The second round of the World Cup is often when the tournament really starts coming to life. When you’re in a do-or-die situation, and it’s either you or your opponents who’ll be going home at the end of the game, you’re more likely to give 110% and go that extra mile. It can make for some very exciting games.
The magnificent France Argentina game was a case in point. France trudged through (=to get through, but in a very slow, boring way) the group stages in a fairly uninspiring manner, whilst Argentina scraped through by the skin of their teeth, so many people – myself included – were expecting a fairly boring game. We couldn’t have been more wrong! It was a real roller coaster of a match – and it was also the game in which nineteen-year-old Kylan Mbappé exploded onto the world stage. His pace and power terrified Argentina all game and he was chopped down (=kicked so that he fell over) in the box in the 13th minute, with Griezmann converting the penalty (=scoring) to put the French one up. In just a few minutes before and after half-time, though, Argentina turned the game on its head, with Di Maria equalizing just before the break and Mercado then putting them in front. Pavard then scored a beautiful goal from the edge of the box before Mbappé scored two in four minutes to put the result beyond doubt. His finishing was clinical (=very clean and very precise) and he became the first teenager to score two goals in a World Cup knockout tie since Pelé in 1958! However, Argentina may have been down, but they weren’t quite out just yet. Aguero, who – incredibly – had been left on the bench at the start of the game – came on as a substitute and headed a late third, but they couldn’t quite finish off the comeback. It means Messi and co are headed home.
Also going home is the other truly global superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, after Portugal lost 2-1 to Uruguay. Despite having over 60% of the possession, Portugal were mostly kept at arm’s length by a very organized, disciplined Uruguay. Faced with wave after wave of Portuguese attacks, the Uruguayans gave a masterclass in how to defend: they kept things very tight and didn’t give Portugal any space to play in. When they lost the ball, they hunted in packs (=several players chased the ball together) and won it back. They really put their bodies on their line (=did everything they could to stop the ball going past them) and in the end, Portugal just couldn’t find a way through. They just couldn’t break them down.
Sunday saw one of the biggest shocks of the tournament so far as hosts Russia knocked out one of the favourites– Spain. The game ended one-all and went to extra-time and then went to penalties. Again, Spain had a lot of possession – over 60% – but lacked any real cutting edge and didn’t bother the Russian keeper very often.The Russians defended resolutely and were very disciplined. In the end, it was the keeper Igor Akinfeev who was the hero, saving two of the five Spanish penalties – and recalling the memory of the great Soviet goalie Lev Yashin.
The evening game between Croatia and Denmark was also a bit of a surprise, mostly because Croatia, one of the most-fancied teams in the first round, looked like a shadow of their former self. After a crazy opening five minutes, where both teams scored scrappy goals (=not very beautiful goals, scored in an unorganized way), the game slowed down to walking pace and was fairly pedestrian (=slow and boring) for the rest of the ninety minutes. The game went to extra-time, Croatia missed a late penalty, which would’ve put them through, and then this match also went to penalties. Penalty shootouts always provide high drama and this was no different, with the Croats finally winning 3-2 on penalties.
On Monday, predictably, the favourites (=the team most people expect to win) Brazil battled to a hard-won two-nil victory over Mexico. The world’s most-expensive player, Neymar, was again at the heart of the things, scoring one and creating another, but also rolling around and play-acting in the most ridiculous manner as well. Such behaviour doesn’t do him any favours!
The Belgium Japan game was perhaps the most incredible game of the tournament so far: after they went two-nil up in the second half, Japan looked to be on the verge of a famous victory. With twenty-five minutes to go, the Belgian manager, Roberto Martinez, rolled the dice (=gambled, took a risk by making a substitution) and brought on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli. Five minuters later, Vertonghen pulled one back for the Belgians with an amazing looping header, Fellaini then equalised with a powerful header from a corner . . . and Chadli scored the winner with the very last kick of the game. The gamble had paid off. It was a truly remarkable comeback.
The last two games in the second round were played on Tuesday. In the early kick-off, Sweden edged past Switzerland in a game seriously lacking in quality.
The only goal of the game came from Emil Forsberg, whose shot took a deflection and went in off a Swiss defender. Switzerland ended the game with ten men after Michael Lang saw red (=was sent off) late in injury time, and the Swedes are through to last eight for the first time since 1994.
Finally, there was the England Colombia game. It was an ill-tempered match, littered with fouls and yellow cards. England went ahead after Harry Kane scored from the spot (=from a penalty), but then Colombia managed to equalize right at the death (=at the very end of the game), forcing extra time. When it became clear that the game was going to go to penalties, I started getting a terrible sense of déjà vu - /deɪʒɑː ˈvuː/ – a feeling that I’d seen all this before and that I’m somehow repeating a past experience. I’ve seen England lose on penalties far too many times already – to Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, to Argentina in the World Cup in 1998, to Portugal at Euro 2004 and so on. I was fearing the worst. Given all of this, the fact that England have somehow won a penalty shootout is going to take time to sink in.
England march on and we now have a quarter final against Sweden to look forward to this Saturday!
- Have you ever had a real feeling of déjà vu? When? What happened?
- What was your favourite game in the second round of the World Cup this year? Why?
- Can you think of any other times when you might need to go that extra mile?
- Can you think of any other amazing comebacks?
- How do you feel about players play-acting?