The month of soccer it is in full swing and since Sunday, when Qatar and Ecuador kicked off the 2022 World Cup, the action has not been lacking. While some of the favorites looked as expected, other teams managed to impress us. Each country has played its first match, so it’s the perfect time to take a look at what has been going on as the second round of group stage matches kicks off on Friday.
Thursday’s Group H match between Portugal and Ghana was a wild ride. The first half not so much, but the second half had a bit of everything. Cristiano Ronaldo received a soft penalty and became the first male player to score in five consecutive World Cups. Ghana equalized and then Portugal responded quickly with a pair of goals thanks to crucial assists from Bruno Fernandes. Osman Bukari then found the back of the net for Ghana in the 89th minute and capped it all by performing Ronaldo’s famous Siu celebration. The best moment came in stoppage time, nearly resulting in a devastating blow for Portugal.
The Portuguese however managed to hang on to make it 3-2, but that was just full of amusement from two teams willing to attack without remorse. Ghana also became the first African nation to score at this World Cup and will surely make life difficult for Uruguay and Korea in Group H.
The biggest upset
This is child’s play. Whether you’ve set your morning alarm or decided to forego sleep and stay awake to watch Lionel Messi in action… congratulations. He ended up getting the goal out of his own, just 10 minutes into burying a penalty. But Saudi Arabia showed up in the second half and delivered what could be considered the most memorable moment in the country’s football history. It wasn’t simply a question of beating Argentina 2-1, but of dealing a major blow to a team that had been unbeaten in 36 games. This was supposed to be the easiest match in Group C for Argentina, and instead resulted in their first defeat since 3 July 2019. The occasion was so momentous that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman declared Wednesday a public holiday for celebrate the flip. This is what the World Cup is all about. Regardless of what happens in the rest of the tournament, the Saudis will cherish that memory forever… as will the Argentines, who now face a must-win match against Mexico to survive.
Which team looked better
The correct answer here might be France (more on that later), but anytime a soccer team puts a touchdown on the scoreboard, it’s hard to look past. Spain, albeit against a very weak Costa Rican team, sent a quick reminder to the world that they are still damn good. Goals flowed from every direction as six goalscorers contributed to a 7-0 defeat. Listen: When Spain won the World Cup in 2010, they scored eight goals during the entire tournament. They are one short of that mark after opening and manager Luis Enrique must feel really good about his options. Having a teenager, Gavi, at the forefront of this epic performance speaks volumes about what LaRoja may be able to make in Qatar. Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres were also very solid. Their next match is against a desperate Germany side and will really show us whether this is a team destined to make a run or if the win over Costa Rica was just taking advantage of an inferior team.
The most amazing team
For those of us who have watched the CONCACAF qualifiers up close, Canada’s energy hasn’t been hugely surprising. But we also have to admit that they definitely exceeded expectations in the 1-0 defeat against Belgium. From the kick-off it was clear that John Herdman had told his team to go for it. Sit down and watch the No. Does the number 2 team in the world dictate the game? No. Canada were the team in charge however with Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea helping to keep the pressure up. It paid off when he was awarded a penalty, but unfortunately Davies ran into world-class goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. What could have been. Canada finished with a staggering 22 shots, which tells you all you need to know about how they approached this one. However, only three of those came on target and those missed chances turned into goals conceded which ended up making the difference. Still, this performance was a testament to how Canada reached the country’s first World Cup since 1986 – and they don’t mean this to be a quick trip to Qatar.
The best players
Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the world. He has been for some time. The fun thing about the World Cup is that it allows everyone to keep track of new and upcoming talent. We nostalgic sports enthusiasts love to cling to the past and to greats like Messi and Ronaldo. And that’s okay because they’re both in Qatar and should get their praise. But that baton has been passed. Russia 2018 was when Mbappé proved it to the world, and he looks set to do it again in Qatar. When Mbappé is on the pitch he is simply faster and more dynamic than everyone, especially the poor defenders charged with trying to slow him down. As he often did, he was literally outrunning the Australians by building up constant pressure and orchestrating a relentless French attack. He finished with one goal and one assist, which easily could have been more considering some of the missed chances. There has been so much talk about the various notable injuries for the defending champions, yet Mbappé and associates. made it seem like a non-issue by picking up where they left off. Things are sure to get a little more difficult for The Blues going forward, but with a player like that in your squad, you will always be the favourite. Oh yeah, and he’s only 23.
Scotch of the week
Every time Brazil take the field, there’s a chance that something spectacular will happen. It took them a while to break through the solid Serbian defence, but when they did… damn. Richarlison took matters into his own hands in the final match of the first group stage and has already made his bid for the goal of the tournament.
But honorable mention goes to Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari, who pulled off some magic with a lousy move and finished ahead against Argentina. It’s a goal and a result that we’ll be talking about throughout the tournament and beyond.