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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

World Cup 2018: Ronaldo's hat-trick, Musa magic for Nigeria and the 10 best moments of the tournament so far

Iceland's first goal at a global finals, Eriksen's finish, Neymar's skills and Peru's supporters

Cristiano Ronaldo was Portugal's hero with a hat-trick against Spain as they drew their opening Group B game 3-3. EPA
Cristiano Ronaldo was Portugal's hero with a hat-trick against Spain as they drew their opening Group B game 3-3. EPA

We're 10 days in to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and already we've been privy to some memorable moments.

Here's 10 of the best so far.

Check out Jon Turner's 10 worst moments of the tournament so far

1. Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In an opening Group B match that wouldn't have looked out of place as the final, Ronaldo hit back at critics who dared to question his impact at World Cups by firing in a treble against Spain. The Real Madrid forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute by converting a penalty cleverly won against clubmate Nacho, saw his second squirm past David de Gea in the Spain goal and then with Portugal training 3-2 with minutes remaining, stepped up to belt in a free kick that secured a point.

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Gerard Pique says Cristiano Ronaldo 'prone to diving' after thrilling draw

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Denmark's Christian Eriksen scores against Australia. Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Denmark's Christian Eriksen scores against Australia. Dylan Martinez / Reuters

2. Christian Eriksen's stunning half-volley

If Denmark are going to do anything in this World Cup it's going to be largely off the back of Christian Eriksen's genius. The playmaker played the assist for Yussuf Poulsen to snatch all three points in their Group C opener against Peru and then scored a goal that belongs firmly in the bracket of "World Cup worldy" against Australia in Denmark's second match. The Tottenham Hotspur midfielder ghosted into space on the edge of the Australia area where he was picked out by Nicolai Jorgensen and slammed home a half-volley on his weaker left foot that mere mortals normally balloon over the bar. Eriksen now has 13 goals and five assists in his last 15 caps for Denmark.

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World Cup 2018: Day 10 updates - Belgium, Mexico and Germany in action

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Mexico's Hirving Lozano celebrates scoring their first goal against Germany with Jesus Gallardo. Christian Hartmann / Reuters
Mexico's Hirving Lozano celebrates scoring their first goal against Germany with Jesus Gallardo. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

3. Mexico on the counter-attack

Tasks don't come much more daunting than facing the world champions in your opening game and few expected Mexico to cause Germany many problems as Joachim Low's side opened their title defence. The tactics employed by Juan Carlos Osorio at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow though showed that even world beaters can be made to look ordinary. Identifying that big holes tend to be left in the channel between right-back Joshua Kimmich and his centre-back Jerome Boateng, and that Sami Khedira doesn't like turning and chasing towards his own goal, Mexico sat back and waited for the Germans to make mistakes and then hit them at break-neck speed on the counter, committing five-six players at Germany's horribly exposed defence every time. Hirving Lozano exposed Kimmich time and again to score the only goal in a famous Mexico win. The only wonder is that they didn't score more.

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World Cup 2018: Reports, blogs, galleries, videos and where to watch in UAE

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Denis Cheryshev, in red, gives Russia a 2-0 lead in their Group A opener against Saudi Arabia. EPA
Denis Cheryshev, in red, gives Russia a 2-0 lead in their Group A opener against Saudi Arabia. EPA

4. Hosts Russia defy expectations

If you thumb through The National's predictions made before the finals, you will see that hosts Russia were unanimously the choice of our so-called experts to be the biggest disappointment at the tournament. How wrong could we be? Russia backed up an opening-night hammering of a hapless Saudi Arabia with a 3-1 victory over Mohamed Salah's Egypt to become the first nation to reach the knockout stages. Denis Cheryshev wasn't even in Russia's starting line-up against the Saudis but his introduction following a first-half injury to Alan Dzagoev transformed the Russians from slow and functioning to well-oiled machine. His two goals alone in that game, the first a beautiful finish following a superb dink over a sliding Saudi defender, the second a volley with the outside of his left foot, set the tone for what has been a superb tournament so far for the hosts.

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World Cup 2018: Winners, losers, top-scorers and players to watch

In pictures: Best images so far from the World Cup 2018 in Russia

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Ahmed Musa shoots to score Nigeria's first goal against Iceland. Toru Hanai / Reuters
Ahmed Musa shoots to score Nigeria's first goal against Iceland. Toru Hanai / Reuters

5. Ahmed Musa's magic

Leicester City fans must have to do a double take when they see the Ahmed Musa that single-handedly destroyed Iceland and the flop that did virtually nothing for them in 21 games. While many are still drooling over the Nigeria winger's second goal against Iceland - ghosting past his defender, making a fool of the goalkeeper, steadying himself before blasting a shot into the corner with two covering defenders on the goal-line - it is his first goal that stands out for me, maybe because I have a soft-spot for half-volleyed goals. Musa's touch in controlling the cross before putting his laces through the ball, still rising as it whizzed past a helpless Hannes Halldorsson, much like Eriksen's against Australia, was pure class.

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Nigeria's 'Lionel Musa' warns Argentina he is not their hero ahead of crunch World Cup Group D match

In pictures: Musa torments Iceland as Nigeria clinch crucial World Cup win

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Hannes Halldorsson saved a spot kick from Argentina's Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, to help Iceland secure an unlikely point in their first World Cup match. AFP
Hannes Halldorsson saved a spot kick from Argentina's Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, to help Iceland secure an unlikely point in their first World Cup match. AFP

6. Iceland deny Lionel Messi and Argentina victory

Iceland, the smallest nation to reach a World Cup by population, a team managed by a man who likes to pull out teeth in his spare time, were expected to be little more than cannon fodder for the mighty Messi and Argentina in their World Cup debut in Moscow. It turned out to be a day of firsts for the Scandinavians. Argentina opened the scoring through Sergio Aguero, but minutes later Iceland would score their first World Cup goal in a moment that brought the Spartak Stadium house down when Alfred Finnbogason pounced on a loose ball in the Argentina goalmouth. More drama was to come. Argentina were awarded a second-half penalty, a chance for Messi to open his account for the tournament. The man with more goals than there are registered professional players in Iceland hit his shot at just the right height for Hannes Halldorsson, diving to his right, to paw away. Cue the Viking clap, and a harbinger of doom for Messi and Co in their next game against Croatia.

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Iceland filmmaker-turned-keeper Hannes Halldorsson has a love for the drama

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Croatia's Ivan Rakitic scores their third goal against Argentina. Carlos Barria / Reuters
Croatia's Ivan Rakitic scores their third goal against Argentina. Carlos Barria / Reuters

7. Ivan Rakitic sticking the boot in to Argentina

If a 1-1 draw against Iceland was damaging, a 3-0 defeat to Croatia was crushing for Argentina. Messi again cut a frustrated figure as Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli's tactics and team selection came under the microscope. First Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero played a beautiful assist for Ante Rebic to open the scoring, lofting the ball up with a what-on-earth-was-he-thinking chip that presented the Croatia winger with a chance to thump home a sumptuous volley. Luka Modric then smashed in a long-range second and the Argentina players lost their heads. Nicolas Otamendi, reverting back to the error-prone 2016 version of himself rather than the 2018 one that excelled at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, smashed the ball at the head of a stricken Ivan Rakitic in which the South American was lucky he didn't cause his Croatian counterpart serious injury. To rub salt into the wounds, Rakitic got the finishing touch on Croatia's third as they virtually walked the ball into Argentina's net, leaving Messi and his teammates needing victory against Nigeria and a favourable result between Iceland and Croatia to reach the knockout stages.

8. Vahid Amiri's nutmeg on Gerard Pique

There are few finer sights than seeing a top-level player with egg on his face. The finest piece of schadenfreude at this World Cup so far came from an unlikely source, too. Iran, much like Mexico against Germany, looked to soak up as much pressure as possible before committing numbers to the counter-attack against Spain. It very nearly paid off as well. With Iran chasing the game following a Diego Costa goal, Vahid Amiri had the audacity to nutmeg Gerard Pique, the Barcelona stalwart and member of Spain's 2010 World Cup-winning side, wide on the left before sending in an inviting cross that was headed inches over. It was one of three nutmegs Iran players would successfully pull off, although they would lose the match 1-0.

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Download: The National's World Cup 2018 wall chart

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9. Neymar's Argentinean flick-up

So far the only thing we have learnt about Neymar at the World Cup is that Neymar is not fully fit at the World Cup. Following three months out with a broken foot, the Brazil talisman struggled to make an impact in the 1-1 draw against Switzerland in the first match of Group E. It was much the same in Brazil's second match, against Costa Rica, at least for the first 20 minutes. Seemingly obsessed with standing his marker up and trying to beat him, Neymar switched tactics, looking to get in behind the defence, and looked like the player who might still have a major part to play at this tournament. The Brazil No 10 has been on the receiving end of rough treatment in the first two matches - the holes at the back of his socks proof that Costa Rican defenders saw his calves as fair game - and his petulance and cringe-worthy claims for a penalty garnered few sympathies. But there was one moment of magic before the Paris Saint-Germain forward had put the finishing touches on a 2-0 victory. Hemmed in by a Costa Rica defender following a short corner, Neymar executed an Argentinean flick-up over his marker before running on to the ball in a piece of skill that we would rather see much more of rather than the crocodile tears displayed at the end of the match.

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Coutinho takes centre stage from Neymar as patience pays off for Brazil

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Peru supporters gather round their national flag as they wait for the start of the Group C match against France. David Vincent / AP Photo
Peru supporters gather round their national flag as they wait for the start of the Group C match against France. David Vincent / AP Photo

10. The Peru fans

While much was expected of Egyptian fans at this World Cup, holding its collective breath as it waited on news of Mohamed Salah's injury, another set of supporters have lit up Russia. You would have been forgiven for thinking that Peru's opening match in Group C against Denmark was being played in Lima, rather than in Saransk, roughly 630 kilometres east of Moscow, such was the noise, sea of flags and iconic white shirts with diagonal red stripes on display at the Mordrovia Arena. Sadly the supporters were not able to lift their team to greater heights, suffering losses to both Denmark and France. If only the Peru national team had the same impact on this World Cup as their supporters, their final match against Australia wouldn't be a dead-rubber.