Today’s Group H matches were full of surprises. In the third minute of the first match of the day, Carlos Sanchez stuck out his arm to block a shot on goal, getting a red card in the process. This allowed Japan to score the first goal of the game and left Colombia with ten men for the remainder of the match. This was the second quickest red card issued in World Cup history. After Sanchez was sent off, Colombia played surprisingly well. The Colombian coach made an interesting move in the 30th minute by pulling Juan Cuadrado. This probably was not the smartest thing to do, as Cuadrado is a very valuable asset to have as he operates very effectively as a right-winger. A questionable foul was called against Japan, allowing Juan Quintero to score a very a clever free kick, which was Colombia’s only goal of the match. The fact that Colombia’s superstar and winner of the 2014 Golden Boot James Rodriguez did not start the match and came on as a substitute did not help the situation, either. Japan were able to score again and their defense played very well, which prevented Colombia from scoring more than once. It is hard not to wonder what Colombia would have done had Sanchez not committed that penalty.
In the second stunner of Group H, Sadio Mane and Senegal were able to get the best of Poland and one of the best strikers in the world, Robert Lewandowski. Initially, Poland were much more patient when they had the ball, but both teams were noticeably dangerous on the counter attack. Lewandowski, who was also the top scorer in Europe during the World Cup qualifying stage, did next to nothing during the first half, and Senegal gained confidence when Thiago Cionek scored an own goal. This was the fourth own goal scored in the tournament. Poland were more dominant in the second half and Lewandowski was on the ball more. Senegal’s second goal was quite possibly the most controversial goal of the tournament, thus far. Here are the details. M’Baye Niang sustained an injury and left the field. Poland had the ball at this point and a back pass was made. As soon as the pass was made, the referee signaled Niang to come back onto the pitch, allowing him to intercept the pass and go on to score. Several Polish players had thought the match was stopped because it appeared that a substitution was going to happen, but they had forgotten about Niang. Many were confused and believed the goal should be disallowed, but it is important to note that this was not illegal at all. It was merely mismanagement by the referee team. Senegal’s goalkeeper, Khadim N’Diaye, deserves honorable mention. He played a solid match and made very clever saves, especially towards the end. Senegal will move forward with great confidence after this crucial and unlikely win.
The last match of the day was an ugly one and a disappointment for most people. Russia entered the match with great confidence, as they had just beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0. The whole world was excited to finally see Mohamed Salah, currently one of the best players in the world, make his World Cup debut. Egypt needed to win today in order to have a strong chance of surviving. However, Egypt were playing ugly from the get go. They were sloppy and their play was characterized by careless giveaways, too many touches on passes, trying to intercept balls that were going out, and goal kicks that went out of bounds. They scored the tournament’s fifth own goal, as well. A controversial point that must be brought up is the notion that Egypt may have been better off without Mohamed Salah. Until the match concluded, the Egyptians were passing to Mohamed Salah, even though he was heavily defended the entire time. This strategy was completely ineffective. Russia are not incapable of recognizing Salah’s enormous skill, so it was obvious that they would be defending him more so than anyone else. Additionally, this tactic showed that the other Egyptian players were not confident in themselves. It seemed they believed Salah would be the only one to score goals for them. While he is the one who scored Egypt’s only goal of the match, a penalty, Egypt may have been able to win if they had created more offensive opportunities for players other than Salah and focused more on counter-attacks. This was not the Egypt we saw against Uruguay earlier this week. A strategy similar to the one Mexico utilized against Germany would definitely have proved to be effective for them. After their victory Russia, the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup, will most likely advance to the Round of 16 in the top spot of Group A. The fate of Egypt now lies in the hands of another Arab country, Saudi Arabia. If Saudi Arabia miraculously find a way to beat Uruguay tomorrow, then second place in the group is up for grabs. However, realistically speaking, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be heading home very soon.