Penalties missed were the stories

Maswood Alam Khan   | Published: June 26, 2018 21:35:17 | Updated: June 27, 2018 21:25:21

Egypt's 45 years and 161 days old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary - who became the oldest player in FIFA World Cup history on Monday - saved a first-half penalty from Fahad Al-Muwallad of Saudi Arabia.  

URUGUAY VERSUS RUSSIA: Never, most of us fancied, it was easy to beat Russia, especially after the host country have won their first two games with relative ease. Thanks mainly to home pitch advantages we were right that Russia would remain in the Group A's top echelon before tougher competitions.

But football boffins were frustrated to see the host country's downhill slip on Monday as not only they had a man sent off, they were devastated 3-0 by Uruguay. As adroitness (or a good piece of luck) would have it, Uruguay is now on top of the Group.

Core belief that 'Home field' offers tons of advantages has got to be changed.

Before kick-off in Samara Arena, Russian fans, who came from different far-flung corners, were in a euphoric mood. A kind of party atmosphere evolved around them. They had deserved confidence that their invigorated team, which scorched Saudi Arabia and Egypt by eight goals, could easily win over Uruguay which hitherto made no Big Bang in the football world.

But Russian fans' party mood got flat after only 10 minutes when Luis Suarez of Uruguay drilled in a clever low free-kick!

The match turned into an ominous freefall for Russia when Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan attacker, shot the ball from 25 yards that was deflected in by Russian defender Denis Cheryshev, leaving Igor Akifneev, the Russian goalkeeper, stranded and in the position of having conceded a goal.

Akifneev of Russia had thus pocketed one goal after another without making any save. There was very little doubt about who would win this game. This game, however, was not crucial for promotion as both Russia and Uruguay had already clinched advancement to the round of 16.

Russia's chance to come back dimmed badly when it was reduced to a 10-man team after Igor Smolnikov got a second yellow card for tripping.

After the break, however, the enfeebled Russia somehow composed themselves and at least managed to wrest back some control of the match. But Uruguay always looked dangerous.

It was a catastrophic Russian tragedy on Monday that made spectators, at one point during the match, fear whether a horrific spectre like Panama's 6-1 defeat to England were afoot!

Frankly speaking, there was very little of dynamism one could see from Russia's players in their opening two victories. And, this was the first-time Russia had faced a quality opposition from Uruguay. To observers' opinions, the manner of this defeat will mark Russia out as a vulnerable team in the next round.

The Uruguay fans stayed long after the final whistle to cheer their team up. For them it was three wins from three, but their next match will be a much more serious exam.

'Man of the Match' was Luis Suarez of Uruguay. Yes, Suarez looked determined to impress the world after his poor performance against Egypt.

PORTUGAL VERSUS IRAN: There was a possibility of Portugal having passed sleepless nights after the Iran-Portugal match on Monday if Iran were a bit luckier. However, Portugal luckily fought off Iran to march ahead in the World Cup.

It was Portugal who dominated the grass of the field with 508 passes completed compared to Iran's 131. But their dominance didn't last long. Quaresma of Portugal cannoned a beautiful shot in the upper corner at end of the first half leading by 1-0. Portugal made in vain some frantic efforts to grab an insurance goal.

The drama unfolded at three minutes into injury time when Iran got a surprise equaliser through penalty not initially ordered by the referee but dictated by VAR (Video Assistant Referee).

Portugal had their most glorious chance early in the second half when Ronaldo was awarded a penalty by VAR. Ronaldo was standing to fulfil a dream of his fifth goal of the World Cup.  But his shot at ground level was aptly saved by Iran keeper Alireza Beiranvand.

Well, now you cannot blame Argentina forward Lionel Messi as the only big star to miss penalty. Ronaldo missed six of his last 14 penalty kicks.

Iran also missed a grand opportunity. With 95 minutes already gone, Iran's Mehdi Taremi got the ball in the box, but he put it in the side netting. Portugal miraculously survived.

A sad part of Monday night's story was Yellow Card for Ronaldo and the night was not good enough for a quality sleep for Ronaldo either. Iran fans threw a big noisy party on that night coincidentally held directly outside the hotel where Ronaldo was staying. The ruckus was so bothersome that Ronaldo himself emerged on a balcony to ask for quiet.

SPAIN VERSUS MOROCCO: It was enchanting to watch Morocco brighten up when Khalid Boutaïb scored their first goal of the tournament on a breakaway in the early part of the match. Iniesta and Ramos of Spain were passing the ball near midfield when Boutaïb sneaked in and dribbled unimpeded toward the goal. At the end of the match, Spain wins Group B by tying 2-2 with Morocco.

The whole world of football was in a state of great excitement to see how Morocco, which had already been eliminated but somehow led by 2-1, was faring as the clock ticked past 90 minutes in Kaliningrad. Spain's Iago Aspas scored in the 91st minute. Great! But no. The goal was disallowed by an offside call. But after a V.A.R. review, it was ruled to be a goal after all, spurring frenzied celebrations on the Spanish bench. It got wilder still, as the V.A.R. delivered a penalty kick for Iran after a review in the 93rd minute against Portugal over in Saransk. Iran converted, securing a draw and lifting Spain to the top spot in the group and sending Portugal to a meeting with Uruguay in the next round.

SAUDI ARABIA VERSUS EGYPT: Saudi Arabia beat 2-1 Egypt. But, the match on Monday night produced chapters of football history. At 45 years and 161 days, Egypt goalkeeper El Hadary became the oldest player to participate in a World Cup match and Egypt scored their first World Cup goal since 1934, while the Saudis scored their first of the tournament.

El Hadary had little to do in the first half until the 41st minute when Saudi Arabia, who were 1-0 down, were awarded a penalty for Egypt's Ahmed Fathy's handball. Al Muwallad of Saudi Arabia took the spot-kick, but his firm strike was brilliantly pushed onto the bar by the 45-year old veteran. The euphoria was however extinguished in first-half stoppage time when Saudi Arabia were awarded a second penalty after a VAR review confirmed Ali Gabr pulled down Al Muwallad in the area.

That was the end of the stories of VAR-dictated penalties and penalties awarded and missed!




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