While teams are now entering the quarter-finals of the tournament, here is a look at the top three most memorable matchups in the first round of games in Qatar.
Where else to start but the first shock of the World Cup, and arguably the biggest shock to date. After Argentina - one of the favorites to go and win the tournament - took an early lead through a Lionel Messi penalty, it looked to be plain sailing for the Albiceleste.
They could have doubled or even tripled their advantage were it not for the offside flag coming to Saudi Arabia’s rescue. However, with the majority of the Lusail Iconic Stadium in their support, the Saudis completed a dramatic turnaround in the second half. Saleh Al-Shehri’s equalizer on 48 minutes was topped by a superb Salem Al-Dawsari effort just five minutes later, capping off an impressive comeback on matchday one.
However, since that moment, Messi and Co. haven’t looked back. Eventually finishing top of Group B and battling past Australia in the last-16, they are now the bookies’ favorites in Netherlands vs Argentina odds for their last eight matchups. Captain Messi is tipped at 15/2 to get an assist and a goal in the match, as the Albiceleste eye a potential semi-final with rivals Brazil, who face Croatia on the same day. It will be the first last-four finish since the 2014 final, as Messi’s side look to go one better in Qatar.
Viewers around the world were treated to some shocks in the first round of matches. Just a day after the shock in Lusail came Germany’s capitulation before Japan, who made a habit of becoming giant killers. Hajime Moriyasu’s side set up in a group containing Costa Rica, 2010 champions Spain and four-time winners Germany, with many pundits writing them off before a ball was even kicked in Qatar. When they went one-nil down to an Ilkay Gundogan penalty after just 33 minutes, the script appeared to already be written.
However, like Saudi Arabia, Japan came back with a vengeance in the second 45, although left it a lot later than their Saudi counterparts. A 75th-minute strike put the scores level, before Takuma Asano’s long-distance run through the German defense ended in a stunning front-post finish to make it 2-1 and turn the game on its head. Several fine stops from Shuichi Gonda – who won the Player of the Match for his performance – kept his side in the game, as Japan won the match and eventually the group, with Germany crashing out early once again.
While Japan’s memorable comeback against Spain on match day three would be a worthy entry on this list, the drama that unfolded between South Korea and Portugal cannot be forgotten. Again, it was the favorites who took an early lead, with Ricardo Horta scoring after just five minutes for Portugal. South Korea made a quick reply, though, with Kim Young-gwon drawing the sides level just before the half-hour mark. With Portugal already qualified and keeping several key players rested on their bench, it was the Koreans who went in search of a winner.
For the majority of the second half, though, they were unable to find one. An opportunity only arose off the back of a Portugal corner, from which Son Heung-min broke free and ran the near length of the pitch. The Tottenham man kept his nerve and threaded a pinpoint pass through to Hwang Hee-chan in the box, who finished cooly past the onrushing Diogo Dalot. Cue the celebrations from the South Korea players and bench, which ramped up even further when Brazil’s result against Cameroon confirmed their place in the World Cup last 16.
Despite Qatar hosting the odd ‘bore draw’ across the group stages of the tournament, the quality on show at this winter’s World Cup has been of the highest quality. Fans around the world will be hoping of more of the same, before the competition’s memorable finale on December 18.