World Cup: The best and worst from the first round of matches

Germany's Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich in action with Mexico's Hector Moreno, Raul Jimenez and Jesus Gallardo.
Germany's Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich in action with Mexico's Hector Moreno, Raul Jimenez and Jesus Gallardo.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The first round of group matches of the 2018 World Cup has ended with 39 goals scored, evidence of what an exciting week of football it has been in Russia.

The Straits Times looks at some of the best and worst moments so far.

Best goal: Nacho (Spain)

Where do we start? Denis Cheryshev's second goal in the tournament's curtain raiser against Saudi Arabia was exquisite.

In the exhilarating 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal, each side had a beauty - Spain defender Nacho's half-volley looked better and better with every slow-mo replay, while Cristiano Ronaldo capped his hat-trick with a perfect freekick into the top-corner.

Dries Merten's opener for Belgium in their 3-0 win over Panama was struck with pure venom, while Aleksandar Kolarov's freekick winner for Serbia against Costa Rica was a veritable missile.

Our pick is Nacho's mesmerising, swerving strike.


Spain's defender Nacho Fernandez shoots to score his team's third goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Portugal and Spain at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 15, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Biggest shock: Mexico beating Germany


Mexico's Hirving Lozano scores their first goal. PHOTO: REUTERS

Yes, we knew a "Champions' Curse" loomed over Germany.

Yes, we knew Mexico winger Hirving Lozano was tipped to be one of the breakout stars of the World Cup.

Still, few would have predicted El Tri would stun the defending champions 1-0 in their opening Group F match. They were good value for the win, too.

Best save: Cho Hyun Woo (South Korea)


Sweden's forward Marcus Berg (second from top) attempts a shot on South Korea's goalkeeper Cho Hyun Woo (right) during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Sweden and South Korea at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 18, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa pulled off a great save off Neymar's header at the 2014 World Cup, and wasted no time in making his mark in Russia.

Just three minutes after Lozano put Mexico ahead, Ochoa was at full-stretch to tip Toni Kroos' freekick onto the bar and preserve his country's clean sheet.

Egypt shot-stopper Ahmed el-Shenawy's superb save off Edinson Cavani's stinging volley in Uruguay's 1-0 win was overlooked by many.

But our pick is the stop by South Korea's Cho Hyun Woo against Sweden. How he kept the ball out with two Swedish strikers unmarked just six metres out, is anyone's guess.

Worst blunder: Lionel Messi (Argentina)


Iceland's Hannes Por Halldorsson saves a penalty taken by Argentina's Lionel Messi on June 16, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS 

It doesn't feel nice kicking a man while he is down, but Lionel Messi's penalty miss in Argentina's 1-1 draw with Iceland has to go down as the biggest blunder of the opening round of matches.

He can score from well outside the box and from impossible angles, but it seems the penalty spot is the G.O.A.T's one weakness - he has now missed four of his last seven spotkicks for Argentina and Barcelona.

Having said that, Messi's effort wasn't the worst penalty. Step forward, Christian Cueva, who blazed his shot way over the bar and into Row Z in Peru's 1-0 defeat by Denmark.

David de Gea's impression of Robert Green in Spain's match also deserves a mention.

Best fans: Mexico


Mexico fans celebrate at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Germany and Mexico at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 17, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Hats - or should that be sombreros? - off to the Mexican faithful, after they turned the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow into a sea of green.

Their vocal support was a big reason their players were able to keep up their brand of high-intensity pressing over the Germans, and eventually hold on to a special win.

Their fans at home, across the Atlantic, were no less passionate: their jumping after Lozano's 35th-minute goal set off earthquake detectors at two sites in Mexico City.

Japanese and Senegalese fans should also be applauded, after they were pictured picking up after themselves after their countries' respective games.

Worst hairstyle: Neymar (Brazil)

The Brazil superstar's barnet has drawn comparisons with George Michael, Rihanna, and even a cup of instant noodles.

Whatever it is, it isn't good.

And it certainly didn't help him or the Selecao, as they were held 1-1 by Switzerland in their Group E opener.

Best individual performance: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)


Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their first goal from the penalty spot past Spain's David De Gea. PHOTO: REUTERS 

How can you not hand it to CR7? He scored all three goals in the 3-3 draw with 2010 world champions Spain, and was influential throughout.

His supporters will point to this - and Messi's fluffed penalty - as even more evidence he is the true G.O.A.T.

Other players who had a good start to the tournament were Russian playmaker Aleksandr Golovin (a goal and two assists against Saudi Arabia), England's Harry Kane (two goals against Tunisia) and Mexican match-winner Hirving Lozano.

Worst attitude: Nikola Kalinic (Croatia)


Croatia's Nikola Kalinic attends a press conference of the Croatian national soccer team at the Roschino Arena, outside St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 13, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The striker was sent home after refusing to come on as a substitute in Croatia's 2-0 win over Nigeria.

That's shocking behaviour from a player representing his country at the grandest stage of them all.

France star striker Antoine Griezmann also deserves brickbats for his announcement just 48 hours before Les Bleus' World Cup opener against Australia, that he would be staying with Spanish side Atletico Madrid instead of moving to Barcelona. After a half-hour long documentary, no less.