World Cup 2018: Five biggest talking points from the first round of games

By Vincent Lungaro
Jun. 20, 2018

Sipa USA-USA TODAY Sports
Sipa USA-USA TODAY Sports

It was a thrilling round of opening fixtures at the FIFA World Cup with all sorts of storylines captivating audiences worldwide. From red cards, own goals, hat tricks and upsets, this World Cup has had it all so far.

Let's take a look at the five biggest talking points from round one in Russia.

1. Spain and Portugal play a thriller

The first heavyweight clash of the tournament pitted the reigning European Champions Portugal against one of the big favorites to win the whole thing in Spain. The match lived up to all expectations and then some, with the two UEFA sides playing to an exciting 3-3 draw. Who else but Cristiano Ronaldo paced the Portuguese with a hat trick, including a match-tying missile of a free kick in the 88th minute. Although Spain was held to a draw, they looked as though they've put the Julien Lopetegui fiasco behind them and were one of the more impressive teams of the opening round.

2. Ronaldo gets the best of Messi

Sipa USA-USA TODAY Sports
Sipa USA-USA TODAY Sports

Ronaldo and Messi are the undisputed two best players the game has today. But as far as who captured the spotlight most during the first round of play, the honors went to the Real Madrid superstar. Not only did Ronaldo net a hat trick, but his last gasp free kick rescued a point for Portugal and undoubtedly kept their hopes alive of winning Group B. He stamped his introduction to the tournament by burying a penalty in the 4th minute and then recorded his second goal just before half time (with a little help from Spain keeper David De Gea). Messi's Argentina, meanwhile, looked lethargic and disjointed in their Group D draw with Iceland. Messi had the chance to give his side all 3 points late in the second half but saw his effort from the spot easily saved. With a difficult clash against a very good Croatia team approaching, Argentina could be headed for a shock early exit for the World Cup.

3. Germany falter, Mexico impress

Mexico's 1-0 win over defending world champion Germany was arguably the biggest surprise in round one. Germany looked far from the team that won it all four years while Mexico executed counter attack after counter attack to perfect. Entering the World Cup with plenty of critics back home, Juan Carlos Osorio got everything right tactically and has put Mexico in pole position to win this group. Germany on the other hand must now regroup quickly if they are to get past a disciplined Sweden side in round two. The key for Joachim Low is to figure out how to better protect his backline. Dei Mannschaft's midfield was overrun, with Sami Khedira and Tony Kroos getting caught too far forward too often and allowing Mexico to play quick through balls in transition.

4. European teams start off to strong

Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

European teams represented themselves very well in the opening round, falling in defeat only twice (Germany to Mexico and Poland to Senegal). UEFA sides led groups A, C, D, E, F and G after one round of play, with second place being held by European sides in groups B, C and G.

5. Belgium and England hold serve in Group G

Belgium and England entered the tournament as the overwhelming favorites to advance out of Group G and the first round of fixtures did little to sway that argument. Belgium stayed patient after going into halftime locked at 0-0 with CONCACAF minnows Panama, but came out with a vengeance in the second half. A thunderbolt from Dries Mertens, followed by a Romelu Lukaku brace guided the Red Devils to a comfortable 3-0 win. England looked as though it was going to put four or five past Tunisia in the opening 20 minutes, but only mustered one goal via set piece header from Harry Kane. Tunisia grew into the game as the first half progressed and equalized from the penalty spot to pull back level 1-1. Kane scored again in stoppage time to give England all three points. Despite having to grind out the result, England looked very sharp for much of the match. The Three Lions could very well make a deep run at the World Cup.