Russia Review: Day Two

Late drama, excitement, and a game that will go down as one of the greatest in World Cup history – Day Two of Russia 2018 had it all.

Late Gimenez header breaks Egyptian hearts

Kicking off proceedings in Ekaterinburg were Group A favourites Uruguay, who stole the points with a late winner against an Egypt side without Mo Salah.

Suárez struggled and Cavani came close, but the unlikely hero was Atletico Madrid defender José Giménez, who powered a late header into the corner to win a game which was largely uninspiring for the South Americans.

The first half was a pretty dull affair, with Uruguay finding it difficult to break down a stubborn Egyptian side. Barcelona hitman Suárez was far from his best, and wasted the best chance of the opening 45 minutes – spinning and volleying an effort wide after a corner had dropped to him at the back post.

Man-of-the-match and captain Diego Godin was unimpressed with those playing ahead of him, and decided to take offensive-matters into his own hands on a number of occasions, driving forward from the heart of defence.

The second half started with more of the same, but as the game neared its conclusion, the Uruguayans started to show urgency, and gained confidence when they realised there would be no cameo for Salah from the bench.

Suárez was played in by Cavani but took too long to get the ball out of his feet before goalkeeper Ahmed El-Shenawy smothered it, and his PSG strike partner was then denied twice – first by El-Shenawy, who brilliantly palmed away a venomous volley, and then again by the post late on with a free-kick.

But their persistence eventually paid off. A tiring Egypt conceded a clumsy foul against Giménez down their left, and the defender dusted himself down to rise highest and send his teammates and supporters into delirium.

It was a disappointing end for the Egyptians who looked destined for their first World Cup point since 1990, but coach Héctor Cúper has since raised spirits, announcing their star man Salah will be fit for their date with the hosts in what looks to be a must-win match next week.

Iran earn precious three points as Morocco concede cruel late own goal

Iran picked up their first World Cup victory since 1998 as Aziz Bouhaddouz of Morocco inadvertently turned the ball into his own net in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Boudaddouz, who came on as a substitute for Morocco, dived low to clear an Iranian free kick out for a corner, however accidentally sliced the ball into his own goal with his head.

A step forward before the free-kick was taken ultimately cost Boudaddouz, who plays for St. Pauli in Germany. After this, the striker could not adjust his feet and was stretching for the ball, eventually giving his goalkeeper little chance as he was off balance when trying to clear the ball.

Like the earlier game of today, it wasn’t one for the football purists. Despite a fast start for Hervé Renard’s Morocco, the African side failed to capitalise on their early dominance and couldn’t find a breakthrough.

Despite the early superiority from Morocco, it was Iran who had the best chance of the first half, when striker Sardar Azmoun went through on goal, only to be denied by the Morocco goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi.

As the game ticked on, it looked like an opening goal was never going to come. The tempo decreased as the players started to tire and the atmosphere in a 62,000 strong St Petersburg stadium dropped.

The only real chance of the second half fell in the direction of Morocco when Hakim Ziyech saw his measured effort from distance pushed around the post by the goalkeeper, Beiranvand.

The win for Iran comes as only their second in World Cup history, following a 2-1 win over the United States in 1998 in France.

Back home, manager Carlos Quieroz will be lauded as a national hero, gifting Iran with three precious points, meaning they momentarily top group B.

​Ronaldo lights up Sochi as Portugal hold Spain in thrilling draw

Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show as Portugal came from behind to earn a draw with Spain in a thrilling World Cup clash in Sochi.

A thunderous strike from defender Nacho looked certain to be the winner, as La Roja looked on course for a victory to quieten the doubters, before Cristiano Ronaldo scored a free-kick to score the 51st hat-trick in World Cup history and 51st hat-trick of his career.

It was a nightmare start for Hierro’s Spain, as Nacho fouled his club teammate Ronaldo in the box. As shown tonight, and all through his career, Ronaldo does not need asking twice. The talismanic striker took his chance and fired Santos’ side ahead with just four minutes on the clock.

Despite questions being undoubtedly asked of the Spanish hierarchy at the time due to events this week, Diego Costa soon levelled affairs with a fine solo run, ending in a neat finish past Rui Patricio.

From there, the Spanish upped the ante, with Isco hitting the bar from distance with a venomous effort. Hierro’s side looked much more controlled in possession following Costa’s goal.

Despite this, it was advantage Ronaldo and Portugal who found themselves ahead at the break following a howler from Manchester United ‘keeper David De Gea, gifting Ronaldo a goal as he fumbled the strikers weak effort.

Spain had the utmost control in the second half. Diego Costa latched onto a Sergio Busquets knock down, before Nacho’s thunderous volley put Spain ahead after bouncing off both posts.

Hierro’s side kept the ball from this point, bringing on Thiago Alcantara to sure it up and keep possession.

It was all going swimmingly for the Spanish, Portugal could hardly touch the ball, until Gerard Pique gave away a clumsy foul on the edge of the area with two minutes of regulation play to go.

As prior mentioned, you cannot give Ronaldo opportunities like these. The Real Madrid striker lined up the free-kick with his trademark aura, which must be terrifying for any defender or goalkeeper.

Ronaldo stepped up and found the top corner to level the game and leave the Iberian giants level in Group B.

On the second day of the World Cup, we already have a contender for game of the tournament – the standard to be beat has been set tonight in Sochi.

Player of the Day – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

In truth, with just under five minutes of today’s action remaining, this piece was going to be centered around someone else.

Spain’s imaginative and industrious Isco had been the star of the show and his side looked to be heading for a big win against rivals Portugal in the Iberian Derby, but as we’ve become accustomed to over the years, Cristiano Ronaldo was just shaping up to steal the limelight once more.

Despite the five-time Ballon d’Or winner twice firing his fellow European Champions into the lead, they seemed destined for defeat after a quick second half Spanish turnaround.

But after winning a free-kick little-over 20 yards out, Ronaldo’s eyes lit up.

Not for the first time, the 33-year-old had the weight of over 10-million Portuguese men, women and children on his shoulders. But with Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he was never going to shy away from a challenge.

Portugal’s talisman relishes the opportunity to be a hero, and this moment provided him with the perfect chance to become one for what must seem like the thousandth time of his career.

And having puffed out his chest, he took four slow steps up to the ball, and curled in a scintillating free-kick with pace and power to add to his ever-growing collection of magical moments.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick sealed a vital point for Portugal – who now know they could top the group with wins against Morocco and Iran – in a game which will be replayed from the archives for years to come.

The biggest players performing their best football on the biggest stage of all. Welcome to Russia, folks, because we’re off and running now.



Russia Review: Day One

What Happened?

President Vladimir Putin was spotted holding a priceless smile as hosts Russia eased past Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup.

It only took eleven minutes for the first goal of the tournament to be scored, as Yury Gazinsky headed home his first international goal from a Aleksandr Golovin in-swinging cross, before substitute Denis Cheryshev evaded several half-hearted attempts of tackling him, and smashed home close to half-time.

A largely partisan crowd of just over 78,000 at the Luzhniki Stadium calmed after the second goal, with the Russians never really in doubt of three points.

Despite the slowing of the tempo, substitute Artem Dyzuba of Zenit St. Petersburg gave Russia a third goal to put Stanislav Cherchesov’s team in dreamland on matchday one.

As the match looked to be fizzling out, Russia added two goals in quick fire, both of spectacular quality.

The first was smashed home by Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev, who celebrated his second of the afternoon. Then with virtually the last kick of the game, man-of-the-match Alexsandr Golovin curled a free-kick around the wall, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance.

Russia may have been the lowest ranked World Cup side in history, sitting at no.70 in FIFA’s seedings, but the hosts totally outclassed their Asian rivals from start to finish.

Russian president Putin addressed the crowd pre-match, and told us that Russians love football. This was undeniable, as the crowd celebrated in style every goal.

The Saudis looked good in possession in the middle of the pitch, playing it about in style, however as soon as they entered the attacking third, the Green Falcons panicked and little was seen of striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, who was a scoring sensation in qualifying.

With this easy win, the hosts have given themselves a massive chance of reaching their first World Cup knockout game since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Despite the easy-on-the-eye, impressive attacking display from Cherchesov’s side, there was nobody of the calibre of Luis Suarez or Mohamed Salah, so the ageing and slow Russian back line can expect a much rougher ride in the next two games.

But, you can only beat what is in front of you. On a night where Russia were tipped by many to falter against a poor Saudi Arabia, they answered all questions and got their World Cup campaign up and running in emphatic fashion.

Golden Golovin

Whilst Denis Cheryshev was in top goalscoring form, Aleksandr Golovin of CSKA Moscow was the star of the show.

With one goal, two assists and 71% pass accuracy, the 22-year-old was the player who many, including us in our Group A preview, predicted as the man to carry a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.

We were not wrong. Courted by Arsenal, Juventus and Manchester United for the past few months, Aleksandr Golovin put in a performance that justified his worldwide attention.

Starting the game in an unfamiliar left-wing role, Golovin drifted off the flank supporting the attackers in the attacking phase. It was this cutting in that led to the first goal, where he played a peach of a ball on a plate for Yury Gazinsky.

When Alan Dzagoev went off injured, Russia collectively breathed a disappointed sigh. However, it proved to be a blessing in disguise. Golovin moved centrally and from this point on, dictated the game.

Hold up play and a clever eye for a pass led to Cheryshev’s first goal, with a pre-assist, whilst tenacious play helped Russia re-find a tempo in a game that could have fizzled out after the second goal went in.

It wasn’t just his on the ball play that took the eye, Golovin managed four tackles and five interceptions, proving the CSKA midfielder has a spectacular work rate off the ball, which is important in international football, and will be vital to stop teams like Uruguay playing out from the back.

Golovin ended his night by getting a deserved goal from a brilliant free-kick, bent into the top corner, around the wall. Questions were asked of the Saudi goalkeeper, however the dip imposed on the ball gave him little chance.

A marvellous outing for Golovin, which can’t have done any harm to CSKA Moscow in terms of a potential bargaining tool if big clubs do indeed come knocking.

The Ceremony

Before the Argentine referee’s whistle had even been blown to start proceedings on the pitch, the World Cup kicked off in style.

It wasn’t quite the Shakira light show of South Africa 2010 or the samba carnival of Brazil 2014, but the Russian’s put on their own show for the watching world.

Strangely enough, it was ex-Take That singer Robbie Williams who took centre stage, but it seemed to be a massive hit in Moscow, as fans from both Russia and Saudi Arabia alike joined in with songs.

Williams was joined by Kazan-born singer Aida Garifullina, with the pair signing off with a duet of the former’s 1997 single, Angels.

The 44-year-old ex-majority shareholder of League Two side Port Vale performed a number of his past singles, from Let Me Entertain You to Rock DJ.

As Williams was performing with Garifullina, Brazilian legend Ronaldo – nicknamed El Fenomeno – also emerged with a young mascot who was given the privilege of taking the first kick on the Luzhniki Stadium pitch.

After the ceremony had finished, the hosts’ president Putin gave a short speech to supporters in the stadium and across the world, welcoming them all to Russia for what is anticipated to be a football frenzy lasting over four weeks.

And if the action we saw today is anything to go by, it’s set to be a super-summer goalfest.