The Hot running FIFA world cup hosts are back on display during the first day of action in the second round of the competition. After Russia’s first result I was excited to see where the team was headed. This time around Russia was taking on a serious contender, Ballon d’or and premier league player of the year Mohamed Salah and his Egyptian National team. With Russia having never qualified for the round of 16 and Egypt failing to have secured a win at any world cup finals the stage was set for historic game no matter what the outcome adding huge excitement to this game. The first half of the game was dull to say the least with both teams trying to get a grip on the game, many attacking possessions from both teams but both failing to be clinical in front of goal. Mo Salah made the best effort of the half by curling the ball just wide of the goal, leaving the first period ending goalless. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the Russian dressing rooms to witness the half time chat because the game kicked into gear only a minute into the second half. A ball was sent into the area which was saved and punched out by the goalkeeper, the save landed perfectly in front of Roman Zobnin who has an attempt on goal which deflects off the Egyptian skipper and ends up in the back of the net, not pretty but defiantly effective. The flood gates were open and the Russians were in full swing scoring again 12 minutes later through Denis Cheryshev then again 3 minutes later through Artem Dzyuba to take Russia’s goal tally to a whopping 8 in 2 games. Egypt tried battling their way back into the game scoring through Mo Salah but the 73rd minute penalty was the only shot on target for Hector Cuper’s men (1 of 13, 7.7%) which is not acceptable if you’re wanting to progress to the round of 16. The game ends 3-1, Russia make history.
With Russia creating history yesterday securing their first berth in a world cup finals round of 16, six teams line-up hoping on day two to equal the results of Russia and progress their nation through to the round of 16. First match of the round saw group A’s Uruguay take on Saudi Arabia on what is a must win for both nations. Uruguay to secure a place in the round of 16 and Saudi Arabia to keep their world cup dreams alive. In the early stages of the game both teams tried to gain as much momentum going forward as possible with both teams having early chances. Uruguay was looking the most favourable with their deadly duo upfront, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. To their credit Saudi Arabia held strong in defence denying the Uruguay’s the chance to score right up until the 23rd minute. Saudi Arabia’s defence fell apart briefly allowing a brilliant corner which beat the keeper and all of the defence for the ball to land right on the foot of the Barcelona striker for an easy finish into the back of the net to make it 1-0. The 23rd minute goal happened to be the only goal of the game even though there was fast flowing attacking football, neither goalkeeper was put under any sort of pressure being an absolute credit to both nations defences. There we have it, our first two nations to feature in the round of 16. With one game to play in the group Russia take on Uruguay to top the group. Group B were the second group on display on Thursday with all four teams still in contention of qualifying for the round of 16, Spain vs Iran and Portugal vs Morocco. After drawing the first game Spain and Portugal were in must win positions. The teams did not disappoint, they did exactly what was needed, both nations winning their games 1-0. Portugal’s goal came from Cristiano Ronaldo, the current FIFA World Cup golden boot. Ronaldo’s current title comes as no surprise considering he has scored all four of Portugal’s world cup goals to date this year. With Portugal now heading the pool, Spain finds themselves in a position where a loss in their next game will send them packing. Once again proving their class the Spanish team made light work of the Iranians dominating possession with 77.7% and even prevented Iran from having a shot on target. The goal that sealed a Spanish victory came again from Diego Costa in the 54th minute of the game where he very luckily got a deflection that ended in the bottom corner.
Arguably the game of the round featured early Sunday morning, Group D top seeds Argentina took on European dark horses Croatia. Croatia impressed in their first round match up against Nigeria, on the other side of the pitch Lionel Messi’s Argentina failed to impress in their first round drawing with Iceland 1-1. Looking at Argentina’s starting line-up I was yet again baffled by selections and the formation this team lined up in (3-4-2-1), ultimately I see this as the reason for their poor run. Nevertheless after another world cup goalless first half full of missed opportunities Croatia broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute thanks to an absolute blunder from the Argentine goalkeeper, Willy Caballero. Caballero cleared the ball 10 meters only to be volleyed straight back into the net. Ahead with their tails up Croatia didn’t stop there. The team went on to embarrass the 2014 world cup runner ups 3-0 with further goals coming from midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Group D is topped by Croatia and now bottomed by Argentina. Argentina is set to play Nigeria in what could be a winner takes all performance. Other matches to feature this morning were from group C with all four teams still on the hunt for a playoff position. Denmark sits comfortably after beating Peru in their first outing. Denmark went on to play the fearless Australian outfit that were playing for survival and desperately needed the points. In the opening exchanges it didn’t look promising for Australia with Demark Star Christian Eriksen scoring a ripping volley in just the 7th minute. Demark continued to press and apply pressure in the Australian box to no avail, suddenly in the 35th minute Australia had some momentum going forward. Australia gained a corner which was whipped in and onto the head of Leckie which was then guided into the hand of Yussuf Poulsen. After going upstairs and using the new controversial video technology a penalty was awarded to the Aussies in the 36th minute which was calmly converted by skipper Mile Jedinak. The game ended level with Australia earning a vital point and keeping their hopes alive where they have to beat Peru by 2 goals and hope France beat Denmark in the next round in order to qualify for the round of 16.
Other results from Group C France 1 Peru 0
Featuring in the second game of Group D, Iceland prepared to keep their world cup dream alive after qualifying for the world cup finals for the first time. Iceland continued on their World Cup journey by stunning one of the world cup favorites, Argentina to a 1-1 draw in the first round. Iceland took on Nigeria in Volgograd and dominated the opening half with scoring opportunities coming thick and fast, deadly set plays coming in from wide and free flowing footy up top but the world cup newbies struggled to make their mark on the game. The Nigerians who came out rampant in the second half looking like a completely new team took the lead in the 49th minute. Just a swift four minutes into the second half Ahmed Musa brilliantly took a first touch controlling a cross, volleying a bullet behind the Icelandic Goalkeeper. Nigeria finally showing what they are capable of, the team continued to display some beautiful attacking football which we have grown to love from African nations. Once again the team found the back of the net thanks to non-other than Ahmed Musa. Musa cheekily rounded up the goalkeeper and slotted it past two Icelandic defenders who desperately tried to defend their line. The game ends 2-0 but the Iceland world cup dream isn’t over just yet, the team needing to take victory over Croatia. Iceland’s dream is still alive and kicking. Group E was also in action on the 23rd of June with Brazil still on a quest for world cup redemption after failing to in their first attempt to impress. Brazil took on Costa Rica who were humbled in their first game against Serbia 3-0, both teams were hoping to reboot their world cup campaign that got off to a pretty average start. I saw a lot of intent mainly from Brazil, but in the final third of the pitch there was no accuracy, spraying shots left right and centre. The teams went into the second half 0-0. Unfortunately, Brazil came out looking no different in the second half having a total of 71.5% possession and having 19 shots. something had to give, something had to go right. After 91 minutes of playing a long frustrating game, Brazil finally broke the deadlock and scored through a Coutinho toe poke, that’s all they needed to kick start things because just 5 minutes later in the 96th minute Neymar provided Brazil’s second goal, sealing the game, waking the beast of the Brazilian football team.
Other results in Group D: Switzerland 2 Serbia 1
There was one huge question mark over this match day, whether Germany could break their world cup curse of winning the tournament then getting knocked out the following world cup. In the group stages, their task was simply; win or go home. This is becoming a familiar feat for a lot of these higher tier nations whom have failed to impress thus far at the 2018 FIFA world cup. To my surprise their opponent Sweden came out with some serious intent, deserving a penalty in the 12th minute after Jerome Boating took down Marcus Berg inside the box. During this year’s tournament there have been weaker penalties given but nevertheless, the Swedish team continued to apply pressure on a shaky looking German Back line. Finally broking the deadlock in the 32nd minute, Viktor Claesson weighted a perfect ball on the chest of striker Ola Toivonsen who dink’s the ball over the head Manuel Neuer who came off his line to protect the goal but to no avail. The ball dropped perfectly into the back of the net, Germany is on the brink of failing to qualify for the round of 16. If unsuccessful this will be Germany’s second time in history failing to qualify. The first coming all the way back in 1938, but Joachim Low’s side had other ideas scoring straight after the break which has become so common in this world cup the goal came from a tap in courtesy of Marco Reus. The Germans then made things very difficult for themselves in the 82nd minute when Jerome Boating was sent from the field with his second yellow card, after a clumsy challenge which ended a woeful outing for the Bayern Munich defender. With 10 men now on the pitch and 6 minutes of extra time given I had no belief that there could be a winner of this game. But suddenly, in the dying minute of the game just outside the box a German player is brought down and a free kick is given. Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos is standing behind it and instead of taking a first time shot he passes it 1 meter to awaiting Marco Reus, stopping the ball dead inside the box for Toni Kroos who then swings the ball into the far back corner of the net to save Germany’s world cup hopes and to win the game 2-1. In the other game of Group F, Mexico took on South Korea. Only one thing was in mind for the Mexican’s, topping this talented group and winning this game. It was vital for Mexico’s chance after upsetting current world champions Germany in the first round. Mexico, looking more threatening than before gained the 14th Penalty of the world cup finals through a hand ball that stopped a cross coming. Just like the other 10 other penalties, Carlos Vila made no mistake by sending Cho Hyun-Woo the wrong way. Mexico went on to score again winning the fixture 2-1, making them 1 step closer to finishing first seed in the pool. Other goals coming from Chicharito for Mexico and Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son scoring South Korea’s only goal in the 93rd.
Other Results Group G: Belgium 5 Tunisia 2
Now ten days into the competition we circle back around to Group H which has quickly become the most competitive pool this World Cup, being the closest thing to a pool of death there is in the 2018 edition. After the Groups top seeds Poland and Colombia failed to gain points in their first outings whilst taking on African underdogs Senegal and four-time Asian champions Japan in opening round thriller’s where both results ended 2-1. With qualification heavily weighing on the Japanese and Senegal national teams they kicked into battle forwhat was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen to date in this world cup. The 27th world ranked team Senegal began the game strong and showed great intent in the attacking third, firing shots wide of the Japanese goalkeeper. That’s until the clock struck 11 minutes, an abysmal ball was played into the area by 19-year-old, Moussa Wague. The ball was cleared poorly by a Japanese defender leading to a shot that was saved and deflected in off the legs of Liverpool star Sadio Mane to put the African nation ahead and into a playoff position. The lead lasted all of 23 minutes before Japan perfectly executed an attacking possession, a lofted ball was sent forward from the backline which was brought down onto the foot of Yuto Nagatomo. Nagatomo had a superb first touch, piercing the gap of two Senegalese defenders, slipped a pass through to the incoming Takashi Inui who curls the ball into the back of the net and levelling the scores. Both teams continued to trade blows leading up to half time, the teams continued to do so after the break as well. It wasn’t until the 71st minute where Senegal were able to have their say on the match. Again, with Moussa Wague, this time turning from provider to scorer; from a ball that was sent across the area for an easy tap in, but unfortunately for the Senegal squad today just wasn’t their day. Senegal conceding 7 minutes later through some scrappy play from both teams, but effectively the ball bounced perfectly for Keisuke Honda. Honda put the ball into the back of the net effortlessly to score the final goal of the game ending 2-2. Both teams managing to secure a vital point continuing to head the pool with 4 points, trailed by Colombia who took on 8th world ranked Poland in a match where the loser’s world cup campaign would be over. Colombia with a few changes in the line-up finally produced some football they would be proud of; holding on to 54.9% possession they finally broke the level score line from a headed goal thanks to Mina. Colombia were only just getting started as they continued to apply pressure moving forward leading to another two goals in just five minutes. The goals came courtesy of star players Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado. The highest ranked pool member is Poland who currently sits with 0 points after 2 games are the first team inside the world top 10 to be knocked out of this brutal tournament.
Already qualified teams: