Since Russia drew the curtain on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, soccer fans have been treated to a host of late drama, an all-time individual effort from one of the all-time greats and the first Minnesota United player to step onto soccer’s grandest stage. Set pieces, underdogs and the introduction of VAR have grabbed early headlines in Russia.
Just over half (20-of-38) of the goals scored in the group stage’s first round came from a set piece — many of which proved decisive in crucial moments. Uruguay and Iran both scored from free kicks at the death to snatch three points in their opening matches against a Mo Salah-less Egypt and Morocco, respectively, while England’s Harry Kane’s header provided his side a stoppage-time winner over Tunisia via a corner.
It may not have won the match, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s last gasp free kick goal against Spain was arguably the most notable set piece of the weekend. It not only equalized the match and saved a point for Portugal, but also capped the World Cup’s only hat trick to this point.
Take a bow, Cristiano Ronaldo. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/pJwSByuz5y— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 15, 2018
Though they did not come in as dramatic a fashion, Serbia, Sweden and Japan found match-winners from a free kick, a penalty and a corner at the expense of MNUFC defender Francisco Calvo’s Costa Rican side, South Korea, and Colombia, respectively, while Switzerland equalized from a corner in its draw with heavily favored Brazil.
But the most talked about set piece was one that was not converted: Argentina superstar Lionel Messi’s penalty kick that was turned away by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, which preserved a surprising point for the tiny island nation.
Iceland was not the only underdog to get a result. In addition to Switzerland’s aforementioned draw with Brazil and Japan’s win over Colombia, Mexico and Chucky Lozano stunned defending champion Germany, 1-0, for the biggest upset of this year's tournament to date. It was the first time ever that Germany, Brazil and Argentina all failed to win their opening World Cup match. That fact bodes especially poorly for the Germans as only Spain in 2010 managed to win the World Cup after dropping its first match.
THIS IS HOW MUCH IT MEANS 🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/9eWi5YcR35— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2018
In its World Cup debut, VAR has already been used four times to much acclaim or criticism depending on who you ask. It gave Antoine Griezmann the penalty that helped France fend off Australia’s upset bid, awarded Peru a penalty that would have given it a lead over Denmark had Christian Cueva not skyed it over the crossbar and provided the penalty that Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist utilized to lift his country over South Korea.
But should it have been used in the Brazil-Switzerland match? Steven Zuber’s equalizer for the Swiss was shrouded in controversy after he cleared space for the header by holding Brazilian Miranda by the arm and then pushing him in the back. No foul was called on the play and VAR declined to review it much to the scorn of the five-time world champions.
Russia’s 3-0 win over Egypt on Tuesday kicked off the second round of group stage matches. Match day two action continues on Wednesday, June 20 with Group B play between Portugal and Morocco at 7:00 a.m. CT on FOX Sports 1 and Iran vs. Spain at 1:00 p.m. on FOX, as well as a Group A match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia on FOX at 10:00 a.m.
World Cup Results: Group Stage Matchday 1 of 3 (June 14-19)