Tops and Flops of World Cup Days 1 and 2: Valencia Stuns Host Nation

Welcome to the first edition of the daily World Cup Tops and Flops. At the end of every day of action, the Cult of Calcio will recap the events from Qatar in its own special way. Since the opening day only featured a solitary encounter, we merged the first two days in one installment. So let’s identify the best and worst performers from the World Cup Days 1 and 2.

Top (Player): Enner Valencia

While it wasn’t the most exciting of opening matches, Enner Valencia cemented himself as the undisputed star of the first day.

The Ecuadorian striker saw his initial goal against Qatar ruled out for a debated offside call. Yet, he remained adamant on making a statement, and eventually secured a personal first-half brace, which proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Sadly, the 33-year-old left the pitch at the 77th minute while carrying a knock, but for the host nation, the damage had already been done.

Ecuador Player Ratings vs Qatar: Valencia Cannot Be Stopped

Flop (Player): Edouard Mendy

Following a shaky start to the season at Chelsea, Edouard Mendy was betting on a solid World Cup campaign to put his career back on track. Unfortunately for the custodian, his first outing ended in a calamity for both himself and his nation.

While many would argue that Senegal didn’t deserve to leave the pitch empty-handed, the goalkeeper’s two howlers gifted Netherlands two late goals. On the first occasion, he made an unwise exit and was beaten to the ball by Cody Gakpo. As for the second goal, his poor save allowed Davy Klaassen to pounce on the rebound.

Top (Manager): Louis Van Gaal

The experienced tactician isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (surely not ours), but credit should be given where it’s due. Louis van Gaal’s second half substitutions played a key role in Netherlands’ win.

The Dutch manager replaced the ineffective Steven Bergwijn with Memphis Depay, while also pushing Gakpo further up the pitch, which ultimately sealed the deal.

This may not be the most exhilarating version of the Netherlands, but with the old fox in charge, you can never rule them out.

Flop (Team): Qatar

Now surely the Iranians conceded six goals, but it was more or less expected when going against England. Qatar, on the other hand, looked in shambles in front of the disappointed local crowd.

Perhaps it was the vast pressure or simply the gulf in abilities between them and their foes, but Ecuador managed to make short work out of their hosts, leaving viewers disappointed with the lack of competitiveness on the opening day.

Top (Team): England

Now surely conceding two goals against a humble foe isn’t something to brag about, but England’s six goals were enough for the nation to make an early claim for the throne.

Gareth Southgate’s men looked sharped, organized, and most importantly, they played like a real team. The starters and substitutes all took part in creating and scoring the goals, displaying the Three Lions’ unselfish attitude.

England Player Ratings vs Iran: Saka Stars in Three Lions Victory

Top (Warrior): Mehdi Taremi

Let’s give it up for Mehdi Taremi. Even with his team enduring a routing, the Iranian striker kept fighting until the very end and his personal brace made the score-line far less humbling for the Asians (it could have easily been 6-0).

Feel-Good Story: Andries Noppert

What is a World Cup without occasional feel-good stories? Absolutely meaningless.

So how about a little tale that features a gentle giant, mobsters, and a career renaissance?

It was only a few years ago that Andries Noppert was acting as a backup goalkeeper for Serie B side Foggia while also having some off-the-pitch troubles (naturally, it involved the local mafia helping him find his stolen car). At that point, his career wasn’t going anywhere.

But in an incredible turn of events, the 28-year-old has suddenly pulled off an astonishing career revival, becoming the first choice goalkeeper for the Netherlands.

On Monday, the gigantic shot-stopper made some vital saves to preserve a clean sheet against Senegal and secure all three points for the Oranje.

That’s the end of today’s story, tune in tomorrow for a recap on all the action from what should an exciting Day 3.

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