Maradona, Neuer on the wing and Ronaldo free kicks: World Cup 2018 good, bad, ugly and bizarre so far

Russia 2018 has already been one of best World Cups in living memory, with spectacular goals, classic games and the ultimate shock of world champions Germany crashing out at the group stage.

So as we prepare for the knock-out stages of the competitions, here is a review of the opening two-and-a-half weeks: the Good, Bad, Ugly and Truly Bizarre of the World Cup so far.


Great goals: Picking the goal of the tournament will be a challenge due to the high-quality strikes we have seen in Russia.

Nacho's first-time stunner in Spain's 3-3 draw with Portugal, Jesse Lingard's long-range strike into the top corner for England against Panama, Ahmed Musa's wonder goal against Iceland and Lionel Messi's sublime right-foot shot against Nigeria, after some amazing control with his left thigh, have topped the bill, with Ricardo Quaresma's goal for Portugal against Iran also worthy of mention.

Free-kick magic: Cristiano Ronaldo set the ball rolling in the free-kick stakes with his hat-trick strike in the 3-3 draw against Spain on Day 2, but his Real Madrid teammate, Toni Kroos, perhaps went one better by finishing off a set-piece for Germany with a curling, injury-time winner against Sweden.

England also showed their training ground focus by converting a well-worked free kick against Panama with John Stones heading in after the Central Americans had been pulled apart by the slick set-piece.

The stadiums: Despite the pre-tournament scare stories of unfinished stadiums, a usual narrative before a World Cup, every one of the grounds used at this World Cup has been modern, impressive and fan-friendly.

The big question now is how often they will be used after the World Cup circus moves on to Qatar. New state-of-the-art stadiums in Sochi, Yekaterinburg and Volgograd risk becoming expensive empty palaces.

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- Maradona, Neuer on the wing and Ronaldo free kicks: World Cup 2018 good, bad, ugly and bizarre so far
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VAR: The Video Assistant Referee is here to stay, and although there were fears that it would be an under-cooked development in Russia, it has worked well.

The vast majority of decisions have been correct, with the decision to award South Korea their crucial goal against Germany perhaps the most significant. Before VAR, that goal would have been wrongly ruled out and who knows? Germany could have rode their luck, qualified from the group and ended up winning the World Cup again.

The fans: If there was an award for the fans of the tournament, it would be dominated by those from South and Central America who have travelled in huge numbers to Russia. Peru, at the first World Cup since 1982, took over Yekaterinburg for their game against France and their happy, celebratory outlook has been a memorable part of this World Cup.

Argentina's amazing supporters roared the team on to victory against Nigeria in St. Petersburg while Brazil, Colombia and Mexico fans also brought the noise and colour to Russia.

Also: a special mention goes to the Iran fans who kept Cristiano Ronaldo awake with their incessant singing.

The teams that qualified from Asia: It's true that Australia crashed out by finishing bottom of their group, but the rest of Asia's World Cup contingent raised the bar for their continent.

South Korea may have gone out at the group stage but their 2-0 win against Germany was no fluke and a massively significant result for the tournament as a whole. Iran also ran Portugal and Spain very close in Group B, while Saudi Arabia overcame their opening-game hammering against Russia by making life tough for Uruguay and then beating Egypt.

Meanwhile in Group H, Japan managed to finish second albeit in odd circumstances. (More on that below.)


Manuel Neuer as Leroy Sane: Only Joachim Low knows why he chose not to pick Manchester City's flying winger, Leroy Sane, for Germany's World Cup squad. But watching goalkeeper Manuel Neuer trying -- and failing -- to play the role of an attacking left-winger in the dying stages of the defeat against South Korea was unforgettable.

Especially as Neuer clumsily lost the ball on the edge of the opposition penalty area, allowing the Koreans to score their second goal.

Airline catering: The flights within Russia have been largely on time even if the airlines don't connect particularly well between cities other than Moscow.

But one area where they have been distinctly below standard is catering. Whether you fly at 5 a.m., midday or late evening, expect to get the same sandwich: usually chewy beef and lettuce. You can get turkey and cheese if you're lucky, but getting one of those is like landing one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets.

The flies in Volgograd: Whoever thought it was a good idea to build the Volgograd stadium next to the Volga River clearly had a sense of humour. Volgograd is hot, dusty and plagued by tiny flies that swarm around you 24/7, but they are even worse down by the river, as England's under-attack players found out during their 2-1 win against Tunisia.

Poland: Poland qualified so easily for this World Cup that they were seeded in Pot One, but once again they were awful on the big stage. They are becoming the masters of qualifying for World Cups and doing absolutely nothing when they get there. It was the same old story in Russia.

Goalkeepers: This is something of a generalisation, but this has not been a great World Cup for goalkeepers. Even David de Gea has looked like a mere mortal for Spain so far, while Manuel Neuer (see above) has also been poor. Willy Caballero lasted just two games for Argentina, while Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima has looked a total liability.

VAR: It's great when it works (see above) but the VAR seems to think that every instance of a ball touching an arm is a penalty. And the decision-making can take forever. That said, it's a work in progress, so teething problems should be expected.


Grappling: Until Egyptian referee Gehad Grisha punished Panama by awarding a penalty for their rough-house grappling against England, it seemed that the World Cup was descending into a wrestling competition. The jostling and shoving at corners has been ridiculous and although FIFA has now spotted it, it still goes on too much.

Yekaterinburg's temporary stand: Yekaterinburg can lay claim to the World Cup's first Gene Kelly Stand with so many Peruvians singing in the rain during their defeat against France.

The roofless temporary stand sticks out behind the main body of the stadium and is uncovered, while the views from the top would give you a better view of low-flying aircraft than action on the pitch.

Panama's tackling: Somebody forgot to send the memo to Panama to tell them it is no longer 1974 and brutal tackling is no longer allowed in football. They certainly left their mark on their first World Cup but that mark was in the form of bruises on their opponents.

Running out of beer: Incredibly, Moscow ran low on beer supplies due to the fan invasion in the first fortnight. A crisis was ultimately averted, but no beer is never a good look for football fans.


Diego Armando Maradona: Watching Maradona during Argentina's dramatic win against Nigeria was almost as entertaining as the game itself.

Ecstasy, agony, exasperation, anger and then the X-rated finger gesture celebration at the end. And then came the test for high blood pressure.

More than 20 years after he retired, Maradona is still starring at the World Cup.

Michy Batshuayi's un-Batman move: Belgium defeated England 1-0 on Thursday to seal top spot in Group G and a date with Japan in the last-16, but one player who didn't stand out was the Chelsea striker. His attempt to smash the ball back into England's goal after Adnan Januzaj's superb strike didn't exactly work out.

Japan playing keep-ball: Japan made it through to the round of 16 despite resting six players against Poland and losing 1-0 in Volgograd. But with Colombia leading against Senegal in the other Group H game, the Japan players spent the last 10 minutes passing to each other in their own half in an effort to run down the clock.

Had Senegal equalised against Colombia, Japan would have been out, so it was a bizarre -- and some say unforgivable -- tactic to deploy with so long left to play. Yet fortune didn't favour the brave on this occasion.