The match number 16th between Poland and Senegal marked the round 1 of matches complete for all the teams at the World Cup. The World Cup started with a bang as the home nation, Russia, with their home supporters screaming at their back, scored 5 goals past a hapless Saudi Arabia. The host nation couldn’t have asked for a better start than this, with so many pre-World Cup doubts about this Russian team being the weakest ever to play in a World Cup. As good as the start was for Round 1 matches, the ending was equally good with Senegal looking ominous to replicate their 2002 World Cup success, where they surprised many by reaching the quarterfinals in their maiden World Cup appearance.
The following are the few key take aways from the first round:
1. Home support
Russian football team was struggling to find a winning momentum before the World Cup. As a host nation they were automatically qualified for the World Cup and didn’t had to go through the qualification rounds. This meant they are short of competitive match practice and were really underprepared than other teams at the World Cup. They were struggling so much that they failed to win any of their seven international friendly matches prior to this World Cup. However it all changed when they stood with their right hand on their heart, head held high and sang the Russian national anthem along with thousands of Russian fans before the first match kick-off against Saudi Arabia. This extra motivated Russian side did wonders and won the match 5-0 to everyone’s surprise.
The introduction of VAR in a World Cup for the first time brought divided opinion among fans. It’s upto your own perspective how you view this introduction to technology in Football. While some are happy with close to accurate analysis and decision making by referees, others are worried about the charm and romance of a football match being overtaken by technology. But one thing we clearly saw in the first round of matches was Penalties. Antoine Griezmann of France was the first player to score a penalty given after VAR review.
3. Late goals
While the first match was like a TGV speeding towards it’s destination, the next few matches brought it down to a halt and matched the speed of an Indian local train. In the next 15 matches, only twice a team won by a margin of more than 1 goal. But one thing we observed was there will be goals. None of the 16 matches ended in a drab 0-0 draw. Talking about draws; Spain vs Portugal probably was the most entertaining draw one would remember in recent World Cups.
4. The Underdogs
This World Cup is proving to be the World Cup of underdogs. None of the so called small inexperienced nations were ready to bow out from a fight that easily. Uruguay had to wait until last minutes to get a winner against Egypt. Iran won in the 95th minutes with the help of a fortunate own goal against a much stronger Morocco team. France struggled against Australia to get a win, Iceland shut out Argentina to get a well deserved draw, Peru threatened Denmark the whole match, Brazilian superstars had no answer to the Swiss machine like defense and had to settle for a draw, England had to wait for extra time to find a winner against Tunisia, Japan defeated Colombia, the last time quarter finalists, Senegal defeated Poland while registering the first win for an African country in this World Cup. But the biggest surprise was the defeat of World Cup holders, Germany at the hands of a charged up, super attacking, motivated Mexican side. All these just makes every match unavoidable and very interesting to watch. There is a feeling that this World Cup is not so open and up for grabs for the favourites as it looked before the tournament began.
5. Up next: Round 2
As the round 1 matches finished with narrow wins, upsets and damaging draws, the World Cup is all geared up for a very tense round 2 matches for every team as it’ll prove to be a extended stay in Russia or pack your bags and take an early flight kind of result for some teams. So stay tuned and glued to your TV’s and mobile phones. The World Cup is just getting started and is ready to thrill you more and more in the coming days.