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5 things on World Cup: Best moments so far – Free Malaysia Today

1. Saudis sheikh Argentina
This is where this epic show got started. Saudi Arabia were trailing Argentina to a nonchalant Lionel Messi penalty.
The Copa America champions looked a class apart and had three “goals” disallowed. They were so confident they hardly complained.
Unbeaten in 36 games, it looked like a routine win against a side ranked 51st in the world.
The Saudis had also lost their skipper Salman al-Faraj to a first-half injury. But they hadn’t read the script.
They came out for the second half a different team.
Taking the game to the Argentines, they attacked and, in eight amazing minutes, turned the tie, Messi’s dreams and the World Cup on its head.
First, Saleh al-Shehri surged past Cristian Romero and surprised Emiliano Martinez with a shot that crept in at the far post.
If that shook the foundations, there was more to come.
Rattled, the favourites allowed the Saudis to take charge.
Another Green Falcon attack was not cleared properly and star striker Salem al-Dawsari slalomed past two half-hearted tackles.
Then, on the edge of the box, he unleashed a shot that will go down in Saudi folklore and World Cup history.
Looping gloriously beyond the despairing leap of Martinez, it nestled in the fateful far corner.
It was a stunner by any standards, but in this context?
The thousands of Saudi fans could scarcely believe it. Cue mayhem in the stands and the kingdom.
It seemed like the whole Middle East erupted in the best possible way.
Messi’s Argentina had work to do and the 2022 World Cup was up and running.
2. Brazil’s magical half hour
It was all too brief. A mere half hour but it will linger in the memory.
Of what might have been. Of what Brazil once were. And what they are still – albeit fleetingly – capable of.
It was football of the gods, Brazilian gods like Zico, Falcao, Socrates, and, of course, Pele. One-touch, joyous and for the jugular.
They were the Harlem Globetrotters without hands. The highlight was Richarlison’s ball-juggling, then a pass, then a killer finish.
Alas for the five-time winners, it was enough to beat a bewildered South Korea 4-1, but at half-time it was as if they lost the magic.
Unable to reproduce it in the second half was understandable, but they couldn’t find the formula against Croatia either, bowing out in the quarterfinal.
Still, it was damn good while it lasted.
3. Glorious chaos in Group of Death
Group E was the closest the draw had given us to a Group of Death.
With two heavyweights, Germany and Spain, and one middleweight, Japan, just Costa Rica looked to be the lightweight whipping boy.
However, when the group matches kicked off, only Spain’s 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica had gone to script, with Japan having stunned Germany in another great upset.
The Germans then drew with Spain to keep their hopes alive, but Japan went and lost to Costa Rica.
So, on the final day anything was still possible.
At half-time, order seemed to have been restored with Spain and Germany set to go through with one-goal leads.
After all their heroics, Japan and Costa Rica were heading for the airport. But neither had packed their bags.
Both roared out of the blocks for the second half, scoring two goals to shake the big boys and turn the table on its head.
It was hard to keep track as the goals were going in, but for just under three minutes, it was the lightweight Central Americans who topped the Group.
And the heavyweights were going home!
But Germany hadn’t finished and even though attention was diverted to the “ball over the line” controversy in the Spain-Japan game, the four-time winners ran out, beating Costa Rica 4-2.
But it was to no avail. Japan’s goal had been allowed to stand so they and Spain went through at Germany’s expense.
It was confusing, it was chaotic – especially for commentators – and it was controversial. But it was what the World Cup is all about.
And it has even convinced Fifa to keep the group format of four instead of reducing it to three for the next tournament.
4. Livakovic’s “miracle” hattrick of penalty saves
There’s nothing like a penalty shoot-out.
Even football atheists have to agree the human drama involved, the close-ups of the agonised faces, the tears, and the joy take some beating as a spectacle.
And the sheer tension of the occasion, with the weight of the World Cup on the shooters’ shoulders, seems to turn lions into lambs.
Conversely, it makes heroes out of goalkeepers.
None more so than Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic. After his aging and tired teammates had resisted the energy of Japan in their Round of 16 clash, it was his turn.
Having sat out the shootouts in Russia on the bench as a reserve keeper, he had learned a valuable lesson.
And when the Japanese lined up to face him, he seemed to grow in size and they shrank.
Reading their minds, he dived the right way on each occasion to become only the third keeper to save a hattrick of penalties in the World Cup.
As grateful skipper Luka Modric said: “Livi performed a miracle today.”
5. Weghorst goes from journeyman to genius
Wout Weghorst seemed an unlikely hero. His efforts were ultimately in vain but what an impact he made.
Brought on by Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal when he decided Route 1 was the only way to overcome a two-nil deficit to Argentina, it looked an act of desperation.
Weghorst appeared the ultimate journeyman. Bought by Burnley in another doomed rescue to avoid relegation, the Dutchman was not known for his finesse.
But in the dramatic denouement against Messi’s men, it was Weghorst who gave the Dutch hope.
First with a bullet of a shot in the 11th minute of injury time and then, at the death, his piece de resistance, a delicately placed tap-in from a freekick.
With just seconds to go in injury time, Argentina gave away this last chance just outside the box with a rash challenge.
The wall assembled complete with draught-excluder. There seemed no way through but a precise dipper into the top corner.
But no. In a daring but well-rehearsed move, Teun Koopmeiners bamboozled the Argentine wall by appearing to pass straight into it.
He actually passed to Weghorst who took one touch, turned and tapped home.
So simple, so brave, so brilliant. It was in vain but not the first time he’d done it – having scored in similar fashion for Wolfsburg two years ago.
From journeyman to genius. And this one will make him famous for longer than five minutes.
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