As the first day of Gameweek 3 saw Groups A and B decided, it always looked like there was more drama to be had in Group B’s evening matches. And we weren’t disappointed as the two giants of the group limped through with little glory.
- GW3 began with the simultaneous matches between Uruguay and Russia – both on two wins and certain to qualify – and Saudi Arabia and Egypt – both out and looking to leave with pride.
- In the match to decide the top two, Uruguay ran out comfortable winners. The result never in doubt after Luis Suarez’s free kick on 19 minutes was followed just over 10 minutes later by an own goal, Denis Cheryshev unfortunate to deflect a very wayward Diego Laxalt shot into his own net. A quarter of an hour later, Igor Smolnikov received a second yellow card and, with the hosts down to 10 men, it was essentially game over.
- A mostly uneventful second half ended with Edinson Cavani opening his account for this World Cup, tapping in after Igor Akinfeev could only parry Diego Godin’s header.
- In the afternoon’s other match, star man Mohamed Salah gave The Pharaohs the lead midway through the first half with a deft lob.
- On 40 minutes, Saudi Arabia had a chance to get back on level terms after they were awarded a penalty for an Ahmed Fatty handball. But goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary made a superb save from Fahad Al-Muwallad, diving high to his right to push the powerful shot onto the bar and away.
- Saudi Arabia had a second chance five minutes later, however, when Ali Gabr was very harshly (despite VAR review) adjudged to have pulled down Al-Muwallad. This time Salman Al-Faraj stepped up and scored.
- The match looked to be heading for a draw, until Salem Al-Dawsari popped up with a late winner to leave Salah and his teammates leaving the World Cup pointless.
- On to the evening’s drama, which began with Khalid Boutaïb breaking clear after a Sergio Ramos error and slotting home after 15 minutes. Only five minutes later, however, Spain were level as Isco slotted home to end a great move involving Diego Costa and Andres Iniesta.
- On 45 minutes, Portugal took the lead in the other match, with Ricardo Quaresma scoring a cracker.
- The first action of the second half came from Portugal too as Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down in the area (confirmed by VAR). But he saw his poorly struck penalty saved by Alireza Beiranvand.
- There was a twist in Portugal-Iran again, as Ronaldo appeared to elbow Morteza Pouralinganji in the face. Another VAR review … and he received a yellow card.
- Then the drama swung back to Spain-Morocco, as Ramos was beaten again, this time by Youssef El-Nesyri, to give Morocco a late lead.
- Spain’s turn to respond as Iago Aspas scores after a quick corner – no he doesn’t, it’s ruled out for offside – hang on, VAR and it’s been allowed (although the corner was taken from the wrong side, before Morocco or the referee were ready). Anyway, Spain scraped a shaky draw and finished second in the group.
- Or did they? Back in the other match, Cédric Soares was harshly adjudged (VAR again) to have handled: penalty to Iran – and Karim Ansarifard put the spot kick away. More drama to come? There should have been, as Mehdi Taremi came inches away from giving Iran a late win. But Portugal held on.
- So in the second round we’ll have Spain pitting themselves against hosts Russia, and Portugal meeting Uruguay in what should be a very feisty tie. Iran and Saudi Arabia leave with a win each and Morocco and the magnificent Hervé Renard with some pride intact.
- Special assist today for Sergei Ignashevich, who lined up at the end of the wall as Suarez lined up his free kick, and then barged two Uruguay players out of the way, thus creating exactly the space into which Suarez shot to open the scoring.
- Cavani was on real Ligue 1 form today. Most of the second half was spent watching him miss chance after chance. He finally put away a meaningless tap-in with the match already won – and he duly celebrated like he’d just won the World Cup.
- More VAR controversy today, particularly in the Portugal-Iran match. The jury is still clearly out. While it’s proving useful in terms of righting blatant wrongs (see Neymar’s dive) it’s not pleasing everyone – showing that some calls are totally subjective and no amount of technology will come up with a way to please all the people all the time.
- Speaking of which… after their controversial semi-final against France in Euro 2000, Portugal claimed that they were being punished for not being a bigger nation. Well, they’ll be pleased to know they – or at the very least their star man – are now considered among the big boys, if the very lenient ruling on Ronaldo’s elbow is anything to go by. Surely it was an accident and not cardworthy, or it was deliberate and redworthy. One suspects that any lesser player would now be looking at a several-game ban.
- Similarly, Spain should have been reduced to 10 men as early as seven minutes in after Gerard Pique’s wild two-feet-off-the-ground lunge. He didn’t even receive a booking.
- An up and down night for Ronaldo then, who lost another record as Quaresma overtook him as Portugal’s oldest scorer in World Cups.
- Quaresma wasn’t the eldest star of the show tonight, however. Step up Egypt keeper Essam El-Hadary – at 45 the eldest player to appear in a World Cup – and still agile enough to produce a superb penalty save!
Goal of the Day
Only one winner today. It’s Quaresma, who began the move wide right and exchanged passes with André Silva, before unleashing a fantastic shot with the outside of his right foot into the far top corner. A superb goal for a fleetingly superb talent.
Classic Quaresma goal🔥🌪 pic.twitter.com/bq9N7hHNxs
— FBL (@FOOTBALRLIFE) June 25, 2018