June 22, 2018, Day Nine
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary, Day Nine, chronicles a key cup game as in St. Petersburg, Brazil and Costa Rica clashed in their second game of Group E. Unfortunately, within the first 20 minutes of the match, Costa Rica had seven fouls called against them and three of them were on Neymar, two of which he was clobbered without the defender even making an attempt at going for the ball. The ref was, again, slow to penalize the constant infringements but quick to give both Neymar and Philippe Coutinho yellows for complaining they were not being protected.
The match was necessarily intense as both teams knew this was their defining group game and in the second half Brazil constructed, and simply muffed, a number of good goal scoring chances. At one point, a called penalty against Neymar seemed correctly overruled by VAR. But as time drew near and wave after wave of Brazilian attacks came down upon a valiant and brilliant Kaylor Navas something had to give. At the 90th minute a toe-poke from Coutinho broke the log jam and at the 90+7 Neymar volleyed in from close range to put the final touches on a dramatic if poorly refereed and roughly played 2—0 win for the South Americans. The Brazilian win, though, eliminated Costa Rica from the cup.
The second game of the day, the key game of Group F between Nigeria and Iceland, was played in Volgograd, and the Nigerians came to play, if only in the second half. The first half was a dour affair that had each team produce meager chances. In the second half the Nigerians came to life and on a quick counter attack Musa controlled an exquisitely taken cross by Mikel with a touch that wrong-footed his defender and allowed a drop-volley from close in for the opening goal. At the 75th minute another counter saw Musa outrun his defender, round him, evade the goalkeeper and smash in from close in as two defenders tried to intervene.
The 2—0 score line was a fair differentiation between an Icelandic team who only knew how to score off the cross and a Nigerian team with ample and superior technical skills who finally got the psychological boost they needed to get back on track with their caliber of game. At game’s end Iceland was left with the unenviable position of having to beat Croatia in their last game and hope other results favored them. Nigeria were in the driver’s seat for that second group pass to the Round of 16 as a draw with Argentina in their final match would give them 4 points to Argentina’s 2 and only a major Iceland over Croatia upset could intervene against them. For the South Americans, the lifeline was simple, beat Nigeria in their final game and progress.
The day came to a close with the final round match in Group E between Serbia and Switzerland, in Kaliningrad. The Serbs, looking to avoid a showdown with Brazil for advancement, came out with a ferocious first fifteen minutes and within five had pulled ahead 1—0 via a Aleksandar Mitrovic header. The match then settled into a physical contest which is where the Serbs excel and it took the Swiss, who had used the same tactics against Brazil in their Neymar-fouling-opener, most of the half to figure out how to balance dishing out punishment against a much stronger opponent with outplaying them with their trump card, some form of finesse. Because the Swiss took until about the 35th minute to figure things out it was not until late in the half that they had several chances to score.
The second half began with the same score line and it was not until the 52 minute that Granit Xhaka drew the Swiss even with a great curling shot from outside the box that went left to right and hit side netting. Then, in the 90th minute, a fatal defensive mistake by Serbia allowed Xherdan Shaqiri a breakaway from inside his own half and with only one man to beat. He did not miss, and the Swiss took the win 2—1.
The stage is now set for Group E as only Costa Rica is eliminated. If Brazil draws with or beats Serbia then the South Americans progress together with the Swiss. If the Serbs win, they progress, and the Swiss only need to tie to move on, eliminating Brazil in the process.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary today chronicled the very real and physical personification of the emotional buildup of Brazilian expectations, those of the nation and country as borne by their representatives on the pitch during their game against Costa Rica. At game’s end Neymar knelt down in tears, covering his face as his body shook with his convulsive crying. One by one teammates and coaching staff reached him at the sideline and tried to console him. Eventually he rose to be hugged by each teammate, as if every one of them knew what pressure the star was feeling to perform to soon after both right foot surgery and a 10-foul beating in his previous match.
Clearly, judging by the number of missed opportunities Neymar would have usually converted, he is far from being his in-form self at this stage in the cup. Certainly he will regain his form as long as the team continues to progress and he gets more time on the field. Yet beyond the star player’s reaction one can only wonder if this victory provided the catharsis not only he needed. The release of raw, pent-up emotions seemed shared by many, the issue will be was this what was needed for them all to finally feel they can just play their game and not be smothered by the expectations that so many put upon them.
Later in the day the Nigerians seemed to reach that same cathartic state with their well-played and earned 2-0 victory over Iceland.
On the other side of the character coin, it was instructive to see Neymar and Coutinho’s reactions to the ref. Not that they were unjustified in their resentment, as the officiating seemed very biased against them and at times put them in jeopardy of bodily harm, but that they cannot allow themselves to react petulantly and get cards which could accumulate and prevent them from playing in the latter stages of the cup.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary found that if the fouling-Neymar-strategy is allowed to flourish, this could be the second consecutive World Cup wherein Neymar is fouled out of the competition via injury. If the referees do not begin to make the difference their role is supposed to guarantee we will have a very unsportsmanlike tournament from here on in as all teams will feel they have been given a green light to foul.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary will continue to keep tabs on the tournament’s scorers to see if the initial goal scoring tendency continues, as so far, of the 53 goals actually scored in the cup (5 more have been own goals for a total of 58 tallies) 20 (38%) have been converted by La Liga players.
On Saturday, at 8:00 AM EST, in Moscow, Belgium and Tunisia meet in their second game of Group G, followed by the second game of Group F between South Korea and Mexico in Rostov, at 11:00 AM EST. The day closes with the closing round match in Group F between Germany and Sweden, in Sochi at 2:00 PM EST.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary Predictions
Twenty-six games played. 60% correct calls
Right calls–(15)—Correctly called for Russia over Saudi Arabia, Uruguay over Egypt, Portugal-Spain draw, France over Australia, Denmark over Peru, Croatia over Nigeria, Sweden over South Korea, Belgium over Panama, England over Tunisia, Senegal over Poland, Portugal over Morocco, Uruguay over Saudi Arabia, Spain over Iran, France over Peru, Brazil over Costa Rica, and Switzerland-Serbia draw.
Papa made an “push (no call)” on the Iceland-Nigeria game, but called it for Iceland after the cup began, so this prediction is not credited as right or wrong (1).
Wrong calls–(10)—Called for a Morocco-Iran draw which ended with a 1-0 win for Iran off a Moroccan own goal at the 90+5 minute mark. Called for an Argentina win over Iceland which ended in a draw after Lionel Messi had a penalty saved. Called for a Costa Rica win and Serbia won 1-0 on a wonderful 56th minute free kick goal.
Called Germany over Mexico, and the CONCACAF champion simply outplayed the current champions to earn a historic 1-0 win. Called for a Brazilian win in what turned out to be a 1-1 draw between the overly fouled Neymar and the Swiss. Called for an easy Colombian win over Japan but instead the South Americans imploded for a loss. Called for Egypt over Russia but the latter cruised to a 3-1 win. Called for a Denmark win over Australia that ended in a 1-1 draw. Called for a draw in the Croatia v Argentina match that ended with a 3—0 win for the Croats. Called for a Serbia-Switzerland draw which instead ended in a 2—1 Swiss win.