We got several upsets and shock results in the first week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and that trend continued on the eighth day.
Some of the favourites to make it to the knockout stage faltered in Groups D and E, leaving things wide open for the final day.
Group E: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
The 1.00 pm local time kick-offs have not provided the most exhilarating action at the World Cup to say the least, but they have thrown up some real surprises in terms of results.
Japan and Costa Rica started the day by facing off at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in a match where the Asian side were expected to make light work of a side that conceded seven goals against Spain.
The number seven was being discussed again at half-time, because that was the total number of shots attempted in the period between both sides, and just one of those was from inside the box.
Japan’s inability to break down Costa Rica’s 5-4-1 block continued even after they switched to a back-three system for the second half, so the game was hanging in the balance as we approached the last 10 minutes of normal time.
That allowed Keysher Fuller to have a decisive moment as he profited from Japan’s inability to clear their lines by placing his finish in the top corner, past the outstretched arms of the unprepared Shuichi Gonda.
That result jeopardises Japan’s knockout chances while bringing Costa Rica in contention, but the real winners are Germany, whose loss to Japan was almost nullified by this result. If they needed any encouragement before facing Spain, this was it.
Group F: Belgium 0-2 Morocco
After escaping with a win against Canada despite a very disappointing performance, Belgium got what they deserved against Morocco.
Roberto Martínez made a few personnel changes but kept the same overall structure for this match, which unsurprisingly yielded a similar performance.
Belgium were easily contained by Morocco’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 defensive shape, which restricted them to just five shots from inside the box and a total xG tally of 0.7.
Walid Regragui’s side only saw a third of the ball so they did not pose much of a sustained threat from open play themselves either, but at the stroke of half-time, a set-piece delivery from Hakim Ziyech beat everyone and went past Courtois into the net, but it was ruled out for a minuscule offside infringement.
Abdelhamed Sabiri repeated the trick from the other side of the pitch in the 73rd minute, and this time the goal stood. Zakaria Aboukhlal added a second late on with Ziyech’s help to seal the win for Morocco.
This was a completely fair result on the balance of play, so after two games, Belgium’s showings in Qatar have really come under question.
There is talk of the age of the key players in their squad and the possibility that their golden generation is now an olden generation, but their manager is also culpable for their disjointed performances.
Morocco go up to four points with this win, which puts them in a great position to qualify for the round of 16. Belgium will need a big result against Croatia, which looks like a very tough ask given their current performances.
Group F: Croatia 4-1 Canada
Canada’s quest for their first-ever Men’s World Cup goal was agonisingly unfruitful against Belgium, but they needed just 68 seconds against Croatia to change that.
Alphonso Davies, who faltered from the penalty spot a few days ago, opened the scoring with a powerful header after meeting Tajon Buchanan’s cross.
It was all Croatia thereafter, though, as the European side’s experienced midfielders dictated play. Canada held firm for over half an hour, but they were ultimately broken down by a great reverse pass from Ivan Perišić to set up Andrej Kramarić. The turnaround was completed just before half-time, with Marko Livaja scoring his first World Cup goal.
John Herdman made a couple of half-time changes that took his side from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 formation, but many of their problems from the first period persisted.
Kramarić put Croatia in a comfortable position with his second goal of the match which came in the 70th minute, before Lovro Majer put the icing on the cake in stoppage time.
That result means Croatia need a point against Belgium to be sure of reaching the knockouts, but Canada can book their flight back home already. They will have something to play for against Morocco, though — their first points at the World Cup.
Group E: Spain 1-1 Germany
The main event of the day certainly was Spain vs Germany, and it did not disappoint.
We were treated to a truly elite-level football match which was a real tactical chess match, as the cliché goes. Germany defended in a compact 4-2-3-1 block where İlkay Gündoğan player-marked Sergio Busquets to the locker rooms.
Spain responded by using their number eights to facilitate progression by having them drift out to the sides in spaces opened up by their high and wide wingers.
The first half ended goalless, but both sides came pretty close. Luis Enrique’s side nearly took the lead early on when Manuel Neuer tipped Dani Olmo’s rocket of a shot onto the crossbar.
Germany were celebrating close to half-time, but Antonio Rüdiger’s header after a set-piece was ruled out by VAR.
Neither side started the game with a recognised centre-forward, but both eventually sent one on. Spain were first to do so as they introduced Álvaro Morata early in the second half, and within ten minutes, he gave them the lead with a deft finish after a clever run to meet Jordi Alba’s low cross.
Germany responded by bringing on Bundesliga top scorer Niclas Füllkrug, who scored his first international goal in the 83rd minute to equalise.
So, there was nothing to separate the two sides at the end of a gripping encounter, which leaves both with work to do in their respective final group games.
Spain need just a point against Japan, but Germany will have to beat Costa Rica to book their spot in the round of 16.
👀 Looking Ahead
The last matches of the second round of group fixtures will be played tomorrow.
Cameroon vs Serbia (13:00 AST):
Both Cameroon and Serbia looked pretty impressive in their first match, but the key in tournament football is to get results, and that is where they failed. So, this is a must-win for both teams, which is why we should get an exciting match.
South Korea vs Ghana (16:00 AST):
Similarly, both South Korea and Ghana will feel that they deserved more than what they got in their tournament opener, and they will both be looking to come away with all three points. Expect another open and tactically intriguing fixture.
Brazil vs Switzerland (19:00 AST):
Brazil took a while, but when they eventually got going against Serbia, they looked quite formidable. Reports suggest they will be without Neymar for this game, so it will be interesting to see how they get on without him.
Portugal vs Uruguay (22:00 AST):
Portugal and Uruguay were the two Group G favourites to progress, but both did not look fully up to speed on the opening matchday. Still, they are in a decent position to go on and make the knockouts, but the loser here might face some pressure on the final day of the group stage (especially if it is Uruguay).
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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