Form, predictions and all manner of expectations were shattered this weekend as the football world’s lesser-known nations stood tall against their more glamorous opponents in the World Cup.
The first ever use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system at a World Cup came in the 58th minute of France’s clash with Australia. The referee did not initially give the penalty but was summoned to the technical area to view the replay.
The referee then reversed his decision believing that Australia’s Josh Risdon had made sufficient contact with Antoine Griezmann to give a penalty. Griezmann stepped up to make it 1–0.
It only took four minutes though for Australia to level matters. No VAR was needed when the referee spotted a deliberate handball by French defender Samuel Umtiti. Australian captain Mile Jedinak converting the spot kick to level the score.
If umtiti were a Nigerian I woulda been sure it's his village people that are following him.
I mean what's with the unnecessary hand ball now pic.twitter.com/dtm40wKia4
— King pete (@Ab_pete14) June 16, 2018
The game continued at a good pace with the deadlock being broken in the 18th minute after France midfielder Paul Pogba’s hard work paid off forcing Australia defender Aziz Behich into a mistake. In an attempt to clear the ball in the goal area, Behich only managed to lob his own goalkeeper with the game ending 2–1 to France.
The first of the traditional favourites to falter was Argentina against Iceland. Sergio Aguero opened the scoring when he turned smartly in the box before blasting it past the Icelandic goalkeeper.
It took the small island nation four minutes to respond with Alfreo Finnbogason tapping home from close range. Lionel Messi’s second-half penalty miss summed up a frustrating afternoon for Argentina as Iceland defended valiantly to earn a 1–1 draw.
— Alfreð Finnbogason (@A_Finnbogason) June 17, 2018
Later in the day, Denmark got the better of a spirited Peru 1–0 with a Yussuf Poulsen goal midway through the second half. Then Croatia dealt another blow to African pride with a solid 2–0 win over Nigeria.
An Oghenekaro Etebo own goal in the first half and a Luka Modric penalty in the second gives Croatia hope of getting into the knockout rounds while Nigeria has a mountain to climb.
Sunday got underway with a 1–0 win for Serbia against Costa Rica. Serbia where the more impressive of the two teams with a free-kick by Aleksandr Kolarov in the second half all that was needed for Serbia to take the three points.
The shock of the weekend saw a tactically aware and yet wasteful Mexico beat defending champions Germany 1–0. Germany dominated possession, territory, and attempts on goal but the blistering pace and smart running from the Mexicans caught Germany on the counter-attack.
After numerous breaks, Mexico was only able to convert one of their chances but it was enough leaving Germany playing catch up in their next two games.
The team who most are expecting to win this tournament, Brazil, capped the weekend off when they took on Switzerland. Brazil started brightly with flowing passing that unlocked the Swiss defence on several occasions.
Eventually, Phillippe Coutinho’s brilliantly curled effort from outside the box opened the Brazilians 2018 account.
That was as good as it got though for the Selecao as the Swiss began their fight back. Switzerland grew in confidence and in the 50th minute Steven Zuber headed home unchallenged in the Brazilian box.
Brazil could not wrestle back the momentum from the Swiss in the second half and despite a few late scrambles in the Swiss box, it ended honours even. Both teams will still be confident of making the next round.
There are two more days left of first-round action before each team gets a second bite of the cherry.
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