World Cup recap - Day 3
Day Three results;
Argentina 1 - 2 Saudi Arabia
Denmark 0 - 0 Tunisia
Mexico 0 - 0 Poland
France 4 - 1 Australia
It was a disappointing first outing for the Socceroos who fell 4 - 1 to France in their opening game. Australia took the lead early, but France took over the game almost immediately from that point on. It added to the disappointment that Australia were unable to capitalise on an ideal result in the other game in our group, with Denmark and Tunisia drawing 0 - 0.
That game followed a famous victory by Saudi Arabia over one of the pre-tournament favourites Argentina. Argentina are left to pick up the pieces of their World Cup campaign and will now not be able to slip up again for their remaining two games in the group stage of the tournament.
The other game was a 0 - 0 draw between Poland and Mexico and it was Mexico who had the majority of chances, but were unable to break the deadlock with their opponents in Group C.
Here are five things we learned and a look ahead to tonight’s proceedings.
Five Things We Learned
We’ll Always Have Those 27 Minutes
For 18 minutes, Australia led the reigning champions in the World Cup. From the 10th minute when Craig Goodwin scored the Socceroos’ first World Cup Finals goal in open play since 2014, right through until the 28th minute, when Adrien Rabiot equalised for France, Australians could dare to dream.
When Mitch Duke’s strike (that would have put Australia 2 - 0 up) glided inches wide of French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’s outstretched fingers, there was a palpable sense of what could have been.
It wasn’t long before the World Champions were able to assert their dominance on the game and usual order was restored for Les Bleus. Beyond that point, it felt as though France might score every time they went forward as they carried the ball with speed and purpose.
Kylian Mbappe was instrumental for the French and at times he was more reminiscent of a kid dominating his peers at recess than he was a footballer at the World Cup. It was a disappointing loss for Australia after such a bright start. Graham Arnold and his squad have a lot to ponder as they go into what looks likely to be their last two games of this World Cup.
The Power of Hindsight Gives Arnold Lots to Think About
It goes without saying that Australia had an incredibly difficult task coming up against France, but that being said, there were a number of questionable tactical decisions that the Australian coaching staff made that have raised some eyebrows when looking back with the added power of hindsight.
Commentator and Australian legend Harry Kewell was critical of Australia’a tactics and the way they sat deep in defence, giving space to the French attackers and inviting further pressure. This allowed the French to play themselves into the game even after they had started slowly and conceded an early goal.
This was all the more puzzling as Australia were adamant on playing the ball out from the back, instead of getting it long up field at times when they were under defensive pressure or taking goal kicks.
This combination meant that Australia seemed to be taking unnecessary risks in attack, which contradicted a more conservative defensive style. This led to several of the French goals, with particularly the second goal being the result of a disastrous attempt to pass the ball through the French defence.
The other result of sitting too far off the French players was that Kylian Mbappe was allowed too much time and space on the ball. Nathaniel Atkinson had a shocking night for the Socceroos and many criticised his positioning on Mbappe, who cut through the Australian defence like a knife through butter time and time again. But it wasn’t until there was only five minutes to go that Arnold decided to substitute Atkinson, who was unable to deal with Mbappe’s pace and superior ball control.
Sitting deep in defence also meant that Antoine Griezmann was given too much space and was able to spray precision passes to Mbappe and Ousmane Dembélé, who was a consistent threat on the other wing.
Regardless of how Australia were set up structurally, they were guilty of poor defending for a lot of the French goals. Nathaniel Atkinson certainly had his hands full with Mbappe, but the replay of Mbappe’s goal shows that Atkinson did not once turn his head to check where Mbappe was until it was too late. This lapse in concentration was illustrative of Australia’s attitude after we scored the first goal.
Undoubtedly, France are a tough opponent, but the Socceroos will still be disappointed with how they performed in the game against the reigning World Champions.
A Famous Victory For The Falcons
Saudi Arabia recorded arguably their greatest ever victory when they defeated Argentina 2 - 1 in the first game overnight. The Falcons had only recorded one previous victory in the World Cup since 1994 and it has been over a year since they scored two goals in a game, but they found themselves ahead at full time in a famous victory for Saudi Arabian football.
The victory was set up in the first half when Argentina had three goals disallowed for offside. At first glance, it would seem that Argentina’s attackers were sloppy in their positioning, which is somewhat true, but credit must be given to the Saudi defence, who played the offside trap to perfection in the first half.
Argentina found themselves offside seven times in the first half, which was more offsides than any team had in an entire game during the 2018 tournament.
The disallowed goals and constant offsides from Argentina kept Saudi Arabia in the game and meant that Argentina didn’t get enough value for their first half dominance. When Saudi Arabia came out in the second half and attacked Argentina, Lionel Messi’s men looked shell shocked.
To illustrate how unlikely a comeback victory was for Saudi Arabia in this match, betting exchange Betfair matched $600k worth of bets placed on Argentina at $1.02 and $3.3million at between $1.03 and $1.04. It truly was a famous upset.
Is It The End Already For Messi’s Fairytale?
At 35 years of age, Lionel Messi must be familiar with the feeling of the weight of his nation on his shoulders. Throughout Messi’s career, time and time again he’s been called upon to deliver Argentina the results they need.
In the most recent Copa America, Messi led Argentina to their first major trophy in 28 years. It is a snap judgement that will only prove true with the fullness of time, but it might just be that Argentina thought they could repeat the process in Qatar without evolving their squad as much as they would had they not won the Copa America in 2021.
Argentina’s starting XI had six players aged thirty or older, four players 34 or over and Messi, who’s so pivotal to the way they play, is 35. I’m reminded of Australia’s failure at the recent T20 World Cup and it seemed that the win 12 months prior stood in the way of rejuvenating the Australian squad, which ultimately cost them. I wonder if in hindsight, Argentina will look back on this World Cup and wish they rejuvenated their squad more than they have in recent years.
Throughout the game against Saudi Arabia, it was clear that Argentina was relying on Messi to create the lion’s share of their scoring opportunities. In a World Cup that’s being played in relatively high heat and humidity, it might be that having six players aged over 30 is not conducive to winning footbal in Qatar.
That being said, it is still the first game of the tournament. If they play to their ability, Argentina can beat Poland and Mexico, which would likely still see them qualify. The November timing of the World Cup means that teams have had less time to train together and build cohesion prior to the tournament. Argentina, who have a relatively high number of a players playing in overseas leagues around the world, may take longer to click than, for example, England, whose squad predominately all play in the English Premier League.
The Argentinians will want to get it together soon though, as this defeat means they can’t afford to slip up again in their two remaining games.
Denmark Will Rue Missed Chances
Lovers of history would have been happy to see Hannibal be substituted onto the field for the Carthage Eagles in the 81st minute of last night’s game. Unfortunately, lovers of high-scoring football would not have shared the same romantic notions about the nil all draw between Tunisia and Denmark.
In what was, at the time, an ideal result for the Socceroos, neither Denmark or Tunisia were able to break the deadlock despite a number of chances being created for both sides.
Denmark will likely be the more disappointed of the two sides, with Tunisia at least taking solace from the fact they kept their first clean sheet in the World Cup since 1978.
It was the Danes who had the better of the chances as well, particularly in the second half as Andreas Cornelius in particular will be left to rue a missed chance that saw him miss an exposed net mere inches from the goal line.
Late in the game, the video assisted referee invited a second look at a handball shout that would have seen Denmark awarded a penalty in the 94th minute, but the referee disagreed and the score stayed nil all.
Australia will have their work cut out against both of these teams, with Tunisia threatening to break through the Danish defense all game. Both Denmark and Tunisia played with three central defenders and so it is likely to be a dour affair when the Socceroos play both these sides in the next two games. Socceroos fans will be hoping that both Denmark and Tunisia continue to struggle to find the net throughout the rest of the group stage.
You May Have Missed...
With Saudi Arabia recording a famous victory against Argentina, naturally, the Saudi Arabian commentators were up and about when Salem Al Dawsari’s superb goal went in to put The Falcons ahead in last night’s game.
The audio from the goal is one of the great examples of a commentator going absolutely nuts in the best possible way. My Arabic is a little bit rusty, so I have no idea what the commentators are saying, but there’s something infectious about the absolute euphoria from the commentators when the goal goes in.
On Tonight’s Schedule
9pm AEDT - MOROCCO v CROATIA
Croatia beging their bid to go one better than their runner-up position in the 2018 World Cup.
When they’ve won the first game of the tournament, they’ve made it through to at least the semi-finals on both times they achieved the feat. However, they have never qualified for the knockout stages after losing the first game of the World Cup, so this game appears crucial for Croatia.
12am AEDT - GERMANY vs JAPAN
Germany will be looking to make amends for a disappointing 2018 World Cup when they kick off their campaign against Japan.
Die Mannschaft were unceremoniously bundled out in the group stages of the last World Cup and the four years since has seen somewhat of a transition period in German football. Longtime manager Joachim Löw was sacked as manager of the German team after they lost to England in the Round of 16 at the Euro 2020 tournament. He was replaced by Hansi Flick, who has had inconsistent results so far in his time at the helm. It will be interesting to see whether Germany, who is likely to play with attacking midfielder Kai Havertz centrally, can compensate for not starting a traditional striker in that front position. They will look to wingers like Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry to chip in with goals to help out Havertz.
One to watch for the future is 18-year old German striker Youssafa Moukoko, who might come off the bench against Japan. Moukoko has been a part of Borussia Dortmund’s famed academy in recent years and some observers are tipping that he could one day become one of the world’s very best players if he continues the trajectory that he is on.
Japan will look to recapture the form that saw them go undefeated between October 2020 and June 2021. As one of the biggest football nations in the Asian Confederation, Japan will be hoping that they can repeat their performance in 2018 and make it beyond the group stages.
Lontime leader Keisuke Honda has now retired, but there will be plenty of players looking to step up to fill his place. In somewhat of a surprise, Japan left Celtic duo Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate out of their squad for this World Cup, but Ange Postecoglou’s side will be represented by Daizen Maeda, who made the final list of 26.
Followers of the Premier League may also recognise Takumi Minamino, who had a short stint with Liverpool and Southampton and now plays with French side Monaco.
With Spain lurking on the other side of Group E, it’s unlikely that both these teams will qualify for the knockout stages, so we are treated to another do-or-die match in the first game for these teams at this year’s World Cup.
3am - AEDT - SPAIN v COSTA RICA
Spain will enter their first match of the World Cup as heavy favourites against a Costa Rican side that has technically outperformed their opponents since Spain lifted the trophy in 2010.
Spain has only made it out of the group stages once since they lifted the trophy, having reached the Round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup. Costa Rica has also surpassed the group stages once since 2010, but they made the World Cup of the 2014 tournament.
Sergio Busquets is the only member of the Spanish squad who lifted the trophy in 2010 and so this new iteration of La Roja will want to create their own piece of history this year.
The Spanish, with their midfield in particular, will cause a lot of headaches for their opponents this year, with Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City all well represented in the Spanish squad.
19-Year old Barcelona midfielder Pedri was awarded Young Player of the Tournament at Euro 2020 and Spain will likely look to him to lead them again at this year’s World Cup. But if the Spaniards want to get off to a perfect start, they’ll have to get it past experienced Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has won the Champions League three times.
Costa Rica, like Australia, had to qualify for the World Cup after missing out on automatic qualification. They secured their place with a narrow 1 - 0 victory over New Zealand and so will be hoping that they have improved since then if they want to get a result against Spain.
Despite playing with former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell up front, Costa Rica only managed 14 goals from the 15 games of qualifying for the World Cup. They will need to improve that area in particular if they want to make an impact in this year’s tournament.
6am AEDT - BELGIUM vs CANADA
Canada will be raring to go in their first World Cup Finals match since 1986, but they will not find it easy as they come up against a Belgium side that spent most of the last four year’s at the top of FIFA’s World Rankings.
Belgium have a team stocked with talent, including Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard, but they have an ageing squad. It will be the last opportunity for many of Belgiums best players in what is the last opportunity for Belgiums golden generation to win a major tournament with this current crop of players.
Argentina is the other squad to play so far that has a similarly ageing squad demographic to Belgium. The Red Devils will be hoping that a failure of experience is distinct to the Argentinian team when they come up against a younger Canadian team.
Belgium will go into the game against Canada without their big striker Romelu Lukaku, who will miss the first two games of the tournament with a hamstring injury. The news is better though for Jan Vertonghen and Leandro Trossard, who have both recently returned from injury.
Canada have their own set of injury issues with best player Alphonso Davies likely to miss the game against Belgium. They will be looking to repeat their feat from qualifying when they won six games in a row without Davies.
Canada are tipped by many to be a surprise packet and outperform expectations in this World Cup. If they are to do so, they will want to get off to a good start against a much more experienced Belgian side.
Tonight’s action has probably the highest average quality of matches since the tournament began, so it feels like we are well and truly well underway in this year’s edition of the tournament.
Enjoy the games!