Stunning upsets on and off the pitch and plenty of added time

Stunning upsets on and off the pitch and plenty of added time

Relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have not been particularly harmonious in the past decade, but this week the World Cup hosts have their neighbours to thank for turning the spotlight back onto football rather than more unsavoury issues.

It was a truly unexpected moment when Saudi Arabia rallied to beat one of the tournament favourites Argentina 2-1, Lionel Messi and all.

Qatar could also afford a nod of appreciation to Japan who just like the Saudis came back from 1-0 down to shock four-time champions Germany. It meant fans were focusing on football rather than the other stuff.

But the underlying tension shrouding the tournament remains, highlighted by the German team's bold photo of them covering their mouths.

Many are calling Saudi Arabia's win the biggest upset ever in the history of the tournament.

Perhaps more deserving of that accolade would be North Korea's astonishing 1-0 victory over Italy in 1966 and the USA team of mainly amateurs who upset mighty England 1-0 in 1950.

However, there are not many people around who witnessed those games so what the Saudi footballers achieved was arguably the biggest shock of the modern era.

Much has already been written about this result, so let's just leave it to the Argentine press for a comment.

The Clarin newspaper took it on the chin, calling it "a historic walloping" while Ole football magazine settled for a "world-wide whammy".

Argentina should not be written off just yet, however. Spain lost their opening game in 2010 but went on to lift the Fifa trophy.

Japan's defeat of Germany was thrilling entertainment.

After being on the back foot throughout the first half, they really shone in the second thanks to some astute substitutions and cheered on by enthusiastic fans who made far more noise than their German counterparts.

Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, who was responsible for giving away the first-half penalty, redeemed himself with some world class saves.

All of Japan's substitutes played significant roles in the recovery.

Although he didn't score, Brighton's Kaoru Mitoma was outstanding while Takuma Asano's winner from an acute angle was brilliantly taken.

Some of the powerhouses enjoyed winning starts.

Defending champions France looked comfortable as they eased to a 4-1 win over Australia while Richarlison's brace, including a spectacular scissor-kick, saw favourites Brazil overcome Serbia 2-0.

Of course, it was impossible to keep Cristiano Ronaldo out of the news and in Portugal's 3-2 defeat of Ghana, the 37-year-old became the first player to score in five World Cups, an extraordinary achievement whatever you might think of him.

One of the notable features of this year's tournament has been the large amount of added time given by referees. It was particularly noticeable in the first few games although the extended delays were partly influenced by serious injuries.

England's match against Iran was badly disrupted in the first half by a serious injury to Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand leading to 14 minutes of added time at the end of the half.

More injuries led to another 10 minutes of additional time in the second half.

The USA v Wales games and the Senegal v Netherlands match both saw an extra 10 minutes.

In addition to time added for injuries, the referees have been told to stop the watch as a result of VAR delays, substitutions, goal celebrations and blatant time wasting.

This has to be applauded and hopefully will eventually lead to less time wasting.

After the first eight games in this year's tournament, the average time per game was 106 minutes and 12 seconds, nearly 10 minutes longer than in the 2018 tournament.

Honour of the highest score goes to Spain who hammered Costa Rica 7-0 but the Central American side looked very poor. Still it was a big confidence boost for the Spaniards.

England too, much to everyone's surprise, banged in six against Iran.

However, after the Iranian players had defiantly refused to sing their national anthem, they looked distracted, perhaps more concerned about what awaits them back home.

With the first round of the group stages completed, there has been much to savour on the pitch and let's hope this trend continues.

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