Much has been made of this World Cup and all the politics married to it. Calls from people to boycott the tournament and making protests leading up to and during the tournament over humans right issues of the migrant workers who have died constructing the stadiums or had their passports held from them.
Aside from that there is the country’s outdated stance of LGBT+ rights and the decision at the 11th hour to remove serving beer from the stadiums. Finally having to adjust domestic football calendars to host a World Cup in the winter due to crazy temperatures during summer in the middle east.
The World Cup landing in Qatar is a stain upon FIFA, who I believe shoulder the majority of the blame for this tournament with the corrupt process of bidding leading to a nation with a barren track record at international level at best.
The World Cup is meant to be a celebration of football at the highest level and it has been brought down by these decisions. It is true that comparing human rights records across the world has a large slice of hypocrisy from those calling for boycotts. Not to discredit the nature of these calls.
The glaring issues are not even having a World Cup in the middle east, it should be shared around the world however it should not be going to a nation that has never qualified for a World Cup previously and that requires to build 7 fresh new stadiums that will likely stand as historical relics in due time. Even Saudi Arabia would make much more sense?
It is supposed to be an even that brings the world together and right now that attempt seems more likely to divide further as the world is trying to force opinions and beliefs around from both sides. It has brought a sour taste to the lead up to the tournament.
I’m a big football fan and so it is such a disappointment that an important event has come to this and players are used as political pawns. I have even less desire to visit Qatar than ever before.
🇶🇦 Qatar 0-2 Ecuador 🇪🇨
So it was quite fitting that the first match saw the majority of the world cheering for Ecuador as put a nervous Qatar to the sword with Enner Valencia’s two first half goals.
It was somewhat ironic that they almost conceded the earliest opening goal of a tournament which was initially perceived as controversially ruled out by VAR, when it was in fact a very legitimate call. And so, their World Cup debut ended with them becoming the first host to lose the opening game of a World Cup.
- 🇪🇨 Enner Valencia showed his experience with two goals with a further effort rules out for VAR. His penalty, also won by him, was very confidently taken.
- 🇪🇨 Ángelo Presciado at right back making good deliveries into the box, including the assist for the second goal.
- 🇪🇨 Moises Caceido had a strong game in midfield.
🇳🇱 Netherlands 2-0 Senegal 🇸🇳
The other fixture in Group A was also somewhat lacking in quality with cagey performances from the Netherlands against a Senegal side without their talisman Sadio Mane. Neither side deserved the win in reality as two late goals from Cody Gakpo and substitute Davy Klaasen, in the eighth minute of stoppage time put it past an erroneous Edouard Mendy that almost made an incredible save, put them level on top of the group with Ecuador.
- 🇳🇱 Frenkie de Jong made a few errors but continually drove at the Senegal defence and eventually provided the cross to break the deadlock. Wasted a good chance in the first half.
- 🇸🇳 Without Sadio Mane, it was a struggle for Senegal offensively but Ismaila Sarr had a creative game on the wings.
🏴 England 6-2 Iran 🇮🇷
Every Scot’s worst nightmare is when an England campaign gains momentum and “It’s coming home” comes out of the woodwork. Its bad enough without me receiving them in the sweepstake both for this World Cup and last Summer’s delayed Euro 2020 🙈.
Opening the group against a potentially stubborn Iran side with Carlos Quieroz at the helm again, another political story appeared whereby the Iranian team protested by not signing the words of the national anthem to give respect to the protests happening in Iran currently against the treatment and death of øøø and the country’s strong reaction to the protests.
On the pitch a strong opening half performance and some clinical finishing saw a young Jude Bellingham, once the crown jewel of a Birmingham City side, scoring his first senior goal at international level. I saw a statistic showing that his age at the previous World Cup in Russia, he was only 14 years old..
Further goals from Bukayo Saka, an early contender for Goal of the Tournament, and Raheem Sterling put them into a 3-0 lead shortly before 14 (yes, FOURTEEN) minutes of stoppage time partially induced by a bloody collision between the Iran goalkeeper and a defender who was eventually substituted.
A quiet opening to the second half burst into life with Saka adding a fourth, Taremi pulling back one with a fine finish before Rashford added a goal immediately after coming on. Wilson unselfishlessly squared to Grealish for 6-1 as he made good on his promise to celebrate with a dance to young fan Finlay who has cerebral palsy, similar to Grealish’ own sister. Another 10 minutes of stoppage time became 13 and a late penalty from Taremi added another late consolation as the game made it into the record books as the longest game of any World Cup.
Also great to see and mention, but a number of the players racially abused after missing penalties in the EURO 2020 final were the ones on the scoresheet. Hopefully something we do not have a repeat of.
- 🏴 Bukayo Saka had a great game, with a lot of energy and two well taken goals. Clearly on a confident wave from his club performances.
- 🏴 Often subject to criticism, it is mystifying that when Harry Maguire pulls on an England shirt, his performances are commanding. He hit the woodwork in the first half, made the assist for the second goal although must shoulder some blame for the first Iran goal. Went off early with sickness.
- 🏴 Jude Bellingham, MVP performance, first goal for his country and all round midfield engine.
- 🏴 Also providing excellent performances for England is Luke Shaw, creating the opener and with some great runs down the line.
🏴 Wales 1-1 USA 🇺🇸
Following on from a pulsating but fragmented early game, saw Wales playing their first World Cup game in 64 years against an exuberant new look USA side. The United States tempo in the opening half was unable to be matched by Wales as Timothy Weah caused havoc on multiple occasions before opening his account with a cool finish from Christian Pulisic’s ball.
Wales, second to everything, had to change something up as they brought on Bournemouth’s Kieffer Moore to give some hold up play as the USA tired. They were knocking on the door with some half chances and eventually Bale was fouled and converted the penalty to secure an important point in a congested group.
A smart tactical foul from sub Acosta prevented Bale from attempting a half way line shot at the death as Matt Turner was out of position.
- 🇺🇸 Timothy Weah was excellent in the first half almost forcing an own goal in the opening 15 minutes before scoring the opener with a composed finish.
- 🏴 Playing with his heart on his sleeve was Neco Williams, at fault for a bad offside line for the opener, the rest was a composed performance and dangerous on the wing.
🇩🇰 Denmark 0-0 Tunisia 🇹🇳
My adopted home nation started their quest with a tough fixture against a battle hardy Tunisia in a game devoid of fluency as Denmark struggled to make any clear chances and were spared conceding the opening goal from a Tunisian counter attack with a cool finish that was fractionally offside. A second chance just before half time fell again to Tunisia with an exceptional save from Schemeichel keeping them level.
The lack of rhythm continued in the second half as Tunisia lost pace up front and dropped deeper into a low block with an Eriksen attempt the closest Denmark has came, until sub Cornelius somehow didn’t make a menaningful connection to a knock down from a corner and the ball stayed out. It finished 0-0, the first of the tournament - equalling 2018’s record of a solitary 0-0 which also featured Denmark, that time against France, their next opponents.
- 🇹🇳 Aïssa Laïdouni opened the game with a strong challenge rallying the crowd and had an important combative presence in the heart of midfield the whole game.
🇫🇷 France 4-1 Australia 🇦🇺
A France side who entered the tournament by losing two of their prized forwards, a Ballon d’Or winning Karim Benzema, the first time since 1982 that the winner is not at a World Cup and Christopher Nkunku. Unfortunately for Benzema who missed the previous World Cup win in 2018, it was probably his last for France.
They didn’t start the game in great fashion either with conceding a shock goal and sustaining an injury to Theo Hernandez, who would be replaced by his brother Lucas Hernandez. A loss of possession almost and long range shot almost made it 2-0.
The Socceroos lead wouldn’t last long though as Rabiot powered in a header before forcing an error and combining neatly with Mbappe to square to Giroud to give them the lead minutes later. Australia put a header off the post before half time before France went into second gear with a second goal for Giroud after an acrobatic attempt putting him level on goals with Thierry Henry as France’s all time top scorer.
Mbappe would get his goal a few minutes later with a fine header as France laid a strong claim for topping the group. Results elsewhere threatens to give them a tougher draw in the next round.
- 🇫🇷 Hard to look past Adrien Rabiot who was the driving force behind the first half turnaround with a well taken header and dogged pressing resulting in an assist.
- 🇫🇷 Kylian Mbappe was quiet by his standards yet still managed a goal and assist and showed his turn of pace numerous times in the first half.
- 🇫🇷 Olivier Giroud must get a mention for two goals and being a constant threat, exactly what France needed after losing their talisman striker to injury.
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 2-1 Argentina 🇦🇷
One of the big stories leading up to this World Cup has been the sundown of Lionel Messi in an Argentina team tipped to progress far into this World Cup in likely his final appearance. It started going to plan as they won and converted a soft penalty decision before scoring three goals ruled out for offside. It is suspected that one of the goals scored by Lautaro Martinez should in fact have stood.
Shortly after the second half began, a Saudi Arabian counter struck the equaliser and a few minutes later an incredible solo goal put the Green Eagles in a shock lead. Resolute defending and a bunch of yellow cards later with Argentina threatening, an attempt cleared off the line and with stoppage time continuing, Argentina still couldn’t score.
It finished 2-1, the biggest shock of the tournament so far and a result that placed Argentina’s tournament and Lionel Messi’s fairytale in jeopardy with tougher games on paper yet to come.
- 🇦🇷 Despite the result, Lautaro Martinez had a fine performance and could easily have had a first half brace if it wasn’t for Saudi Arabia’s disciplined back line.
🇲🇽 Mexico 0-0 Poland 🇵🇱
Potentially the two teams who defy to impress. Both with an opportunity to take advantage of a very open group due to the Saudi Arabians shock win earlier that day. It was a game which very little meaningful happened.
A soft yet needless penalty in the second half offered Lewandowski the opportunity to finally open his World Cup account yet he was prevented by Ochoa and the game remained in deadlock. There was a lack of quality from both sides in the final third from either of these teams as they struggled to take advantage of the group.
- 🇲🇽 Guillermo Ochoa making an impression in his fifth World Cup, who would have thought it? He’s somewhat of a World Cup legend. Everyone else was very average.
🇩🇪 Germany 1-2 Japan 🇯🇵
Germany began with a clear protest of FIFA who prevented the seven teams planning to wear a OneLove rainbow captain band at the tournament, at the behest of Qatari authorities. Their players lined up for the team photo gesturing at being prevented from speaking their opinions.
On the pitch an early breakthrough from Japan was ruled out for a clear offside as Germany began to prize open the chaotic defence. Eventually rewarded after a chaotic tackle from the Japanese goalkeeper awarding a penalty that Gundogan coolly converted.
It was almost 2-0 at half time but for Havertz straying unnecessarily offside for a tap-in before an enterprising Japan side created an exciting opening for an equaliser deep into stoppage time but narrowly missed the target.
A pulsating second half with end to end action almost saw Musiala score a sensational solo goal as he weaved through four defenders in the box before firing over with the Japanese goalkeeper making a host of saves.
Japan’s attackers grew in confidence and finally created a clear cut chance saved by Neuer with the rebound skewed wide which should have been an equaliser. Shortly afterwards they had the equaliser they deserved prising open the Germany defence and finishing emphatically before a long ball over the top controlled perfectly allowed Japan to put themselves in front and leave the Germans facing an uphill battle in this group that also contains Spain.
Even with Manuel Neuer up for a free-kick and then a corner, they couldn’t force an equaliser against an extremely impressive Japan team performance. Their midfield in particular has constant energy and pressed the Germans into mistakes or rushing their forward play.
- 🇩🇪 Jamaal Musiala had an excellent performance, very composed and almost scored an incredible solo goal. One to watch for sure.
- 🇯🇵 Shūichi Gonda kept them in the game prior to the stunning turnaround with some excellent saves. A bit rash for the penalty though.
- 🇯🇵 Takuma Asano made a chance from nothing with an exceptional first touch and near post finish after coming on as a substitute.
🇪🇸 Spain 7-0 Costa Rica 🇨🇷
After Japan’s shock result against Germany earlier in the afternoon, it gave Spain the perfect opportunity to capitilise and secure themselves as front runners in the group. They opened against an ageing Costa Rica side known for their stubborn defence in qualifying.
You wouldn’t have known it on the surface of the result as an effervescent Spain side raced into a strong 3-0 lead by half time with a well taken Dani Olmo turn and finish, Ascensio’s precise volley and a confident penalty from Ferran Torres. Costa Rica barely threatened as Spain confidently took control of the game.
Torres added his second shortly after half time through a defensive mix up before Gavi expertly side footed his debut World Cup goal and then Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata added further gloss in extra time.
- 🇪🇸 Gavi had an imposing contribution as an 18-year old on his World Cup debut with an excellent goal as he comfortably controlled the midfield.
- 🇪🇸 Dani Olmo was a constant threat in the first half causing havoc in the Costa Rican defence.
🇲🇦 Morocco 0-0 Croatia 🇭🇷
An interesting match up with an ageing Croatia team that reached the World Cup final at the last time of asking against an exciting Morocco team with the likes of Ziyech, El-Neysri and Hakimi in their starting line up.
It offered a lot but was another cagey affair with quality lacking in the final third. Morocco probed and created some nice openings but lack someone to put the chances away.
Croatia created the better opening but couldn’t finish as Morocco dropped deeper and seemed more content with the point. They lacked intensity up front and were unable to threaten with the space and even midfield maestro Modric looked off the pace.
It begs the question of whether we are seeing a lot of rusty teams that haven’t had enough chance to gel and click yet leading to disjointed performances as this game also ended 0-0. It was the third bore draw of the tournament in only the ninth game of the tournament.
- 🇲🇦 Hakim Ziyech threatened to show quality and open up the game. One of watch for the next fixture.
🇧🇪 Belgium 1-0 Canada 🇨🇦
A case of what could have been for Canada who threatened yet another World Cup upset with a dominating performance over second ranked Belgium. In the opening period they were energetic going forward creating chance after chance eventually winning a penalty for handball. Talisman Alphonso Davies stepped up with the opportunity to score a first ever World Cup goal for Canada but produced a weak effort easily saved by Thibaut Courtois.
You might have expected heads to drop and the salvo of that opening flurry to be taken out but instead Canada came forward again and had another strong penalty claim waved away. They created attack after attack forcing an experienced Belgian side into many mistakes but were themselves extremely wasteful in the final third as they frequently rushed their attacks.
It was a cruel twist of fate that a Belgium side that had rarely threatened took the lead on half time as a long ball split the defence as Michy Batshuayi held off weak defensive efforts to slot home against the run of play.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first half with Canada dominating the play and creating openings but again struggling to produce anything meaningful. Belgium began to take more control and threatened on the counter with Onana in particular giving them an extra dynamic in midfield.
For all their creativity and energy going forward, Canada only managed three shots on target including the penalty save and despite giving a great showing of themselves, lost the game. It was a bit like watching Leeds vs. Tottenham and at the end Belgium were clinical.
It could have been worse on a couple of occasions for Canada but for Kevin De Bruyne clearly having an off day as he misplaced passes and blazed over the bar when presented with an opening.
🇨🇦 Tajon Buchanan was an offensive menace throughout as he constantly tested the Belgian back line but lacked the conviction to deliver the right end product.
🇨🇦 Alphonso Davies missed the penalty but his dynamism in the opening half constantly threatened and I am interested to see how he performs in the next fixtures.
🇨🇦 Kamal Miller confidently snuffed out potential counter attacks as the Canada defence had a solid performance with the exception of the goal.
🇧🇪 Amadou Onana came on in the second half and changed the game for a lethargic Belgium in a midfield battle that they were being comfortably bettered in.
🇵🇹 Portugal vs. Ghana 🇬🇭
🇰🇷 South Korea vs. Uruguay 🇺🇾
🇨🇭Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon 🇨🇲
🇧🇷 Brazil vs. Serbia 🇷🇸
🇸🇳 Senegal 3-0 Qatar 🇶🇦
After a disappointing opening game for Senegal where they did show potential, I expect them to test out the shaky Qatar defence.
🇳🇱 Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador 🇪🇨
The Netherlands flattered to deceive against Senegal and Ecuador didn’t really need to go past second gear in their opening game. Can see a close game between these two and Ecuador will know a good result will give them a strong chance to progress.
🏴 Wales 3-1 Iran 🇮🇷
Wales couldn’t match the energy of the USA team in their opening fixture but I think that the game against Iran will suit them better. Their strong defence should be able to cope with Taremi and I think they can put a few goals past an Iran team low on confidence after their first game.
🏴 England 2-1 USA 🇺🇸
It will be interesting to see how England handle this USA team who could threaten their backline. England’s wide defenders will be key to win this battle and I think Trippier and in particular Shaw will struggle initially. I think England will have too much for them in the end.
🇵🇱 Poland 1-1 Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦
Buoyed by their shock win over Argentina, I expect Saudi Arabia will be well up for this. If they can repeat their organised defence from the last game I think they can comfortably get a result against this poor Poland side.
🇦🇷 Argentina 2-0 Mexico 🇲🇽
Argentina need a win in the competition and I don’t think Mexico have the quality to compare with them. It will likely be another cagey first half but I believe Argentina will be able to deliver.
🇹🇳 Tunisia 1-1 Australia 🇦🇺
Two defensive sides that have their moments. It will be interesting to see how Tunisia play in a game that they are expected to be more dominant, they have quality on the ball but it will be an even contest.
🇫🇷 France 1-2 Denmark 🇩🇰
Another potential upset on the cards, France are a strong team on paper but I think Denmark will relish the role of underdogs. More space on the counter could suit them and their wing backs if they contain France in the opening half hour.
🇯🇵 Japan 2-0 Costa Rica 🇨🇷
I like this Japan side, they are very organised, determined and disciplined and I can see them having a comfortable victory over a poor Costa Rica side. It is an important game for them knowing victory means progressing to the next round at Germany or Spain’s expense.
🇪🇸 Spain 1-3 Germany 🇩🇪
Spain were electric against a Costa Rica side that played into their hands but Germany will be a different beast. I think they find it difficult to be giant killers and I think Germany will upset Spain and make the final games interesting.
🇧🇪 Belgium 2-0 Morocco 🇲🇦
Belgium were poor against Canada but their next match against Morocco could suit them better. De Bruyne surely can’t play much worse than he did and I don’t think Morocco will trouble them too much.
🇭🇷 Croatia 1-1 Canada 🇨🇦
If Canada can perform with a similar intensity to the last game, I think they will get their rewards. I’m concerned about their composure in the final third and especially against an experienced Croatia team that can cause them trouble at the back.
🇨🇲 Cameroon 1-1 Serbia 🇷🇸
🇧🇷 Brazil 3-0 Switzerland 🇨🇭
🇰🇷 South Korea 1-0 Ghana 🇬🇭
🇵🇹 Portugal 2-1 Uruguay 🇺🇾
🇳🇱 Netherlands 3-1 Qatar 🇶🇦
Qatar are out and the Netherlands are likely to qualify. With Qatar performing much better in the Senegal game and the Dutch are yet to impress me but they know that bettering Ecuadors result will mean top of the group.
🇸🇳 Senegal 0-2 Ecuador 🇪🇨
Ecuador don’t concede much and it took something special from Gakpo for that to happen but after that they swarmed the Netherlands and should have won the game. Tough game but Ecuador will be aware that a draw will mean qualification and a loss is likely to be elimination.
🏴 Wales 1-2 England 🏴
Wales will be up for this but to be honest against Iran and even the USA, they just weren’t great. Not creating much chances, they will fight but I think England will have too much quality for them.
🇮🇷 Iran 3-2 USA 🇺🇸
The headline game of the day. Both sides have a decent chance of qualifying and with a draw favouring Iran, it is down to the USA to go all out. This might play into Iran’s hands and I expect this game to see-saw with both sides having exciting attacking threats.
🇵🇱 Poland 1-2 Argentina 🇦🇷
This will be a cagey affair to begin with. Both sides realistically need a win to secure qualification although a draw will likely be enough for Poland. I back this Argentina side though against Poland who conceded a lot of chances against Saudi Arabia.
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 1-0 Mexico 🇲🇽
Mexico haven’t delivered much in this tournament so far and Saudi Arabia have been a good attacking side. I fancy their chances of getting the win needed to secure qualification to the next round.
🇩🇰 Denmark 2-0 Australia 🇦🇺
This is a Denmark side that need to win and Australia know a draw will be enough if Tunisia don’t get a strong win over France. Tough to call but you would hope that Denmark will score an early goal and take control of this decider match.
🇫🇷 France 1-1 Tunisia 🇹🇳
France are realistically qualifying top of the group regardless of results elsewhere and might take the foot off the gas. I think this game will be closer than expected and I feel that Tunisia could sneak a draw here.
🇯🇵 Japan 2-2 Spain 🇪🇸
Toughest group to call and I have been impressed by Spain but Japan are a completely different side than they have faced. If they can get an early goal this could turn into a classic as they fight for a result.
🇨🇷 Costa Rica 0-2 Germany 🇩🇪
Costa Rica did win last time out against Japan but they have shown next to nothing in this tournament. I think they will play for a stubborn 0-0 but German pressure will eventually show. Goal difference could be important here so they will give everything.
🇧🇪 Belgium 1-2 Croatia 🇭🇷
The attitude in the Belgium camp has turned sour, even with 3 points on the board they will play a Croatia side that put Canada to the sword. They’re growing into the tournament after the bore draw against what looks like a very good Morocco side.
🇲🇦 Morocco 1-0 Canada 🇨🇦
Morocco are yet to concede a goal in the World Cup and I think they will have the tactical nous to grind out another win here against Canada, who are already out. Their opponents play will but struggle with composure in the final third.
🇨🇭 Switzerland 1-1 Serbia 🇷🇸
Another tight winner takes all contest. Switzerland are a very stubborn side and Serbia have excellent technical ability. A draw will be fine for Switzerland if Cameroon don’t win and I think they will get that result.
🇧🇷 Brazil 3-1 Cameroon 🇨🇲
Cameroon surprised everyone with their comeback against Serbia. They need to win and because of this I think they will go all out in attack but Brazil just look very organised and once Cameroon show signs of weakness there will be an onslaught.
🇰🇷 South Korea 2-2 Portugal 🇵🇹
Both sides haven’t been great in this World Cup but Portugal have navigated this tough group well with a bit of good luck. South Korea on the other hand haven’t had much and they will be very vulnerable on the counter attack.
🇬🇭 Ghana 2-1 Uruguay 🇺🇾
This is a tough game to call because Ghana have outperformed themselves and Uruguay don’t have cohesion. They need to win and have the players to do so, I just don’t think the Cavani and Nuñez pairing works at all.