Cristiano Ronaldo had a night to forget, as Portugal were held 1-1 by Iran and managed to scrape through to the last 16 in second place in Group B.
The Portuguese skipper had his second-half penalty saved by Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand and then should have been sent off for an elbow to defender Morteza Pouraliganji’s face. Referee Enrique Caceres, however, lacked the courage to show a red card to the global superstar, even after VAR reviews showed a clear infringement.
Karim Ansarifard converted from the spot to give Iran a lifeline and Mehdi Taremi shot into the side netting in agonising fashion in the final moments, failing to capitalise on Portuguese defensive anxiety.
Thankfully for Ronaldo, 34-year-old’s Ricardo Quaresma’s brilliant trademark curling effort using the outside of his right foot on the stroke of half-time was sufficient to secure Portugal’s progression into the next round.
If the Real Madrid star had been given his marching orders, Portugal might as well have packed up and gone home. As it stands, they will come up against a dangerous Uruguayan outfit, after Iago Aspas snatched a point for Spain with a late VAR-assisted goal against Morocco in another game dogged by controversy.
Barcelona’s Gerard Pique could easily have been sent off for an early two-footed challenge, but inexplicably escaped without a caution. The North Africans, to their credit, did not take a backwards step and were on course for a sensational 2-1 victory before Aspas’s intervention. Herve Renard’s men can justifiably feel aggrieved after three games in which officiating was called into question.
In Group A, Uruguay brought 10-man Russia down to earth with a bang, as feared striking duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani combined to secure a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
A Denis Cheryshev own goal and the first-half sending-off of Igor Smolnikov meant Russia were unable to continue a blistering start to the competition in which they scored eight goals and conceded just one. Russian fans dreaming of a run through to the quarterfinals may need to temper their ambitions.
The result saw the South Americans completed a group stage shut-out for the second consecutive World Cup. With that stoic defence and dynamic strike partnership, they represent a threat to every other team in the tournament.
Egypt go home with three losses on the trot, after Saudia Arabia completed a dramatic come-from-behind victory in a dead rubber in Volgograd, ending a winless run of 12 matches at World Cups.
Mohamed Salah, who was not named in the initial lineup, gave the North Africans the lead in the 22nd minute and did not celebrate the goal, as clouds gather over him being awarded an honorary citizenship from Chechen leader Ramazan Kadyrov. He is reportedly considering retirement from international football, after accusing the Egyptian FA of using him as a political pawn.
Saudi Arabia’s Salman Al Faraj levelled from the spot at the second attempt, six minutes into first-half stoppage time, when Ali Gabr was adjudged to have pushed Fahad Al Muwallad over inside the area.
READ MORE: World Cup 2018: Nigeria break the ice
The winner came deep into stoppage time, when Abdullah Otayf played through Salem Al Dawsari, who finished first time into the opposite corner.
One bright spot for the Pharaohs was the performance of 45-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who saved a penalty and became the oldest player to ever appear in a World Cup. How about 2022 swansong, Essam?