A week of football is a very long one and very entertaining too especially when the world cup is involved. The world cup is just in its third week and we have been entertained so far with beautiful football but as always a bit of controversy, some teams have booked qualification, some have booked their tickets back home while some heavyweights are leaving bookmakers astounded. Join me as I take a look at the world cup after the second round of games.
Hosts Continue Blistering Form
Host Country Russia continue their impressive start to the world cup campaign backing up the five-goal thrashing of Saudi Arabia with a win against the Salah-led Egypt. After a dull first half performance from both sides, the hosts opened scoring in the 47th minute when Egypt captain Ahmed Fathi diverted Roman Zobnin’s shot into his own net. After being gifted the opener, the Golden Eagles stamped their authority on the game with opening day substitutes Denis Cheryshev and Artyom Dyzuba adding the second and third goals for the home side with over an hour of football played. Video Assistant referee would later award Egypt a penalty for Zobnin’s tug on Mohammed Salah after the centre referee incorrectly awarded a free-kick. The Liverpool forward dusted himself up to score the resulting spot kick providing nothing but consolation for the Egyptians.
Russia have progressed to the knockout stages of the FIFA World cup along with Uruguay who won their game against Saudi Arabia by a lone Luis Suarez goal both having picked up maximum points in their first two matches. With qualification already secured, both teams will vie for top spot in their final group game.
Highest European International Goalscorer of All-time
Cristiano Ronaldo continues to etch his name on history books match after match and without him, Portugal might not be joint-top Group B. The Portuguese skipper scored a 4th minute header off Joao Moutinho’s cross to give his side the lead. Afterwards, it was all Morocco and the North-African side will be ruing all their missed chances as they prepare to play their final group game before returning home. The goal not only took Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally in this World cup to four goals, it made it 85 goals in 152 international appearances for the Real Madrid talisman making him the highest ever scoring European in international matches.
Portugal might be needing another Cristiano Ronaldo heroics as they prepare to face Iran with at least a draw ensuring their qualification to the next round.
Video Assistant referee continues to be an ever-present in the FIFA world cup and is slowly stamping its authority in matches even if some feel its involvement is not enough. Some teams still feel hard done by the video technology with referees still deciding to not review some calls; like after Brazil’s protests against Switzerland’s equaliser after central defender Miranda claimed to have been shoved in the back by the eventual goalscorer. England also saw two penalty appeals waved away by the referee without VAR consultation in their game against Tunisia. The Three Lions had the last laugh however as they secured victory by a goal margin courtesy a late goal from captain Harry Kane who was victim in both cases of foul.
In its own advantage the VAR has also helped decide certain decisions correctly like in the Iran vs Spain game when the Asian side thought they had scored the equaliser only for celebrations to be halted after Video referee had spotted an offside in the build-up. Video referee also helped overturn a penalty-kick decision in favour of Brazil in their game against Costa Rica after Neymar was adjudged to have dived.
France Advance, Who Follows?
France have unsurprisingly qualified to the next round of the FIFA world cup albeit unconvincingly. The blues needed a Kylian Mbappe close range effort four minutes past the half-hour mark to defeat a stubborn Peru side and seal qualification to the knockout stages. Mbappe became the youngest player in France history to score in a major international tournament at 19 years of age. Now that France have progressed, the debate would be on who joins them in the next round, Denmark or Australia.
Australia who have shown a penchant for penalty kicks in this tournament having netted both of their goals from the spot-kick will need to defeat Peru in their final group game with a higher goal margin and hope Denmark suffer defeat against France while the Danes will be content with having a draw in their game against France knowing it will secure their qualification to the knockout stages.
Group D Wide Open
Group D tagged by many as the ‘group of death’ featuring two-time winners Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria and debutants Iceland is poised to have a breath-taking finale. After the second round of matches, Croatia surprisingly sit atop Group D although their performances suggest that they deserve it while any of Iceland, Nigeria and Argentina could progress alongside them. The Albiceleste, Argentina hit a new low after losing to 3-0 to Croatia in a game characterised by blunders while Nigeria revived their hopes of qualification to the next round by defeating Iceland via an Ahmed Musa brace. As it stands a win for Nigeria against Argentina means that they go through even if Iceland defeats Croatia while a tiebreaker will be required to determine who goes through if both Argentina and Iceland win.
Brazil, Germany Bounce Back
Brazil kept it late to take maximum points of Costa Rica who could not produce the heroics that saw them to a quarter final finish in the 2014 world cup. The world cup favorites, Brazil suffered an early scare after their 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their first group game and they looked to be heading for another draw until Philippe Coutinho who has been nothing short of sensational for the ‘Samba boys’ scored his second of the tournament in 90+1 minute to give Brazil the lead before the usual suspect Neymar doubled the lead late on in 90+7 minute condemning Costa Rica to World cup elimination without even scoring a goal of their own. The Brazilians will go into their last game against Serbia knowing that anything short of a draw will spell the end for them.
Last edition’s winner Germany looked set to continue the recent trend of world cup winners not making it past the group stage in subsequent tournaments like Italy(2010) and Spain(2014), remember France suffered similar fate in the 2002 world cup having lifted the trophy in 1998. This German machine does not look like it will be a party to all that superstition and after rescuing a late win against Sweden courtesy a Toni Kroos beauty in 90+5 minute, their fate now lies in their hands as they face already eliminated South Korea in their last group game.
The World Cup holders surprisingly lost their first game to Mexico who are now top of Group F with six points from two games. On Saturday against Sweden, the Germans looked to be heading out after conceding first to an Ola Toivonen lob and fortunately escaped conceding a penalty in the second half after Jerome Boateng’s foul on Marcus Berg did not interest the referee. Boateng would go on to be sent off after picking up a second yellow with 10 minutes left to play but that did not deter the Germans who secured maximum points when Toni Kroos struck his free-kick into the far corner in additional time.
Red Devils, Three Lions: The Real Dark Horses?
Belgium and England might have benefited from an easy group that contains debutants Panama and Tunisia to both qualify with a game to spare. Both teams have recorded a massive 16 gals between them, eight for both sides conceding two apiece. Taking a look at the starting line up of both national teams, you will notice that for Belgium, they enjoy majority of their services from players plying their trade in England while for England I will only be stating the obvious. Both teams look like the real dark horses of this tournament at least based off their two games so far and I think the real test of their competence will come in the knockout stages where they are likely to meet two of Japan, Colombia and Senegal.
Senegal Record Africa’s First Win
Senegal was Africa’s single ray of hope in the first round of games, defeating Poland to ensure that not all the African sides suffered defeat. The ‘Teranga Lions’ tutored by fellow countryman Aliou Cisse could stand a real chance of going far in this tournament as their display has shown. In their second game against Japan which ended 2-2, the African side twice took the lead first through Sadio Mane in the 11th minute then through Moussa Wague in the 71st minute only losing out on maximum points after Keisuke Honda equalised for Japan in the 78th minute to ensure both sides shared the spoils. Sitting joint-top with four points, the ‘Teranga Lions’ will play their last group match and decider against Colombia on Thursday, 28th of June.
That’s a wrap up on this recap.