7 World Cup Shocks so far
The World Cup has just started and yet, the participating teams have already given us several moments that will live long in the memory.
Here are a few of our favorites so far.
1 – Saudi Arabia stun Argentina, set course for unlikely Round of 16 progress
While international football can seem quite predictable in terms of outcomes, the World Cup is never short of shocks.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia added to a long list of World Cup upsets. It did not reach the level of Cameroon’s win over Argentina in 1990, or Senegal’s over France in 2002, or even North Korea’s win over Italy in 1966, but their stunning 2-1 win over pre-tournament favourites Argentina sent shockwaves through the tournament.
It was the sort of result that made the rest of the competition sit up, not necessarily because Saudi Arabia should now be considered a potential dark horse, but because every contender received a much-needed warning to take every chance or risk an embarrassing loss.
In that sense, it might be a good thing that Argentina have been brought back down to earth. Their 36-match unbeaten run had led many to anoint them champions-in-waiting, but this loss may help them find their focus ahead of the crucial group games ahead.
Saudi Arabia’s win was all the more impressive for their refusal to back down. It is common to see ‘smaller teams’ retreat closer to their own goal after gaining an advantage against a superior opponent. However, Herve Renard’s side did the opposite here. They kept a surprisingly high defensive line, forced Argentina wide and rode their luck at times. Fortune favors the bold, however and here, Saudi Arabia walked away as deserving winners.
Lionel Messi was anonymous, despite a well-taken first half penalty and must now inspire his team to overcome this early setback. What do you think? Can he do it?
- Bet on Argentina to still reach the quarter finals at 1.55
- Bet on Saudi Arabia to qualify for Round of 16 at 4.25 odds
2 – We need to talk about Robert Lewandowski
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa seems to exist solely to be unwrapped every four years. In the other Group C game, he was the hero, denying Poland striker Robert Lewandowski from the penalty spot to secure a valuable point for his team.
Mexico were clearly the better side, but nevertheless were grateful for their goalkeeper in a crucial moment of what was a mostly forgettable match. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Poland, for whom Lewandowski continues to struggle at World Cups. While a strong argument can be made that very little is created for the Barcelona striker – he won the penalty himself, by the way – fluffing his lines with the spotlight on him only serves to rouse old questions and doubts about the merits of his career and where he stands among the all-time greats.
3 – Senegal cannot score without Mane and cannot depend on Edouard Mendy anymore
It is important to acknowledge that, despite Senegal’s 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands, the Teranga Lions actually played well. They put the Dutch under pressure, used the ball intelligently, countered with speed and came very close to getting a draw.
However, what was obvious before the game became even more so during it: without Sadio Mane, it simply does not work for this team in attack. Which is a shame, because Senegal consistently created situations that Mane would have relished taking advantage of.
In the end, it did not count for much, and just when they were looking likely to get a goal that would help them split the points, they lost it.
Edouard Mendy’s form has been a worry for club Chelsea this season and unfortunately, he seems to have carried that over into the World Cup. While one can have some sympathy for how exposed he was on the opening goal, his weak punch to cough up a rebound for the second was unforgivable.
If they cannot score and also cannot keep things tight at the other end, their chances of progress through Group A could be seriously harmed, especially with the form that Enner Valencia showed against Qatar in the opening match.
4 – Dominant England dismiss concerns
One of the biggest criticisms that have been levied against England has been the lack of excitement to their play. In spite of their depth of talent, the Three Lions under Gareth Southgate have been functional and happy to be so. It has brought them deep runs in the last two international tournaments, and so it was expected that, here in Qatar, they would once more bore their way to the latter stages.
However, they confounded that expectation in style, comfortably beating Iran 6-2 in their opening game. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka was the star with his brace, but overall England played with a freedom and eagerness for goals that has not always been there under this management.
Now, it is important to acknowledge the obvious: it was just Iran. They changed their coach, bringing back Carlos Queiroz only a few months ago, and to make matters worse, they lost their starting goalkeeper early on following a nasty collision that left him concussed. That made a difficult talk for them even worse, and only emboldened England.
That said, you can only beat what is in front of you. Besides, we have seen England struggle before against limited opposition, and so to win this convincingly cannot simply be ignored. Perhaps this is the tournament where we see the Three Lions finally play to their full potential.
5 – France deliver a champions’ performance against Aussies
Despite falling behind early in surprising fashion against Australia, France were good value for their eventual 4-1 win.
It was a night in which picking out a star performer was difficult. Aside from Benjamin Pavard and Hugo Lloris, every player in blue played exceptionally. Olivier Giroud hit a brace to equal Thierry Henry as France’s all-time leading French goalscorer. Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann all shone in the attacking third as well. France looked ominous, confirming to fans that, on their day, this attack is impossible to live with.
Les Blues were also defensively solid after that early hiccup. Theo Hernandez came on for his brother Lucas, who will now miss the rest of the season with an ACL rupture, and excelled all night long with his incisive runs and excellent deliveries.
At the heart of the defence, Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano dispelled doubts about their experience at international level with an assured, cohesive performance. Defences are, as we know, about partnerships; their showing leaves Didier Deschamps with something of a headache: does Raphael Varane, a stalwart of their triumph four years ago, even get into the team when fit? Is it worth disturbing the rhythm and understanding Upamecano and Konate seem to be forming? It may well be that the Manchester United man becomes a third wheel at the World Kup.
6 – Germany stunned by resilient Japan
In 2018, Japan were on their way to a shock win over Belgium before two late goals from Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli consigned the Samurai Blue to a heartbreaking defeat.
This time around, they kept their heads after Germany had gone ahead via Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and scored twice in the second half to halt the German machine.
The nature of the win echoes how Saudi Arabia came back to stun Argentina. Is this going to be the World Cup where the smaller sides give as good as they get? We’ll see.
7 – Spain make LOUD statement of intent
Just when Costa Rica must have begun to draw some inspiration from the victories of Saudi Arabia and Japan, Spain flexed their muscles with the dominant World Kup performance we’ve ever seen.
If England’s 6-2 win over Iran showed England’s intent to win this World Kup, Spain’s 7-0 annihilation of Costa Rica showed just how dangerous this Spanish side is.
It was, by every definition, a proper team win too. 7 goals, 6 different goalscorers, 82% of possesion, 8 shots on target (while limiting Costa Rica to ZERO shots of any kind) reflect the sheer dominance Spain exerted to win this game. To the rest of the World Kup, watch out for this Spain team.
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