epa06839923 Thiago Alcantara (L) of Spain and Younes Belhanda of Morocco during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group B preliminary round soccer match between Spain and Morocco in Kaliningrad, Russia, 25 June 2018.
Monday Jun 25, 2018. 22:19
Matchday 12 of the 2018 World Cup saw the conclusion of Groups A and B, and the confirmation of the first set of fixtures for the last 16 stage this weekend – but only after a roller-coaster ride full of drama.
Hosts Russia will face Spain after they finished second in Group A, having suffered a 3-0 loss to Uruguay in Samara. Strikes from Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani sandwiched an own goal from Denis Cheryshev, as the South Americans secured top spot.
The nature of the defeat will worry Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, but the fact that they will play their last 16 game in the capital Moscow and have an extra day to rest (their match is set for July 1rather than June 30) means it’s nothing to lose sleep over.
Uruguay finally got out of second gear, and they may be finding their form at just the right time given that they will face Portugal on Saturday in Sochi.
The dead-rubber game in Group A saw Saudi Arabia score goals in injury time at the end of each half to beat Egypt 2-1 and ensure they finished the tournament in third place. The clash in Volgograd also featured a piece of history, as 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player to appear in a World Cup finals match.
The evening games in Group B were absolute nail-biters, as Morocco and Iran punched above their weight to hold Spain 2-2 and Portugal 1-1 respectively.
‘Team Melli’ put in an epic performance against the ‘Navigators’ and even missed a last-gasp chance to win the game in Saransk – which would have Portugal out. The game also featured a sublime goal from Ricardo Quaresma and a missed penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo.
In Kalinigrad, Spain needed a last-gasp goal from Iago Aspas to draw 2-2 with the ‘Atlas Lions’. It may have been a comparatively poor result from the 2010 champions, but such was the close nature of the group that it actually earned them top spot.
Matchday 12, Monday 25 June – Results
Group A – Uruguay 3-0 Russia
Group A – Saudi Arabia 2-1 Egypt
Group B – Spain 2-2 Morocco
Group B – Iran 1-1 Portugal