World Cup recap - Day 12
Day Twelve results
Croatia 0 - 0 Belgium
Canada 1 - 2 Morocco
Japan 2 - 1 Spain
Costa Rica 2 - 4 Germany
It was another night of high drama at the World Cup as Day 12 served up another night of remarkable results and stunning upsets.
The Group F games between Croatia and Belgium, as well as Canada and Morocco, were the first games up last night. It didn’t take long before the surprises started as Morocco took a two-goal lead against Canada within the first 24 minutes.
The lead meant that Morocco had all but sured up their qualification spot, and for the rest of the game between Belgium and Croatia, both sides required a win if they were to progress to the knockout stages.
It was Croatia who would be the happier of the two, though, after a nil-all draw was enough to seal their qualification in the Round of 16 and relegate Belgium to a flight back home from Qatar, having failed to live up to the expectations they would have had for their talented team before the tournament began.
Here are five things we learned, plus a look ahead to tonight’s matches, which will be the final matches of the group stage.
Five Things We Learned
Group E Madness Shows Why We Love the World Cup
For three glorious minutes, both Japan and Costa Rica were in a position to qualify for the Round of 16, a result that would have knocked out both European powerhouses Germany and Spain.
Unfortunately for neutral observers, Germany quickly came back from their one-goal deficit and reinstated their lead against Costa Rica, ensuring that all hopes of an upset result in Group E rested on Japan.
Ultimately, Japan was able to hold onto their lead and record a come-from-behind win against Spain solidifying their place at the top of Group E.
It was an incredible result for the Japanese, who, for the second time this tournament, came back from a halftime deficit to record a win.
Spain entered halftime with a one-goal lead and one hand on top spot in Group E, but Japan responded with two quick goals early in the second half to give themselves the lead and take the temporary top spot in the group.
Whilst all that was going on, Germany and Costa Rica were trading goals in the other game in the group.
Germany had taken the lead inside 11 minutes and held onto their advantage until the 59th minute of the game when Costa Rica scored.
Costa Rica then went ahead of Germany with a second goal in the 71st minute, temporarily putting themselves above Germany and Spain in Group E.
Germany responded quickly, though, with three goals in the following 16 minutes to put the game to bed.
Due to the superior goal difference they earned in the 7 - 0 victory against Costa Rica, Spain would have known that a German win all but ensured their qualification as it was near impossible that Germany would make up enough goals to overtake them in the table, even if they lost to Japan in their game.
News of a German lead must have filtered through to the Spanish team, as after Germany had responded against Costa Rica, they lost their sense of urgency and did not look like a team fighting for survival in the World Cup.
Around that time, Spain’s manager Luis Enrique substituted Spain’s only traditional striker and the competition’s joint top scorer Alvaro Morata, which illustrated that Spain had a more defensive intent than a team that was aggressively trying to win the game.
And so it was that the games largely ended void of the drama and desperation that had been so present for the first 25 minutes or so in the second half of each game.
As the final whistle in both games blew, Japan sat at the top of Group E, seen by many before the tournament as the Group of Death.
Tears flowed from the Japanese supporters in the crowd, who seemed overcome with emotion as the realisation of their team's achievement set in.
It’s a milestone result, not just for Japan but also for Asian football, more generally, as it shows that teams from Asia can compete with some of the biggest teams from Europe.
Japan now has a good chance to continue their remarkable run when they take on Croatia in the Round of 16. It’s a winnable game for Japan, and the Blue Samurai will hope to capitalise on the momentum they’ve now created by winning their group and announcing themselves as a team that could enormously outperform any expectations that were had about Japan going into the tournament.
Belgium Left to Rue Missed Chances
Belgium will be left to rue several missed chances as they were bundled out of the World Cup against Croatia this morning.
Belgium avoided an early scare when an early penalty was disallowed by VAR as the Croatian attacker was ruled to be offside in the buildup to the penalty. New technology used for offside later showed that the difference between Croatian attacker Andrej Kramaric and his Belgian counterpart was completely marginal, with mere centimetres the difference between the penalty being awarded or otherwise.
But that was where Belgium's luck ended as Croatia was able to force a trio of saves from Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and began to assert their dominance in the game.
When Belgium introduced Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku, it seemed like Belgium would finally get on top of the game, but it wasn’t to be.
Within the first 60 seconds of his arrival, Lukaku had missed not one but two golden chances to equalise with the goalkeeper out of position and an exposed Croatian net.
The first rattled off the post as Lukaku snatched at his opportunity and seemed to try and hit the ball too hard, which ultimately cost him the accuracy needed to find the net.
Shortly after, Lukaku found himself inside the 6-yard box as the ball was floated dangerously across the Croatian goal-mouth. Contrary to the orthodox technique, where strikers are taught to head the ball into the ground when close to the goal, Lukaku bent his knees to get under the ball, which ballooned off his head harmlessly over the crossbar.
Lukaku added a third stunning miss when he found himself a few feet out from the Croatian goal and the goalkeeper again out of position. Still, Lukaku could only chest the ball meekly towards the goal, allowing the goalkeeper to regain his position and regather the ball.
The consequences will be felt for years to come in Belgium, who now exit the World Cup having failed to capitalise on a Golden Generation of players that has included, in recent times, some of the world’s most in-form players in goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.
That’s not to mention Belgium’s host of other stars from some of the top teams and leagues around the world.
For most of the last four years since the last World Cup, Belgium sat at the very top of FIFA’s World Rankings. From the 25th of October 2018, two short months after the last World Cup, Belgium was the number one ranked team in the world and was only surpassed by Brazil on the 31st of March this year.
It’s unlikely that it's a position that Belgium is likely to hold again in the near future, with the imminent international retirement of so many of their starting XI likely to signal a new age for Belgian football.
Morocco Raises the Bar For African Football
It didn’t take long for Morocco to assert their dominance over a Canadian team that had already been eliminated from this year’s World Cup prior to their final group game this morning.
Morocco scored two early goals in the game and never let their lead slip as they defeated a dejected Canadian side to take their place at the top of Group F.
It was a momentous win for Morocco, who had previously only qualified beyond the group stage once in their five previous appearances at the World Cup Finals.
It was not just a significant win for the Moroccan team but also for African football more broadly.
Moroccan manager Walid Regragui gave voice to this idea in his press conference after the game when he said, "finishing first in the group is not for everyone. We wanted to show them that Africa was there."
"We, the Africans are special. We need to change our mentality. Why don't we think about winning the World Cup?”
The Moroccans, as well as the other teams from Africa, will be hoping that Morocco can keep their form going beyond the Round of 16. It would be a position that African teams have rarely found themselves in throughout the World Cup’s history.
They face a tough task in the Round of 16, however, when they come up against Spain.
The Spanish were dominant in their first game against Costa Rica but have been unable to reach the same heights in their subsequent performances.
Fans of the Moroccan team will hope that manager Regragui’s words ring true when they take on Spain in the next round.
If Morocco sits back and invites pressure against the Spanish, Spain’s quick ball movement and superior passing ability will likely cause the Moroccans trouble. But Morocco will have learned from the Japanese in their game with Spain this morning that the Spanish can be vulnerable to the counterattack.
When they line up for their Round of 16 game, Morocco will have the support of just their own supporters but will have the entire continent of Africa willing them to an unlikely victory against Spain.
Germany Fails At The Group Stage For A Second World Cup in a Row
A win against a gallant Costa Rican side was not enough to book Germany a place in the final 16 of this year’s World Cup for the second tournament in a row.
It’s a stunning result for Germany, who were expected by many to respond to their last World Cup failure with a deep run in this tournament. And many people had expected to see them challenging for the trophy itself.
A draw against Spain and a 4 - 2 win against Costa Rica this morning were not enough to rescue Germany’s tournament after it was thrown into disarray early due to a shock loss to Japan in their opening game.
From the second half of the Japan game, when Germany gave up the lead and ended up losing 2 - 1, the Germans never quite looked comfortable at this year’s tournament.
Even during the game against Spain, Germany controlled the match for long periods and could only score a single goal. When Spain inevitably came out an improved side in the second half against Germany, the single-goal lead proved not to be enough to hold out the Spanish, and Germany saw two valuable points evaporate as they couldn’t close out the win.
As it turned out, Japan’s win against Spain meant that Germany’s efforts against Costa Rica were futile. They could not make up the goal difference needed to get past Spain and qualify for the Round of 16.
It’s a substantial fall from grace for Germany, who won the World Cup in 2014 and have since followed that victory up with two failures in the group stage.
It’s unlikely German manager Hansi Flick will continue as German manager beyond this World Cup. It will be interesting to see whether the next manager of Die Mannschaft can arrest the apparent slide that has occurred in the quality of German football over the past 8 years.
Germany will always be seen as one of the biggest football nations. The Bundesliga sits amongst the best leagues in the World, and Bayern Munich is consistently challenging for the Champions League with Europe’s biggest teams.
That said, the German National Team will want to improve quickly if they are to intimidate opponents like in previous World Cups.
Canada Unable to Make an Impact at World Cup Despite Strong Qualifying Performance
Canada will be leaving the World Cup without a single point after they were defeated 1 - 2 by Morocco this morning. It was Canada’s first appearance at the World Cup since making their World Cup debut in 1986, and unfortunately for the Canadians, they would have hoped for a better outcome than what has transpired.
Canada will be disappointed with their results in Qatar after entering the tournament with high hopes of qualifying from their group and reaching the knockout stages.
At the very least, they would have felt confident they could deliver their nation's first World Cup win after finishing at the top of the table in the North and Central American qualifying, above Mexico, the USA and Costa Rica.
Canada leaves the World Cup as the only team from their Confederation to lose every game, with the other North and Central American teams recording at least one win at this year’s World Cup.
All is not lost for Canada, though, who can now look to the future as their predominately young squad is well set up for years to come, with 22-year-old pair Alphonso Davies and Jonathon David likely to further improve in their ability to lead their country and deliver the World Cup win that the Canadians crave.
Canada will have gained a lot from the experience of playing in the 2022 World Cup, and their future tussles with the USA, who also have a young, improving side, will be exciting to watch for years to come.
On Tonight’s Schedule
With the next World Cup becoming a 48-team tournament, in which the group stage involves 12 groups of three teams, tomorrow morning will be the last chance we have to witness simultaneous games of World Cup football for the foreseeable future. That means that in the future, we won’t have the drama that games like the ones in Group E this morning because games won’t be played at the same time.
2am AEDT - South Korea v PORTUGAL
Even with a win, South Korea will be relying on results in the other game between Ghana and Uruguay if they are to progress to the Round of 16 at this year’s World Cup.
Having already booked their place in the final 16, Portugal might look to rest some of their players, which could open the door for the South Koreans if they are helped out by a win from Uruguay.
The only way that Portugal doesn’t finish at the top of Group H is if they lose to South Korea, plus Ghana must also beat Uruguay, making up three goals in goal difference whilst they’re at it.
South Korea will hope to play their part in the unlikely scenario, however. If Luis Suarez and his Uruguayan teammates can upset the Ghanain party once again, then South Korea will want to take full advantage and ensure that they take the final qualification spot in Group H.
2am AEDT - GHANA v URUGUAY
It’s the rematch everyone in Ghana has waited 12 years for as the Black Stars finally get their chance for revenge against 2010 World Cup villain Luis Suarez.
It was Suarez’s goalline handball that cost Ghana a place in the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, which would have been the first time a team from Africa had reached that stage of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Ghana, striker Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty, and Uruguay went on to win the penalty shootout that allowed them to progress.
The Ghanaians are playing down the opportunity to get their revenge on Suarez, but it would have to be a small element of their motivation, at least, as they have the opportunity to end Suarez’s World Cup career with a loss in tonight’s game.
At 35 years old, this is almost certainly Suarez’s last World Cup, and he has already fallen out of the Uruguayan first XI in their previous game. If Ghana can win against Uruguay and send Suarez home, you’d have to think that celebrations would be that little bit sweeter for a Ghanaian team that came so close to making history in 2010 and was denied by Suarez’s cynical act.
6am - AEDT - CAMEROON v BRAZIL
Cameroon will be hoping they can join Senegal, Morocco and potentially Ghana as the African teams in the final 16 at this World Cup.
If Cameroon can cause an unlikely upset in the game against Brazil, plus results fall their way in their other game, they will qualify from the most unlikely circumstances.
However, Brazil, who have already qualified, most likely at the top of Group G, can ruin any chance the Cameroonians have with a win or a draw in their final game.
Having won both their games already, Brazil would need to lose, and Switzerland make up at least three goals in goal difference if Brazil is to qualify in second spot in Group G.
This means that, like France, we could see Brazil make several changes to their starting XI for the game against Cameroon.
This could prove to be a bonus for Brazil, who have one of the most talented squads at this year’s World Cup.
The Brazilian players who haven’t started yet at this World Cup will want to make an impact against Cameroon and push for a starting place in the remainder of the tournament.
It will be interesting to see whether several changes disrupt the Brazilians' style of play like it did with France or whether they can assert their dominance and finish as, depending on Portugal’s result, either the only or one of two teams to be three wins from three games at this year’s World Cup.
6am AEDT - SERBIA v SWITZERLAND
Serbia and Switzerland will fight it out for the single qualifying spot remaining on offer in Group G.
Switzerland currently sits in second place in the group, and a win would ensure they qualify for the Round of 16. Serbia can progress, however, if Brazil beats Cameroon and Serbia beats Switzerland.
Anything less than a win will not be enough for Serbia though, who will feel that Brazil are a good chance to defeat Cameroon in the other game and will want to capitalise on the opportunity to qualify.
Serbia will be hoping that striker Aleksander Mitrovic can improve his accuracy from the last game, where he missed several clear-cut chances that could have put Serbia in a much better position than they are now.
With only one of these teams able to make it through, you can be sure that they will both be hungry to get the result they want when they face off in the last game of the group stage at this year’s World Cup.