Monday watched a mad time at the World Cup    

Maswood Alam Khan   | Published: July 03, 2018 22:09:58 | Updated: July 03, 2018 22:15:50


Spellbound, captivated, enthralled, shell-shocked - these are all old clichés so overused that none of these words could precisely describe the dramas the world witnessed on Monday night in Russia. Two unbelievable plays between Brazil and Mexico in Samara Arena and two hours later between Japan and Belgium in Rostov Arena. Paralysed on my reclining chair -- mind blank, jaw dropped, eyes frozen -- I was almost lifeless.

More than 100 million Japanese men and women and millions more in the Far Eastern countries and other parts of the world were looking before their eyes at the history in the making: for the first-time Japan, our Asian neighbour, getting ready for their trip to the World Cup quarterfinals as they scored 2-0 against Belgium.

But they were dreaming, living inside a bubble. The bubble was burst as Belgium displayed their divine performance and ripped off 3 straight goals, the last one in the dying seconds of the regulation time (no extra time), crushing the cocoon of Japan's dreams, paralysing millions of onlookers, muffling the voice of commentators who only a few minutes ago were screaming at the top of their lungs and calculating how Brazil would face such a ferocious Japan!

No team ever made such a U-turn from two goals down to win a World Cup knock-out tie since West Germany against England in 1970 (and they needed extra time).

Belgium were ushered into the club room of the quarterfinalists and the door to the room was so cruelly slammed in the face of Japan. "No", many fumed, "It cannot be like that".

Let's look at the FIVE stunning goals made in the Rostov Arena.

It was Haraguchi who was not prepared when Vertonghen, the Belgian, made a total hash of an interception, allowing a long pass that eventually reached Haraguchi, 27-year old Japan striker, who looked confused and dawdling, and then managed to unleash a low drive that flew in at the far post! Japan takes the lead in the 48th minute, unbelievable to Belgium who were playing magnificently to keep the Japanese at bay in the first half.

The second goal was simply spectacular. Inui, the Japan striker, slammed it from 25 yards with such a huge velocity and a measured projectile motion that even a military cannon with its fixed range and limited mortar power couldn't volley its metal bullet with a similar thrust and with such a surgical precision. Yes, that was the moment we, in unison with spectators around the globe, safely pronounced Japan, the victor. And that was also the moment Belgium were seen fired with supersonic zeal. What a fiery combat between two teams the second half of the match witnessed, one desperate to retain their hard-earned goals, the other frantic to spill their blood in order to recover their prestige! At that fleeting phase, Belgium's ambition was just one single goal, if HE wished, let alone an equaliser.

All on a sudden, at 69th minute, without any warning of any kind, the whole sky fell on the Rostov Arena! Jan Vertonghen, the Belgium defender, made an unbelievable 15-yard looping lob-header from an acute angle! Oh, my God! How could such a header be made without any computer-aided guidance! Eiji Kawashima, the Japanese goalkeeper, had nothing to do but to watch the ball loop over him like a Tomahawk missile. Now was the game that started with a different glow! Highly boiled blood started rushing through all the veins and arteries of all the players of Belgium as they got their first goal in the match.

Who was this creature called Marouane Fellaini with a mount of bushy hair on his head and a nose like a gun's barrel that looked so threatening? He was substituted in just a few minutes back! What did he do on behalf of Belgium? He left us mesmerised by his power header at 74th minute after gobbling up a delicious left-wing cross from his colleague Eden Hazard. Belgium 2-2 Japan. Just imagine what could be happening!!

The entire Rostov Arena exploded with thunders to lunatic extremes when Belgium grabbed their winning goal in the neighbourhood of 94th minute, a few seconds before the final whistle. What a counter-attack that was! And what a winning goal! Courtois, the Belgian goalkeeper, caught the corner and rolled the ball out to De Bruyne. He carried it to halfway and passed to Meunier, whose low cross was excellently dummied by Lukaku, leaving Chadli with just a tap-in. GOAL! Belgium 3-2 Japan.

What a great game of football the match was like, perhaps the best of the tournament so far! It was how football should be like, great entertainment, great goals, great drama, no cheating!

Monday was the World Cup Day, if I may say! The day, rather the night, started magnificently and ended maddeningly. The planet Earth witnessed one of the world's very best players, Neymar, in Samara Arena, a beautiful stadium, covered by a kind of hybrid grass called SIS grass, that can accommodate more than 44,000 spectators.

In the Brazil-Mexico match, Neymar scored a goal and assisted on another to lead Brazil to a 2-0 win in a round of 16 game against Mexico and reach the World Cup quarterfinals for a seventh consecutive time. Neymar scored at the 51st minute and with the help of Neymar Roberto Firmino scored the second goal at the 88th minute.

One spectacular scene was when, at six minutes into the second half, Neymar picked up the ball on the left. In familiar style he skipped inside, scuttling past his full-back. Mexico got back, packed the edge of the box. It seemed certain that Neymar would take on a right-footed shot and the ball would be blocked. But then he did something utterly unexpected: he passed.

In a multidimensional performance, Neymar, 26, the world's most expensive player, was the hero. An exceptionally gifted footballer, Neymar broke the deadlock. His goal and his influence were far more positive than in any in the group stage.

The opening period of the match was dominated by Mexico. Mexico, thanks to their superb tackling, could make all the Brazilian players perspire.

Eventually, the five-time winners Brazil grew into what became a controlled performance.

Mexico showed their impotence when they had to vigorous. It has been a feature of Mexico's tournament so far that they do not make the most of their chances, that they sweep forward in green waves that do not necessarily produce much, a result of a lack of ruthlessness with the final ball.

Mexico are once again eliminated at the last-16 stage - as they have been at every World Cup since 1994.

Brazil will face Belgium in their last-eight tie in Kazan on Friday.

Myself being a Brazil supporter since my childhood I was praying for Brazil's prestige. I made a petition on the wall of my Facebook in two sentences: "May Brazil play with élan. Brazil will triumph in victory and in defeat." God answered my prayer. HE removed a part of my wish by striking through the last three words of my second sentence "and in defeat".

maswood@hotmail.com

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