1. Cristiano Ronaldo goes old school
The 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo is supposed to have planed down his game in his later years. He’s a lethal, penalty box predator who doesn’t always run at players as often as he once did. But to break the deadlock early in Portugal vs Spain, he reverted to the old Cristiano – one that Manchester United fans will readily recall.
He ran at Nacho, just inside the box, fooled him with a stepover and the Spanish defender tripped Portugal’s danger man. Ronaldo coolly converted his penalty – and from there he was unstoppable, his late free-kick sealing his hat-trick and a 3-3 draw for Spain in an absolute humdinger.
2. David de Gea misses: the ball
Spain’s No.1 is one of the very best goalkeepers in the world. Yet he'll be grateful that the spectacular nature of this game will mask his horrific clanger somewhat. Cristiano Ronaldo’s speculative shot late in the first simply went right through the Manchester United keeper (in scenes that brought back memories of Rob Green against the USA in 2010) giving Portugal a 2-1 lead.
It was a jaw-dropping moment, but he was saved by Diego Costa levelling the scores in the second half, then Nacho redeeming his own error with a wonderful strike that hit both posts and then the back of the net for 3-2. All before, you-know-who had the last word.
3. Blunt edges dull the drama
Away from Portugal vs Spain, the pattern of this World Cup is a lack of cutting edge. Uruguay suffered an off day in front of goal despite the presence of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Other nations simply don't have that firepower: Saudi Arabia were hapless on day one, Egypt didn't look like scoring without Mo Salah, Morocco failed to score, while Iran made history: a stoppage-time own goal meant they won their game against the Moroccans despite not having a single shot in that second half.
Morocco themselves were a particular case in point. Hervé Renard has built a good side – in the opening 20 minutes it seemed to be more a question of how many they'd score against Iran. But a clinical touch was lacking, summed up by crown jewel Hakim Ziyech's comical air shot within five minutes. After a goalmouth scramble shortly after, the Atlas Lions didn't really threaten again until 10 minutes from time. They were duly punished late on.
4. Suarez fools Pearce
“1-0 Uruguay... the referee has disallowed it!” cried Jonathan Pearce as Suarez lashed the ball wide, into the side-netting, during the first half of Uruguay vs Egypt. To be fair to the BBC commentator, who has a bit of previous for getting a bit confused at World Cups, the angle was clearly deceptive.
We’ve all been there. Rumour has it there are still people in England today celebrating Raheem Sterling’s 'goal' against Italy from the 2014 World Cup. What’s more surprising is Suarez making such a hash of a good chance. The Barcelona pest looked completely out of sorts throughout, lacking his usual sharpness, and will have been more relieved than most that Jose Gimenez's late header broke the deadlock and delivered Uruguay the win.
5. Hector Cuper is a fibber
Egypt manager Hector Cuper said that Mo Salah would “almost 100%” play against Uruguay, yet the Pharaohs’ star sat on the bench throughout. Sensible in terms of protecting the player, perhaps, but it might have contributed to Egypt’s sour ending. When Cuper made his final substitution in the 87th minute and it was confirmed Salah would play no part, the noise dropped inside the stadium and Uruguay almost instantly hit the post, then quickly scored their winner.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence and the tired legs of the Egyptians would have caught up with them anyway, but it certainly appeared as though the realisation that Salah wouldn't feature sucked some energy from their fans and players, while emboldening Uruguay. The Liverpool man looked close to tears after that late Gimenez winner.
6. A cause to get behind
The year is 2018, and still women are banned from attending football matches in Iran – a law imposed in 1979 by the country's leaders. The rule was apparently designed to protect rather than punish them, shielding female supporters from vulgar language and overexcitement at matches, say the clergy.
So it was hugely pleasing, then, to see so many female Iranians in attendance witnessing their national team's first World Cup victory for 20 years in Saint Petersburg. Mercifully, the archaic law is under threat and women have support from Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who declared in May: “There should be no difference between men and women in Islam, and for that reason women should also be allowed to take part in sports events.”
Hopefully, as overexcited as they wish to be.
7. Sad sea of orange
Disappointingly, one of the most obvious elements of Egypt and Uruguay's drab tussle was the number of empty seats at the Yekaterinburg Arena. The 36,000-capacity stadium is the most eastern of Russia's 12 at this World Cup – awkward in itself – but also notable for its quirky, 45m temporary stands built around the outside of the original perimeter (see above). Previously, it only held 23,000 for local team Ural Yekaterinburg.
But while the temporary stands were largely full, vast swathes of the seats in the original stadium were not. But that's hardly surprising: tickets in the most expensive area of the ground cost 12,600 rubles (£150), and drop accordingly from there – and they're just those at face value. Combine inconvenient geography with steep costs to leave FIFA somewhat red-faced. Up next there is France vs Peru on June 21.
8. Bit of a buzz
Thought you'd escaped the vuvuzelas of South Africa 2010? Think again. FFT was concerned that it may have just been suffering from some violent World Cup tinnitus, but our struggle is real – the dreaded plastic horns were out in force for Morroco-Iran. Be afraid. Bzzzzzzzzzzz!
Words: Alex Reid, Joe Brewin
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