The biggest winner at the World Cup on Monday was Spain, which won Group B in dramatic fashion with an added-time assist from the Video Assistant Referee.
The Spaniards were on the verge of losing 2-1 to Morocco, a loss that would have dropped them to second place in the group behind Portugal. Then, in the 91st minute, Iago Aspas scored what appeared to be the tying goal, only to see it called off-side by the line judge. The Video Assistant Referee crew took a closer look, overruled the line judge, and called it a goal.
Final score: Spain 2, Morocco 2.
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Meanwhile, in the other Group B game, a controversial injury-time penalty awarded after a VAR review gave Iran the tying goal against Portugal and the game ended 1-1. Spain and Portugal both finished with five points from three games, but Spain got the edge because of goals scored, so Spain faces Russia in the Round of 16, and Portugal has to play Uruguay, which beat Russia 3-0 on Monday.
As the final games of group play continue, some teams have already advanced to the knockout round, and others will soon be packing their bags and heading home. By Thursday afternoon, half the teams will be eliminated.
Here’s how things are shaping up, and some winners and losers from the first 11 days of the 2018 World Cup...
On to the Round of 16: Russia, Uruguay, France, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, England, Belgium.
Eliminated: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco, Peru, Costa Rica. Tunisia, Panama, Poland.
Winner: Russia. One of the weakest teams in the tournament, host Russia keeps the locals happy by advancing to the final 16 with a pair of wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt in its first two matches. A 3-0 loss to Uruguay Monday was a bit of a downer for the home crowd, but Russian fans surely are satisfied that their team is still alive and the tournament seems to be running smoothly.
Winner: Croatia. It’s no secret that Croatia has one of the strongest — if not THE strongest — midfields in the World Cup with Real Madrid teammates Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), and Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan). Still, few would have predicted that the checkerboard team would beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina 3-0 and lead the group with a game to go. Other teams that stood out so far are Mexico, France, England and Belgium.
Loser: Argentina. Heading into Tuesday’s do-or-die game against Nigeria, Argentina is languishing in last place in Group D after a 1-1 tie with Cup rookie Iceland and the stunning 3-0 loss to Croatia. The Argentines have just one point and a minus-3 goal differential. In order to avoid elimination, they need to beat Nigeria and hope that Croatia beats Iceland. Shouldering much of the blame/pressure is superstar Lionel Messi, who has won everything but a World Cup during his stellar career. His missed penalty kick against Iceland was very costly, and he was practically invisible against Croatia. Will he redeem himself or will he go down as perhaps the best player never to hoist the Cup?
Winner: Senegal. If you haven’t seen the video of the Senegalese team dancing at practice, you’re missing one of the highlights of this World Cup. Their happy chants and jubilant faces are a reminder of why the World Cup is such a special event.
Winner: Japanese and Senegalese fans, who have been staying after their matches to clean up trash from the stadium. Both sets of fans have been interviewed and explained that it is a tradition in their countries for fans to clean up after themselves. Imagine that.
Loser: U.S. Soccer. The World’s Biggest Party goes on without the United States, and fun as it may be, it would be far more fun for American fans (and more lucrative for U.S. sports bars and soccer stores) if the U.S. team was playing. It was particularly painful watching Panama lose 6-1 to England. Hard to imagine the U.S. team would have lost that badly. Then again, it did fail to beat Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Monday that the U.S. men will play friendlies against Brazil Sept 7 in East Rutherford, N.J., against Mexico Sept. 11 in Nashville, at England Nov. 15 and at Italy Nov. 20 (sites TBA). Will be interesting to see how the new lineup fares.
Winner: Germany’s Toni Kroos, whose dramatic late-game goal defeated Sweden and kept the German hopes alive.
Winner: Own Goal. The leading scorer in this World Cup so far is Own Goal. There have been six own goals scored, which ties the all-time record set over the entire 1998 tournament. But the Golden Boot trophy goes to a human, and right now England’s Harry Kane leads the race with five goals.
Tuesday’s matches: Denmark vs. France, Australia vs. Peru, Nigeria vs. Argentina, Iceland vs. Croatia.