What an opening round! We’ve had to wait six months more than usual for this World Cup, and so far (strictly on the field, I can’t stress that enough) it appears worth it. It may be early, but it’s honestly never too early to take a look at who’s impressed and how needs to improve in the World Cup. With that said, here are three winners and three losers after the first round of 2022 World Cup group stage.
Winner – Spain’s attacking prowess
Going into the tournament, the big question around Spain was if this this team was clinical enough to be a genuine contender. They have plenty of talent in Gavi, Pedri and Dani Olmo, but they have struggled to break teams down that can with stain their pressure as was seen at the Euros.
Spain opened the tournament against Costa Rica, and quickly put the question of how clinical they are to bed! La Roja tore the Central Americans apart. Goals from Olmo, Torres (x2), Morata, Soler, Asensio and Gavi have Spain a 7-0 win, their largest ever win at a World Cup. It was a typical Spanish performance, complete with 82% possession, over 1000 passes completed and a passing accuracy of 93% which summed out just how dominant they were. Spain have found their scoring boots, which instantly makes them dangerous in this tournament.
Loser – CONCACAF
While it might be harsh, ultimately it’s been a slow start for the Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean American football, with all four representatives combining for just two points and one goal. The USA arguably have the best chance of reaching the knockout state dropped points when they shouldn’t have against a very beatable Wales team and were even fortunate at times in the second half to not lose the game as it finished 1-1. This now cranks the pressure up on Gregg Berhalters side to get a result a very dangerous looking England side, should they want to reach the last sixteen. Meanwhile the less said about Costa Rica 0 – Spain 7, the better from a Costa Rican standpoint.
Mexico didn’t look particularly impressive against Poland, a team that has had a tendency to underperform in tournaments in the Robert Lewandoski era. Speaking of which, Mexico can thank themselves for having World Cup cult hero Guillermo Ochoa in goal, as the ageless wonder saved a point for Mexico with a penalty save from Lewandoski. Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina has blown the group open, the Argentinians can’t afford to drop any points against Mexico which makes El Tri’s task even more difficult. As for Canada, it honestly feels unfair to lump the, in here. They were the most impressive CONCACAF team, and ultimately should’ve took at least a point of Belgium, the third best team from 2018. They’ll take confidence from that result, but the game against Croatia just got a lot more important. We’ll have to wait and see how CONCACAF do in the next round of fixtures, hopefully they can put some points on the board.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Winner – Olivier Giroud
Despite leading the line in 2018 and having scored forty-nine goals for his country, Giroud found himself on the outside looking in with reigning Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema looking set to lead the line. In a sudden twist of fate, Benzema suffered a pre-tournament injury in the French camp, ruling him out for the tournament and clearing the path for Benzema to once again lead the line for Les Bleus.
France surprisingly fell behind early to Australia in their opening game, but the reigning champions responded in typical fashion. Adrian Rabiot equalised, and Giroud found himself in the right spot to give France the lead and take his tally for France to fifty goals. France would go 3-1 up through to Kylian Mbappé, and Giroud headed home to out the finishing touch on the game and equal Thierry Henry’s tally of fifty-one goals for France, the most in French history. The front three of Mbappé, Giroud and Antoine Griezmann were key to France winning in 2018, and with their target man up and running and full of confidence, perhaps the winning formula can repeat itself?
Loser – Argentina
Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Argentina went into this tournament unbeaten in their last thirty-six games and is considered one of the front-runners to win the tournament. As a team, Argentina is arguably the best they have ever been in the Lionel Messi era and there is somewhat of a sense of destiny around this team with it being Messi’s last tournament. They took the lead through a Messi penalty and had a 1-0 lead over Saudi Arabia going into halftime, it was all going to plan.
But the Middle East outfit wouldn’t lie down, and Argentina found themselves on the end of two quick goals at the start of the second half, suddenly it was 2-1 Saudi Arabia. Argentina struggled to deal with Saudi Arabia’s high line which combined with their wayward finishing resulted in a shock 2-1 defeat and one of the biggest World Cup upsets of all time! Suddenly their is an urge of desperation, Argentina have to beat both Mexico and Poland, two teams that were considered to be better than Saudi Arabia going into the tournament. Should they finish second in their group, they’ll likely face France (based on seeding) in the last sixteen, making things a little bit tougher for Messi and co.
Winner – Japan and Saudi Arabia
Both of these teams deserve a mention. Saudi Arabia and Japan were two of the best teams from Asia in World Cup qualifying, but the consensus was that because of the strength of their opponents, they would have a very uphill battle to reach the knockout stage. We’ve already mentioned Saudi Arabia, Hervé Renard set his team up to be aggressive and try to play football against the current third-best team in the FIFA world rankings. It paid off big time in the second half with Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari both getting on the scoresheet and becoming the first Asian team to beat Argentina, and the first non-European team to beat Argentina at the World Cup since 1990.
Meanwhile, Japan opened their campaign against 2014 winners Germany, and it looked at half-time as if it would be business as usual, as an İlkay Gündoğan penalty gave Die Mannschaft the lead. But Japan grew into the game in the second half, threatening the German goal before eventually equalizing through Ritsu Doan with fifteen minutes left. The Blue Samurai weren’t done yet, as Takuma Asano finished from a tight angle to give the Japanese a shock lead which they held on to. No one gave these two teams much of a chance going into the World Cup, but shocks are what the World Cup is all about!
Loser – Qatar
Oh boy, that was a letdown. Qatar opened the entire tournament with a game against Ecuador, and after twelve years to prepare and months of the team training together, Qatar literally gave the worst opening game performance by a host in World Cup history!
Ecuador had a goal ruled out early for being offside, and it was a sign of things to come in the game as Enner Valencia’s two goals sealed a 2-0 win for the South Americans. Qatar at times looked extremely outmatched, they struggled to put anything progressive together on the field and if Ecuador wanted to, they probably could’ve scored more. This was a team that was the 2019 Asia Cup champions and by far the best Qatar team ever assembled, the only way at this point is up though! Just a shame their next two games are against Senegal and the Netherlands.
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