The first round of the 2022 FIFA World cup group stage has not disappointed me thus far. In part 1 of this Review, I talked about all the action in groups A to D where we saw England and France dominating, Saudi Arabia shocking Argentina, and the hosts setting an unwanted record. Join me as I run down all the fixtures from the rest of the groups (E to H). We are all in for even more thrilling excitement.
Germany 1-2 Japan
Maybe Japan was watching Saudi Arabia’s shock victory against Argentina and wondering if they could do the same. The game started much like the aforementioned fixture with the stronger side- Germany- dominating possession, Japan never looked unfazed by the German pressure as they were set up to utilize their fast players on the counter-attack, they were given a chance to show their countering abilities as a player based in Germany- Daichi Kamada- won the ball and played in Ito, he crossed from the right into Maeda, who was, unfortunately, in an offside position. A warning for the 2014 World Cup champions of what was to come. Germany struck first through a Gundogan penalty, awarded after Gonda clumsily bundled German left-back Raum over. The Japanese goalkeeper seemed to have a reawakening; he atoned for his earlier error by making a whole host of brilliant saves- keeping ‘The Land of the Rising Sun in the game. Japan had their chance to score, and it was a golden one. Hiroki Sakai immediately sunk into the ground after blazing his effort over the bar. A Japanese goal was brewing and substitutes Mitoma, Minamino and Doan combined to get the ball over the line- a deserved goal. The pendulum had shifted and Germany failed to adapt to being on the back foot. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a deep Itakura free kick found Asano who bought down the ball with the highest of ability, he darted past the Germans toward the near right-hand post and smashed the ball high into Neuer’s goal. It happened again- what a comeback! ‘The Samurai Blue’ managed the game expertly and held out for one of their greatest-ever victories. It was time for a party, but not before a quick clean-up of the stadium for the Japanese fans.
Spain 7-0 Costa Rica
Destruction at the Al Thumama stadium! Spain humiliated Costa Rica in a game that was far from competitive; they made the biggest football competition in the world look like a walk in the park. It was the young players who dazzled for La Roja; current Golden Boy award holder Gavi scored from an incredible volley to make him the youngest world cup goal scorer since the great Pele in 1958. A former winner of the Golden Boy award Pedri also looked assured beyond his years, making football look so effortless as he passed and dribbled his way through a lackluster Costa Rican side, who failed to take a single shot, and were battered in possession 82% to 18%. I don’t think we will see another game as uneven as this for a long time- certainly not in this World Cup.
Morocco 0-0 Croatia
Croatia made an unlikely journey to the 2018 World Cup Final with their ‘golden generation but lined up with a very different side against Morocco. The North African country boasts some top-level talent of its own, such as Hakimi, Ziyech, and Mazraoui all of whom play for champions league clubs. This looked to be an evenly matched-game before a ball was even kicked. Croatia had the larger share of possession and won more corners, this didn’t lead to many chances for the team in checkered white and red, chances fell few and far between for both sides who managed 2 efforts on goal each. With neither side good enough to score a goal, a draw was fair. Both countries will be confident in their chances of advancing to the knockout stages.
Belgium 1-0 Canada
Canada was competing in their first world cup match since 1986, they will be looking to do better in this campaign than in 1986, where they lost all 3 games and didn’t score a single goal. Belgium was the opponent, left without star striker Romelu Lukaku, the powers of the once very strong Belgium side appeared to be fading. Canada looked the far better side and won a penalty in the 10th minute, what a chance to score the Maple Leaf’s first-ever world cup goal, Champions league winner and most established Canadian player Alphonso Davies was tasked with the challenge, but his weak effort was comfortably saved by Courtois down to his right. Batshuayi scored the only goal of the game for Belgium with their only clear-cut chance, he smashed home from a pinpoint Alderweireld long pass just before halftime. Canada looked the far better side throughout the entirety of the game with standout performances from Richie Laryea and Kamal Miller, they ran Belgium close, and perhaps on another day would have gotten a result. A poor performance from Belgium who will count themselves lucky to come out with all 3 points. For Canada, the wait for a World Cup goal goes on, if they continue to play without fear as they did in this match, I can see one coming very soon.
Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon
This game panned out fairly evenly when looking at chance creation. Bayern Munich forward Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting looked like a threat all game for Cameroon, but couldn’t take his chance when racing through on goal, after beating Akanji to a loose ball. Honglo and Mbuemo also missed great opportunities to score; it just didn’t look to be happening for Rigobert Song’s team. Switzerland took the lead through a Breel Embolo goal, the Monaco forward muted his celebrations as he was born in Cameroon and moved to Switzerland at the age of 6. Chances fell only to the Swiss for the rest of this game; Andre Onana produced a sharp reflex save to deny Vargas in what was the best chance since the goal. The Indomitable lions will take many positives out of a strong performance; they look to end their 8-game losing streak in the World Cup finals against Serbia.
Brazil 2-0 Serbia
A physically strong Serbia frustrated Brazil who had to wait patiently for an opening. Rafinha squandered a decent chance and Alex Sandro rattled the post with a venomous drive. Brazil forced the ball into the Serbia net, breaking their resolve in the 62nd minute after Richarlison turned home a parried Vinicius Junior effort. Those 2 players combined again to produce potentially the goal of the tournament. Junior drove into the box off the left and flicked an outside of the boot cross in toward Richarlison on the penalty spot, he flicked the ball up into the sky with his left foot, swiveled his body around, and acrobatically volleyed a shot which flew past Milinkovic-Savic. That goal was packed full of the usual flair and brilliance that the Seleção is known for. Will they samba dance their way to World Cup glory for the first time since 2002?
Uruguay 0-0 South Korea
This match epitomized how narrow group H looked on paper. This game was frustrating for both teams and fairly uneventful for the neutral, there was just one shot on target in the entire game. Hwang Ui-Jo missed the best chance of the game for the South Koreans, he skied from a Kim Moon-Hwan cross right in front of the goal. South Korean players and fans alike sunk to the ground with their heads in their hands after that miss. It was Uruguay who offered the next chance after their most capped player of all time- 36-year-old Diego Godin- struck the foot of the post with a header following a corner. There were only shots from distance after this point with Real Madrid midfielder Valverde coming the closest, he saw his shot deflect off the outside of the left-hand post. Once again, a fair result based on how the game played out. South Korea will probably be the happier of the 2 sides with a point each.
Portugal 3-2 Ghana
Cristiano Ronaldo once again cements his place in the headlines! A club-less Ronaldo scored a 65th-minute penalty to send Portugal into a lead, moreover, that goal makes him the first player to score at 5 world cups- another record for his extensive collection. The game exploded with 4 more goals from that point on. Black stars captain Andre Ayew tapped in an equalizer from close range. The joy was to be short-lived for Ghana as Athletico Madrid’s Felix finished well across the keeper from a Bruno Fernandes through pass. Fernandes was once again the provider, this time for the newly introduced Rafael leao off the bench. Bukari nodded in a great header to reduce the deficit for Ghana, then proceeded to do a bizarre celebration mocking that of Ronaldo, someone should have told him his team was behind. With 0 goals in the first half, I don’t think anyone would have predicted 5 in the second. There was almost time for 1 more, Inaki Williams snuck in from behind Portugal’s goalkeeper and stole the ball from him, it was a disastrous error, Costa will count himself lucky that Williams slipped at the vital moment and the ball stayed out. Portugal held out for victory. Could this be the tournament for Portugal’s greatest-ever footballer to win the World Cup?
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