The second round of group games, for many teams, left progression to the knockouts and last 16 of the 2018 Russian World Cup hanging in the balance. After two losses Jan Bednarek’s Poland was one of only a few sides already mathematically eliminated before their final game. How would Southampton’s World Cup stars fare in the final bout of group games? Who would progress and who would be going home? And what contribution to that end would Southampton’s World Cup stars have? We find out below:
Cedric’s Portugal took on Iran in their final group game, knowing that a draw would be enough to see them progress; and their hopes of doing so took even more of an upturn when Quaresma curled in a fantastic finish from the edge of the box a minute before half-time. Cedric started the game in the Mordovia Arena that finished 1-1, eliminating Iran in the process.
Star man Cristiano Ronaldo missed the opportunity to go joint top scorer in the competition when he missed a penalty on 53 minutes which would surely have sealed the deal for Portugal had he scored.
The penalty decision in Portugal’s favour wasn’t to be the last use of VAR in this game and certainly not the most controversial. The referee availed of the feature late-on in the match to award a penalty, this time against Portugal, after Cedric was adjudged to have deliberately handled the ball in the area. It was a decision that staggered pundits and commentators alike. With retrospect, the decision was just as bizarre as Enrique Caceres not booking Cedric for the foul. Karim Ansarifard scored what was the record-breaking 19th penalty to be awarded in this World Cup and Iran and Portugal shared the spoils.
In spite of the poor officiating, Cedric had another great game. Very few people, Saints fans or otherwise, will hold him accountable for conceding the late penalty which denied them top spot in the group. The 26-year-old seemed to have a great awareness and position for much of the match, being equal to many of the crosses and through balls that Iran attempted. For the second time in as many games, he was a solid part of a defence that had to sustain a lot of pressure, and it was clear to see why he has played every minute of Portugal’s involvement in the tournament so far.
Portugal will take on Uruguay on Saturday 30th in their first knockout match. Cedric himself has been a clear mainstay so far this contest and will be expected to start once more for the Euro 2016 winners.
DUSAN TADIC (ELIMINATED – ALSO SOLD)
Ahead of Serbia’s game against Brazil, it was confirmed by the club that Dusan Tadic was due to sign for Ajax a few days later on Sunday. Nevertheless, he was still a Southampton man when it was determined that he would again feature from the start for Serbia. The 29-year-old and the rest of the Serbian squad were under pressure right from the off, knowing that a draw would only be good enough to progress if Switzerland lost their game against Costa Rica, taking a win against Brazil to guarantee progression to the knock out rounds.
Serbia’s slender hopes of progressing got worse instead of better after half an hour played in both games, when Switzerland went 1-0 up against Costa Rica. Then just five minutes later Paulinho got on the end of a Coutinho chipped through-ball and lobbed the keeper to put Brazil in front.
Tadic was a live wire in the Serbian side for much of the match and was a key element in a large spell of pressure that Brazil was put under midway through the second half. Tadic connected with Mitrović a number of times but the latter had no luck in converting any of the chances that Ajax’s new attacker created.
This spell of pressure was seemingly all for not, as Brazil doubled their advantage from a corner when Stojkovic got on the end of Neymar’s corner to power in a header for 2-0.
The defeat saw Serbia and Tadic exit the World Cup. Defeats against Switzerland and Brazil proved too costly. Any Ajax fans watching the match will surely be nonetheless impressed by their new acquisition, who leaves the South Coast on great terms, having delivered all of us some cherished memories in his four-year stay. The Serb was integral to our ‘Great Escape’ last season and was a key player in our three top-eight finishes during his four-year stay, and the reigns of being a creative outlet will now pass to Southampton’s new young signing, Mohamed Elyounoussi.
YOSHIDA AND BEDNAREK (LATTER – ELIMINATED)
The last of Southampton’s World Cup stars to feature in the third round of Group Games met head to head when Japan took on Poland. It was to be a memorable encounter for many more reasons than one. With Poland already eliminated, Japan entered the game knowing that a win would guarantee progression whereas a draw would not necessarily have the same surety. Yoshida and Bednarek both started the game; Yoshida continuing to add to already having played every minute of the World Cup so far, and Bednarek building on making his first ever World Cup start in Poland’s previous game against Columbia.
Poland broke the deadlock in the second half when Jan Bednarek himself got on the end of Kurzawa’s inviting free-kick to volley it high into the net, scoring his first international goal in the process. The centreback, who already now has more World Cup goals than Robert Lewandowski, won Budweiser’s Man of the Match award as his goal proved the be the difference in the game that saw Poland get their first win of the tournament in spite of already being eliminated. Bednarek’s performance further backs up the opinion that he will become a regular player in the international fold.
There was also joy to be had for Maya Yoshida. The seasoned international will play in the knockouts with Japan who have progressed from the groups for only the third time in their history. As Colombia took the lead against Senegal, it was known that a loss would not stop Japan progressing as their disciplinary record was in better favour than Senegal’s. The late stages of the game did, however, generate some discontent on social media as there was an air of nonchalance with Japan closing the game out by casually passing the ball across their backline for long spells. With both teams’ fate already determined by this point, there was little for either side to chase.
Japan will have a tough test ahead of them when they play Belgium on Monday, with the European side being favourite going into the match. Yoshida will be certain to start and will hope to help his team on to the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Bednarek will be on a plane home, expected to link up with training at Staplewood after a few weeks break.
The next round of games will now only feature two Southampton players, but it will be an exciting round of games for Saints fans, who will be hoping Cedric and Yoshida can bring a sense of pride to both club and country if they haven’t already done so.