FOOTBALL | June 22, 2018

WORLD CUP 2018: 5 Best Moments From The First Round Of Fixtures

From unexpected wins to stunning free-kicks and penalty saves, we look back at some of the exciting moments from the first round of the group games. Here are our top 5 picks of the best moments from the World Cup so far:

#5 Golovin Free-Kick in Russia’s 5 Star Opener

Definitely a thrilling match to kick-off the World Cup, Russia took on Saudi Arabia with a surprising 5-0 win. No host nation has ever lost the opening game so far and despite their (Russia) only single victory during knock-out rounds, the team rise to the pitch and shook the world with their first big win.

Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin put on a show. Cheryshev came on for the injured Alan Dzagoev on 24 minutes and helped himself to a goal, including a sensational second with the outside of his boot after 90 minutes.

But at 4-0 Russia weren’t finished as Golovin curled in a delightful free-kick to give the host nation a five star opening to their tournament. The 22-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder capped off his fine display, having setting up two goals earlier.

#4 Halldórsson Saves Messi’s Penalty 

On his 50th cap for his country, Hannes Halldórsson denied Lionel Messi from the spot to earn Iceland a 1-1 draw in their first ever World Cup match.

The Icelandic keeper came prepared for the World Cup as he did his own research on Messi’s great plays and it was all worth it with his big save. “I did some homework. This was a situation which I knew could come up. I looked at a lot of penalties from Messi and had a good feeling that he would go this way today,” Halldórsson said afterwards.

Iceland made it to the quarter-finals of their first major tournament at Euro 2016, before they succumbed to a 5-2 defeat against hosts France. They had been the surprise package: drawing 1-1 to Portugal in their opener and knocking out England 2-1 in the Round of 16.

#3 Lozano Helps Mexico Take Down the World Champions

Hirving Lozano, 22, won the Eredivisie in his first season, leading PSV Eindhoven with 17 goals from left wing. So there is no doubt he would have appeared on the Germans‘ scouting report ahead of the World Cup opener.

The player fondly known as ‘Chucky’ by his teammates inflicted a nightmare to start to Die Mannschaft’s World Cup defense, as he cut inside Mesut Özil before thumping the ball past Manuel Neuer.  Mexico held on to the lead to win 1-0 and provide the first major upset for the Germans, but an ecstatic win for Mexicans and their growing fan base. Could this be the year of the “underdogs”?

The shock defeat follows a trend of reigning champions struggling in their opening World Cup matches. Only Brazil have managed to win their first World Cup match as reigning champions in recent tournaments: (2002) France 0-1 Senegal, (2006) Brazil 1-0 Croatia, (2010) Italy 1-1 Paraguay, and (2014) Spain 1-5 Holland.

#2 Kane’s Stoppage-Time Winner

Out of the group stages in Brazil ‘14, a shock defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, England fans must have feared the worst when Kyle Walker conceded a penalty against a toothless Tunisia side.

The Three Lions dominated the opening exchanges, but looked like they might have to settle for a draw after a disappointing second half performance.

But it just takes a moment to score a goal, and Harry Kane is one of the best in the business at finding the back of the net. The youngest ever England captain at a World Cup led his team past the Eagles of Carthage with a clinical stoppage-time header.

Given the dimensions of Group G, Kane’s late winner might prove to be decisive in England’s quest to qualify from the group stages.

#1 Ronaldo’s Equalising Free-Kick Against Spain

Portugal’s 3-3 draw against rivals Spain proved to be an instant classic. The European Champions leaned on their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who won and scored an early penalty, before seeing David de Gea spill his speculative shot into the net for Ronaldo’s second.

Spain, who twice came from behind to level through Diego Costa, took the lead thanks to a wonder strike from Nacho. The right-back fully redeeming himself, after gifting Portugal their penalty with a clumsy foul.

La Roja then proceeded to see out the game with their tiki-taka football.  But with four minutes to go, Ronaldo drew a foul from Gerard Pique in a dangerous position, to give Portugal a chance to draw the match.

And despite failing to register from 43 free-kicks in major tournaments prior to Russia, the Nike Mercurial man completed his hat-trick in emphatic style: curling an unstoppable free-kick around the wall, and leaving de Gea rooted to the spot.

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