World Cup Review: Match Round 1
By Ben Newdick
As things got underway in the controversially elected host nation of Qatar, the hosts kicked things off in group A against a hopeful Ecuador side who were looking positively at their very reachable objective of achieving the round of 16 knockout stage for only the second time in their history. Two goals in the first half from their talisman, Enner Valencia, saw them comfortably past Qatar, the former West Ham forward looked to be the key element to any potential success in this year’s competition for Ecuador.
The other game in group A saw dark horses Netherlands take on African champions Senegal, who came into the World Cup without their star man, Sadio Mane, through injury sustained before the tournament kicked off. Nevertheless, two late goals coming within the final ten minutes saw the Dutch past the Senegalese in what was a close affair. Strikes from youngster, Cody Gakpo, saw him carry his form at Ajax onto the world stage, and a well taken goal in the final couple of minutes of stoppage time proved the difference in this one.
Moving onto group B now, and this was a group that promised plenty of drama with England, Wales and USA all in the same group. But first, we kicked off with England versus Iran, in which the latter proved to be underdogs in what was a World Cup goal-fest of a match containing eight goals, with the English running out 6-2 winners in a rampant display from Gareth Southgate’s men and an incredible performance from young Arsenal attacker, Bukayo Saka, bagging two of England’s goals.
Moving across the border we saw England’s neighbours, Wales, take on USA in what was a very close encounter. Timothy Weah, son of footballing legend and current president of Liberia, George, broke the deadlock in the thirty-sixth minute. The Welsh put the USA under intense pressure for the remainder of the game, but it took until the eighty-second minute for USA defender, Walker Zimmerman to give away a clumsy penalty in which Wales’ Mr Reliable, Gareth Bale comfortably slammed into the back of the net to earn a point for his country.
In group C we saw the first upset of the tournament as Saudi Arabia ended Argentina’s unbeaten streak of thirty-six matches with a 2-1 win over one of the world’s best footballing nations. The Argentinians looked reasonably comfortable after the great man, Lionel Messi, tucked away a penalty in the tenth minute. But the Saudi Arabians were not done there, and with two goals in the space of five minutes after the half time break, they gained the edge over the South Americans and took all three points away with them.
The other game in group C saw a stalemate between two unpredictable sides, Mexico and Poland, who were both aiming for knockout stage qualification, especially after the shock Argentina defeat, it suddenly became more than a possibility. However, both countries struggled to break the deadlock, and the competition’s first 0-0 draw became of this fixture.
The second goalless affair came soon after in group D, as Denmark had high hopes going into their game against Tunisia, but once again neither team were able to open the scoring against two stubborn defences. Denmark came the closest with plenty of chances, and their best opportunity of the game falling to striker Andreas Cornelius, as he slammed the ball against the woodwork from point-blank range.
The other game in group D on the other hand, was a lot more exciting as it contained five goals, and it was Craig Goodwin and Australia that took the lead in this one. However, although France had injury issues to some of their key attackers, it was their strikers that ran riot in this one, and experienced striker, Olivier Giroud, made it all about him as he nabbed two goals to help seal off what was a dominant French performance.
Heading into group E now and what was considered the ‘Group of Death’ due to the 2010 and 2014 champions Spain and Germany being amongst the contenders. The first game saw another upset in what was becoming a very exciting World Cup, as Germany were beaten 2-1 by Japan. Ilkay Gundogan gave the Germans the lead from the penalty spot in the thirty-third minute, but two late goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano gave Japan a very valuable and hard-earned three points to kick off their World Cup campaign.
Another very exciting game in group E saw Spain make light work of Costa Rica, as they coasted to a 7-0 victory. Goals from Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio, Ferran Torres, Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata contributed to the thrashing of Costa Rica, as manager Luis Enrique and his men will be thrilled by their fast start to the competition and their first three points in which was a rampant performance from the 2010 champions.
Group F saw Morocco take on Croatia in which was once again another stalemate, as both countries struggled to break the deadlock, however Croatia will be disappointed that they were unable to take all three points away with them, having created a number of good chances throughout the ninety minutes. Morocco will be happy with the single point, however, as they went into the game seen as one of the underdogs for the competition.
The other game saw the only goal of the group within this round of matches, as Belgium were able to find the net against Canada just before the stroke of half time through striker Michy Batshuayi. Canada didn’t make easy work of themselves though, as they were awarded a penalty by VAR in the tenth minute which came from a blatant handball from Yannick Carrasco. The penalty, however, was nervously taken by Bayern Munich full-back, Alphonso Davies. This was not to be taken away from the outstanding penalty save from Thibaut Courtois along with the other saves he made during the game, which denied Canada of any reward from the contest.
Group G contained one of the main favourites, Brazil, as they took on Serbia in which was a dominant performance by the 2014 hosts. A goalless first half but was full of chances and missed opportunities amongst a catalogue of world class players within the Brazilian line-up that included Neymar, Vinicius Jr, Thiago Silva and countless others. But it was Spurs forward, Richarlison, that stepped up to the mark with two lethal finishes in the second half which sent Brazil on their way in Group G.
Switzerland vs Cameroon was the other game in Group G and proved to be a very tight affair between the two countries and chances coming very few and far between. A forty-eighth minute strike from forward Breel Embolo proved to be the difference in the end between the two nations. The Swiss will be eyeing up the second-place position in their group, as they look to make the knockout stages.
The final matchday of the first round of matches was in Group H, as Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo took on Ghana. Their skipper gave them the lead from the spot in the sixty-fifth minute as the ex-Manchester United man stole the spotlight once more. But it wasn’t for long as Andre Ayew equalised eight minutes later, but in a swift turn of events, Portugal bagged two goals in two minutes, putting them in a comfortable position. Ghana pegged one back in the eighty-ninth minute making it 3-2, however, this proved to be just a consolation, as Fernando Santos held on to avoid a potential banana skin.
The second game of the final matchday in Group H came between Uruguay and Korea Republic. This game was the complete other end of the spectrum in terms of excitement in comparison to the other match in the group, as not only was it goalless, but a single shot on target was unable to be seen during the ninety minutes in this one. Both teams will be hoping for a more inspiring performance in the following round of matches.