The stakes increased as the second round of group games kicked off at the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup today.
Group B: Wales 0-2 Iran
Half of the 16 previous matches at this World Cup were goalless at half-time, and that trend continued between Wales and Iran.
Both sides did need to win the game to be in a good position to qualify for the knockouts going into the final round so we got an open game, but there was a lot left to be desired in the final third.
Iran grew into the second half and started to look better, creating some good chances too. It looked like it just was not their day when they rattled the woodwork twice in the space of a few seconds in the 51st minute, but to their credit, they did not let up.
Eventually, a potentially decisive moment came in the 86th minute when Wayne Hennessey came out of his box, missed the ball and completely took out Mehdi Taremi, which led to him getting sent off.
One of the main talking points at this World Cup have been the very long stoppage time periods at the end of matches, so Iran had a good deal of time to make their numerical advantage count. They used almost all of it until Roozbeh Chesmi scored a winning goal with just over a minute left on the clock.
The match went on to cross the 100-minute mark, which allowed Ramin Rezaeian to score a second for Carlos Quieroz’s side. That sealed a memorable and important win for Iran which took them up to the top two spots in the group.
Group A: Qatar 1-3 Senegal
Qatar’s quest for their first-ever World Cup win continued when they faced Senegal, who bounced back from their defeat against the Dutch a few days ago.
Aliou Cissé switched to a 4-4-2 formation and used his full-backs in much deeper areas in possession compared to the last match, which contributed to the first half being rather drab as Senegal tried to probe Qatar’s 5-3-2 low block.
With just a few minutes to go until the half-time break, some defensive mistakes allowed Boulaye Dia to open the scoring and give his side a much-coveted lead.
That lead was quickly doubled after ends were switched thanks to Famara Diedhiou’s header from a corner. Senegal seemed to ease off a lot thereafter and allowed Qatar to grow into the game, leading to substitute Mohammed Muntari scoring his nation’s first World Cup goal in the 78th minute.
Bamba Dieng was quick to restore the African champions’ two-goal cushion, which took them over the line comfortably.
This loss makes Qatar just the second FIFA Men’s World Cup hosts to fail to advance to the round of 16 after South Africa, and they are also on course to be the first to go winless.
Senegal will have a crunch clash against Ecuador in a few days that will effectively be a knockout on its own.
Group A: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador
Qatar’s elimination was confirmed after the final whistle was blown between the Netherlands and Ecuador, which ended in a score draw.
Cody Gakpo found the top corner with his weaker foot within just six minutes to put the Dutch in front, but it was all Ecuador thereafter. Gustavo Alfaro switched to a back-three for this game to match the opposition, and his tactics certainly helped his side, who conceded just two shots all match.
They attempted quite a few themselves (15 to be precise) and thought they had equalised on the stroke of half-time, but a questionable offside call left them disappointed.
Nonetheless, they bounced right back in the first minutes of the second half, as Enner Valencia moved back up to the top of the World Cup scoring charts.
Ecuador will perhaps be disappointed to leave with just a point in a match where they gave their opponents a real run for their money and even outplayed them for long periods.
There was further cause for concern for them when Valencia was stretchered off with an apparent knee injury, but on the whole, their performance was very encouraging.
This result does mean that it will be all to play for in Group A on Tuesday. The aforementioned Ecuador-Senegal game will, of course, be crucial, but the Netherlands will also need to match Ecuador’s result to finish first and consequently get an easier knockout opponent.
Group B: England 0-0 US
The headline fixture of the day saw England with a chance of sealing a knockout berth by beating their rivals from the United States for the first time in World Cup history.
Gregg Berhalter switched to a 4-4-2 defensive system in this game, and it worked a treat as England struggled to play through midfield and had a tough time making an impact in the final third. They managed just eight shots worth 0.54 xG in total altogether, performing worse than their opponents in both metrics.
The USA had the lesser share of possession as they kept 45% of the ball, but their asymmetrical structure that saw Antonee Robinson push forward from left-back while Sergino Dest stayed deep on the right did cause problems.
The closest they came to scoring was in the 33rd minute when Christian Pulisic rattled the woodwork with a left-footed strike, but they could not find a substantial reward for their impressive performance.
It was not the prettiest of ways to do it, but England have effectively confirmed their place in the round of 16 because they simply need to do better than a five-goal loss to Wales on Tuesday. The US, meanwhile, will have to defeat Iran to join them.
👀 Looking Ahead
We have some big matches in store for us tomorrow.
Tunisia vs Australia (13:00 AST):
Tunisia face Australia in Group D to start tomorrow’s action. Jalel Kadri’s side looked impressive in their draw with Denmark so they will be aiming for a win here, which would place them in the top two.
Poland vs Saudi Arabia (16:00 AST):
After their historic win over Argentina, Saudi Arabia still have work to do if they are to make it count in terms of their World Cup campaign. They could well have a chance of securing a knockout berth if they beat Poland, although that remains a tough ask.
France vs Denmark (19:00 AST):
The other Group D fixture is a pretty interesting matchup between defending champions France and Denmark, who recently beat them in the UEFA Nations League. A French victory would see them on their way to the knockouts, but a repeat of the most recent result would blow the group wide open.
Argentina vs Mexico (22:00 AST):
Argentina’s match against Mexico was pipped to be one of the biggest group stage games even before the action kicked off, but its importance has increased manifold now. Both sides’ failure to win their opener makes this a crucial match for their World Cup campaigns, as defeat would be disastrous.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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