World Cup 2018, Day 12 Review: Saudi Arabia’s unlikely star


While eight teams were playing today, only one was starting outside the top two in their group but still able to qualify: Iran. We’ll have a full article looking at Portugal’s performance, but let’s take a quick look at the Iranians. Their top player saved a penalty, the runner-up scored one, but the third placed man could’ve sent Iran through and put Portugal out.

Mehdi Tahremi is a wide midfielder, yet as you can see his main contributions were defensive. His injury time shot went the wrong side of the post, but had it gone in, you’d still be feeling the reverberations around the world now.

Spain took on Morocco in the other game in Group B, and surprisingly went behind twice, but they came back each time to secure a point and top spot in the group. Their first goal was scored by Isco, who was our man of the match.

Even without the goal he was comfortably the best player on show though. Isco created six chances when nobody else managed more than two, and he also topped the rankings for final third passes, crosses, and take-ons. He’s also one of the top performers in the tournament as a whole, but more on that shortly.

In the earlier matches, Uruguay beat Russia 3-0 to top Group A. Edinson Cavani was the man of the match, but the image at the top of the page probably gave that away for you. It wasn’t a high quality encounter, with Cavani having more shots than Russia, by four to three. Denis Cheryshev had been our top performing World Cup player on a pro-rata basis, but his own goal here will have put paid to that for him.

The remaining game on Monday saw Saudi Arabia beat Egypt to claim their first World Cup win since 1994. Our Egyptian expert, Ahmad Yousef, will cover his side in more detail elsewhere, but I’d like to highlight the performance of Salman Al Faraj.

Granted, his goal was a penalty, but he played seven important attacking passes, which is rare, and made 12 key defensive actions too. But his performance in the whole tournament is also worth examining.

At the time of writing he has amassed the fourth most points in the tournament. Perhaps he should’ve figured in David Sumpter’s round up of the best players in the World Cup so far? Either way, Al Faraj can be proud of his efforts in Russia.

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