The group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup went out with a bang, as Groups H and G provided a similar level of drama and excitement to what we have been treated to in the last few days.
Ghana were seeking revenge against Uruguay to seal the second spot in their group, but the two ended up tripping over each other and benefitting South Korea.
Switzerland and Serbia then gave us a five-goal thriller to decide who would join Brazil in advancing from Group G.
Here is a more detailed account of all the action:
Group H: Ghana 0-2 Uruguay
A rematch of the famous (or infamous, depending on your persuasion) 2010 quarter-final saw Ghana and Uruguay face off in what was a head-to-head battle for second spot in Group H.
Unlike last time, a draw would have been enough for Ghana today, but of course, they could not afford to sit back right from kick-off.
They had a golden chance to take the lead when they were awarded a VAR-assisted penalty in the 20th minute.
André Ayew, the only man in the current squad who was also there in 2010, stepped up to take it, but his hesitant effort was tame and saved.
About five minutes later, Luis Suárez got into a shooting position and let fly. Lawrence Ati-Zigi got his fingertips to it, but it trickled into the path of Giorgan De Arrascaeta, who helped it home.
The Flamengo man, who was making his first start of the tournament here, soon added a second with a nice finish after Suárez lifted the ball into his path, and Uruguay were in a decent position.
Ideally, they needed to score one more goal to have a superior goal difference in case of a South Korean victory in the other match, so they could not afford to ease off in the second half.
However, they brought off their star attackers and attempted just four shots between the start of the second half and the 85th minute, which was around when they would have learnt of the imminent result in the other match.
Their late push for a third goal was left fruitless, so both they and Ghana were eliminated from the World Cup with this result.
Group H: South Korea 2-1 Portugal
Portugal had already sealed qualification for the knockout stage, so they fielded a heavily-rotated line-up against South Korea, who still had a shot at finishing second if the other result went their way.
The group leaders took just five minutes to consolidate their position as Ricardo Horta scored on his World Cup debut after being supplied by Diogo Dalot.
South Korea were level by the half-hour mark, though, as Kim Young-gwon stabbed the ball home after a corner kick deflected off Cristiano Ronaldo’s back and fell in front of him.
Portugal looked to be the better side for most of the game as they kept well over 60% of possession, but South Korea knew they could pose a threat on the break.
The scores remained level when the fourth official raised his board to show six minutes of stoppage time, but just seconds after that, Heung-min Son led a counter-attack and carried the ball from his defensive third to the edge of the opposition box, before slipping a pass to substitute Hwang Hee-chan, who slotted it home.
That took South Korea up to four points with a level goal difference — the same as Uruguay. The next tiebreaker was goals scored, where the Koreans prevailed 4-2.
They advanced to the knockout phase of the World Cup for just the third time in their history in the most dramatic fashion.
Group G: Cameroon 1-0 Brazil
Like Portugal, Brazil had sealed a knockout spot after two matches and had all but won the group, so they rang the changes in their starting line-up.
Cameroon were in South Korea’s position, needing a win and a favourable result in the other match to reach the round of 16.
Even though they effectively had the B team out on the pitch, Brazil dominated the first half, keeping over two-thirds of possession and outshooting Cameroon 10 to 1, with the one being a stoppage-time effort that was the first shot on target they conceded. However, the Seleção failed to score, keeping the game open for the second half.
That period followed a very similar pattern, as Brazil ended the match with 65% possession, 21 shots and a cumulative xG tally of 2.25. The only difference, though, was that Cameroon managed to convert their late chance this time as Vincent Aboubakar turned in Jerome Mbekeli’s cross in the 92nd minute.
Despite this defeat, Brazil did just about hold on to top spot in the group and thereby avoid facing Portugal in the round of 16, but this was a pretty momentous result nonetheless.
Group G: Serbia 2-3 Switzerland
The match to watch in Group G was Serbia was Switzerland, which effectively was a knockout match for a spot in the round of 16.
Switzerland started the game with a greater points tally and would therefore finish ahead of Serbia with a draw, but such a result would not be enough for them in case Cameroon won, so both sides had to play for the win.
As a result, we got what perhaps was the most frantic end-to-end match of the World Cup so far, which was basically just transition after transition.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored the winning goal when these two sides faced off in the 2018 World Cup, opened the scoring for Switzerland in the 20th minute.
Serbia roared back in the next quarter of an hour, turning the match on its head through goals from star strikers Aleksandar Mitrović and Dušan Vlahović, who starting a match together for the first time in Qatar.
The teams would go into the break level, though, as Breel Embolo equalised for Switzerland on stroke of half-time.
Just minutes into the second half, Remo Freuler capped off a wonderful team move to put the Swiss back in front.
That proved to be the last of the goals, as the pace of the match rather slowed down a little as time ticked on, and apart from a big chance for Embolo to make it four, there was no significant goalmouth action.
Given Brazil’s defeat, Switzerland fell just one goal short of finishing at the top of Group G. That would have seen them face South Korea in the round of 16, but they will be playing Portugal instead.
👀 Looking Ahead
There’s no rest for the wicked, as the knockouts begin tomorrow with two round of 16 ties:
Netherlands vs USA (18:00 AST):
Group A winners, the Netherlands, feature in the first knockout tie, where they will take on the United States. Louis van Gaal’s side will be the favourites here, but the USMNT showed that they could match the best sides on their day in the 0-0 draw with England. They will be looking to reach the quarter-finals of this tournament for the first time in two decades.
Argentina vs Australia (22:00 AST):
Lionel Messi’s final World Cup knockout run begins against Australia, who qualified for this stage for just the second time in their history. They have never made it past the last 16, and that record will likely continue against Argentina, who have made it to the quarter-finals in all but one of the last four World Cups.
The rest of the knockout stage will be played in the next couple of weeks or so, and you can find out where to watch each of those games here.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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