The month of soccer is in full swing, and ever since Sunday when Qatar and Ecuador kicked off the 2022 World Cup, there has been no shortage of action. While some of the favorites have looked as expected, other teams have managed to shock us. Every country has now played their first game, so it’s a perfect time to take a look at what has transpired as the second round of group stage matches get set to kick off Friday.
Thursday’s Group H match between Portugal and Ghana was a wild ride. The first half not so much, but the second had a bit of everything. Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded a soft penalty and became the first men’s player to score in five consecutive World Cups. Ghana equalized and then Portugal quickly responded with a pair of goals thanks to crucial assists by Bruno Fernandes. Osman Bukari then found the back of the net for Ghana in the 89th minute and capped it off by doing Ronaldo’s popular Siu celebration. The best moment came in stoppage time, nearly resulting in a devastating blow for Portugal.
The Portuguese were instead able to hang on for the 3-2 victory, but this one was just full of entertainment from two sides willing to attack with no remorse. Ghana also became the first African nation to score at this World Cup and will certainly make life difficult for Uruguay and Korea in Group H.
This one is a no brainer. Whether you set that early alarm or decided to forgo sleep and stay awake to see Lionel Messi in action … congratulations. He did end up getting his goal, just 10 minutes in by burying a penalty. But Saudi Arabia turned up in the second half and pulled off what might go down as the most memorable moment in the country’s soccer history. It wasn’t about just simply beating Argentina 2-1, it was delivering a massive blow to a side that was on a 36-game unbeaten run. This was supposed to be the easiest game of Group C for Argentina, and it instead resulted in their first loss since July 3, 2019. The occasion was so momentous that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman declared Wednesday a public holiday in celebration of the upset. This is what the World Cup is all about. Regardless of what happens the rest of the tournament, the Saudis will have that memory forever … as will the Argentines, who now face a must-win game against Mexico to stay alive.
What team looked best
The correct answer here might be France (more on that later), but any time a football team puts a touchdown on the board, it’s hard to look past that. Spain, albeit against a very weak Costa Rica team, sent the world a quick reminder that they’re still pretty damn good. The goals were flowing from every direction as six scorers contributed to the 7-0 rout. Get this: when Spain won the World Cup in 2010, they scored eight goals that whole tournament. They’re one shy of that mark after the opener, and head coach Luis Enrique has to be feeling really good about his options. Having a teenager, Gavi, be at the forefront of this epic performance speaks volumes to what La Roja might be able to accomplish in Qatar. Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres were also really solid. Their next game is against a desperate Germany and will truly show us if this is a team destined to make a run or if the win over Costa Rica was just taking advantage of an inferior side.
Most surprising team
For us that watched CONCACAF qualifying closely, Canada’s energy wasn’t extremely surprising. But we also have to admit that they for sure exceeded expectations in the 1-0 loss to Belgium. From the opening whistle it was clear that John Herdman told his squad to go for it. Sit back and let the No. 2-ranked team in the world dictate the game? Nah. Canada was instead the side in command as Alphonso Davies, Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea helped keep the pressure high. It paid off when they were awarded a penalty, but unfortunately Davies ran into a world class goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois. What could’ve been. Canada finished with an astounding 22 shots, which tells you all you need to know about how they approached this one. Only three of those were on target though, and those missed opportunities turned into conceding a goal that ended up being the difference. Still, this performance was a display of how Canada reached the country’s first World Cup since 1986 — and they don’t intend this to be a quick trip to Qatar.
Kylian Mbappé is the best player in the world. He has been that for some time. The fun thing about the World Cup is that it allows everyone to take notice of new and upcoming talent. We, as nostalgic sports fans, love to cling on to the past and greats like Messi and Ronaldo. And that’s fine 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 poised to run it up again in Qatar. When Mbappé is on the field he’s simply faster and more dynamic than everyone, especially the poor defenders tasked with trying to slow him down. As he’s done often, he was literally gliding past the Aussies creating constant pressure and orchestrating a relentless French attack. He finished with a goal and an assist, which easily could’ve been more considering some of the missed chances. So much was made about the various notable injuries for the reigning champs, yet Mbappé and Co. made that seem like a non-issue by picking up right where they left off. Things will certainly get a bit more difficult for Blues moving forward, but with a baller like that on your team, you’re always going to be a favourite. Oh yeah, and he’s only 23 years old.
Golazo of the week
Whenever Brazil steps on the field, there is a chance something spectacular might happen. It took them a while to break through Serbia’s sound defense, but when they did … man. Richarlison took matters into his own hands in the final game of the group stage openers and placed his bid for the Goal of the Tournament already.
But an honorable mention must go to Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari, who pulled out some magic with a filthy move and finish in the upset versus Argentina. It’s a goal and result we’ll be talking about all tournament and beyond.