All the things that are hogging the conversation after the latest day of action in Russia 2018
World Cup talking points, Day 13: Maradona mayhem, empires strike back, and echoes of 1982
The action on the pitch in St Petersburg was breathtaking enough, after a second half in which there were two goals, two VAR reviews and six substitutions (not forgetting a blood-splattered Javier Mascherano). But Argentinian legend Diego Maradona provided an unmissable sideshow with his antics in the stands, living every agony and ecstasy of the game, celebrating the first goal, appearing to nod off after that, then despairing after the Nigerians equalised. However, his response to Marcos Rojo’s late goal, which sealed Argentina’s progress through to the second round, was somewhat over-the-top as he appeared to make offensive gestures in no particular direction at all. It was revealed after the game that he had been treated by paramedics at the stadium having collapsed into his seat at the final whistle, but Argentinian media reported that he hadn't been taken to hospital.
The empires strike back
After the initial frisson of excitement when big beasts such as Germany and Argentina lost games against lower-ranked teams, and Group B was temporarily at a stage where either Spain or Portugal could have been ejected ignominiously from the tournament, the harsh realities of international football are beginning to reassert themselves. Defending world champions Germany showed spirit in overcoming Sweden with 10 men and look to be ominously growing in confidence.
And on Tuesday night, Argentina bounced back from a 3-0 drubbing by Croatia and a draw with minnows Iceland that had seen them rooted to the foot of Group D to book their place into the second round courtesy of a madcap 2-1 victory over Nigeria. With the so-far-shaky Brazilians unlikely to succumb to Serbia on Wednesday, the natural order looks like it has been restored, to the dismay of footballing romantics the world over.
Echoes of 1982
Did we view this tournament’s version of the Disgrace of Gijon? Readers with a long memory will remember how at the World Cup in Spain in 1982 Austria and West Germany played out a 1-0 win in their final match of the group stages that guaranteed that both sides would progress to the next round, at the expense of Algeria. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the drab goalless draw – the first of the tournament – between Denmark and France in Group C similarly meant that the pair of European teams would go into the round of 16 regardless of the result between Australia and Peru going on at the same time in Sochi. As it was, the South Americans' 2-0 win meant Australia were never in a position to challenge for second spot, but the 0-0 at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium ensured that even had the Socceroos won, they would have been a point behind the Danes. The second half of the Denmark-France game saw neither side make any discernible effort, and at one stage, a French player hobbled off the pitch injured and his Danish counterpart stood with the ball and made no effort to play it until he returned to the field of play.
The New York Times has resurrected the age-old British pastime of Spot The Ball.
A fan sparks up his cigarette in an unconventional fashion.