The world of football converged at Russia this year even if some of us have done so sitting behind our tv screens in our respective countries but just three days since the opener the moments we have witnessed so far at the 2018 FIFA world cup makes it seem like we reside in Russia at the moment. The world cup has not been short of excitement, intrigue, controversies, goals, sometimes dour moments and the obvious; VAR.
What really irks me is that despite my calls for fairness and the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee, some really regular divers in the game have still gone to ground after minimal or no contact from opposing players, some successfully and others not. I would have preferred to ignore saying this because of human imperfection but some questionable refereeing decisions have left me questioning if humans could be perfect but rather choose to be imperfect plus the involvement of VAR so far hasn’t really satisfied me; like Mexican goaltender Guillermo Ochoa said “Some plays, yes [they refer], and others no, they will have to find a fairer way.” I could argue it should be involved in all plays over the 90 minutes of normal time but probably seeing a game extend beyond 90 minutes due to VAR review every while is not the best but in the words of Guillermo Ochoa, the world of football still needs to find a “fairer way” regardless.
The world cup has surely lived up to the four-year hype built around it even after just three days of action but trust me there is more to come. Here are the major talking points from this weekend.
I would have liked to keep it brief and simple like the World cup’s opening ceremony but really there is a lot to mention. FIFA managed to pull off an incredible opening ceremony however short it was as the host country welcomed the world with LOVE; an aerial view of one those formations made by some of the participants.
What did we not witness at the ceremony? in no particular order, there were dancers, a giant paper bird that transported the Russian female vocalist Aida Garifullina, a ball joggler who was standing on a giant ball; could fit in 20 of the official match ball Telstar(I said that), representatives from the participating countries ensembled in their colors, a harpist, and ‘El Fenomeno’ Ronaldo delima enjoying made-easy football with a child and the world cup mascot, Zabivaka, the Wolf. Ex-Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas presented the world cup trophy he once held as captain of the victorious Spanish side in 2010 alongside Russian model Natalia Vodianova.
Russian president Vladmir Putin assumed the expected sportsmanlike front giving a welcome speech before the game kicked off before FIFA president, Gianni Infantino tried to show how not so proficient he is in other languages trying to welcome the participating nations. Oh!
There was British singer Robbie Williams, used to be a member of pop group Take That, now a world cup opening artist delivering scintillating performances of his singles “Let Me Entertain You” and “Feel” before performing a duet of “Angels” with the Russian vocalist, Aida Garifullina leaving out controversial song ‘Party Like A Russian’ as he promised; would have been the perfect welcome song if only it sat well with the Russian moneybags.
The singer made a controversial ‘middle finger’ gesture though in a country where swearing on camera is banned; Robbie doesn’t seem to know where he is.
Russia Off To Flying Start
Vladmir putin carried the joy of seeing a successful missile test as he witnessed the Russian national team put five goals past Group A opponents Saudi Arabia without reply in the opening match of the 2018 FIFA world cup campaign especially with Saudi Crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud in attendance alongside Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa. All three leaders, the crown prince, infantino and putin exchanged amusing gestures throughout the game often opening their palms in a sort of “you see what I said” way.
The Saudis might have dominated possession and showed flashes of brilliance when linking up play but when you concede five there is no statistic that could convince that you played as well as the opposition. Gazinskiy opened scoring with a first half header punishing Saudi Arabia’s school-boy defending before substitute and man of the match Denis Cheryshev doubled the lead with an amazing flick over two saudi players who slid helplessly before delivering the ‘soccer punch’.
After the break, the Saudis played with more intent lacking just the chance to get back in the game before another Russian substitute Dzyuba scored a header having played just over a minute of football to make it three nil. Cheryshev and Alexander Golovin then put the game to bed producing moments of magic just two minutes apart with a side-footed volley and a well-drilled(oil-hunting) free-kick respectively.
The hosts will hope to continue their dream start when they host ‘The Pharaohs’ of Egypt on Tuesday while Saudi Arabia will have to work on both ends of the pitch; defending and attacking when they come across the goal-hungry Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez and the formidable duo of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez on Wednesday.
No Birthday Win For Mo Salah
Maybe Mo Salah would have to do with the 100kg birthday cake he got from the Chechnyans but the pacy forward would have wished for more as he watched his side helplessly concede a last minute Jose Gimenez header to Uruguay in their world cup opener.
The adored Egyptian had been expected to feature in the match after manager Hector Cuper claimed he was almost 100% fit but in a rather sour outcome of things Salah was reduced to a bench role probably in a bid to avoid further harm to his healing shoulder.
For much of the match, the Egyptians matched their South American opponents in attack and defence and looked set to hold on to a draw until Jose Gimenez came to the rescue of misfiring forwards Cavani and Suarez rising highest to nod in substitute Carlos Sanchez’s free kick .
The Egyptians will have to get their head up and get their star forward Salah in as they do battle against hosts Russia on Tuesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo And The Number 51
Age 33, father of four(Happy father’s day), fourth world cup appearance and no signs of slowing down. Cristiano Ronaldo is the man of the moment and definitely player of the week in this year’s world cup. The mercurial forward continued from where he left off last season putting three past Spain and Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea including a late free-kick that left DDG rooted to the spot.
After dubiously going to ground to win a penalty, the Portuguese captain dispatched the resulting spot-kick before benefiting from a rare ‘Karius moment’ from the Spanish goalie to put his side ahead of the game before half-time.
After watching his side been dominated and chasing the game at 3-2 courtesy a blistering side volley from Real Madrid teammate Nacho, the current world best player sent a stunning 25yard free-kick above the wall and into the back of the net to draw his side level in the match.In the process, CR7 as he fondly called brought his world cup tally to six goals with his 51st career hat-trick also the world-cup’s 51st ever hat-trick. Coincidence!!
The portuguese remains the highest scoring international with 84 goals across 151 international appearances. 1(51) again.
Les Blues Benefit From VAR
France featured most of their young crop of talent, yea except captain hugo Lloris and substitue Oliver giroud, this is a very young group of players. The talent on the pitch for the Blues who wore dark-blue strips failed to excite as they benefitted from the first VAR goal of the world cup when the referee decided to award a penalty for Josh Risdon’s tackle of Antoine Griezmann after consulting the Video referee. Australia got a penalty of their own too thanks to VAR, this time an handball from Samuel Umtiti in the area allowed Mile Jedinak to pull his side level.
Another piece of technology was needed to confirm the winner late on when Goal-line technology adjugded Paul Pogba’s 80th minute lob to have crossed the line ensuring maximum points for the French team.
Iceland’s Debut Appearance
Iceland come into their debut world cup as the least populous participating country with a population of 348,580 courtesy Wikipedia but with the reputation of giant slayers which they seek to carry on at the World cup. In their first game against Argentina and one of football’s best players, Lionel Messi, the Nordic country showed real steel and grit to fetch a draw against last edition’s first runner-up.
Using their physicality and ‘stop Messi’ approach, the Scandinavians ensured that the Argentine’s did not get all three points similar to what they did against Portugal in the European championships two years ago which ended 1-1 also defeating England on the road to a quarter final finish in the same tournament. They however have the man himself, Lionel Messi to thank, after he spurned a chance to seal victory for his side failing to drive his penalty beyond Iceland goalkeeper and part-time movie director Hannes Halldorsson. Thunderclap!!!
That’s a wrap up today. Hope we enjoy a peaceful world cup.