Cristiano Ronaldo can’t believe he missed a penalty kick against Iran. (Leonel de Castro/Global Images/Sipa USA via USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Don’t know about you, but this World Cup has provided some great theater to the rest of the world.
Even draws, which traditionally can be as exciting as kissing your sister or brother, have been exciting.
Just where do we begin?
* We can talk about Germany, which faced a one-goal deficit and was on the edge of crashing out of the World Cup before the defending champions rallied for a miraculous 2-1 stoppage time triumph over a stubborn Sweden side in Group F action Saturday.
* We can talk about Japan’s 2-2 Group H tie with Senegal Sunday. Twice the African side took the lead and twice the Asian team rallied to knot things up. The Japanese equalized on a goal by second-half substitute Keisuke Honda in the 78th minute.
* And we can talk about two draws that had moments of drama Monday, which were evolving simultaneously to decide Group B: Portugal vs. Iran and Spain vs. Morocco.
The Portuguese botched an opportunity to grab a 2-0 lead after Ricardo Quaresma became the oldest Portugal player (34) to score in the competition. Iranian goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand saved Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty. Ronaldo, incidentally, has missed six of his last 14 PKs, an abysmal strike rate (and who would have predicted we would see Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, two La Liga rivals that have been compared to one another for the past decade, miss penalties within days at a World Cup?). That gave Iran a second life and it managed to equalize on a penalty of its own, by Karim Ansarifard three minutes into stoppage, which was aided by a Video Assistant Referee decision.
The Spaniards also needed injury time to secure its draw, a 2-2 result as Iago Aspas backheeled a pass into the net for a vital point.
After the dust settled, Spain moved finished first, setting up a Round of 16 battle with Russia, 3-0 losers to Uruguay earlier in the day. Portugal will have to take on the Uruguayans, a much more challenging side that the hosts.
And that’s just a slice of the action over three days.
Well, Tuesday’s schedule includes the final matches for Group C and D, which will be played at the same time.
In the earlier contests, Denmark faces France and Australia takes on Peru at 10 a.m. ET.
On paper, the former encounter doesn’t look like it could be a classic since the French (2-0-0, 6 points) just have to draw to secure the top spot in Group C while the Danes (1-0-1, 4) need a victory.
While Australia still has a chance and Peru are eliminated, it still could make for an intriguing battle since the Socceroos are a hard-working side and the South Americans just might be the best side not advancing to the knockout round.
At 2 p.m. ET, a pair of Group D matches with the potential of providing us some unforgettable entertainment are on tap — first-place Croatia (2-0-0, 6), which already has booked its spot in the next round, meets third-place Iceland (0-1-1, 1) Croatia while second-place Nigeria (1-1-0, 3) meets Argentina (0-1-1, 1).
Regardless what transpires in the latter game, it has plenty of built-in drama due to the Lionel Messi saga and underachieving Argentines.
Will he or won’t he? Will Messi rise to the occasion and take Argentina on his back or at least play well or score a goal or a key one or set up a teammate? Or will he continue to confound the experts on his international play.
He is an on-the-pitch soap opera unto himself.
So many questions to answer in anywhere from 90 to 100 minutes of action, depending on stoppage time.
Just enjoy the show.