the correct decision and maybe this is the way refs will go. If unsure, wave play on then wait for the instructions from VAR. All football fans want is the correct decision and if it comes by the way of VAR then so be it. This will be a tough game for the Swedes but if they can manage a win, they go through to the last 16 and could potentially send the holders packing.
DENMARK v AUSTRALIA
Denmark got off to the best start possible against a very tough Peruvian side in what could potentially be the toughest group of the 8. Youssef Poulson, who plays in the German Bundesliga for RB Leipzig, got the only goal in the 59th minute. Peru had the chance to take the lead in the first half but missed a penalty gifting the Danes all 3 points. Australia gave France a fright in their opening match at Russia 2018. This was a historic game in the history of the World Cup with the
much-maligned Video Assistant Referee or VAR for short overturning the on-field referee’s non-award of a penalty. The decision was ultimately correct which is what every football fan wants and VAR will become an integral part of Football in years to come. Australia performed brilliantly and did get their own penalty awarded by the on-field referee. Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak took the spot-kick and scored for Australia. Ultimately they went on to lose the game 2-1 but the performance will have given the Aussies confidence to give Denmark a tough game. This should be a tight affair with not many goals.
FRANCE v PERU
France got the vital 3 points in a tough game against Australia in the historic World Cup game. Antoine Griezmann was through on goal and Australian defender Josh Risdon slid in to try and nick the ball. The on-field referee initially bought the tackle but replays show Risdon caught Griezmann’s trailing leg and brought the French forward down. Pundits will argue (and did ! ) that the tackle was perfect, but it wasn’t and VAR proved decisive. Antoine coolly slotted the penalty away. Another 1st for the World Cup was France’s winner. Paul Pogba hit a shot from the edge of the box which deflected up and over the Australian goalkeeper onto the crossbar and down over the line. The referee points to his watch and says ‘goal’. VAR and Goal line technology all in one game, it’s the future.
Peru put up a great fight against Denmark having not been to a World Cup for 36 years. Spain ‘82 was the last time the Peruvian’s played in this elite competition and could have taken the lead on half-time against the Danes when they were awarded a penalty. Again VAR came into play when initially the on-field referee had waved play on after Christian Cueva had been upended in the area. It looked a foul in real time but VAR gave the referee the heads up and the right decision was made. Having been fouled, Christian stepped up to take the penalty but unfortunately ballooned the ball over the bar. This ultimately did cost Peru at least a point and would have changed the game completely going in at halftime 1-0 up. Los Incas will put up another fight against Didier Deschamps Les Bleus but France should be too strong.
France Win 2-0
ARGENTINA v CROATIA
Argentina are 2-time winners of the World Cup winning as host in 1978, then in Mexico ‘86 thanks to the Hand of God. Superstar Lionel Messi is always in the shadow of Diego Maradona and won’t be truly classed as the best player of all time unless he helps Argentina win the World Cup. Unfortunately for Lionel Argentina won’t win this year’s World Cup and his time might be coming to an end. Diego was in the crowd to see son in law Sergio Aguero score the opener for the Sky Blues only for Iceland to quickly equalise. Argentina were awarded a 2nd half penalty giving Messi the chance to take the plaudits after rival CR7 claimed the limelight the day before. Unfortunately for Lionel, his penalty kick was poor and Iceland stopper Hannes Halldorsson easily saved. The Argentina skipper has now missed 4 of the last 7 penalties that he has taken for club and country combined, maybe its time someone else took over the penalty taking duty. Lionel is 31 in a weeks time and while it’s not improbable, this might be his last hurrah and may not make Qatar in 4 years time. That’s for the future, for now, Argentina and Messi have to try and find some way of beating Group Leaders Croatia.
As mentioned the Croatians top Group D after beating a very resilient Nigeria side who just lacked quality in the attacking areas or would have been a match for Croatia. Ex Tottenham ace and current Real Madrid star Luca Modric captains the Red and Whites and showed his class dictating play in a slightly advanced role for his national side. However, basically, Luka does what he wants and will want to come out on top against La Liga rival Messi. Juventus ace Mário Mandzukic got his head on a cross from the right and the ball was safely going wide until Nigerian midfielder Etebo Orghenekaro. deflected the ball past the young ‘keeper. On a day of Penalties, it was only right Croatia were awarded a penalty in the 2nd half and the enigmatic Modric stepped up and did what Griezmann and Jedinak did and not what Messi and Cueva had done earlier in the day and slotted home. This should be a great game and neither will want to lose.
NIGERIA v ICELAND
Nigeria had an excellent opening game against Croatia showing enthusiasm and energy. Ultimately though they lack quality and will find it difficult to progress from the group. The Super Eagles goalkeeper Francis Uzoho is only 19 but showed maturity in this high profile game and whilst the Nigerian’s conceded 2 goals, the goals came by the way of a deflected own goal and a penalty, so no disgrace there. Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi was outstanding in midfield and will be a real player at the Emirates next season. The unfortunate Etebo Orghenekaro deflected a Mandzukic header past the young goalkeeper and a melee in the area, gifted the Croats the penalty and ultimately the 3 points, leaving Nigeria bottom of the pile, making winning this game against Iceland vitally important.
In their first ever game at a World Cup, Iceland took on Argentina and got a vital point in their quest to progress in the tournament. They did have a bit of luck in that game with the Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi missing a penalty. Strákarnir okkar or Our Boys did a number on Lionel and frustrated the Barcelona ace. They won’t be bothered about that, the point gives them a real chance of progression as a win here against Nigeria will dictate how they need to perform in their final group game against Croatia. That’s for the future, for now, this will be another cagey affair with not many goals.
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