Upsets, new stars and itchy groups mark Cup action so far

The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar has started off somewhat slow, despite two major upsets, and one expects the tempo to pick up from the round of 16. We present the big happenings.

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By VoN Sports Team

By the end of November much of the group activity at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar had been decided. The teams expected to move into the round of 16, have so far done that – except Germany and Spain – and there have been at least one surprise entrant in Senegal. First round activity at the Cup so far has not reached feverish pitch, but some matches were real humdingers and some special players have made their presence felt.

The tournament started in the warm glow of three superstars who are in the twilight years of their careers and this might be their last World Cup appearance. They are Lionel Messi of Argentina, Christiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Neymar of Brazil. Of the three, the first two have performed adequately so far, having scored for their respective teams, though one might have wanted to see much more of their skills than they have already put on show. It is possible that they have reserved their real might for the advanced rounds, though. Neymar, on the other hand, picked up an injury and sat out for the better duration of the first round. He will, likely to be seen again in action from the round of 16, or the pre-quarter finals.

The teams in general have been low key, expect for some, and there could be a change in strategy and playing style from the advanced rounds. Generally, top teams do not give off their full potential in the first round, because their strategy would be watched by every other team and also because they wish to reserve their energy for key knockout matches. Nobody wants to peak too early.

Upsets
In the midst, there were two huge upsets. Saudi Arabia beat title favourites Argentina and Japan beat Germany. Germany are still struggling to make it to the round of 16.

The eliminations
The eliminations have hurt, but are an essential part of a World Cup. So far the following have been eliminated. Host nation Qatar were the first team eliminated and they were followed by Canada as both failed to pick up a single point in its first two matches of the group stage. Also moving out were Ecuador, having lost to Senegal a tight match, and South Korea.

The new stars
What the football lovers have been presented with so far are at least two new stars, in Kylian Mbappe of France and Richarlison of Brazil. The latter’s bicycle-kick goal has been rated as the best goal in the Cup so far, but Mbappe’s presence has been an incredible help for France.

The following are the group positions so far:
In Group A: Host nation Qatar, Senegal, Netherlands and Ecuador are part of Group A at FIFA World Cup 2022. Qatar and Ecuador are out of the tournament.

In Group B: England and USA are the only teams to have qualified from this group for the next round, while Wales and Iran exit.

In Group C: this Group of Death has got everyone’s attention so far in this World Cup. From Argentina first losing to Saudi Arabia in their first match to beating Mexico in their next, they have managed to stay alive in the race for the knockouts.

In Group D: Here defending champions France have become the only team so far to cruise through the next round while Tunisia and Denmark are staring at the exit door with no win in two matches played so far. Australia, on the other hand, have won one and lost one.

In Group E: This group has teams like Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and Germany. This group is one where all teams have made headlines. Starting from Japan, who defeated Germany to Spain, who thrashed Iran 7-0 in their group opener. With Germany and Spain playing out a 1-1 draw, the group is still open.

In Group F: Here we have teams like Belgium, Morocco, Croatia and Canada. Canada, being the second team so far to be knocked out of the World Cup, impressed in Qatar. While last time finalists Croatia have somehow found their groove with a 4-1 win over the Canadians. On the other hand, Belgium suffered a shocking loss to Morocco with a 0-2 scoreline.

In Group G: This one has teams like Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon. The five-time champions, Brazil looked in fine touch in their group opener against Serbia and they emerged victorious in their second game too. Switzerland also defeated Cameroon in the first game but lost to Brazil in their second game. From this group, Brazil have made it to the round of 16.

In Group H: In the final group, the four teams are Portugal, Uruguay, Ghana and South Korea. From this group, Portugal have already made it to the round of 16.

The following are the matches held so far:
November 21
The opening two days of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar saw results mostly in accordance with the standings of the teams. In the midst, England virtually toyed with Iran, beating them 6-2 on Day 2 of the championship.

On the opening day (November 20), Ecuador beat host nation Qatar 2-0. The South American nation opened their campaign in solid fashion at the Al Thumama stadium, Valencia scored twice and could have had a hattrick if not for one goal being disallowed due to an offside.

Ecuador also set a record, becoming the first team to beat the host nation in an opening World Cup match in the 92-year history of the tournament.

On Day 2, England began their campaign in style, taking a 3-0 lead by half time. Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling put England ahead. Iran suffered a setback early, with their first choice goalkeeper having to be stretchered off after a collision with an England forward.

In the second half, Saka completed his brace while Manchester boys Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish made instant impacts after coming off the bench as they added the last two nails in Iran’s coffin.

In the extra 10th minute, a penalty was rewarded to Iran, to which Mehdi Taremi hit for the straight nets. This led the score to reach England 6, and Iran 2.

Later in the day the Netherlands edged Senegal 2-0 to set up a potential Group A decider against Ecuador at the Al Thumama stadium.

Goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen in the final five minutes ensured a comfortable winning margin against the African champions, who must now beat host nation Qatar in their next game to maintain hopes of quaking for the second round.

In the last match of Day 2 Wales captain Gareth Bale converted a penalty in the 82nd minute as the Welsh Dragons walked away with a point against a buoyant USA side. Earlier, Timothy Weah rained on the Welsh party as his lone goal separated the side after the first half. A young and buoyant USA team outclassed and outran a ragged Wales side as Gareth Bale’s team struggled to get a foothold into the match. A smart pass by Christian Pulisic sent Weah on his way as he slid the ball past an advancing goalie to give his team something to cheer about.

November 22
Lionel Messi and Argentina’s 35-match unbeaten streak came to an end with a humiliating 1-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup 2022. Saudi Arabia, thus, pulled off the first big surprise of Qatar 2022, as they grounded one of the tournament favourites at the Lusail Stadium.

This leaves Argentina in a critical spot, now having to pull off some impressive wins against Mexico (November 26) and Poland (November 30). That alone would allow Argentina to move ahead in the tournament and provide Messi a great farewell from the international arena.

Saudi Arabia bounced back from conceding an early Lionel Messi penalty to produce one of the greatest World Cup shocks thanks to a Saleh Al-Shehri equaliser and a sublime Salem Al-Dawsari winner in Doha.

In another match substitute Andreas Cornelius hit the post and Denmark had a late penalty appeal turned down as they drew 0-0 with Tunisia in their World Cup Group D opener at Education City Stadium. Tunisia were roared on by their sizable following in the 42,925 crowd, whose deafening whistles and roars gave energy to their side and helped secure what had seemed an unlikely point before kickoff, despite the fact they are unbeaten in nine of their last 10 internationals.

Mexico draw: Guillermo Ochoa blocked a penalty by Robert Lewandowski as Mexico and Poland settled for a 0-0 draw in their FIFA World Cup 2022 Group C opener, at Stadium 974 in Qatar on November 22. Alexis Vega and Hirving Lozano were in brilliant form for Mexico but failed to find a late winner, as Poland defended deep through the match. Meanwhile, Lewandowski could have won the match for Poland after getting fouled in the box during the second-half.

Ochoa was at his brilliant best to block the Poland captain’s penalty. The draw will be good news for both Saudi Arabia and Argentina in Group C, with the Arab country grabbing a win against Lionel Messi and Co.

Poland, on the other hand, are making their second successive World Cup appearance after not qualifying for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. They failed to make out of the group stage in 2018, and will hope that their star player Robert Lewandowski can increase his international goals tally from 76 and inspire them to the knockout stages.

November 23
Another upset: Another huge upset rocked the FIFA World Cup on November 23, as Japan beat favourites Germany 2-1 in their Cup opener. The other day Saudi Arabia had shocked Argentina.

Japan stunned Germany with a late comeback, with goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano at the Khalifa International Stadium. Japan must have been watching Saudi Arabia’s win on repeat the day before, because they managed to turn the game around after a dominant first half from Germany.

The Japanese players kept going with Ito chasing down balls and causing endless problems for the German defence. Gonda’s heroics in goal were also vital in securing Japan a well-deserved win. He will be re-watching that quadruple save for many years to come.

Japan had never previously beaten their European opponents, but they capitalised on German errors and missed chances to secure a famous victory in the first game of Group E.

France win: Defending champions France began their Cup campaign with a 4-1 win over Australia in Group C at the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar. Australia took the early lead after Craig Goodwin scored in the ninth-minute. Soon, Adrien Rabiot equalised for France in the 27th-minute and Oliver Giroud gave them the lead in the 32nd-minute. Kylian Mbappe made it 3-1 for France in the 68th-minute, with Giroud completing his brace in the 71st-minute. Giroud also became France’s joint-highest goal-scorer, leveling with Theirry Henry at 51 goals.

Morocco-Croatia draw: Morocco held 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia to a 0-0 draw as both teams took a point to open their Qatar campaigns on Wednesday. Luka Modric’s Croatia had more of the ball but failed to break down the Morocco defence. The Morocco players showed attacking intent and fought till the last minutes to eke out a draw. Belgium plays Canada later in the day, also in Group F.

Spain win big: Ferran Torres scored twice as Spain thrashed Costa Rica 7-0 in a Group E clash at the Al Thumama Stadium. Spain made a mockery out of Costa Rica’s backline, scoring four times in the second-half to pile more misery on the Central Americans, who already seemed down and out after trailing 0-3 at half-time. Dani Olmo had opened the scoring before Marco Asensio and Torres scored once each to put Spain in control at the break. Torres made it 4-0 shortly after the break, before Gavi, Alvaro Morata and Carlos Soler sparked Spain’s biggest win at World Cups.

November 24
Brazil, Portugal win: Two critical matches were played on November 24 and early November 25, in which Portugal were given a scare by minnows Ghana and Brazil romped home against Serbia, in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In other matches on November 24, Belgium beat Canada, Switzerland beat Cameroon and Uruguay drew with South Korea.

The Portugal match was important because of Christiano Ronaldo, and he did score, though off a controversial penalty ward by American referee Ismail Elfath. That was the beginning of the scoring after a barren first half. The second half was electric as Portugal won 3-2.

Cristiano Ronaldo got on the scoresheet as Portugal edged out Ghana 3-2 in a Group H match at the Stadium 974 in Doha. As Ronaldo converted the penalty, he became the first man to score at five World Cups.

Andre Ayew equalised for the Black Stars, but Joao Felix and Rafael Leao scored their first World Cup goals to put Portugal 3-1 up. Osman Bukari made it a tense finish with a close-range header and Diogo Costa almost handed Inaki Williams a stoppage-time equaliser only for the forward to slip at the vital moment.

Brazil win: Richarlison reflected on his tears when he feared he might miss the World Cup after scoring both goals as Brazil opened their bid to win a sixth title with a 2-0 win over Serbia in Doha.

Richarlison’s stunning bicycle goal against Serbia

“It is a boyhood dream come true,” the Tottenham Hotspur forward told Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo after netting a second-half brace in the Group G match at the Lusail Stadium. “We played well, especially in the second half when our opponents started to tire and we took advantage of that.”

Belgium beat Canada: Canada played their first World Cup fixture in more than three decades as they crossed swords with Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ and went down by a lone goal.

The World Cup in Qatar could be the last chance for Belgium’s Golden Generation to justify the tag. The Red Devils have previously had slip-ups at major tournaments failing to lift a major tournament.

A single moment of brilliance from Michy Batshuayi handed Belgium a narrow 1-0 win over Canada in their World Cup Group F encounter at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Thibaut Courtois was called into action inside of 10 minutes after VAR determined Yannick Carrasco handled the ball in the area, but the Real Madrid keeper denied Canada’s Alphonso Davies from the penalty spot to keep the game scoreless.

Switzerland beat Cameroon: Breel Embolo scored the lone goal of the game as Switzerland defeated Cameroon 1-0 in a Group G match between the sides at Al Janoub Stadium, Al-Wakrah. Cameroon started the game on a dominating note with some really good attacks on display. Switzerland too had their chances at the start but neither side could score any goal in the first half of the game. However, in the second half, Embolo broke the deadlock with a calm and composed finish from inside the box in the 48th minute.

Uruguay draw: Uruguay hit the post twice but couldn’t break South Korea’s defence as both teams played out a pulsating 0-0 draw in a Group H clash at the Education City Stadium. Diego Godin rattled the post with his header in the first-half, before Federico Valverde’s effort crashed the crossbar. South Korea, too, had plenty of openings but couldn’t find the back of the net. South Korea started the game with plenty of pressing in the first 45, before Uruguay started to dictate tempo after the break.

Hwang Ui-jo had the biggest opportunity for Korea but he blazed his effort just over the bar. Darwin Nunez had a couple of cracks in front of the goal but dragged his effort wide. In the second-half, South Korea heavily relied on the counters but failed to create something major.

November 25
Hosts Qatar out: Two important events happened in Qatar at the FIFA World Cup on November 25. In one, Qatar, the hosts, made their exit, losing to Senegal 1-3 and in the other, the USA held to a goalless draw against a powerful England team. In other matches of the day Iran beat Wales 2-0 and Netherlands and Ecuador played out a 1-1 draw.

A dominant 3-1 victory for Senegal in the Group A match against hosts Qatar keept their round of 16 qualification hopes alive. However, the result put Qatar on the brink of elimination, waiting for a defeat of the Netherlands in the second Group A the same today. That did not happen, and Qatar bowed out.

England-USA goalless: USA put in a spirited performance to hold England to a goalless draw in a Group B match at the Al Bayt Stadium. USA out-ran England in the middle of the field as the Three Lions struggled to deal with the high-intensity pressing of their opponents.

Both teams had plenty of openings, with Christian Pulisic hitting the crossbar in the 32nd minute. Harry Kane had a few glances at the goal but failed to find the back of the net. England will go through to the next round if they avoid defeat against neighbours Wales in their final group game.

Iran beat Wales: Iran made the most of their one-man advantage, scoring two injury-time goals to beat Wales 2-0 to stay alive in Group B. Late into the second-half, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off for a foul outside the penalty box, giving Iran a man’s advantage in the dying minutes.

The first half remained a drab affair, with neither of the two teams managing to create big chances. Earlier, Gareth Bale made history for Wales as he started the game against Iran, making his 110th appearance for the country.

A dominant 3-1 victory for Senegal in the Group A match against hosts Qatar keeps their round of 16 qualification hopes alive. However, the result eliminated hosts Qatar.

Netherlands, Ecuador draw: Ecuador’s ‘Superman’ captain Enner Valencia led a feisty fight-back as the South Americans drew 1-1 with the Netherlands in Group A to keep both teams in pole position for reaching the last 16 while ending Qatar’s chances of qualifying. Valencia, 33, tapped in his third goal of the tournament from a rebound in the second half after Cody Gakpo had put the Dutch ahead in the sixth minute with a sizzling shot in a result that advanced both sides to four points.

November 26
France in R16: Exciting matches were seen in the last two days at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. One superstar Lionel Messi, scored again to take his team Argentina to victory over Mexico and another budding superstar, Kylian Mbappe, scored twice in France’s win over Denmark. France became the first team to move into the last 16.

Kylian Mbappe

In other matches over the two days, Australia beat Tunisia, Poland got the better of a spirited Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica defeated Japan 1-0, Belgium lost to Morocco, Croatia rallied to beat Canada and Spain held Germany.

Australia win: Australia defeated Tunisia 1-0 in a Group D match at Al Janoub Stadium, Al-Wakrah for their first win of the tournament. The side, which had suffered a 1-4 loss to France in its opening game, gave a neck-and-neck fight to Tunisia before Mitchell Duke scored the only goal of the game to put Australia in the driver’s seat. Duke scored through a header in the 23rd minute of the game with some great improvisation after a pass from Craig Goodwin got deflected by one of the Australian defenders. Notably, Tunisia had played a goalless draw against Denmark in their opening game of the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Poland beat Saudis: Robert Lewandowski starred with a goal and an assist as Poland defeated Saudi Arabia 2-0 in a Group C match at the Education City Stadium. The Polish captain set up his team’s opening goal which was converted by Piotr Zielinski in the first-half, before scoring his first-ever World Cup goal late in the second-half to give his team all three points. With the win, Poland moved to the top of Group C.

Mbappe double: Kylian Mbappe struck twice as defending champions France claimed a narrow 2-1 win over Denmark on Saturday and became the first team to advance to the World Cup round of 16 in Qatar.

Denmark threw everything forward looking for a second equaliser, leaving acres of space at the back, but their late attacks against a side they beat twice in the recent Nations League campaign lacked precision and the French held on for the win that put them through.

November 27
Argentina beat Mexico: Lionel Messi came up with another crucial goal for Argentina in a 2-0 win over Mexico that ignited the team’s World Cup chances. Messi took a touch from Angel Di Maria’s pass across the face of the area and drove a low shot from 25 metres into the bottom corner in the 64th minute. He ran towards Argentina’s fans with his arms outstretched before getting mobbed by his jubilant teammates. He looked emotional as he grabbed and shook his jersey, then blew a kiss to the crowd. Substitute Enzo Fernandez added a second goal in the 87th minute.

Costa Rica beat Japan: Keysher Fuller Spence scored a goal in the 81st minute of the game to put his side in the driver’s seat, despite Japan getting desperate for a goal. The strike from the Costa Rican right-back proved to be the difference between the two sides. The first-half of the play saw none of the teams getting a shot on target while the second half saw an improved attack from Japan, until Fuller scored against the run of play.

Belgium fall to Morocco: Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal scored a goal each to help Morocco stun number 2 ranked team Belgium in a Group F match at the Al Thumama Stadium, Qatar. Sabiri scored through a stunning free-kick to put Morocco in the driver’s seat before Aboukhlal doubled the lead in the extra time of the second half. Earlier, VAR had denied Morocco an opening goal at the stroke of half-time due to offside. The win helps Morocco replace Belgium at the top spot in the Group F table, while the losing side has slipped to the second spot.

Croatia beat Canada: Andrej Kramaric scored twice as Croatia came from a goal down to hammer Canada 4-1 in a Group F match. With the defeat, Canada crashed out of the round of 16 race, having also lost their first game to Belgium. Kramaric equalised for Croatia after Alphonso Davies had put Canada up inside the first two minutes. Marco Livaja made it 2-1 to Croatia minutes before the break. Kramaric then completed his brace in the second-half, before second-half substitute Lovra Majer scored in injury time to make the scoreline more flattering for the 2018 World Cup runners-up.

Germany draw with Spain: A late equalising goal from Niclas Fullkrug, Germany have given themselves a fighting chance to make it to the Round of 16 after getting a 1-1 draw against Spain. The four-time champions suffered their earliest tournament exit in more than 80 years in 2018 when they crashed out in the first round and now face a similar scenario in Qatar. They have never been knocked out at this stage twice in successive World Cups.

November 28
Brazil, Portugal in R16: Brazil and Portugal qualified for the round of 16 at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 28. While Brazil edged a spirited Switzerland 1-0. Portugal got the better of Uruguay 2-0. In other matches of the day Cameroon and Serbia drew 3-3 and South Korea lost a 2-3 thriller to Ghana.

Cameroon, Serbia draw: Aleksandar Mitrovic made it 3-1 for Serbia early into the second-half before Cameroon struck twice through Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to go 3-3 level. Both the teams tried to find the winner but the match ended in a 3-3 stalemate. Serbia struck right in the first-half injury time to dramatically take a 2-1 lead against Cameroon. Strahinja Pavlovic scored the equaliser before Sergej Milinkovic-Savic put his side in the lead. Earlier, Cameroon defender Jean-Charles Castelletto put his side ahead by heading the ball into the back of the net from a corner kick.

South Korea lose to Ghana: South Korea’s qualification hopes for the FIFA World Cup 2022 Round of 16 are in jeopardy after suffering a 2-3 loss against Ghana. With a draw and a loss after two group games, South Korea sit bottom of Group H with just a point.