By Ras Wadada
The Greatest mono-mania show is well underway in Eastern Europe and closely captured around the Globe as the 21st edition of the World Cup football tournament kicked-off in Moscow City in record-breaking style for the home side, followed by the ‘Ronaldo Show’, before VAR and own-goal took center stage in three days of absorbing competition.
The Russian demolition of Saudi Arabia is only bettered by Italy’s 7-1 drubbing of the USA in 1934 for host nations in opening World Cup matches. Yuri Gazinskiy’s headed goal, in the 12th minute, to start the goal-fest was the first shot on target in the game and also marked the first time an opening goal was netted by the head since Cameroon’s Francois Omam Biyik against Argentina at Italy 1990. It was also Gazinskiy’s debut international goal in his 7th appearance.
Also writing his name into history was Denis Cheryshev who became the first substitute to score in an opening match when he blasted a left-footer from close range, two minutes from half-time. It was also his first International goal for Russia in his 12th cap.
Another history maker was defender Sergei Ignashevich who, at 38 years 335 days, became the oldest player to represent Russia at the World Cup. The ‘Russian blast’, in the opening act, more than doubled their tally of two in Brazil four years ago and has given hope to the nation for making the knockout stage while the Saudis should be better prepared for their next engagement since another defeat could mean their early exit.
After an exciting opening, if not one-sided contest, there were two dull games that saw two North Africans battling gamely to 0-1 defeats to start day two. Egypt falling to an ordinary looking Uruguay in the dying moments of the game while Morocco went under to Iran in the final minute of regulation time, compliments of an own goal.
It was then to the attention of the most anticipated first round group match between Iberian giants Spain and Portugal where the charismatic Cristiano Ronaldo erupted to inspire his nation to a deserved 3-3 draw in what will surely go down as one of the most thrilling World Cup encounters played in the group stage. In his best performance at his fourth ‘Big Dance’ appearance he single-handedly gave the Portuguese a vital opening point when he netted the 51st treble in World Cup history, coincidentally it was his 51st hat-trick for club and country as well.
The first strike from the penalty mark also placed him in an exclusive company of five players to have scored in four different World Cup tournaments. Pele of Brazil and Uwe Seeler of Germany did so between 1958 and 1970 and four years ago in Brazil, the Polish-born adopted German, Miroslav Klose also inked his name to the elite group on his way to becoming the top marksman of the tournament with 16 goals between 2002 and 2018.
Ronaldo’s second goal could be considered fortuitous and blamed on the world class Daved de Gea who should have done much better. The crowning of the outstanding performance was a thing of beauty and from the moment he picked himself up from the infringement committed by Gerard Pique he looked readily focused and confident for the spot kick that could level the score at 3, with two minutes plus added time remaining. It seemed like the moment the 33-yaerold was waiting on and surely delivered a perfect right-footed execution from just outside the area that curled around the wall and dipped into the ‘onion bag’, leaving de Gea and the entire Spain in bemusement, while delighting all who witnessed such rare genius of the ‘Beautiful Game’.
The Real Madrid and European mega-star of football has finally responded to the ‘Big Stage’ and in an explosive way that has set the tone for the others to follow, though his rival Lionel Messi had a dismal start to his fourth appearance yesterday, failing to convert a penalty to give Argentina a winning start against debutant Iceland who held on for a 1-1 stalemate.
Yesterday was also a day for FIFA’s innovation the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to prove its worth as penalties overlooked by the ruling referee in two games were awarded and, while France gleefully accepted theirs to overcome a defiant Australia 2-1, it was not so with Peru as the attempt from the spot kick awarded by VAR and taken by Christian Cueva, just before half time, went high over the crossbar and with it went the hope of a South American win as Denmark eked out a 1-0 win.
Amid all the excitement a player of Guyanese roots made his World Cup debut when he came on as a substitute in the 67th minute for Denmark yesterday. The 27 year-old Martin Braithwaite, who plays for Bordeaux in the French Leagues is the son of Guyanese born, Keith Braithwaite. The elder Braithwaite, who was born in Ketley Street, Charlestown, but grew up in Lodge is the younger brother of Ian Chan who is a former Thomas United and national U-19 forward of the mid-70s. Their family migrated to the USA in 1982 and Braithwaite later moved to Denmark with his Danish wife Heidi. The union has also produced two daughters, including 14 year-old Matilda who is on Denmark’s national U-16 team.
Today fans are expecting a Special Father’s Day treat from the world’s most expensive player, Neymar who will lead his unit against a Switzerland side using memories of the 2009 World Cup youth football in Nigeria where the Swiss prevailed 1-0 to send the Brazilians crashing out of the tournament. Among those who played in that game are goalkeeper Alisson, Casemeiro, Couthino and Neymar who are using the disappointing memories to evoke a high degree of motivation for the Samba Boys going into the 3:00 pm meeting.
The Cup holders, Germany, will also be in action today when they come up against CONCACAF giants Mexico at 11:00 am and preceding that at 8:00 am will be Costa Rica against Serbia. More mouth-watering matches, with record-breaking performances will be served up. The party has been lit up by the well-loved Ronaldo, now it is the turn of another highly favored in the world of the sport, Neymar. Not to forget a young and hungry Timo Werner of Germany.