The continuously decreasing gap between the higher ranked nations in the footballing world and their counterparts lower down the Fifa rankings was clear to see on Day 7. All three games seemed to follow an almost identical narrative. The historically successful nations with the big names clung to their leads as the plucky underdogs punched above their weight.
Part one saw Portugal beat Morocco 1–0 with Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth-minute header the only goal of the game. For the 86 minutes after that, there was very little to choose between the sides.
Morocco, ranked 37 places below Portugal, ran themselves into the ground chasing every loose ball knowing full well their world cup lives depended on it. Morocco had more possession, shots on goal and shots on target but sadly could not get the stat that mattered the most.
In the sequel, Uruguay held out a much improved Saudi Arabia. After their opener against Russia, many feared the worst. Uruguay is ranked 53 places above Saudi Arabia but the official stats have Saudi Arabia control 53 per cent of the possession in this game. Again, however, a patient and disciplined Uruguay defended resiliently to keep the Saudi’s at bay to book a place in the last 16 with a 1–0 win.
Completing the trilogy, Spain escaped an inspired Iran. Although Spain dominated the first half, Iran’s defending was not that of a team ranked 27 places below their opponents, the champions in 2010. The twist in this plot though saw a goal reversed by the VAR system. Neutral hearts broke for the ecstatic Iranian’s as the referee and his assistants ruled that Iran were offside from the freekick leading up to the goal.
Guy in the VAR control room said Iran was offside.pic.twitter.com/0aJePfN7oZ
— Gilles (@GrimandiTweets) June 20, 2018
Spain remained composed throughout and the earlier Diego Costa goal was enough for the 1–0 win. Regardless of the sentiment around the VAR decision, it was the correct one and correct decisions are the sole purpose of their implementation.
All said and done this means Egypt and Saudi Arabia are eliminated from Group A with a game to go while Morocco is the first to fall in Group B. Portugal and Iran fight it out with Spain for the two spots left in Group B.
Every day from now the tournament will start to look a little different.