By Prarthana Mitra
A whole lot of unsettling losses, triumphant tales from fringe teams and political overtones marked the first week of the world’s biggest football tournament, currently underway in Russia. In the midst of Argentina’s miserable performance, leaving them on the brink of elimination, Spain managed to look the most comfortable and penetrative in possession at the end of the first week, except when facing Cristiano Ronaldo.
The host nation with Uruguay leads Group A with 6 points each, and have managed to crush the dreams of Egypt, whose debut at the World Cup comes weeks after Mo Salah’s injury in the EUFA Championship final. However, the “King of Egypt” who faced Russia in their second match was quickly sidelined by the Russian team. Saudi Arabia too bowed out of the tournament, as Luis Suarez’s goal sealed their fate.
The big names delivered at the World Cup on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/yrmR9oxnYD
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 20, 2018
In Group B, Spain and Portugal have 4 points each, drawing with each other in the first group match. Iran’s national football team, which hasn’t yet managed to score a victory, comes to the World Cup with a large political burden. Nike refused to provide Iranian footballers with its boots due to new sanctions after Washington marched out of the deal that traded a lifting of international sanctions for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
In Group C, France’s two victories so far were marked by unconvincing and underwhelming performances against Australia and Peru. However, the largely diasporic team displayed a rare egalitarianism. But the most dramatic and peripetic matches are taking place in Group D, where Argentina is ready to bid the tournament goodbye after Lionel Messi’s penalty miss against Croatia who leads the table. While a large part of the blame lay on coach Sampaoli, it remains to be seen if a miracle can bring them back in the fold.
A disaster for Lionel Messi and Argentina. pic.twitter.com/CbAqCjLt09
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 21, 2018
In the same group, Nigeria vanquished Iceland in the latest match, but the underdog nation which rose to fame in UEFA Euro 2016 has won hearts all over the world. Halgrimmson, the coach, talked about the importance of fan support and engagement in a recent interview. He encourages fans to attend regular meetings at the pub to discuss tactics. Amongst other idiosyncrasies from the tiny nation, Icelandic goalkeeper Gylfi Sigurdsson turned ad filmmaker for Coca-Cola this world cup season.
Group of d(E)ath
While soccer-favourite Brazil managed to surmount aggressive onslaught and proceed to the knock-out stage with two late goals against Costa Rica, Switzerland made the news when Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka made a political eagle gesture after scoring winning goals against Serbia, nodding to their Kosovar Albanian heritage and as a direct message to their opponents/occupier.
Xhaka's father spent 3.5 years as a political prisoner in Yugoslavia while Shaqiri was born in Yugoslavia before emigrating to Switzerland as a child.
Both appeared to make an eagle hand gesture as they celebrated, a symbol of the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag. pic.twitter.com/tuKomq3fBJ
— Capital Moments (@CapitalMoments) June 22, 2018
The first week also saw an exciting upset in Group F, when Mexico beat defending champions Germany. The star-studded German ensemble prepares to meet Sweden in the next match to open their scorebook.
The captain of the Mexican team is on a US blacklist for reported ties to a drug cartel, reports the New York Times. Additionally, the Mexican Football Federation was fined $10,000 for homophobic chants directed at German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Rafael Márquez is the captain of Mexico’s soccer team. Corporate sponsors at the World Cup are sprinting away from him. https://t.co/73cKnHvHVj
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 23, 2018
Belgium and England battle it out in Group G for the coveted spot after defeating Panama and Tunisia on their own terms. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku became the first player with to score more than two goals in consecutive matches since Diego Maradona in 1986, putting in the line of sight of the Golden Boot.
2 – Belgium are the first team to have two different players score 2+ goals in a World Cup game since Germany against Brazil in 2014 (Toni Kroos and Andre Schurrle in a 7-1 win). Double. #BELTUN #BEL #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/h19jd2etZ9
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 23, 2018
Group H features Senegal which has emerged at the top of their table along with Japan, against great odds in their match against Poland. Their manager Cisse is the only African to manage a team this WC. Fans of the two teams are also leading a cleanliness drive across Russian stadiums.
Outside the stadium, Russian government has clamped down on the 2 million visitors, spectators and nationals with a series of draconian messages, warning Russian women from mingling with western men, and by trying to keep the thriving underground “hooligans” from disrupting the World Cup proceedings. Meanwhile, the BBC’s Vicki Sparks made history on Wednesday becoming the first female to commentate a men’s World Cup.
The following days will witness quite a few upsetting exits, judging by the trends set by the first week.
This World Cup, Qrius will bring you a weekly roundup of the most important and interesting news about your favourite teams battling it out on the fields of Russia, and place them into the context of parallelly running socio-political currents.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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