Thunderous free kicks, underdogs shocking the world, drama-filled games; three themes that have ran alongside the opening days of the tournament continued today.
Be it Serb supremacy, Mexican magic or Swiss solidity, Day Four of Russia 2018 had a bit of everything, highlighting again why the tournament is the most hyped sporting event of the calendar.
Captain Kolarov leads Serbia to victory
In an opening week that had already been lit up by exquisite free-kicks, Aleksandar Kolarov produced a masterpiece of his own.
Serbia won the game thanks to captain Kolarov’s wonderful strike in the second half, which was the third direct free-kick already at the tournament.
There are few players in world football that possess the whip and power in a distance strike as the Roma full-back, and Keylor Navas fell victim to one of these venomous efforts, which ultimately was enough to seal three points for the Serbs.
Mladen Krsjajic’s side looked like a side bereft of ideas for the majority of the game, however Kolarov was given his chance when Francisco Calvo illegally grappled Aleksandar Mitrovic on the edge of the box.
From here, Serbia’s captain lined it up in a position that he has scored for many times over the years for Lazio, Manchester City and Roma. The Real Madrid ‘keeper couldn’t get near it, and it felt as though a weight had been removed from Serbian shoulders.
Including games under the banner of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, the Serbs had lost five of their last six World Cup assignments.
The regret of past tournaments seemed to haunt Serbia in the first half, with Costa Rica coming close on a couple of occasions early on. Giancarlo Gonzalez came closest, when he skied an effort, which he probably should’ve done much better with.
All in all, albeit not convincing, the Serbs got their goal and saw it through well. They top the group, which is a massive step towards qualification for the knockout rounds.
Next up, Serbia face off against Switzerland in Kaliningrad, where a win would virtually see them into the next stages, which will be a first solely under the name of Serbia.
Mexican Moscow masterclass stuns holders
Germany lost their opening game of a World Cup for the first time since 1982 as they were shocked by an effervescent Mexico.
The game’s only goal was scored by winger Hirving Lozano, although the Mexicans had a number of opportunities to stretch their lead.
Despite strong German pressure late on, Mexico held out, and were even helped by 39-year-old Rafael Márquez, who was handed the armband as he came on to make himself the only player to captain his country at five World Cups.
Mexico had set their stall out early, showing their intent to go at the holders.
They nearly took the lead in the opening minutes, but the quick Lozano was snuffed out by a terrific Jerome Boateng block. Already, the warning signs were there for Germany.
And despite them testing Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa with a couple of efforts, it was their opponents who broke the deadlock ten minutes before half-time.
The usually-reliant Mats Hummels was left floored as Javier Hernández played a one-two around him, before giving it to Lozano on the left-side of the box. He easily cut inside his man, and lashed a low effort inside Neuer’s near post to put the Mexicans ahead.
Germany nearly responded instantly with a Toni Kroos free-kick, but Ochoa superbly got across his line to push the attempt onto the bar.
Heading into the second half, coach Joachim Löw urged more of his German bodies to get forward, but as a result it opened up more space for Mexico to counter. Boateng was left alone against both Hernández and Carlos Vela, but the former’s pass was overhit.
Joshua Kimmich seemed the most likely to create something but even he couldn’t score as his acrobatic overhead kick looped just over.
Veteran Márquez then entered the field much to the delight of the Mexican supporters, and even started a breakaway – latching onto a loose ball and playing in Miguel Layún who ran half the pitch before firing over.
Time was running out for the holders. Gomez headed an effort tamely wide, but the closest they came was through substitute Julian Brandt, who hammered a late blistering volley inches wide of Ochoa’s near post.
Mexico dealt with everything the Germans threw at them and, on a historic day for Márquez, gained revenge for the quarter-final penalty shootout defeat they suffered on home turf in 1986.
Switzerland snatch share of spoils
Brazil’s hunt for a sixth World Cup title started in frustration as they let a first half lead slip against Switzerland.
Coutinho had fired the pre-tournament favourites ahead with a classy curling effort, but the Swiss responded after the break with a thunderous Steven Zuber header.
The Brazilians applied late pressure in search of a winner, but couldn’t find a way through the stubborn Switzerland defence and ultimately had to settle for a point.
Tite’s side were far from spectacular, but always in control during a largely uneventful first half.
The closest they came early on was through Paulinho – a neat exchange between Coutinho and Neymar resulted in the latter squaring it across the six yard box. A deflection off a Swiss defender fell to Paulinho, who spun and shot, but his effort was saved by the fingertips of goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Switzerland’s resistance didn’t last much longer though, as Brazil hit the front via a Coutinho classic.
Marcelo played a flat ball into the area which was headed out by Zuber, but only as far as the Barcelona playmaker, who took one touch before curling it in off the far post, leaving Sommer helpless.
The Swiss battened down the hatches following that, and after the interval proved exactly why they’re ranked sixth in the world.
Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri whipped a corner in from the right and Zuber escaped Miranda to power in a free header past Alisson. Brazil felt their centre half had been pushed, but referee César Ramos waved the appeals away.
The Brazilians felt hard done by later on too, as striker Gabriel Jesus went down under pressure from Manuel Akanji, but Ramos refused to award the penalty.
It wasn’t until the dying embers of the game that the seemingly inevitable flurry of Brazil chances came – both Neymar and substitute Roberto Firmino saw headers saved by Sommer, whilst Miranda failed to make amends for his poor defending that led to the equaliser by skewing a shot wide from inside the box.
Brazilian talisman Neymar was fouled 10 times during the game – the most in a World Cup match since 1998. He won one final free-kick at the death, but having clipped it into the area, it came to nothing, and Switzerland held out for a vital well-earned point, leaving the favourites frustrated.
Player of the Day – Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
At approximately 23:20 local time, not too far from Mexico City in Mexico, a 4.3 magnitude earthquake was recorded.
It wasn’t just Mexico City that felt the impacts, however, as Hirving Lozano sent shockwaves throughout the world of football after scoring the sole goal of the game to defeat holders Germany in the opener of Group F.
Having just had his best year with PSV, scoring 17 goals in 29 games, ‘Chucky’ came into the World Cup with the highest expectations at the tender age of 22.
In his debut game he didn’t disappoint at all, running the experienced German defence ragged all afternoon.
The winger showed fantastic pace, agility and flair, whilst proving that he is a versatile and mobile forward who can play across the front.
Every World Cup brings moments that feel that they have been seared into the memory. Stars are born on this stage. Lozano’s goal and performance in general is another for the hard drive, as the Luzhniki exploded with euphoria when Mexico took the lead.
As our One To Watch pre-match, Chucky did not disappoint. With a pass success rate of 91.3%, 5 successful dribbles and 8 duels won, the Mexican magician showed exactly why many clubs will be fighting for his services after the World Cup.
Dubbed the ‘Next Alexis Sanchez’, PSV will do well to hold on to Lozano for much longer, with big Premier League clubs circling for his signature already.