Has everyone recovered? There was plenty of drama in yesterday’s World Cup action, especially with the dramatic end to Group B. This really has been a World Cup for late action (as well as VAR, penalties and set-pieces) and the later kick-offs were no exception.
But before we relive the Group B craziness, let us show Group A some respect and clear all that up.
The Russian version of “it’s coming home” saw sales suddenly grind to a halt when the Russia side faced an actual football team. Uruguay, tipped by many to be a dark horse for the tournament, saddled up, neighed and galloped past their hosts 3-0. Luis Suarez scored again and even Edinson Cavani remembered where the goal was. Uruguay eased through without conceding a goal in the group stages, even more remarkable when you learn that ex-Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates got a game yesterday.
In the other game, Mohamed Salah’s World Cup ended the way it started. A bit knackered. Salah has actually put Egypt 1-0 up against Saudi Arabia with a cute little lob before missing another golden opportunity. Then a second World Cup record was broken by the same man. The Pharoh’s 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary had already become the oldest man to play in the World Cup by merely stepping on to the pitch. When he then saved a penalty from Fahad al-Muwallad you can probably guess what record he claimed. (Oldest man to save a spot-kick folks, keep up will you?) Unfortunately for El-Hadary and, I guess, Salah, there was to be no Pharohtale ending on this one as Saudi Arabia got another penalty, scored it and went on to score a last-minute winner. These last-minute winners are becoming awfully fashionable. Egypt boss Hector Cuper angrily denied that Mo Salah was about to quit international football as Salah is said to be disappointed he is being used as a political pawn when all he really wants to be is a footballer. Fair enough.
But Group A was merely the hors-d’oeuvre to Group B’s main course. Spain started the evening in what was thought to be the box seat – top of the group and playing a Morocco side who had failed to score a goal so far and had already booked their seats to return home after the final whistle. Portugal played Iran knowing that a draw would be enough, a win might win the group and a defeat would see Iran go through at their expense unless, of course, Morocco beat Spain and then any permutation could really come into play. But, Iran weren’t going to beat Ronaldo’s boys, were they?
In Spain’s past, there has been talk of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s players not speaking to each other on international duty and there was a brief outbreak of this disease once again, but this time on the actual pitch. Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos sent each other to Coventry momentarily and Morocco finally found the back of the net. This alone wasn’t going to be enough to end Spain’s Russian adventure but there was more to come.
Over in the Portugal match, Quaresma has scored a delightful outside-of-the-boot jobby to give Portugal the lead, meaning they were to win the group – especially when VAR got involved for the first time in the evening and awarded Ronaldo a penalty. A penalty you say? We haven’t seen many of them. For the first time in his career, Ronaldo looked like he wanted to be Harry Kane as he saw his effort saved. But it wouldn’t matter, would it?
Spain equalised through Isco and everything was as you were.
But then, more drama. Yes, indeed. Iran only went and scored and so did Morocco. As it stood, some quick scribbling on the back of the beermat suggested that another goal for Iran and Spain would be out. And VAR had just told the referee that Ronaldo should be sent-off for an elbow! BOOM!
The thing is, you see. It’s all very well for the fully-kitted up VAR chaps in Moscow to say, “yeah he elbowed him, send Cristiano Ronaldo off!” It’s another thing entirely when you are the referee who has to issue the red card. Enrique Cáceres trotted over to his booth and thought, “I don’t have the stomach for this” and gave him a yellow instead. ‘Bottled’ and ‘it’ were often used words on social media. Personally, I didn’t think it was a red but hey, what do I know?
Spain, on the other hand, needed a bit of VAR assistance themselves when Iago Aspas flicked home an equaliser only to be called offside. This one got overturned without the referee even needing to go to his booth so, with that, and about 30 seconds left in the Portugal game, Spain had drawn 2-2 and topped the group.
Unless, you know, if Iran scored.
And they bloody well should have done.
In a moment which will haunt Mehdi Taremi forever, a clear-cut chance fell to the Iranian. Score and Iran win the group and knock Portugal out. Miss and Iran go home, as heroes yes, but still going home.
He hit the side-netting. Tears everywhere.
Once everyone had worked out what had actually happened we learned that Spain managed to avoid Uruguay in the Round of 16 and will play Russia. Portugal get to face the South Americans who should be favourites to progress, but you never do know.
Bobby Martinez appears to have shown his Group G deciding hand a little earlier than Gareth Southgate. Martinez has suggested he might make 10 changes for Thursday’s showdown with England which suggests he fancies second place in the group. Not wishing to be outdone, Southgate responded by saying he is considering resting Harry Kane and others to give other high-performing squad members game time in case they are needed later in the tournament. Just pick your strongest sides guys and be done with it. People have money on this, don’t you know?
Ahead of tonight’s critical game against Nigeria, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli has said he has been made to feel like a “criminal” over the last few days. Jorge, old boy. Have you seen how your team has been playing? Trust me, it should be illegal.