Fourteen days, forty-eight matches, 32 nations and 122 goals — the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has come up with moments of magnificent brilliance transcending barriers of sport and culture, but has also been one filled with surprises and glaring errors.
Here are a few individual errors which cost teams points and affected their chances in the remainder of the tournament.
Aziz Bouhaddouz — Morocco vs Iran
Morocco arrived in Russia with an exciting band of players; never raising expectations that they would make it out of a group comprising of Spain and Portugal, but with the self-belief that they could match up to the best in the business with impressive pressing and a splendidly talented group of offensive-minded players who can cut open any defence at will. And then, Iran happened.
Before Morocco rightfully scared both the reigning European champions and the 2010 World Cup winners, they had already made a difficult task near impossible for themselves with a stupefying own goal in the stoppage time of their opening fixture. Aziz Bouhaddouz, Morocco’s substitute centre-forward, scored a bullet header off a cross from Iran’s Ehsaj Hajsafi — the only problem being he slotted the header into his own net. Iran had an unlikely win and Morocco’s campaign veered off the rails, the African nation finishing last in their group.
David de Gea — Spain vs Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the headlines in Portugal’s crucial World Cup-opener against Spain, but it was David de Gea's shoddy display and not simply Ronaldo's might that robbed Spain of three points on that evening in Moscow.
First was De Gea's 'Karius' moment of the World Cup, when he spilled Ronaldo’s strike into his own net and Spain were pulled back to a goal down against the turn of the play. Then, there was the Manchester United keeper’s poor wall placement during Ronaldo's fantastic late free-kick that allowed the Real Madrid talisman to swerve his shot past the wall into De Gea's net.
Those two seemingly harmless errors had almost cost Spain their top spot in Group B standings, and they had to rely on a resilient Iran and a controversial VAR decision to seal the group winner's tag.
Willy Caballero — Argentina vs Croatia
“They fell apart at the back, but were punished in a stunning fashion,” John Helm came up with a vintage quote for Croatia’s first goal against Argentina at Nizhny Novgorod when Willy Caballero came up with the gaffe of the tournament to gift Croatia with the goal that sealed their passage to the last sixteen. Under pressure from the Croatian front three, Gabriel Mercado played a back pass to his goalkeeper which should have been cleared up field with ease. Ante Rebic was simply chasing down the ball like any other routine attacker, but a weak, miscued shot from Caballero looped the ball up for Rebic who finished with an overhead volley.
Caballero had looked unconvincing all throughout his two appearances, but such an error is disgraceful even at school-level games. Argentina had struggled against Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ and would eventually go on to lose 3-0 courtesy two more wonderful goals from Modric and Rakitic, but it was the fashion in which Rebic found the opening goal that took the wind out of Argentina’s sails, with nobody but Caballero accountable for that howler.
Cristiano Ronaldo — Portugal vs Iran
There is no doubt that if there is a player who has single-handedly carried his team into the knockouts, it is Cristiano Ronaldo and not a certain Argentine plying his trade in Catalonia. But the Portuguese erred only once in the first three matches — missing his second-half penalty against Iran.
Had Ronaldo scored, Iran's late goal and the much-criticised VAR decision to penalise Cedric Soares for a handball he didn’t commit would not have mattered. It was a rare moment of indecisiveness from the otherwise flamboyant forward — one moment that potentially changed Portugal’s fortunes in the knockouts.
Victor Moses — Nigeria vs Argentina
Just when it looked like the dream was once again slipping away from Argentina’s grasp, Marcos Rojo scored a sweet volley four minutes from full-time to send La Albiceleste through to the Round of 16. Lionel Messi had cut a forlorn figure towards the end of the game in spite of weaving his magic all through the match and scoring a montage-worthy goal. There wasn’t much hope left after Javier Mascherano gifted Nigeria a penalty and Victor Moses promptly converted it, but the football Gods had other plans.
Moses, playing in a familiar role as the right wing-back, was tasked with tracking Marcos Rojo, the free runner into the Nigerian penalty area. Moses failed to read Gabriel Mercado’s cross as well as Rojo’s superb run that allowed Argentina to take the lead. It was a piece of lazy defending from the Chelsea player at a crunch moment — one which ended up costing Nigeria their Round of 16 berth.
Toni Kroos — Germany vs South Korea
Some would say Germany's entire World Cup campaign in Russia was a blooper of epic proportions, but it was South Korea's first goal during the defending champions' final group stage fixture which truly eliminated Joachim Loew’s side; and the player culpable was none other than Toni Kroos — who had saved Germany against Sweden with a sensational late goal.
Kroos' miscued pass found its way to Kim Young-gwon who poked it into the net to get the Taeguk Warriors a memorable victory and send Mexico through to the knockouts. Until that stoppage time goal, Germany could still turn it around and scrape their way through with a late winner, but that goal ended a miserable campaign with a moment of despair for Die Mannschaft.
Some of these errors have cost their nations a favourable draw, while others have paid with the ultimate price of elimination — it remains to be seen whether the knockout stages are decided by sporting brilliance or individual slip-ups.
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 15:12:19 IST