Day nine of the World Cup started with an Americas clash between giants Brazil and 2014 surprise package Costa Rica. The first half was largely uneventful, aside from a Gabriel Jesus offside goal. Early on in the second half, some heroic goalkeeping from Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas kept Costa Rica in with a chance of stealing something from the match. This match really picked up late on, Brazil being awarded a penalty for a foul on star man Neymar. However, after a VAR review, the decision was overturned and Neymar was booked for simulation, much to the delight of fans watching around the world. In the ninety-first minute Brazil finally found a way through the Costa Rican blockade, Phillipe Coutinho stabbing the ball underneath Navas from former Liverpool team-mate Roberto Firmino’s knock down. Neymar added a second swiftly after, tapping in a Douglas Costa cross securing a 2-0 win for the five time champions, consolidating top spot in Group E.
Similarly to the Brazil v Costa Rica encounter, Nigeria’s group D clash with Iceland was quite drab in the first half, the only real action being a Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick being comfortably saved and Iceland spurning some promising chances from set pieces. The game only came to life with the first goal, Victor Moses breaking from halfway to set up Ahmed Musa, who touched the ball down setting up an exquisite volley inside the penalty area, giving Nigeria the lead with one of the goals of the tournament so far. They then took charge of the game, going on to seal their dominance with a second through Leicester striker Ahmed Musa. The striker showed his bags of pace up against 35 year-old Kári Árnason, who has recently been released from Scottish side Aberdeen. Musa put the icing on the cake for a superb Nigeria win. However late on, Iceland were awarded a penalty by VAR after Bogarsson was upended in the Nigeria area, only for Sigurdsson to shoot high and wide. Nigeria won 2-0 to give themselves a strong chance of advancing to the last 16.
The final game of the day saw Serbia take on Switzerland in Group E, and unlike its predecessors, burst into life very quickly. Aleksandar Mitrović replicated the form that helped Fulham gain promotion to the Premier League, scoring a tough header within 5 minutes to take control of the match for Serbia. The first half remained a story of Serbian dominance, with plenty of chances going begging, the most criminal of all being a free header sent wide by Duško Tošić. The lack of Serbian cutting edge proved to be fatal, Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka scoring a 25 yard pile-driver to level the game for the Swiss. As with many games this summer, VAR raised its ugly/beautiful (delete as applicable to your opinion) head again. Mitrović was clearly wrestled to the floor by two Swiss defenders with no penalty being awarded, even after review. This proved to be extremely important when Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri was played through, beating offside, to carry the ball and calmly slide the ball home for a 91st minute winner, taking the points for Switzerland to give them a big chance to get out of their tough group, all to be decided against Costa Rica in round three of the group games.
The Swiss celebrations have been mired in controversy, with both Xhaka and Shaqiri (along with three other Swiss starters) having Kosovan/Albanian descent. Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated the goal by doing a double eagle (flag of Albania) after Serbia persecuted ethic Kosovans and Albanians (along with Bosnian Muslims) in the Yugoslavian War in the 1990’s. The celebration is being investigated by FIFA and the players potentially face a ban and/or fine.