The opening round of group stage play gave us plenty of excitement and plenty of use out of video assistant referees.
Portugal and Chile each saw a goal disallowed by the use of the VAR system. Mexico earned a draw with a thrilling late goal. Meanwhile, the Russian hosts cruised to an opening win and Germany scored three goals on their way to three points.
Here’s a full recap of the weekend’s action:
Australia 2-3 Germany
Lars Stindl started the scoring nice and early for the Germans as he fired home a low cross from Julian Brandt with his right foot barely four minutes into the match. That lead would hold out until the Socceroos leveled in the 41st minute. Tomas Rogic saw his initial shot blocked by Shkodran Mustafi, but the rebound fell straight back to him, allowing him to blast the equalizer in.
Australia couldn’t hold the lead for long. Massimo Luongo took down Leon Goretzka in the penalty area in 44th minute, setting up Julian Draxler’s spot kick to make it 2-1. Goretzka would provide a goal of his own early in the second half. He collected a through pass and hit it first time over Maty Ryan in the Australia goal.
Australia would find one more shortly after. Tomislav Juric hammered a rebound into the net in the 56th minute, but celebrations had to be put on hold while the officials consulted the replays to check for a handball during the sequence of play. None was found and the goal stood, getting the Socceroos back within one.
The wouldn’t get even, though, and Germany would take all three points.
Portugal 2-2 Mexico
Portugal appeared to have struck first blood in this match 20 minutes in. A Cristiano Ronaldo volley caromed off the crossbar and Pepe scored on the rebound, but VAR had something to say about it. A second look proved Pepe, and three other Portugal players, were well offside on the initial shot and the goal was taken down.
Ronaldo would set up the actual first goal in the 34th minute, though. He slid a pass across to a woefully under-marked Ricardo Quaresma, who easily walked the opening goal in. Javier Hernandez provided Mexico’s response eight minutes later. Chicharito’s thunderous header left Rui Patricio with no chance at making a save and the score was level at a goal apiece.
Cedric Soares thought he had Portugal’s winner in the 86th minute when his shot deflected off a defender and in. Instant replay was used to confirm the goal, but El Tri would get the last word. Hector Moreno rose to head home a stoppage time corner to give his side a hard earned point in their tournament opener.
Chile 2 – 0 Cameroon
This match was Chile’s from start to finish.
The reigning Copa America champions thought they were ahead just before the half time whistle, but Arturo Vidal’s goal was cancelled out when instant replay showed he was offside. It would take until the 81st minute for him to get one that counted. Vidal was given an open header at the top of the six yard box for an easy finish.
Chile would add an insurance goal in stoppage time thanks to the VAR. Eduardo Vargas slotted home a rebound after Alexis Sanchez failed to score on a breakaway. He was initially ruled off side, but the replay disagreed and the goal was given.
Russia 2-0 New Zealand
Russia was in control right from the opening whistle in the tournament opener. They hit a post within minutes and scored the first goal of the tournament by benefit of an own goal in the 31st. Michael Boxall tried his hardest to prevent a shot from rolling over his goal line, but his sliding attempt only made things worse for New Zealand and they were down, 1-0.
Russia continued to pressure hard throughout the match. Strong goalkeeping from Stefan Marinovic kept them alive until Fedor Smolov tapped in a low cross in the 68th minute to ensure the victory.