Let’s discuss the late goals factor first. The very first game of the World Cup, featuring the hosts, Russia, against Saudi Arabia saw two goals scored by the former in the 5 minutes that were added on. Though this did not decide the fate of the game, given Russia were 3-0 up, this did increase their goal difference which has proved to be vital many times in such competitions and is one of the reasons Chile did not make it through to the World Cup. The second game pitted Egypt against Uruguay, and again, an 89th-minute goal gave the latter all 3 points. The third game acts like an introduction to the own-goals dimension as the only goal was an own goal by a Moroccan defender in the FIFTH minute of stoppage time that gave Iran all three points. The next game, a very much anticipated one between Portugal and Spain, saw Cristiano Ronaldo curl in a fantastic free-kick for the former in the 88th minute to get his team a share of the spoils in a spectacular 3-3 draw, while a couple of days later, England needed a stoppage-time header from their captain, Harry Kane, to get the 3 points against minnows Tunisia. Poland also scored a late 86th-minute goal against Senegal, but it wasn’t enough as they slipped to a 2-1 loss. The problem coaches and backroom staff face when teams lose due to a late, late goal, which has been the case in as many as 4 games in Round 1, is that it psychologically affects the team in more ways than one. In the 2018 World Cup scenario, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, all teams that conceded a goal in the dying minutes and lost the game, are minnows who were pitted against solid teams and these goals leave them with a drop in confidence because each point is definitely a big deal for them, the country and their fans. And yes, the teams can take pride from their performance, but in a 3-matches-per-team group, on international football’s biggest stage, in front of millions of spectators and pundits worldwide, the negativity prevails in their environment much more than the positivity and impacts their performance in the forthcoming rounds.
The own-goals facet has been an equally important determiner of games. As already discussed, the stoppage-time own goal scored by Morocco against Iran and their consequent loss by the same 1-0 score-line against Portugal in Round 2 means they are out of the tournament, well aware that if they had gotten a point against Iran, things might have panned out differently. France, one of the contenders for the trophy, needed an 80th-minute own goal to grab a hard-fought 2-1 win against Australia, while it took a Nigerian defender putting the ball into his own net in the 32nd minute for Croatia to settle into their natural flow. Poland, too, fell behind Senegal thanks to a deflected shot in the 37th minute that wrong-footed their goalkeeper while in the Round 2 clash between Russia and Egypt, the latter’s captain, unfortunately, sent the ball back into his own net just 2 minutes into the second half after keeping the hosts out till then. This then opened the floodgates for the Russians who swept Egypt aside to become the first side to qualify for the Round of 16. That makes it 5 own-goals over the whole of Round 1 and the first 4 games of Round 2. Own-goals lead the scoring charts, followed by the other red-hot forwards in Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Denis Cheryshev and others. These too hurt a team psychologically, and specifically when the teams concede them after having held the opposition long enough, like in the case of Nigeria, Poland, and Egypt. All these teams conceded the opener under unfortunate circumstances, which allowed their opponents to enjoy the comfort of a one-goal cushion before exploding and scoring a goal or two more to kill the game off as soon as they could. The players who score these too, are left wondering what might have been if they had a bit more of luck on their side and if the ball had traveled wide of the post or whereabouts.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that own-goals and stoppage-time goals have definitely shaped a lot of matters in many of the groups in the 2018 World Cup, and it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to predict that they could determine and change a team’s fortunes in the forthcoming stages of the tournament as well, apart from psychologically impacting the teams that suffer the consequences of these unfortunate events as well!