The World Cup kicked off in Russia on Thursday as the host nation take on Saudi Arabia in front of 80,000 people in Moscow after President Vladimir Putinofficially declared the tournament open.
Russia is spending more than $13 billion (11 billion euros) on hosting football’s showpiece, the most important event in the country since the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. The buildup has been dogged by controversy and diplomatic scandals and shone a light on the challenges facing Putin’s Russia.
On the day of the curtainraiser, Russia freed the main opposition figure to Putin, Alexei Navalny, from jail after he served a 30-day sentence for organising an illegal protest. The completely refurbished Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow hosts the opening match, against the two lowest-ranked sides in the tournament.
Excitement has been steadily building in Moscow, with thousands of Saudi fans in green and white arriving in the city for the match. British pop star Robbie Williams performed at the opening ceremony at the Luzhniki.
Since its creation, the FIFA World Cup™ has always thrown up shock results and surprise heroes. The history of the tournament is littered with the names of unlikely stars and games in which underdogs have stood tall to cut supposedly superior opposition down to size.
After four days of games, the FIFA World Cup is already shaping up to be more exciting than many hoped. Some of the biggest teams in the tournament have underperformed, with a handful of shock results that should mix up the rest of the group games.
- Russia thrashes Saudi Arabia
One of the biggest shocks so far happened on the opening day of the tournament, when the lowest-ranked team in the competition took the top spot in their group with a huge five-goal lead. Opening their home tournament in Moscow, Russia dominated Saudi Arabia, scoring three goals in ordinary time, then almost doubling their lead with two injury time shots.
Russia were the dominant team mainly because Saudi Arabia were a slow and lumbering side, but the start gave the hosts a boost, and much greater potential for getting out of the group with such a huge goal difference. Vladimir Putin will be pleased.
- The defending champions Germany lose to Mexico
The current World Cup holders went into the tournament among the favorites to win and they were expected to beat inconsistent Mexico in their opening match in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Yet Juan Carlos Osorio’s team was lively and hardworking against Germany, with Hirving Lozano scoring on the counter attack in the 35th minute, and the whole team keeping up a strategy of counter attacking after German chances.
Germany had 26 shots in total but couldn’t manage to put any away — in part thanks to an outstanding performance by Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who made several vital saves, including in the last minutes. His performance also became the subject of memes shared across social media comparing him to President Donald Trump’s promised border wall.
- Brazil’s superstars fail to topple the Swiss
With a squad of stars — including the most expensive club player in the world, Neymar — Brazil were expected to make relatively light work of their group. Despite Philippe Coutinho scoring one of the goals of the tournament so far, Brazil were held to a tie by Switzerland thanks to Steven Zuber’s goal in the 50th minute.
The match has gone down badly back in Brazil, with some pundits on ESPNsaying Neymar should’ve been taken off in the second half for selfish play. Others, including Brazil’s coach, felt the Swiss goal came as a result of a push, and that Neymar had been unfairly fouled by the Swiss team—there were a total of 10 fouls on him in total.
But the result should perhaps not have been a great surprise. Switzerland is ranked as sixth best team in the world, and they lost only one match in their World Cup qualifiers, to Portugal.
- Iceland’s underdog dreams bear fruit against Argentina
A more surprising tie was between Argentina, the two-time champions and 2014 finalists, and Iceland, a team taking part in its first ever World Cup. Though Argentina had 78% of the possession, Iceland defended hard and played a strong game. When Sergio Aguero scored in the 13th minute, it looked as if it could be Argentina’s afternoon, but Iceland responded four minutes later, when Alfreo Finnbogason scored Iceland’s first ever World Cup goal, putting away a poor clearance by goalkeeper Willy Caballero.