FIFA World Cup 2018: Mohamed Salah hitting top gear, Andres Iniesta finding his touch, a fan's wish for Matchday 12

Saudi Arabia vs Egypt
1) Saudi to score a goal
The less said about the Saudi performance in the opening game against Russia, the better. They were all at sea and deserved their crushing defeat. But I was gutted when they lost 1-0 to a Uruguayan side that was extremely fortunate to emerge victorious. Yesterday, I saw the jubilation of Panama supporters when they scored their first-ever World Cup goal. The Saudi fans have been terrific throughout, and I’d like them to be able to cheer a goal at this tournament.
2) Mohamed Salah to enter top gear

Egypt's Mohamed Salah trains at the Volgograd Arena. AFP

Egypt's Mohamed Salah trains at the Volgograd Arena. AFP

If Egypt have an excuse for their underwhelming performance in Russia, it’s the lack of fitness of their star player Mo Salah, who missed the first game and looked out of sorts in the second. Given the season he’s had for Liverpool, I’d like the World Cup to get a glimpse of what Salah is capable of, even if it’s just for one dead rubber.
3) Both sides to play like they have nothing to lose
No, literally. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have nothing to lose. They’re eliminated anyway. So I’d like to see them play for pride, with both sides coming in with an attacking setup and really going for it.

Uruguay vs Russia
1) Goals, goals, and goals
This game has mouthwatering potential to turn into a goalfest. Uruguay are an attacking side with such talents as Cavani and Suarez. Russia are the joint top-scorers in this tournament. If both attacks click, we could be in for a wild contest.
2) Cavani to have his moment
I’m a big fan of Edinson Cavani, for his attitude and diligence, his humility, and of course his prodigious skills. But Cavani flattered to deceive in the first two games, touching the ball a mere 17 times in a laborious performance against Egypt. Many South American stars — Neymar, Messi, Suarez — have struggled at this tournament. I’d like to see Cavani buck that trend with a memorable performance.
3) A raucous home crowd
The fans at Russia 2018 have been top-notch, packing stadiums and making a great deal of noise. The home fans of the Russian side have been among the best of all, and the scenes they created before the tournament opener were unforgettable. If they can replicate that tonight in Samara, they may well spur the players for greater heights.

Iran vs Portugal
1) Anyone other than Ronaldo to score
Before 2016, Portugal received a lot of flak for being a ‘one-man team’, that depended completely on Cristiano Ronaldo. On the evidence of this World Cup, it’s hard to refute that assertion: Ronaldo has scored all four of Portugal’s goals in their first two games. The Iberians boast of plenty of talent besides their star man, so I’d like to see anyone, literally anyone, else score a goal for Portugal.
2) Iran to showcase their attacking ability
Iran’s performance in their previous game against Spain was a great show of defensive structure and organisation, particularly in the first half. Iran are still in with a shot of qualifying for the next round, but they will probably need to beat Portugal. Iran’s only goal at the tournament so far has been an own goal by a Moroccan player, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Asian giants have attacking talent at their disposal though, so I’d like to see them give it a shot.
3) An unexpected conclusion
This entire tournament has been one surprise result after another. At this point, most would probably predict a narrow victory for Portugal, but I’m wary of sticking my neck out. The expected result would be passé, of course, so I’d like to see these sides spring a surprise. Draw, victory for Iran, thrashing by Portugal, anything will do.

Spain vs Morocco
1) An Iniesta encore
No football fan needs reminding of that thrilling moment at the 2010 World Cup final, when Andres Iniesta scored in the 116th-minute to win the tournament for the Spaniards. With the legend now 34 and probably at his final World Cup, I’d like to see one last crowning glory for him against Morocco.
2) A Hakim Ziyach free-kick
Hakim Ziyach is among my favourite lesser-known players. His silken touch, creative vision and elegant passing can be a joy to watch. But it’s his free-kicks, incisive and deadly, that I enjoy the most. He has been quiet at this World Cup, but with Morocco already eliminated, I would like to see Ziyach go out with a bang.
3) Spain to enter top gear
Spain have four points and have scored four goals, better than many pre-tournament favourites (cough…Argentina). But they are yet to play their characteristic flowing, passing tiki-taka game for long periods. Morocco are likely the weakest opponents they will face in Russia, so I’d like to see Spain show us the very best of what they can do.


Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 18:01 PM

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