AGONAsport World Cup Daily Recap, Day 12: High Drama In Group B As Heavyweights Advance, But Only Just
Spain and Portugal advanced to the knockout round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after a dramatic Day 12. That wouldn’t seem like such a surprising headline as both sides were expected to easily come through a section that included Iran and Morocco. Yet, it was the two latter sides who impressed on the night. Iran came within a whisker of advancing as they drew 1-1 with Portugal. Morocco, already eliminated, played superbly and just missed out on defeating Spain due to a late goal in a 2-2 draw.
In Group A action earlier in the day, Uruguay handily defeated 10-man Russia 3-0, while Saudi Arabia sprung a mini-surprise with a 2-1 victory over Egypt.
Uruguay v Russia 3-0
The Russian juggernaut that began the World Cup with two straight victories came to a halt against Uruguay in a 3-0 defeat. Luis Suarez opened the scoring with a free-kick in the 10th minute. In the 23rd minute, Denis Cherysev could only deflect a Uruguayan shot past his own goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev for the sixth own goal of this World Cup. Soon after Igor Smolnikov left Russia down to 10 men with a second yellow card.
After that, the result was never in doubt and all that was left was for Edinson Cavani to slam home a rebound in injury-time to give Uruguay a comfortable victory and seal top spot in Group A.
Match Rating - 6: As straightforward a victory as Uruguay could have hoped. Russia had a couple of good moments, but overall looked more pedestrian against improved competition.
Saudi Arabia v Egypt 2-1
Mohamed Salah’s 22nd minute opener was not enough for Egypt as Saudi Arabia came back to win 2-1. Pride was the only thing these two sides were playing for in Volgograd. Salah’s goal looked to have put Egypt in control, but defensive lapses at the end of the first half cost Hector Cuper’s side greatly. The Saudis could have levelled in the 41st minute, but Fahad Al-Muwallad saw his penalty saved by Essam El Hadary. Four minutes later however, Egypt conceded another penalty and this time they scored thanks to Salman Al-Faraj.
Deep into injury-time Saudi Arabia grabbed the winner their performance deserved when Salem Al-Dawsari struck from close range.
Match Rating - 6.5: The Saudis were much improved in their third match of the competition and were on top for most of this match. Egypt were quite disappointing again and exit the tournament without a point.
Iran v Portugal 1-1
It was all about the late drama in Group B. Portugal looked like they were edging toward a victory against Iran, however they ended drawing the match and avoiding elimination by the skin of their teeth. Ricardo Quaresma’s spectacular goal put the Portuguese side ahead before halftime. When Cristiano Ronaldo won a penalty in the 53rd minute, the match appeared to be shifting toward an easy win for Portugal. Ronaldo’s spot-kick was saved however by Alireza Beiranvand, handing his Iran side a precious lifeline and the momentum.
Ronaldo avoided a red card for striking an opponent after a VAR review and a short while later, Iran were awarded a penalty also thanks to VAR. Karim Ansarifard blasted home from 12 yards and Iran were within a goal of the last 16. A minute later came the moment they so desired, but when Mehdi Taremi found himself against Rui Patricio in the area, he dragged his shot wide at the near post. The whistle sounded soon after and Portugal had survived.
Match Rating - 7.5: A finish worthy of a final Group Stage match. Portugal had controlled proceedings, but in the end saw their hopes dangling by a thread. Iran showed full commitment and fell just short of making the improbable probable.
Spain v Morocco 2-2
Spain advanced through to the Round of 16, topping Group B after a 2-2 draw with Morocco. Fernando Hierro’s team might have had nearly 70% of possession, but they had to come back twice in this pulsating clash against a Morocco only playing for pride.
Khalid Boutaib pounced on to a mistake by Gerard Pique in the 14th minute to give Herve Renard’s men the surprising lead. Andres Iniesta may be ageing and at the end of his playing days, but he showed his brilliance has no expiration date with a beautiful run and cutback assist for Isco to level the scored just five minutes later.
Spain did not manage to push on however, and the match stayed tied up until Youssef En-Nesyri scored nine minutes from time to see Morocco retake the lead. A VAR review late on saw Iago Aspas’ audacious backheel goal count as questions of offside determined by the referee not to be valid. The final whistle came minutes later and thanks to Iran’s draw against Portugal, Spain managed to top the Group B despite being held by their opponents.
Match Rating - 7: Spain were superb in their passing game, but still much too slow in their build-up play. Full credit to Morocco, who it could be argued were the better side in each of their three matches at the World Cup and are unlucky not to have got more from their efforts.
PAOK’s Amr Warda was a second half substitute (46’) for Egypt in the defeat to Saudi Arabia.
For Iran, two of the three players based in Greece received playing time against Portugal. Olympiacos left-back Ehsan Haji Safi started the match and played 56 minutes before coming off, while Erythrolefki striker Karim Ansarifard was brought on for the final 14 minutes and ended up scoring the tying goal for the Iranians in injury-time.
Former Greek national team coach Fernando Santos oversaw yet another progression to the knockout stage of the World Cup. After leading Greece to the Round of 16 four years ago, Santos guided Portugal to the same stage this time around in Russia thanks to the 1-1 draw versus Iran.
Morocco gave Manuel da Costa, a former Olympiacos center-back, a start against Spain, and he played the full 90 minutes.
GOAL OF THE DAY
Ricardo Quaresma’s outside of the foot curving effort from outside the box that ended up in the top corner is simply one of the goals of this tournament to date.
- Uruguay stroll past Russia
- Suarez and Cavani on target for Uruguayans
- Ronaldo misses penalty against Iran, avoids potential red card
- Quaresma stunner sees Portugal past Iran
- Iran draw at the death and fall just short
- Morocco impress in 2-2 draw with Spain
- Aspas’ leveller in injury-time save Spain and see them finish first in Group B.
- First two Round of 16 match-ups set with Uruguay-Portugal and Spain-Russia set for the weekend
LOOKING AHEAD TO TOMORROW
Groups C and D will be finalized on Tuesday. In Group C, Denmark play France in Moscow needing a result to ensure qualification to the next round. The Danes could also go through even with a loss, depending on what happens in the other match between Peru and Australia. The Aussies are in with a shout for qualification, they must defeat Peru and hope they can overtake Denmark on goal difference.
Argentina look to avoid a disastrous Group Stage exit when they take on Nigeria. The Albiceleste must defeat the Super Eagles then hope they overcome an inferior goal difference to Iceland, should the latter defeat a Croatia side already through to the next round.