Saturday 15 December 2018

Entertainment, controversy and surprise during opening round of games at World Cup

There was not a single 0-0 in the opening 16 matches of the tournament.

The tournament began with Russia’s 5-0 win (Adam Davy/PA)
The tournament began with Russia’s 5-0 win (Adam Davy/PA)

By Liam Blackburn, Press Association Sport

All 32 World Cup nations have now played a match in Russia, where the first round of games featured entertainment, controversy and surprise.

There was not a single 0-0 in the opening 16 matches at the 2018 World Cup and over half were decided by a solitary goal, including the dramatic victories by Uruguay, Iran and England.

The tournament opened last Thursday with Russia pitted against Saudi Arabia and though that may have been considered the most underwhelming World Cup opening fixture in history, the hosts set the tone for what was to come by administering a 5-0 thrashing.

Uruguay and Iran grabbed late winners the following day before Spain drew 3-3 with Portugal in a pulsating all-time classic, and one which featured the first of a series of penalties.

That one, which Cristiano Ronaldo converted en route to his hat-trick, was a straight forward decision and though the introduction of Video Assistant Referee technology for the first time at a World Cup was supposed to reduce controversy, it may have only increased it.

Australia were the first to rue its use when referee Andres Cunha changed his mind and awarded France a penalty in Les Bleus’ 2-1 success. England too were frustrated by VAR. Not only because it failed to overturn the foul Kyle Walker was adjudged to have made against Tunisia, but also that it did not aid England when Harry Kane appeared to be twice wrestled to the ground at corners.

As it was, Kane had the last laugh by scoring from a corner, ensuring England did what many of the tournament favourites failed to do and claim an opening-game victory.

Defending champions Germany were beaten by Mexico, two-time winners Argentina were frustrated by Iceland – a feeling the Three Lions know only too well – as Lionel Messi missed one of the nine penalties awarded in the first round of games and Brazil were also held by Switzerland.

Even Spain, who garnered plenty of plaudits after their opening effort, only claimed one point thanks to a moment of magic from Ronaldo, whose 88th-minute free-kick is likely to be among the contenders for the goal of the tournament.

It also left the Real Madrid forward leading the way in the race to be the World Cup’s top scorer. With Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa each scoring braces, many of the usual suspects are his nearest challengers.

The first round of games delivered an abundance of entertainment and thrilling football and hopefully set the standard for what is to come over the remaining three-and-a-half weeks in Russia.

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