March 26, 2019

What we learned from week one of football’s biggest shop window

Samara: There's no better shop window than the World Cup. Josh Risdon might be bemoaning the VAR decision that went against him against France but he may have found a silver lining in becoming the first player in the history of the World Cup to fall victim to the VAR.

The footage went viral but lead many agents and scouts to watch the entire game where several intermediaries were impressed with the performance of the little-known right back from Western Sydney Wanderers.

Crucial call: Josh Risdon was pulled up by the VAR, with Antoine Griezmann awarded a penalty.

Photo: AAP

Fairfax Media understands representatives from clubs in Turkey, Belgium and Russia have already flagged their interest in signing the defender on the back of his performance against France.

Small price to pay


The cost of hosting a World Cup is often much maligned by the broader public but the price doesn't just buy a country a dozen new stadiums and upgraded airports, it effectively guarantees a spot in the last 16 of the tournament.

For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has qualified for the second round of a World Cup and much of that has to do with playing on home soil.

Emphatically, they've scored eight goals in two games against Saudi Arabia and Egypt but the scoreline doesn't reflect such overwhelming dominance, eye-catching football or superb technique.

Ecstacy: Artem Dzyuba and teammates celebrate after a goal.

Photo: AP

For the most part, it's been a tale of sheer grit and resilience thus far which is equally admirable. Flashes of brilliance, particularly from the likes of Denis Cheryshev and the impressive youngster Aleksandr Golovin sit aplomb dogged displays that could even take them one step further.

For some Russians, that would be a small price to pay for the hosting costs.

Costly error

On the topic of finances of hosting the games, Russia have made one flaw leading into the tournament.

Agreeing to subvert their strict and timely visa process with the "Fan ID" for those who purchased tickets was a compromise with FIFA, but in not waving travel visas for the period of the World Cup, Russia have sold their public short and the experience of many would-be visitors.

Those who pre-purchased tickets have created great vibrancy and were able to by-pass the Russian travel visas but the general festival goers have been denied easy access into the World Cup. It means shopkeepers and local businesses have been denied the extra tourism money, the broader World Cup party has less attendees and a handful of games had a few too many empty seats.

Heavy is the Crown

As Spain, France and Italy can attest to – backing up isn't easy. Despite their rejuvenation and complete dominance over the four years since winning the 2014 World Cup, Germany's jitters against Mexico laid bare the difficulty of going back-to-back with strong campaigns.

Germany were perhaps lucky not to lose by more against "El Tri" and showed how heavy the burden of pressure weighs on the champions.

The King shines

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and the reigning World Player of the Year continues to show why he's so vital for Portugal. Firmly assuming a greater leadership role for his country than at this club, the much-maligned Ronaldo becomes far more palatable to his detractors.

His hat-trick against Spain was inspirational, whether it be his composure from the spot, power from distance to force an error – or the sheer class with his levelling free-kick. He backed it up again in his second outing against Morocco and could take Portugal far.

VARcical introduction

In just one week, the world has joined Australia in their frustration with the Video Assistant Referee. Already FIFA have been forced to backtrack after the introduction of the highly questionable technology suggesting some decisions will be reviewed after confusion continues to reign supreme over the VAR at the World Cup.

It's not just France's controversial penalty against Australia but the series of penalties gone unnoticed by the VAR and others that perhaps should not have been given.

Inconsistent interventions from the VAR and heavy disruptions to the momentum of the game are beginning to plague the competition already, just as it did throughout the previous A-League season.

Sleeping giant awakens

For the past six successive tournaments, El Tri look impressive in the group stage only to be eliminated at the round of 16 stage. They have to look as far back to the 1986 World Cup hosted on home soil for the last time they've reached the quarter finals.

The more derisive might suggest it will be looked back on as false hope, but their opening day win over Germany provides plenty of optimism that Mexico may finally be about to break its hoodoo.

Fans celebrate as Mexico go on to win against reigning world champions Germany.

Photo: Anthony Vazquez

Of the squad that emphatically beat the world champions, a quarter were part of the Under-23 Mexico side that won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and their dominant win might hint to the awakening of a sleeping giant.

From a commercial perspective, that's already happening domestically. Mexico's league is in the middle of a financial boom period soaring to become the 10th most lucrative competition in world football attracting the likes of former stars of Europe Keisuke Honda, Edy Vargas and Enner Valencia.

It's a football-mad country with a population of 127 million and a market that's reaching its potential. With that financial backing, enormous player pool and rapidly improving facilities, there's no reason why Mexico can not be a future world champion. Consistency will determine whether that happens in Russia.

Dominic Bossi

Dominic Bossi is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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