With the first set of World Cup group-stage matches over, and moving onto the Matchday 2, it seems right to take a quick look back and give credit where credit is due to some of the standout players from Matchday 1. Of course, not everyone can get a mention, but having assessed the first round of fixtures we’ve listed, in no particular order, the best players from the 2018 World Cup Matchday 1.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
With Germany starting their defence of the World Cup against Mexico, almost everyone would’ve backed the Germans to come through with a victory and complete their accumulators as a guaranteed win. That was until they came up against a defensively sound Mexico side, and their goalkeeper in particular. Guillermo Ochoa, who plays his football at Standard Liège nowadays, saved a tournament-high nine shots on his path to earning his first clean sheet of the tournament and allowing Mexico to collect their first points of the 2018 World Cup against arguably the tournament’s favourites, and one of the best attacks in the competition, Germany.
Denis Cheryshev (Russia)
With one of Russia’s key men, Alan Dzagoev, going off injured, it was time for another Russian to step-up to the plate and take over the reins of this rather interesting Russia squad … introducing Denis Cheryshev. The departure of Dzagoev allowed fan favourite Aleksandr Golovin to move into his favoured number 10 role, with Denis Cheryshev coming off the bench and featuring on the left, allowing for a more fluid Russia attack. Albeit against a lacklustre Saudia Arabia side, Cheryshev and Russia made no mistake of putting the game to bed, scoring 5 goals, with Cheryshev contributing 2 in the space of 66 minutes – not bad for an impact substitute. It’s important to also highlight the contribution of Aleksandr Golovin, who has also impressed at club level with CSKA Moscow, supplying 1 goal and 2 assists after being moved into his number 10 role – certainly a player worth keeping an eye on this tournament, potentially in line for a breakout at this summer’s World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
It’s always difficult to not include a player like Ronaldo in a list like this, especially given his history of performing in big games. Playing against a Spain side which included the likes of Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Isco and Diego Costa, to name a few, the Euro 2016 winners, Portugal, weren’t expected to get much from this game … until you remember they have Cristiano Ronaldo in the team. With Spain arguably dominating the Group B encounter with 67% possession and 13 shots in total, the game was poised for Cristiano Ronaldo to step up to plate (yet again) and shine … and boy did he! Scoring 3 goals, including a precisely placed free-kick (it’s been a while!), Ronaldo took the game by storm and rescued a point in what fans would assume to be Portugal’s toughest game of the group. His remaining matches against Morocco and Iran will likely not be as easy as some may think, but at this point can anyone stop Ronaldo?
Kieran Trippier (England)
Some English bias definitely creeping in here as we all know it’s coming home this year! However, on a serious note, although the first 20 minutes of England’s game against Tunisia included some of the best football England have played in an international tournament, it quickly faded, and things settled back to normal. However, one player who continued to impress and command the right flank was Kieran Trippier, who was also making his debut for England at a major tournament. Trippier was remarkably assured, constantly supplying a threat down the right wing and consistently delivering pin-point crosses to his Spurs teammate Harry Kane. The 27-year-old also floated in the corner that lead to Harry Kane’s game-winning goal, and additionally Kieran Trippier contributed 6 key passes in total, creating more shooting opportunities than any player in the first round of World Cup matches.
Hannes Halldorsson (Iceland)
Being a part-time film director and a footballer for Randers FC in Denmark, not even Halldorsson would’ve thought he’d be saving a penalty from Lionel Messi to give Iceland their first point in World Cup history. With Argentina being clear favourites to storm Group D, they lived up to the hype, peppering the goal with 27 shots and maintaining 78% possession against the Icelandic minnows. However, as all of Europe witnessed at Euro 2016, you can never write-off the passion and fight from this Iceland team. With Alfred Finnbogason bringing the game back level 4 minutes after Sergio Aguero opened the scoring, no one would’ve expected Iceland to hold on for the remaining 67 minutes, but Iceland proved once against that desire, hard work, and a rather defensive 4-4-1-1 formation, which was tactically executed to perfection, is enough to see off any team, even one with some of the best attackers in the world (Argentina started Messi, Di Maria and Aguero, and brought on Higuain whilst keeping Dybala on the bench!).