The first two days of World Cup action have certainly been interesting, especially for the neutral fan. For some, the jubilation of a win in spectacular fashion has them excited for their next game, but for others, a difficult result has them fighting for their World Cup lives already. Here’s what you may have missed if you slept in for the first two days of the World Cup.
Ecuador Hands Qatar First Loss
For the first time in the history of the World Cup, the host nation lost their first game of the tournament, as Qatar took a 2-0 loss to Ecuador in their opening contest. It appeared as if the scoring would start early, but VAR took back what would have been Ecuador’s first goal of the match, in somewhat controversial fashion. Regardless, it only seemed to delay the inevitable, rather than allow Qatar a chance of getting back into the game.
Enner Valencia was evidently the man of the match for Ecuador, scoring on a penalty in the 16th minute, before scoring his second goal of the game 31st minute. If there was one downside about Valencia’s day, it was the knock he picked up that forced him to be substituted in the 77th minute. Thankfully for Ecuador, and the current pace-setter for the Golden Boot, it doesn’t appear as if Valencia is at risk of missing the next match against the Netherlands, according to head coach, Gustavo Alfaro.
The Qataris have been backed into the corner early in this World Cup with their loss to Ecuador, who is, on paper, the easiest opponent they will face in the group stage. Now needing good results against the Netherlands and Senegal, who both look highly competitive thus far, Qatar will need a massive improvement in form to salvage anything of this World Cup.
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The Netherlands Finds Late Winner
In their meeting with Senegal, the Netherlands started with high expectations, hoping for a win to kick off their World Cup run on the right foot. For much of the game, it seemed like Senegal was the more dangerous of the two sides, frequently visiting the Dutch goal, and doing everything but breaking the ice to find an opener. Evidently, without Sadio Mané, Senegal is missing the bite to their attack they would otherwise have, and without question, this game showed just how much he is missed in this World Cup.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, a draw was becoming more likely, and seemed like a fair result for both sides. It wasn’t to be for Senegal, however, and the Dutch found an all-important goal from Cody Gakpo, taking a 1-0 lead with just six minutes remaining before stoppage time. Still, Senegal had time, and they continued to threaten for the game-tying goal, but once again, the Dutch found a way, scoring their second goal of the game, thanks to Davy Klaassen, who banged home a rebound.
The first goal from Gakpo was massive for his country, but on a personal level, it was very special. The PSV attacker is playing in just his first World Cup, and at the age of 23, he found the back of the net for his first World Cup goal in just his first game. Certainly a massive achievement for the young man.
On the Senegal side, there may be some concerns with Édouard Mendy, who is widely considered to be one of the best keepers on the globe. He never looked too comfortable, and it was an error on his part that led to the Netherlands’ first goal. Certainly, Aliou Cissé expects more from his keeper, but not all is lost. Senegal still stands a chance to get out of the group, but they will need positive results against Qatar and Ecuador.
Americans Choke Big Opportunity
It was just about the best-case scenario for the Americans in their opening match of the World Cup, against Wales. They were by far the better team in the first half, and Timothy Weah gave the Americans the early, well-deserved, lead in the 36th minute, after a terrific pass from Christian Pulisic. If you only watched the first half, you would think the Americans looked nearly unbeatable on the day, but the CONCACAF side took their foot off the gas, and allowed the Welsh and their supporters back into the game.
When you have a country with as much footballing passion as Wales, you know you’re in for a battle. When that country hasn’t been represented at a World Cup since 1958, things get even more important. In the second half, the Welsh managed to turn the game on its ear, and outplayed the Americans for the vast majority of the half. It seemed like the tying goal was a question of when, not if, but as time wore on, you began to wonder if the Americans might just hold on.
That feeling fled fast. Walker Zimmerman made an incredibly ill-advised slide tackle inside the penalty area, contacting nothing but the legs of Gareth Bale. A penalty was awarded to the Welsh, and Bale stepped up and delivered. From nothing, the Welsh turned things around in the second half, and found an equalizer. Jubilation for Wales, sorrow for the Americans.
The American’s battle to make it out of the group stage took a hit with the draw. Instead of taking all three points, they let it slip, and now must find a way to earn positive results against Iran and England later in the tournament. The Welsh, on the other hand, now have a reason to believe, and based on their support at Al Rayyan Stadium on Monday, you better believe the motivation is there.
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