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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

World Cup 2018: Messi overreaction, Salah's early exit and 10 worst moments so far

Plenty of work still needs to be done with VAR, Kalinic proves to be the worst teammate of the tournament, and is Pepe as tough as he seems?

Lionel Messi faces an early World Cup exit with Argentina after a draw against Iceland and defeat to Croatia. Vassil Donev / EPA
Lionel Messi faces an early World Cup exit with Argentina after a draw against Iceland and defeat to Croatia. Vassil Donev / EPA

As the 2018 World Cup enters Day 10, we take the opportunity to look at 10 of the worst moments of the tournament so far.

Check out Steve Luckings' 10 best moments of the tournament so far

1. Messi hysteria

After two games, there is a very real prospect that Argentina could be sent home at the group stage. Despite the collective shambles of the Argentina team, the spotlight has inevitably fallen on their star man.

Make no mistake: Lionel Messi has had an underwhelming tournament so far - the missed penalty against Iceland preceded a largely anonymous display against Croatia.

However, it is not Argentina or Messi's form that makes this list, but the ludicrous overreaction by those on the sidelines swift to discredit the greatest player in history off the back of two games played for a disjointed and uninspiring team.

Those same critics will point to Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of four goals in two games to lead a rather ordinary Portugal side - on paper perhaps, but European champions nonetheless - to a far more encouraging position.

Unquestionably Ronaldo's form in Russia has only served to further highlight Messi's struggles. But Portugal are set up to actually serve their leading player, while Jorge Sampaoli seems intent on not playing to Messi's strengths.

After taking over as manager, Sampaoli oversaw three straight draws to put Argentina on the brink of missing out on the World Cup altogether. Only a 3-1 win against Ecuador on the last match day saved Argentina. And who got those goals? Of course - Messi scored a hat-trick.

Football fans have notoriously short memories, but even by those standards, this is a bit much. Messi never has to kick another ball again to be assured of his place in history, even if he and Argentina tank in Russia.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

Day 10 preview: Germany 'ready to fight for their lives' against Sweden

Day 10 updates - Belgium, Mexico and Germany in action

Day 9 talking points: Nigeria's gift to Argentina and Tite's tumble

Zlatko Dalic: Croatia must stay humble after beating Argentina

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2. Worst throw-in ever?

We're all for originality in football, particularly when it comes to some of the more routine aspects of the game - say, for example a throw-in.

But if you're going to get creative with a throw-in, make sure you can actually pull it off. We're talking to you, Milad Mohammadi.

The Iran defender attempted an acrobatic throw-in against Spain, but instead of an athletic flip before launching a missile into the penalty area, Mohammadi stumbled, missed the line and was forced to retake the throw-in in a more conventional manner. Not to worry Mohammadi, there was only a couple hundred million people watching.

To make matters worse, it occurred deep in injury time with Iran chasing their way back into the match when every second counts. They lost 1-0.

3. Poor teamwork from Kalinic

The chance to appear at a World Cup is every footballer's dream, right? Someone should remind Croatia forward Nikola Kalinic, who was sent home from Russia after refusing to come off the bench against Nigeria.

Kalinic was requested to come on by manager Zlatko Dalic in the 85th minute of their opening Group D match, but the Fiorentina forward reportedly complained about a back problem and never made it on the pitch. He did the same thing against Brazil in a pre-World Cup friendly.

Dalic subsequently sent Kalinic home, saying he needed his players "fit and ready to play". Kalinic's departure has left Croatia with only one recognised No 9 - although it certainly isn't affecting them so far.

Croatia's Nikola Kalinic has twice refused to come off the bench to play. Anatoly Maltsev / EPA
Croatia's Nikola Kalinic has twice refused to come off the bench to play. Anatoly Maltsev / EPA

4. VAR needs work

The 2018 World Cup will be remembered as the first to implement the use of the Video Assistant Referee, and by and large it has been a success.

Referees have been able to review key moments and a number of goals and penalty claims have been correctly awarded or reverted thanks to the help of VAR. Neymar's theatrics in winning a penalty against Costa Rica was one such incident that was correctly overturned.

But it is far from perfect. There have been moments where VAR should have been used, including Harry Kane receiving a rugby tackle by a Tunisia player, and Brazil defender Miranda getting shoved against Switzerland.

Then there are moments that have been referred but the correct outcome was not made, most notably the handball by Denmark's Yussuf Poulsen against Australia.

The dilemma with VAR is that it is supposed to eradicate mistakes, but too many decisions in football can be subjective. The referees have done a sterling job incorporating VAR into the million other things they need to deal with out in the middle.

There is just still a bit more work to be done on VAR as a whole until it can be deemed an unbridled success.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used to great effect at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Reuters
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used to great effect at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Reuters

5. Over too soon for Salah

The World Cup is where the spotlight is shone on the best players on the planet, and few players arrived in Russia with more attention on them than Mohamed Salah.

Unfortunately for the Egyptian and Liverpool superstar, much of the focus was on his recovery from the shoulder injury sustained in the Uefa Champions League final on May 26.

The injury meant Salah missed Egypt's heartbreaking late defeat to Uruguay, although he was recalled to the side in time to face Russia and salvage his nation's World Cup hopes.

However, a clearly not-yet-fully-fit Salah was unable to help Egypt against a rampaging Russia side. And just like that his World Cup was over.

For a player who has lit up club football and dragged his nation to their first World Cup in 28 years, Salah deserved more from his time in Russia.

Mohamed Salah's World Cup was over too soon after Egypt's defeats to Uruguay and Russia. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Mohamed Salah's World Cup was over too soon after Egypt's defeats to Uruguay and Russia. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

6. Neymar attitude

There is no doubting the talent Brazilian forward Neymar. Deservedly recognised as one of the world's finest players, Neymar is the talisman for club and country.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is capable of mesmeric skills and match-turning performances, as he has proved time and again throughout his career.

Against Costa Rica on Friday, Neymar showcased plenty of what is wonderful about his talents as a footballer: the flicks and tricks, running at defenders, driving his side forward, and of course the game-sealing goal.

But this being Neymar, his fine display was soured somewhat by his petulance and unsavoury antics. Waiting in the tunnel to have a word with the referee at half time showed a lack of respect, and that was just one of numerous incidents involving the match official.

Then there was the obvious dive for a penalty that he successfully conned his way to winning before VAR intervened.

For a player as wonderfully talented as Neymar, all the histrionics are really not necessary. But given they have forever been part of his game, there's little point in hoping he'll change.

Neymar's superb display against Costa Rica was soured somewhat by his theatrics and attitude towards the referee. Marcos Brindicci / Reuters
Neymar's superb display against Costa Rica was soured somewhat by his theatrics and attitude towards the referee. Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

7. Pepe the hard man?

Portugal defender Pepe forged a reputation during his long and illustrious career for being a tough-tackling, no-nonsense centre-back for Porto, Real Madrid and Besiktas.

That hard-man image was tarnished in Portugal's Group B encounter with Morocco when Pepe when down like he had been shot after Medhi Benatia gave him a firm slap on the back.

Benatia is a strong and imposing figure but is his slap powerful enough to floor a man like Pepe? Perhaps it is. Or perhaps Pepe is just as capable of the play-acting as Neymar. Likely the latter.

8. Insipid Poland

A hallmark of the first round of group-stage matches was the struggles of the top-seeded sides. Spain, Brazil and Argentina were held to draws, France squeezed past Australia, and Germany lost to Mexico.

But the worst performance of the first round by a top seed belonged to Poland, who were outclassed by Senegal in Group H and were flattered to lose only 2-1.

Poland were a shambles defensively where two costly mistakes led to both Senegal goals, while they were blunt up front, with Robert Lewandowski - arguably the finest No 9 on the planet - having no impact.

In a group also containing Colombia and Japan, top seeds Poland would have been confident of reaching the last-16, but their defeat to Senegal suggests a side well short of where they need to be to challenge for one of the top two places.

Robert Lewandowski and Poland were poor against Senegal in their opening game. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Robert Lewandowski and Poland were poor against Senegal in their opening game. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

9. Japan goalkeeper's calamity

What would a World Cup be without a few goalkeeping howlers? The best (or should it be worst?) of the first 10 days belonged to Japan's No 1 Eiji Kawashima - not only for the mistake itself but his subsequent reaction.

With Japan leading Colombia 1-0, the South Americans were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area. Up stepped Juan Quintero, who slid his effort under the wall and inside the post.

It was a clever move by the Colombian but the shot had little power and Kawashima should have got across to make the save. Instead, he scrambled too late as the ball slowly rolled over the line. Kawashima subtly clawed the ball back on the line before standing up and waving his finger in protest to the goal being awarded.

Whether it was in genuine hope or an effort to save face (undoubtedly the latter), this is a moment Kawashima will be happy to forget. Lucky for him, his side went on to win 2-1.

10. Spain's managerial mess

Spain arrived in Russia as one of the pre-tournament favourites. They had a settled squad bristling with talent, had walked through qualifying, and their manager, Julen Lopetegui, had signed a new contract. All was going swimmingly for Spain.

Until the entire setup was thrown into chaos when Lopetegui was fired two days before their first match against Portugal after he agreed to join Real Madrid.

Director of football Fernando Hierro was quickly installed as Lopetegui's replacement for the duration of the World Cup, despite the former Real Madrid captain insisting just days earlier he had no interest in a career in the dugout.

It hasn't affected Spain too much just yet, but Lopetegui's exit is hardly ideal preparation ahead of a World Cup campaign.

Fernando Hierro has been thrust into the Spain dugout following the shock departure of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament. Robert Ghement / EPA
Fernando Hierro has been thrust into the Spain dugout following the shock departure of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament. Robert Ghement / EPA