FIFA World Cup 2022 Group Stage Matchday Two

Wales 0-2 Iran: Heavily dominated by England in their first match, Iran had to do better defending crosses and set pieces this time around, playing four in the back. Wales still wanted to take advantage of opposition mistakes and get the ball forward quickly. Iran attacked with a lot more confidence, this time with two out-and-out strikers to get the ball inside to, and showing a lot more energy and aggression all over the pitch. No patient buildup from Wales either, who wanted to get to ball to inverted forward Gareth Bale as quickly as possible. Iran had better chances on goal and took full advantage of mistakes, especially in the midfield. Wales had the ball more than usual; they had to take a less direct approach to attacking because of it.

The Welsh were getting caught with their pants down way too often, with Iranian players getting behind them on several occasions. Even after going down to 10 men, Wales stayed unmoved in the back until a long-range shot in stoppage time gave Iran the full points. You can’t say they didn’t deserve it; Iran was much more likely to score even when Wales was at full strength, they countered and took the game to Wales all game long. The final goal was wholly unnecessary. What a response from Iran after their total dismantling by England four days earlier. – DK

Qatar 1-3 Senegal: Two Matchday One losers needed to show us something different here. Defensively Senegal came with some high pressure, keeping Qatar in their own half most of the time. Senegal had a little bit more of a patient buildup, taking advantage of the flanks, but Qatar collapsed into the center and closed down the middle in the final third. The Qataris were slightly taller, so they played for set pieces in the final third to get their big players into the attacking end. Why there wasn’t a penalty for Qatar when Ismaila Sarr bundled over Qatari Akram Afif in the box in the 35th minute is beyond me. With Qatar defending well, it was going to take a catastrophic mistake for Senegal to break the deadlock, and unfortunately for Qatar defender Boualem Khoukhi, it turned out to be the latter. His attempt to clear a routine low pass into the box by Krepin Diatta went disastrously wrong as he went to ground without making proper contact with the ball. Khoukhi’s fluffed effort allowed Dia to pounce, and the 26-year-old striker needed no second invitation to rattle the ball in at the near post to give Senegal the lead.

The Qataris never could solve Senegal on the flanks: Famara Diedhou doubled Senegal’s advantage with a brilliant glancing header from an Ismail Jakobs corner from the left in the 48th minute. A pullback by Qatar in the 78th minute by substitute playmaker Mohammad Muntari was nullified in the 84th minute by substitute Senegal striker Bamba Dieng. Great energy and enthusiasm by the Qatari team (their “fans” showed no such enthusiasm, most of them left both Qatari fixtures by halftime), but at some point you have to learn how to play futbol. – DK

Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador: Ecuador played 5 in the back this game, hoping to slow the Dutch attack with a more organized defensive-minded approach. Nothing changed for the Dutch, emphasizing pushing the attack forward on the flanks and stretching the field, giving Holland the space to make things happen. Now having said that, it was the way that inverted winger Cody Gakpo picked his way through the center that got the Netherlands their first goal in the 6th minute. Ecuador continued to press to get back possession and get on the front foot quickly. Enner Valencia was still getting his chances on the attacking end, getting into space in the final third in the center of the field.

The South Americans went from strength to strength in the second half, consistently hustling the Dutch off the ball by applying a physically-demanding press that did not allow their opponents to play their usual flowing game. The equaliser for Ecuador four minutes into the second half was always on the cards, as Ecuador stole possession in midfield and fed Estupinan for a stinging shot on the left that Noppert did well to parry but with Valencia pouncing on the rebound. Interestingly, the 33-year-old has now netted Ecuador’s last six World Cup finals goals — three at the 2014 tournament in Brazil and three in Qatar. With a chance to be the first team to qualify for the knockout stage in this tournament, the Dutch got beaten off the ball after their early goal, but this result eliminated the hosts. – DK

England 0-0 USA: The marquee matchup. The USA made only one change: Haji Wright came in as the target man up top, which tells me Gregg Berhalter still is unsure about his finishing up top. The USA was trying to get two finishers in the box, having them right up against England’s two central defenders, so their 4-2-3-1 played more like a 4-4-2. The USA didn’t play an especially high line, but they did pressure the flanks and marked space more than marking any player, keeping the ball at the feet of the center backs, so good closing down from the two USA front men. In response, England moved the ball into space as opposed to passing to any player. England midfielder Jude Bellingham, whose movement off the ball was integral in getting the ball forward for England, became the man to watch. The other attacking option against the USA’s press was to go over the top. Finisher Harry Kane has a knack for getting the ball in the final third and bringing players in to help. Wingers Raheem Sterling and Bakayo Saka, usually contributing to the attack, had to track back to bring the ball forward out of their own end. Good buildup to some chances early by the USA – they were comfortable in possession and on the ball — but the finishing wasn’t there.

By the second half, both sides settled in and attack with frequency, mostly down the flanks, but still shoddy finishing. The USA got into the box more often than the Brits, but there was no ability in the box to mount effective finishing. Both defenses collapsed into their own box when there was an attacking threat. Very good goalkeeping by both Matt Turner and Jordan Pickford. A disappointing result for both teams, but the USA needed full points more. – DK

Tunisia 0-0 Australia: Australia had to come out aggressive, take advantage in the air, and get that early goal – like they did against France only keep it up this time; they could not afford to drop any points. Tunisia can’t afford to just sit deep and wait for the game to come to them; they have to take the game to Australia. Both teams still had issues up front finding reliable scoring. The more tactically disciplined team was Tunisia, as Australia found space down the left flank to get into the attacking end. More of an east-west game than north-south, as both teams understood the urgency. When they got possession, Tunisia was in a rush to get the ball up the field without trying to establish a little level of possession in the attacking end or establish some kind of coordinated attack, taking some pressure off of their backline having to defend crosses all the time, and make the Aussies have to move around. Striker Mitchell Duke scored midway through the first half with a glancing header from the left from Craig Goodwin past keeper Aymen Dahmen to give Australia the lead (Duke started the attack by tracking back to get the ball in front of the half-touch, then keeps running to the box to score the goal).

Tunisia brought on the squad’s top scorer Wahbi Khazri in the second half as they upped the tempo in search of an equalizer (they had a 14-9 shot advantage over the Aussies and were better getting their 3-man attack involved), getting better possession in their quick buildup in attack. But the Australian defense stood firm with goalkeeper and skipper Mat Ryan a calming presence at the back. Australia made the one goal stand up, got full points and found themselves temporarily in second in Group D until the defending champions’ fixture later in the day. – DK

Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia: Poland needed runners into space to make space for Robert Lewandowski to get on the end of chances in the box. The Saudis just needed to keep the same energy and tactical and technical buildup they had in their upset of Argentina four days earlier. The Saudis early on surrounded and suffocated Lewandowski, challenging the Poles to get somebody else to beat them. Continuous pressing and takeaways resulted in quick attacking buildup in the opposition end for the Saudis. I wonder if Lewandowski really likes playing for his national side? He is not nearly the finisher with the national side he is at club level because he doesn’t get the service he gets with his club side. To wit, Poland just don’t make things happen for themselves; at this level attacks don’t just come to you, you have to create them. In the 39th minute, Poland finally created a scoring chance when Lewandowski took matters into his own hands and he lifted the ball over the keeper and pulled it back for Zielinski to fire into the roof of the net.

A foul in the box by Poland gave Saudi Arabia a lifeline advanced winger Feras Al-Brikan failed to convert (Wojciak Szczesny may be in the twilight of his career, but when he is on he is still a star keeper). Even though Saudi Arabia had an almost 2-1 advantage in possession and took more shots on goal than their opponents, Poland dropped five in the box when under siege. Instead of waiting for opportunities to develop for himself, Lewandowski brought players into the attack. In the 84th minute, defensive midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki slipped and Lewandowski pounced, robbing him of the ball before sliding a tidy finish beyond Mohamed Al-Owais and into the net. A vital win for a Poland side that went from near death to a chance at winning the group outright. – DK

France 2-1 Denmark: Denmark is one of the teams that historically has given the French fits. From the outset, Denmark took the ball to wide areas, specifically on the left, trying to find space in the center to shoot. Denmark may have had three in the back, but to keep the quick French from attacking the box, they collapsed inside with all eleven players. Target man Andreas Cornelius was everywhere doing everything for the Danes; as the tallest player they were going to put him inside whenever possible. Both Kilian Mbappe’ and Ousmane Dembele were going to own either flank, so Denmark had to decide it they were going to put numbers on either or stay disciplined and clog the middle on defense. Denmark wanted to slow down play with back-and-forth passing, anything to slow down the fast east-west French. Mbappe’ is so fast that he often outran his support.

The second half began much like the first: Find Dembele and Mbappe’ on either wing and let them make something happen. Talisman Christian Erikson was much more effective finding players in the box for Denmark. Mbappe’ had the freedom to roam the last third of the game, and in the 60th minute he made a good give-and-go with Theo Hernandez from the left for the tap-in. Denmark opened up their attack after going down a goal, and their height advantage on set pieces finally mattered when Andreas Christensen headed in an Erikson corner in the 68th minute. Man, was Denmark getting great one-touch shots on goal on the counter or what; it was just random luck that kept them from scoring. You simply can’t leave Mbappe’ alone and ignore him because he will make you pay. While France made their attacking buildup on the right, Mbappe’ snuck up on the left unattended and made a move into the box for an Antoine Griezmann cross. Let’s not kid ourselves folks: As Mbappe’ goes, so goes France. – DK

Argentina 2-0 Mexico: I don’t think anybody thought these two teams would be coming into their second group fixture with 0 and 1 points respectively. Mexico played very risk-averse, keeping numbers behind the ball, look to counter, and break through traffic in the center. Argentina played with more aggressive pressing the Mexican backline, trying to win the ball back in further up the field so they could quickly counter. Both teams weren’t really getting any coordinated offense in the box in the first half; it was more scattershot than organized. Especially Argentina, who had most of the possession but out of desperation were forcing their passes inside to Messi. El Tri were getting the ball to their two forwards but more times than not they had to come back and get it, then lacked communication going further forward.

Messi works best as a false-9, coming out of the box to get the ball deep. That is how he scored in the 64th minute; about 24 yards from goal to get service inside and find that small yard of space for a long shot into the corner of the goal. An 87th minute corner from midfielder Enzo Fernandes slammed the door shut on Mexico. Argentina went from the cellar to second in one fell swoop, with a chance to win the group Wednesday against Poland. – DK

Japan 0-1 Costa Rica: Costa Rica was understandably shell shocked after their 0-7 dismantling by Spain, so they came into this game against as fast and quick a team as Japan with no set formation. When they defended, they dropped 5 back into their backline and everybody else clogged the center; when they had possession, they kept three back in the center and sent 7 forward. The Japanese didn’t seem all that worried about Costa Rica’s attack; most of the game was spent in the opposition end with what seemed like floods of players attacking, taking every opportunity to use their youth and speed to run at an old and tired Costa Rican side, wearing them down. On the rare occasions Costa Rica had the ball, it seemed that they were hesitant to get into the attack despite the numbers they sent out of their end, appearing content to just knock the ball around the midfield, doing anything they could to keep the ball from their running opposition. It took only 28 minutes for Costa Rica to have more touches of the ball than they had the entire 90 minutes against Spain (such was how total that dismantling was).

Japan came to life in the second half, getting on the front foot – this time getting attackers in the box — and keeping Costa Rica on their back heels. But then the unthinkable happened: Japan’s backline failed to clear out of their third of the pitch and Keysher Fuller’s 81st-minute effort, Costa Rica’s first shot on target, stunned the drum-beating Japanese fans in the stadium. All of Japan’s control and speed was for naught. Costa Rica put a huge dent in Japan’s hopes of reaching the World Cup last 16. Now Japan needs a result from their last group fixture against Spain. A fantastic recovery for Costa Rica. – DK

Belgium 0-2 Morocco: Belgium pushed their playmaker Kevin De Bruyne up to the front but flooded the midfield with five players, hoping to put a roadblock up against Morocco while beginning with players in position to go on the attack in a moments notice. Morocco made five changes to the squad that drew four days ago, which tells me they had no confidence in many of their starters and/or tactics. Morocco clearly wanted to turn this game into a track meet, but early on it was the Belgians who interrupted Morocco in the midfield and got the ball in front of Morocco’s goal (a lot of set pieces). It looks like it is time for Belgium to think about replacing their “Golden Generation” with newer, younger players because, with the exception of De Bruyne (who did his damndest and gave his all to get this side a result), more times than not they just lacked the quick-twitch reactions and quickness needed to get it done. They just aren’t anything special anymore.

By the last quarter of the game, Belgium was just gassed, and that’s when Morocco ran right by them. Abdelhamid Sabiri’s free kick from near the corner flag caught out Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at the near post as it curled in at the 73rd minute mark. Zakeria Aboukhlal’s extra time goal came on the counter-attack, set up by Hakim Ziyech as Belgium were caught pressing forward for a hopeless equalizer. Two substitutes, two goals! Morocco in the driver’s seat to get to the Round of 16. Belgium now gets an in-form Croatia to try to get out of this group. – DK

Croatia 4-1 Canada: Canada needed their best player, speedy left winger Alphonso Davies, to step up in this one to give them some kind of lifeline – and he delivered early when he opened the scoring in the 2nd minute with a superb leaping header — Canada’s first goal in men’s World Cup history and the fastest goal in this tournament so far. Canada had to not be overwhelmed by the moment, find their finishing touch, find a way to break down Croatia deft passing and possession in the middle, and especially figure out a way to break down the Croatian press.

At least for the next 20 minutes Canada was up to the task, with long crisp passes up front from Tajon Buchanon on the left to Davies on the right that froze Croatia further back than they wanted to be. But then Canada found out what the rest of the futbol world already knew: Croatia are very good at finding goals when they are behind, and their press did their job. Croatia took over the possession and cut off Canada before they could get out of the middle third. Midfield creator Luka Modric is among the best in the world at finding lanes in the middle for his killer through balls, and on side outs Ivan Perisic is one of the best at long throws into the center. By the 36th minute, Croatia took over. Croatia drew level in the 36th minute when Perisic, a growing influence on the left, slid the ball through to Andrej Kramaric, who one-timed it into the far corner. They took the lead eight minutes later when a lovely build-up from the back ended with Marko Livaja firing right-footed low into the net from the edge of the area after being fed by Mateo Kovacic.

Canada rang the changes at halftime in an effort to claw back the initiative, but by then Croatia methodically started picking them apart; their deft passing and ability to spread the field left Canada spread way to thin in the back. Canada’s hopes of getting back into the contest were dashed when a curling cross from Perisic on the left was controlled by Kramaric, who shifted the ball on to his left foot and dispatched it low into the bottom corner in the 70th minute. Deep into stoppage time, Croatia added a final blow when Mislav Orsic broke clear and unselfishly squared for Livaja to tap home to send Canada packing from the tournament. – DK

Spain 1-1 Germany: Two former World Cup champions playing each other in the group stage virtually never happens, but Germany has not been playing up to their elite reputation since winning this tournament eight years ago. Both teams pressed higher up the field than their opening day matches, not allowing either team to sit back and have possession in their own end. So this had all the characteristics of becoming a game of turnovers. Germany wanted to get the fullbacks as far into the attack as they possibly could against an incredibly flued Spanish side. That dictates the possession in this kind of game, getting defenders further up creating width and getting a numbers advantage. With Germany in their previous fixture, they had 80% of the possession in the first half and ended up losing.

Pretty mundane match by both teams for most of the half, trying to force actions as opposed to making good decisions in the attacking end. Germany just seemed to lack sense of urgency; like they were trying not to do anything too risky. The game had its moments of intensity but not enough to get excited about given how things just got clogged in the center. Play opened up after quick turnovers as both teams got into the final third several times with chances because of them. Spain plays a high line defending set pieces, trusting that their offside trap will work – and that the officials and VAR will do their jobs.

In the second half Spain wanted Germany to press them, counting on their ball skills to get Germany to commit so they could quickly break down the flanks and get the German’s 6’s & 7’s when they had to react in their own box. got the breakthrough on a rare attacking buildup in the 62nd minute when Alvaro Moratta, a substitute false-9 sitting back to come in late on the left-sided buildup, gets on the end of a Jordi Alba cross for the opening goal. Germany’s right flank was vulnerable, and Alba took full advantage. No sooner does Alba’s replacement Alejandro Balde come in than German right winger Jamal Musiala take ties Balde up in knots and get the ball inside to Niclas Füllkrug for the powerful goal in the 83rd minute. That was an exciting no-holds-barred game with two futbol heavyweights slugging it out for as entertaining a draw as you will see. Spain is still in the driver’s seat in their group but Germany has a lifeline but needs to get full points in four days against Costa Rica to advance. – DK

Cameroon 3-3 Serbia: Both teams come in having lost in their first group fixtures, so a loss by either sends them home. I get the sense that sitting back and waiting for your opponent to make a mistake you can take advantage of, like Cameroon does, is more chasing the game and more reactive, as opposed to being proactive and creating an attack for yourself. Serbia, on the other hand, is all about ball movement, keeping the ball moving and waiting for the right opportunity to get it to their main finishers inside.

Needless to say, most of the game was played in the Cameroonian end of the pitch with Serbia ruling the possession. Much better chances up front than four days earlier for Serbia, with forward Mitrovic doing better at getting behind the Cameroon backline. Serbia did not press high, but they didn’t need to; they did a good job of cutting off space and passing lanes. Cameroon is stronger on the right than the left, which was no surprise, but knowing it and stopping it are two different things. An unforced error by the Serbian goalkeeper gave Cameroon a cheap corner resulting in Jean-Charles Castelletto being left unmarked and an easy tap-in. On direct free kicks and corners Serbia was 6’s & 7’s. Serbia was finding holes in the Cameroon backline to put quick service into. A set piece header by 6’4” Strahinja Pavlovic early in stoppage time found the corner of the net to level things.

Three minutes later, one of those “holes” in the Cameroon backline was found by star winger In the second half, Serbia’s deft passing in the final third totally confused Cameroons backline. When Aleksandar Mitrovic added another in the 54th minute, it looked like Serbia were in complete control and cruising to a win. But Cameroon isn’t called the Indomitable Lions for nothing. Coach Rigobert Song took out a defender and replaced him with forward Vincent Aboubakar, who them proceeded to spend the next five minutes running Serbia ragged. He netted a fine solo goal with an audacious chip over the keeper after having snuck behind the high line defense in the 63rd minute to reduce the deficit, before breaking forward and crossing to Eric Choupo-Moting to smash in the equalizer three minutes later.

Despite furious attacking from both sides the last 30 minutes, there would be no more scoring. The rollercoaster Group G fixture leaves both sides on a single point from their two games, still in contention for a knockout round place but just barely. – DK

South Korea 2-3 Ghana: It never takes long for the Koreans to build momentum; they look to run from the opening whistle, but as usual it’s the buildup in the final third that is lacking. That said, Ghana looked a little nervy in the back, and Korea kept them pinned back early. I didn’t recognize this before now, but Korea tended to play the ball short on corners, clearly playing for them. Ghana’s tendency to play the ball long from the back once they won possession wasn’t working against a side as quick and fast as Korea, who challenged and pressed everywhere on the pitch. Playing a very deep backline on a Ghana direct free kick from the left, Korea was 6’s & 7’s in the back giving no room for the goalkeeper to play the ball, leaving Mohammad Salisu to tap in the loose ball in the 25th minute.

That individual moment of brilliance made Korea tentative, almost afraid to come out of their end , now giving up more possession to Ghana. It happened again ten minutes later when inverted forward Jordan Ayew sent a brilliant cross into the box for Mohammad Kudis to finish. The Ghanaians were flying after that, and Korea were chasing the game, making long passes to the front and long runs on the wings from the back.

In the second half Korea settle down and got their groove back, this time with a more patient buildup as opposed to the track meet they started with in the first half. Conversely, a more confident Ghana tried to make it a track meet. The ten minutes between the 58th and 68th minutes was by far the most entertaining stretch of faction the tournament so far. Lee kang-in dispossesd Tariq Lamptey and fired in a cross that Gue-Sung Cho, the K-League’s top scorer, attacked with pace, leaving Salisu watching as he got in front of his marker to power home a 58th-minute header. Cho was even more determined as a chip from Kim Jin-su caught the out-of-position goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi scrambling and Cho climbed above two center backs to score a dramatic equalizer, right in front of a bank of screaming Korean supporters.

Ghana, who would have been eliminated from the World Cup had they lost, looked vulnerable but were handed a surprise lifeline by sloppy Korean defending in the 68th minute. Gideon Mensah was allowed to get a cross in from the left, which Inaki Williams missed but the ball fell for Kudus to tuck home with his left foot – all while the Korean backline failed to attack the ball. With the way these two teams were playing I was certain there would be more scoring. Yet pace and movement from both teams fail to garner another goal from either, and the match ended with Ghana in a position to qualify for the next round while Korea need a win and a lot of help. Two great games back-to-back. – DK

Brazil 1-0 Switzerland: Neymar is done for the group stages, so anchor man Fred slots in deep, and Paquata’ gets in as the advanced attacker in the midfield. Switzerland wasn’t scared or intimidated with every intent of attacking. Good energy from the Swiss, pressing and counter pressing all over the field, getting the ball back in play quickly, going up-tempo, and a good runout in midfield. The chemistry between Brazilian players took time to develop without Neymar at the center of everything.

As the game wore on, Rafinha in the center became the focal point of the attack, getting the ball into the box for the inverted forwards to run on to. Switzerland did not press high; they did not want to take a chance that Brazil would get behind them on the counter. A rather mundane first half was followed by more of an attractive attacking flair from Brazil in the second, although they seemed to have a few more mental lapses in the back, which gave the Swiss more opportunities in the final third.

With Brazil increasingly desperate, half-time substitute Rodrygo played a first time ball to Casemiro, a cover man for the backline, who struck it with the outside of his foot and it glided in past keeper Yann Sommer in the 83rd minute. While Rodrygo provided the assist, Casemiro and Brazil owe a debt of gratitude to Vinicius Jr. for the goal — Brazil’s newest superstar had drawn three increasingly desperate defenders onto him which created space for the goal. After that the outcome was obvious; Brazil does not cough up late leads. The victory leaves Brazil in a solid position to finish as leaders in Group F with six points after two games — three ahead second-place Switzerland. – DK

Portugal 2-0 Uruguay: A different look for Portugal as Bruno Fernandes moved from his familiar attacking central playmaker role to right inverted winger, where he was expected to provide service into Cristiano Ronaldo, — “The Narcissist” — up top. Portugal played with a back three, something they hadn’t done in a year and a half, so clearly they were prepared to send numbers forward. Poacher Edinson Cavani came in to replace Luis Suarez up top for Uruguay, clearly looking to get better finishing after their scoreless draw four days earlier. Uruguay did not want Portugal to have time on the ball, so they pressed higher than normal. Portugal were using the ball very well, shifting it from side to side, crisp passing, long range shots, and breaking Uruguay’s backline, forcing them to move into gaps in front of them and away from the box.

Uruguay is going to concede possession any time they play, sitting back deep and waiting for any opportunity to circumvent the midfield and go vertical hoping Darwin Nunez or Cavani get on the end of it (in essence, pretty much how they’ve played for over 14 years now). Portugal ruled the possession 3-1, no shock. Really scrappy game in the middle of the pitch with both teams getting really stuck in. But things turned on a dime when the playmaker Fernandes took it upon himself to circumvent The Narcissist and take his chances on goal. Fernandes scored from the left flank in the 54th minute with a cheeky whip-in cross-shot.

Portugal, then put the game out of reach just before full-time when VAR awarded them a questionable penalty and Fernandes calmly converted from the spot for his second of the night. Portugal survived a hectic finish to the game to become the third team after France and Brazil to qualify for the last 16. Uruguay now has to beat an in-form Ghana and need Portugal to throttle South Korea. Sorry, Ronaldo fans: The best player for Portugal through two games is Bruno Fernandes. – DK

FIFA World Cup 2022 Group Stage Matchday One

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