World Cup, day 12: the things you might have missed
Spain’s shaky defence
For a defence that has the experienced, high-quality pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique at its heart, Spain’s back four looked shaky against Morocco. In the first half alone, Khalid Boutaib burst through the Spanish backline - scoring once and firing the other at David de Gea, who at least now has now made a save in the 2018 World Cup (something he hadn’t done in the first two games).
Ramos was culpable for the first Moroccan goal, failing to respond to a rare poor touch by Iniesta. Pique, meanwhile, risked a red card with a two-footed lunge in the opening 10 minutes of the game that fortunately made no contact with Boutaib. Then in the second half, Youssef En-Nesyri's towering header completely caught the Spanish defence out. Only Iago Aspas's late equaliser gave Spain a 2-2 draw (after a successful VAR review had ruled out the original offside call).
You’d expect that, given their experience of winning huge knockout matches, Ramos and Pique would snap into life in the last-16 tie with Russia. They will need to. They looked half-asleep in this match as Spain’s defence struggled against already-eliminated opponents.
Ronaldo isn't flawless - nor is VAR
Portugal are a goal to the good against Iran. Cristiano Ronaldo is lining up a penalty that would put his side virtually into the knockout stages and draw him level with Harry Kane in the Golden Boot stakes. What happens next?
Normally we’d be talking about a bulging net, a terrific leap and some bulging muscles inside a Portugal No.7 shirt as Ronaldo celebrates yet another goal. However, Ronaldo fired his penalty far too close to Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvan, who dived to his left and clutched the ball to his chest.
That could have proved costly when Iran scored a late and hugely controversial penalty. VAR intruded once more in regard to a handball against Cedric Soares, the referee changing his mind after examining the footage and awarding a spot-kick. It looked harsh - and would have looked even more harsh had Mehdi Taremi not squandered a late chance to give Iran a shock 2-1 win. As it is, Portugal held on for the draw and will face Uruguay next.
Quaresma's magic touch
There’s a silver lining for Ronaldo not being the match-winning saviour for Portugal. A side that had been accused of being well-organised but essentially too dependant on their talisman to provide any cutting edge actually scored in this match thanks to a brilliant bit of skill from Ricardo Quaresma.
It’s always lovely when a player brings their specialist bit of skill to a World Cup. We’re thinking Andres Iniesta with a defence-splitting pass, Philippe Coutinho curling one in from outside the box or Pepe screaming and dropping to the grass when somebody brushes past him. Well, Quaresma brought his specialist piece of skill to Russia.
The mercurial 34-year-old scored a sublime, trademark ‘trivela’ against Iran to break the deadlock just before half-time, curling on into the net with the outside of his foot. Terrific stuff – and proof that there’s more to Portugal than just CR7. Uruguay have been warned.
El-Hadary makes history
Aged 45 years and 161 days, Egypt's Essam El-Hadary has made history as the oldest player ever to feature at a World Cup, beating the previous record held by Colombia's Faryd Mondragon by a whopping two years and 158 days.
The veteran was on track to start the Pharaohs' first two matches against Uruguay and Russia but ultimately lost out to the 29-year-old Mohamed El Shenawy. Egypt's early exit always made it likely that Hector Cuper would grant El-Hadary his grand moment, though, as he did in handing him his World Cup debut as a record-breaker against Saudi Arabia.
It was memorable for more than just his appearance, however: the Al Taawoun glovesman also saved a first-half penalty from Saudi Arabia's Fahad Al-Muwallad, making him only the fourth goalkeeper to save a spot-kick on his World Cup debut (see also: Hannes Halldorsson, Iceland; Tony Meola, USA and Ramon Quiroga, Peru).
He couldn't keep out a second penalty from Salman Al Faraj deep into first-half stoppage time, though, and was beaten in the 95th minute by Salem Al-Dawsari – marking a miserable, pointless tournament for Egypt.
Oscar picks a winner
It’s hard to tell much from a dead rubber but hopes (or fears) that Uruguay would grow into this tournament after two pedestrian 1-0 wins were given life by their 3-0 victory over Russia. In particular, Oscar Tabarez shuffled his midfield pack and – if he did so with an eye on resting players – he may be tempted to continue the changes for his side’s last-16 tie with Portugal.
Diego Laxalt, Lucas Torreira and Nahitan Nandez came into midfield and there was more zip to Uruguay’s passing as they pried Russia open in the first half. The goals might have come from a Luis Suarez free-kick and a cruel deflection off Denis Cheryshev from Laxalt’s shot, but the dynamic attacking football of the men in sky blue clearly unsettled the Russians.
Combine that with a defence that’s kept three clean sheets and Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez both among the goals and, suddenly, Uruguay look a lot more formidable.
Ref rejects VAR
The psychological impact of a VAR urging you to review a contentious decision has arguably made many on-pitch referees change their minds so far this summer, but Wilmar Roldan – infamously, the man in the middle for England vs Tunisia – was unperturbed when making a decisive call in Saudi Arabia's win over Egypt.
Roldan gave the Saudis two spot-kicks in the game, the first for Ali Gabr's alleged tug on Al-Muwallad. It was soft, and went to VAR, but Roldan stuck to his guns and – rightly or wrongly – his original decision anyway. FFT makes that the first such case at this World Cup.