We’ve passed the halfway mark of this year’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and it’s been another week of breathtaking football theatre in the middle-east.
This week saw the conclusion of the tournament’s group stage followed by the beginning of the knockout games, as the pressure began to build on teams with high expectations back home. We’ve seen fantastic underdog stories and dramatic exits from some nations that were originally thought to be in it to win it.
Germany, Belgium and Uruguay fall at first hurdle
We lost three huge tournament names at the very first hurdle when the group stage concluded. Germany, Belgium and Uruguay were all teams expected to progress from the groups and were teams tipped to go potentially quite deep into the tournament, but for one reason or another they didn’t quite live up to potential.
Germany finally got a win on the board in their final group game against Costa Rica. Kai Havertz was the star man in their 4-2 victory at Al Bayt, but it wasn’t enough for the Germans after Spain lost 2-1 to Japan in the group’s other final game. This was enough for Japan to win the group and knock Germany out at this stage for the second World Cup in a row.
On Friday, Uruguay found themselves in a similar situation to Germany. In their final group game, vs Ghana, they found themselves 2-0 up with 10 minutes of the game left to go. But then, in the group’s other game, Korea Republic took a shock late lead against Portugal, putting them above Uruguay in the group on goal difference. This meant that despite already being in the lead, Uruguay needed to score another goal to qualify for the next round. Despite crafting a few chances, the South Americans fell short and the team tipped to be the tournament’s ‘dark horse’ by many were knocked out at the expense of Korea.
This World Cup was viewed as the last chance at glory for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’. Some of their preparations were hindered by injuries to their star striker, Romelu Lukaku. But in a group containing Morocco, Croatia and Canada, the other talent at their disposal should’ve been more than enough to earn them passage through to the knockouts. Instead, a shock loss to Morocco in game two put them in serious trouble and needing to beat Croatia in the final game.
The return of Lukaku for this game was a huge boost, and with the game goalless at half-time he was subbed on in the hunt for a goal. Maybe he was lacking some match sharpness, but the headlines from the second half was the Inter Milan forward missing a catalogue of huge chances that would’ve been the important goal to take Belgium through. The reality is a team of their quality shouldn’t have found themselves in a position of relying on those late chances, but they will certainly haunt Lukaku for a long time.
The knockouts begin
The teams who did manage to get out of their groups began the business end of the tournament from Saturday. Up first, it was the turn of the Netherlands, USA, Argentina and Australia as they seeked to find a way into the quarter finals.
The USA were punished for some naive individual performances in their game vs the Netherlands at Khalifa. They started really brightly but left themselves too open at the back, finding themselves 2-0 down at half-time. Haji Wright’s goal for the States, with 15 minutes to go, seemed to give them a way back into the game, until at the other end Densel Dumfries was left completely unmarked at the back post and found the end of Daley Blind’s cross, confirming the Dutch’s place in the quarters.
It wouldn’t be long until they discovered their opponents for the next round, Argentina and Australia facing off at Ahmad Bin Ali later that evening. And, like many of his 999 games before this, Lionel Messi’s 1000th career game was all about him. His opening goal set Argentina on their way to the next round in front of their boisterous and impassioned fans.
It’ll be two of the game’s current greatest players, Messi and Virgil Van Dijk, who will face off for a place in the quarter-finals on Friday at Lusail.
Meanwhile, England and France will make up another quarter-final after their wins against Senegal and Poland respectively. England swept aside the African champions despite a tight first half an hour, and for France, their star boy Kylian Mbappe made the headlines again with two astonishing goals. Al Bayt is the venue for those two sides to square off on Saturday night.
Brazil turned on the style in their round of 16 clash with Korea Republic at Stadium 974. Their rampant first-half performance put them 4-0 up at half time, with the pick of the goals coming from Tottenham’s Richarlison after an excellent team move. With the job done they took their foot off the gas slightly after the break and coasted into the next round. Seung-Ho Paik’s superb strike with 14 minutes to play was nothing more than a consolation for Korea, who will be proud to make it as far as they did.
It’s Croatia next for Brazil after they knocked Japan out on penalties, in what will surely be a sturdier test for the five time winners.
And so, we move onto the quarter-finals this weekend. Will it be a Brazil vs Argentina semi-final, or can the Netherlands or Croatia knock out one of the favourites? Will England pull off one of the biggest results in their history, and knock out the current holders? It’s going to be an incredibly exciting weekend.