Winners won matches and losers the hearts in the early hours Tuesday.
World Cup favourites Spain and Portugal survived elimination scares before scraping through from Group B with draws. Rank outsiders Morocco and Iran, meanwhile, came close to writing qualification scripts in their favour with dazzling displays of fast football.
It was a day to forget for Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the best footballer on earth over the last five years, Ronaldo saw the other side of the coin after starting the World Cup in fabulous fashion: four goals off two matches including a hattrick.
The mercurial marksman was lively early on, but his play worsened as the game progressed. CR7 missed a 53rd-minute penalty, and seven minutes from time, came close to being sent off for a clash with Saeed Ezatolahi. After consulting the VAR (video assistant referee), the referee decided to let him off the hook with a yellow.
Portugal's hearts stopped momentarily when the spot-kick was missed by someone often dubbed 'Penaldo' for his penchant for scoring penalties. And Karim Ansarifard rubbed salt into Ronaldo's wound when he scored from the spot to give Iran an equaliser in the 93rd minute.
However, Ronaldo, whose success rate from scoring from the spot is close to 84 percent, can draw consolation from the squandered penalty earlier in the tournament by his arch-rival in the game's fame, Lionel Messi of Argentina.
Messi missed the chance to take a 2-1 lead over Iceland when he failed to convert a penalty and that was a major contributor to Argentine agony in Russia. Like Ronaldo, Messi is also the default penalty-taker for Argentina and his club Barcelona, but he lags slightly behind the Portuguese great with a success rate of nearly 81 percent.
Ronaldo took more penalties than Messi at club and country levels, with each of them scoring more than 600 goals. Of Ronaldo's goals 15.92 percent were from penalties, while for Messi the number is 12.97 percent.
But despite the impressive records of the duo, the two teams would now think twice before choosing the man to take the next penalty!
Back to the other Group B match, Morocco were in the process of sending Spain packing when technology came to their rescue. Spain were able to equalise (2-2) in stoppage time thanks to VAR system, which ruled that Iago Aspas's goal was legal.
Brought on as a substitute for Diego Costa, Aspas raced on a low pass from the right by Carvajal before flicking the ball into the back of the net, only to be flagged offside. With the field ruling overruled, Morocco found it hard to accept. So, chaos followed."Bulls**t!" was the word used at the camera by Moroccan players about the VAR decision.
Spain will remain grateful forever to Fifa, the game's global governing body, for using VAR for the first time in a World Cup. It was not easy for Spanish players to stay focused on the game after losing coach Julen Lopetegui (sacked for taking up a coaching job with Real Madrid) only a day before the World Cup got underway.
Take no credit from Morocco though. They played brilliant football from the start and took the lead from a mix-up between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos. Moroccan striker Khalid Boutalib snatched the ball and raced on before slotting the ball home through the legs of David De Gea. Playmaker Isco played his heart out to level the score, but Morocco went ahead again through an unstoppable header by substitute En-Nesyri off a corner.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star
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