Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1400, (5 - 11 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Time’s up for the legends

Mbappe and Cavani star as Messi and Ronaldo head home, reports Marawan Zayed


Sweden vs Switzerland

French wonder kid Kylian Mbappe played a starring role and showed football fans around the world that the world is at his feet when he single handedly destroyed Argentina 4-3 in the opening game of round 16 of the World Cup. At the age of 19 the PSG star and the second most expensive player in the history of the game after teammate Neymar made sure he’ll be the talk of the whole world after the game even though he was up against arguably the best player in history Lionel Messi.

Twelve minutes into the game Mbappe took the ball from inside his own half and thanks to his incredible speed managed to get past three players until Marcos Rojo found no other option than to foul him inside the box to give the referee an easy decision of pointing to the spot. Star man Antoine Griezmann slotted the ball home to give France the lead in the 13th minute. The French side looked in complete control of the game and played their best football in their World Cup campaign so far until Angel Di Maria’s unbelievable strike equalised for Argentina against the run of play in the 41st minute.

Belgium vs Japan

It got from bad to worse for France as Argentina went ahead in the 48th minute when Messi’s shot was deflected in by his teammate Mercado to turn the game on its head after France looked comfortable early on. However, an equally magnificent strike or maybe an even better one equalised for France as fullback Benjamin Pavard scored with a brilliant half volley in the 57th minute to get his side back into the game. Seven minutes later, the wonder kid Mbappe was at it again when he collected a loose ball inside the box with a brilliant first touch before powering a shot underneath the keeper to give his side a fully deserved lead. The boy from PSG didn’t stop there as he sealed the win for his side four minutes later after slotting the ball home in style when he received a pass from Giroud on the edge of box to make it 4-2. A goal from Sergio Aguero in the last minute of injury time was no more than a consolation goal to make it 4-3 at the end in what could be the last game for Messi if the rumors of him retiring from international football are true.

Later in the first day of round 16, Cristiano Ronaldo came up against Suarez, Cavani and co hoping to continue his excellent World Cup form and book a place for his Portugal in the quarter finals. The motive was surely doubled after seeing Messi exit the competition earlier in the day but sadly for Ronaldo, he suffered a similar fate as another PSG star Cavani ran the show and shocked the European champions to end their World Cup dream.

The game was up and running as early as in the seventh minute when Suarez’s brilliant cross to Cavani was met by an equally magnificent finish from the Uruguayan Hercules as he headed home an unstoppable bullet to give his side the lead. The rest of the first half saw both teams miss some decent chances but neither of them managed to change the result as the first half ended 1-0 to Uruguay. The Portuguese side started the second half better and veteran defender Pepe managed to equalise for his side with another bullet header from Guerreiro’s sublime corner to get his side back into the game. However, Cavani was obviously in the mood to follow the footsteps of PSG teammate Mbappe as he scored his second of the night with a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the box in the 62nd minute to give his side the lead once again. The Portuguese side tried to find a way through the solid duo of Godin and Gimenez but couldn’t do so as Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure up front and didn’t get any real chances to add to his four World cup goals as the final whistle went sending Ronaldo and his teammates back home 2-1 losers.

Croatia’s Modric

After witnessing 10 goals in the first day of round 16 (the highest in the history of this round in one day) the second day was pretty different if not the opposite. The home side Russia was up against the mighty Spanish side hoping to continue their World Cup journey in front of their own fans. Nonetheless, they found themselves behind thanks to a catastrophic own goal after Asensio’s cross found the heel of Ignashevich under some pressure from Sergio Ramos to give the Spanish side an early lead against the hosts. The early goal gave Spain a mental edge as they controlled the game and didn’t give the Russians any space or time to get back into the game until a very silly mistake from Pique gave Russia a penalty in the 40th minute. Dzyuba’s header inside the box was met by the hand of the experienced defender who for some odd reason jumped while leaving his hands very high outside his body to give the referee no other option than to point to the spot. Dzyuba himself converted the spot kick to equalise for his side and give the whole nation a reason to celebrate wildly in the stands and in homes.

The second half and extra time witnessed more chances for the Spanish side as they came very close through Iniesta and Isco but the Russians managed to hold on and reached penalties at 1-1. The Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was the star of the show as he saved brilliantly from Koke and Aspas to send the fans inside the stadium crazy. No one saw this coming given the huge difference between the two teams but once again World Cup 2018 showed the amazing side of the game as the hosts sealed their place in the quarters.

Brazil vs Mexico

Up against Russia will come the Croatian side after they managed to defeat Denmark in dramatic fashion via penalties once again. The game ended in a 1-1 draw to make it two 1-1 draws in the same day and four goals scored in total compared to the 10 goals scored in the first day. However, this game was a bit weird as the early few minutes deceived us and made us think we’ll be in for a high scoring game as both goals were scored inside the first four minutes. In the second minute, Denmark’s defender Zanka opened the scoring with a weak shot from inside the box that squeezed underneath Croatia’s keeper Subasic who didn’t see it clearly on its way. Two minutes later some comical defending saw Mandzukic equalise from close range to give some promising signs regarding the game. Nevertheless, from that point till deep into the extra time, the game was slow, boring and failed to live up to the early promise until the 115th minute. A wonderful through pass from Modric sent Rebic one on one with Kasper Schmeichel and the striker thought he already scored after brilliantly rounding the keeper only to see Zanka deny him with a professional foul. A penalty was given but only a yellow card was given to Zanka given the change of triple punishment rule earlier this year much to the surprise of football fans who thought that was probably the most clear red card in the history of the game. The real drama followed as star man Modric stepped up to take the penalty spot only to be denied by Schmeichel who sent his legendary father Peter crazy in the stands. Five minutes later the referee blew his whistle sending the game to penalties much to the shock of the Croatian team and fans that thought they won it five minutes earlier. Fresh from his heroic penalty save earlier, Schmeichel saved another two penalties in the shootout but Subasic made up for his early mistake in the game and managed to save three spot kicks to send his side to the quarters. It’s worth mentioning that Modric showed tremendous character as he stepped up to take his side’s third penalty kick despite missing in the game but managed to score this time.

The third day of round 16 saw Neymar, Coutinho and co up against Mexico hoping to avoid what happened to the other big boys in the competition so far. And it seems they really learned from the failures of Germany, Spain, Argentina and Portugal as they managed to defeat the Mexicans 2-0 thanks to second half goals from Neymar and Firmino to set up a hugely anticipated game against the Red Devils of Belgium. The Mexicans played some nice football early in the game and seemed in the mood to cause another major shock in the tournament after beating Germany but the Brazilian side absorbed the early pressure and quickly controlled the game but couldn’t find any way past the evergreen Ochoa who made save after save to ensure his side went into the halftime break level with the Selecao. However, six minutes into the second half Brazil went one up thanks to some great work from Willian who twisted inside the box and sent in a delightful cross inside the six yards that was met by Neymar who was left with a very easy finish to give his side a deserved lead. It was all Brazil from that moment until Firmino sealed the win two minutes from time with his first touch of the game with a tap in after coming on to replace former Liverpool teammate Coutinho.

Belgium will face Brazil in the quarter-final after managing to defeat Japan in the most dramatic fashion you’ll see in this World Cup without a shadow of a doubt. Until the 70th minute, the magnificent Japanese side were two goals up and cruising towards a place in the quarters until Vertonghen pulled one back via a lucky header that found the top corner from an impossible angle. Five minutes later the equaliser came from substitute Marwan Fellaini thanks to another header from Hazard’s cross. And when fans around the world thought we’re in for another extra time game, a quite magnificent counterattack from the Belgians saw Thomas Meunier cross the ball to another substitute Nacer El Chadli who slotted the ball home to break the hearts of the Japanese fans, players and staff and send his own fans crazy in the stands in disbelief.

Belgium was a team 20 minutes away from heading back home and that’s why we always say nothing is impossible in football. It was surely very tough to take by the Japanese team but they gained the respect of the world after playing an almost perfect game against one of the favourites to win the World Cup this year.

Sweden will face England in the quarterfinal match after beating Switzerland 1-0 on the fourth day of the round of 16. On the other hand England beat Colombia 4-3 by penalty kicks after a dramatic game that saw both teams level the score at 1-1 at original time, thus taking the game into extra time which ended with the same result leading to the penalty shoot-outs. The English scored 4 while the Latin Americans scored three.

The World Cup quarterfinals will be held over two days this weekend. On Friday France will take on Uruguay while Brazil faces Belgium. On Saturday, hosts Russia will take on Croatia while Sweden will clash against England.

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