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World Cup 2018: Opening Fixture Review for the Smaller Euro Nations

It has been quite a start to this summer’s World Cup but we are already through the first round of fixtures. Here we take a look at how the nations from Europe, who are not expected to trouble the better sides in the tournament, got on and what is next for them on the cards.

Russia

Result: Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

  • Gazinskiy (12′minutes), 
  • Cheryshev (43′minutes, 90’+1minutes), 
  • Dzyuba (71′minutes), 
  • Golovin (90’+4minutes)

Where better to start than the hosts’ demolition in the opening match of the tournament. The side, who are the lowest ranked team in the competition, were expected to start quite nervously, but they were in no mood to live up to expectations as they recorded the biggest win by the host nation in the opening game of a World Cup since 1934. A starring performance Aleksandr Golovin saw him add a late goal to his two assists and proved the Russian’s are certainly no pushovers.

Denmark

Result: Peru 0-1 Denmark

  • Poulsen (59′minutes)

It was a typically tight and nervous opening fixture as Denmark got their campaign off to an excellent start with a 1-0 victory over Peru. However, it could have been a totally different finish if the South Americans were able to convert from the spot when the referee, assisted by VAR, blew up for a foul on Christian Cueva. The 26-years-old could not compose himself as he shot over the bar, and it was a miss which proved to be costly as Yussuf Poulsen was able to redeem himself from conceding the penalty when he raced on to a Christian Eriksen pass to fire past Pedro Gallese. Next up the Danes have a crucial fixture against Australia, where three points will all but guarantee their qualification for the next round.

Iceland

Coratia v Iceland - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Maksimir arena, Zagreb, Croatia - 12/11/16 Croatia's Vedran Corluka and Iceland Aron Gunnarsson in action

Result: Argentina 1-1 Iceland

  • Agüero (19′minutes) – Finnbogason (23′minutes)

With the eyes of the world on Lionel Messi as the eternal debate roared about who is the better between him and Ronaldo, Iceland quietly went about their business and recorded yet another historic result. It has been quite a few years for Iceland but they fell behind following a strong Sergio Agüero strike in the 19th minute. The smallest nation at the World Cup retained the disciplined, defensive tactics that have frustrated so many sides in recent years and they were soon rewarded just four minutes after going behind as Alfred Finnbogason equalised with his country’s first goal at a World Cup finals. Messi’s frustrations only rose in the second-half as his spot-kick was easily saved by Hannes Halldorsson.

 Croatia

Result: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria

  • Etebo (32′minutes og), 
  • Modric (71′minutes pen)

It has been an eventful week for Oghenekaro Etebo as he put pen to paper on a £6.35m move from Portuguese club Feirense to recently relegated Stoke City just before the World Cup, and he finished off the week by putting the ball into his own net as Nigeria fell to a 2-0 defeat to Croatia in their opening fixture. The scoreline may look fairly routine, but truth be told it was anything but as Croatia laboured for long periods and when Luka Modric converted a 71st-minute penalty, he also managed Croatia’s first shot on target in the match. There was plenty to talk about off the field, however, as Nikola Kalinic refused to come on as a substitute and has been sent home early. The 30-years-old cited a back injury but Coach Zlatko Dalic said: “I need my players fit and ready to play.”

Serbia

Result: Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia

  • Kolarov (56′minutes)

In a tight and nervy match which neither side seemed capable of breaking the deadlock in, it was always going to take something a bit special to decide who claimed the points. Fans of Lazio, Manchester City and Roma will already be able to tell you just how deadly Aleksandar Kolarov can be from a dead ball and he proved his capabilities once again as his strike got his country off the mark in this summer’s World Cup. With games against Brazil and Switzerland to come, this was a key match for both nations to press their credentials to reach the knockout stages.

Switzerland

Switzerland World Cup

Result: Brazil 1-1 Switzerland

  • Coutinho (20′minutes) – Zuber (50′minutes)

You may not have heard much about it in the build up to the match, but the match between Brazil and Switzerland in Group E of the World Cup was the meeting of the second and sixth best international sides on the planet according to FIFA’s official rankings. Granted, Switzerland’s placing is largely down to some carefully selected friendly matches, but they proved they are much more than the huge underdogs the bookies had them when they faced off against the tournament favourites. Brazil went ahead thanks to Philippe Coutinho’s superbly curled opener on 20 minutes but they could only offer only fleeting moments of fluid play and when Steven Zuber headed in from a corner, the Swiss were rewarded for their well organised and determined play. It was the first time Brazil have failed to win their opening game of a World Cup for the first time since 1978 but for the Swiss it represented an excellent platform for their next challenge, the meeting with Serbia on Friday.

Sweden

Result: Sweden 1-0 South Korea

  • Granqvist (65′minutes pen)

It is the first ever World Cup to feature the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) but the people of Sweden will already be singing it’s praises after a lengthy review saw them awarded a crucial penalty. Kim Min-woo’s foul on Viktor Claesson was sent to the studio’s back in Moscow to be reviewed and once the decision was converted, Andreas Granqvist was able to compose himself enough to send goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way. Following Mexico’s shock win over Germany, the Swedes have the difficult challenge of facing the defending champions who have a point to prove, but they know if they secure at least a point in that match then they have an excellent opportunity to reach the knock out stages of the competition.

Poland

Poland World Cup 2018

Result: Poland 1-2 Senegal 

  • Krychowiak (86′minutes) – Cionek (37′minutes og), 
  •                                                 – Niang (60′minutes)

Senegal recorded the first win of an African nation at this year’s World Cup when they emerged victorious from Tuesday’s clash with Poland. The two nations had to bide their time for the match as they were in the last of the matches to kick off, but Poland still looked under-prepared as they were frequently second best and often lost out in the tackle. The Poles cause was not helped when Idrissa Gueye’s shot took a huge deflection off the unfortunate Thiago Cionek for the opener and when M’Baye Niang sprinted back on to the field of play following an injury and immediately intercepted a backpass from midfield, beating former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to double the lead, it appeared Poland’s luck was out. Although they were able to pull one back when Grzegorz Krychowiak headed home a free-kick at the far post, they will need to do much better if they are to earn the three points against Colombia on Sunday.

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