In a single match UEFA’s Nations League (NL) 2022-23 opening day on Wednesday, host Poland defeated Wales 2-1 with a fluky ricocheted goal in the 85th minute. The match served Wales as a warm-up for its critical next match and allowed Poland to measure its progress in preparing for Qatar.
On the same day, Ukraine produced a statement 3-1 win over Scotland to set up a World Cup 2022 qualifying playoff match against Wales on June 5th.
The Ukrainians are for real, and they have an added impetus given what is happening on their home soil. If the Welch team is not at its utmost best level on Sunday it will be Andriy Yarmolenko who leaves the pitch smiling.
Not too far away, eyes were on the goings-on in London’s Wembley Stadium where Copa America holders, Argentina, demolished Euro holders, Italy, 3-0 in the revived CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions dubbed the Finalisima. The match seemed eerily one-sided as the South Americans brought their full first string while Italy mostly fielded their second string with a few starters sprinkled in. It was as if Argentina came to win and Italy to play. Nevertheless, while Lionel Messi did not score, he was the man of the match with his contagious tenacity, sublime skill, assists, and new-found leadership by example, all on display. No one needs to think twice, the Argentines are feeling it—they believe it’s their cup to win later this winter.
Rounding off the day, the USA defeated Morocco decisively, 3-0, in a match where Christian Pulisic stamped his pedigree’s authority with a world-class assist and then underlined his leadership role ceding a penalty kick to Haji Wright on his USMNT debut. The US is rounding out its team and with many an experiment on the pitch, they still managed to pull off a good performance. This bodes well for the team’s morale and thus their future. But unless their coach, Gregg Berhalter, can settle on a starting lineup and his top 6th men on the bench the USA could crash out earlier than they deserve at Qatar.
Yesterday, the Czech Republic defeated visiting Switzerland 2-1 in a Nations League fixture which reminded the Swiss that the Czechs could easily have been the ones traveling to Qatar later this coming winter. The Swiss learned they have some things to shore up between now and November.
Spain, fielding most of its starters and Portugal keeping most of its starters on the bench or at home, drew 1-1 at Estadio Benito Villamarin in Sevilla in their Nations League match. It was obvious that Spanish coach, Luis Enrique, has a pretty good feel for how the team will play in Qatar and is fine-tuning the few second-stringers likely to see playing time later this year. Portugal, though, seemed all over the place if not performing badly. But they have a ways to go to get themselves clicking on all cylinders.
In Serbia, Erling Haaland’s 26th minute goal allowed Norway to showcase what might have been in a 1-0 away win. Serbia, on the other hand, should remember their qualification came at the largess of a disallowed Cristiano Ronaldo goal which the world saw as a fair score, but the ref did not. If not for that reversal Portugal would have qualified and Serbia would have been playing wildcard games for its life. This match should be a wake-up call for the Serbians who have much to shore up over the next five-plus months.
In CONCACAF Nations League play, hosts Panama defeated Costa Rica 2-0. The game saw CR dominate the first half hitting the crossbar at the three- minute mark, missing an open goal when the keeper went out hunting butterflies at the 16th minute, and again messing up a 50th-minute breakaway. As is often the case, a minute later Panama scored. The second goal came at the 75th minute. At the 77th minute, the score should have been 3-0 as Panama began dominating the match and missed an open goal when the CR keeper was caught out. A few minutes later Panama scored a third goal, but the tally was disallowed for offsides, though replays showed there was no such infraction. If Costa Rica want to qualify for Qatar against OFC’s New Zealand, they have work to do. They should also watch this Sunday’s Peru-New Zealand friendly.
Also yesterday, at State Farm Stadium, in Glendale, Arizona, Uruguay outclassed and defeated Mexico 3-0 with Edinson Cavani scoring a brace. It would not be hyperbole to say one team is ready to go to Qatar now and the other is fortunate to have months of preparation still available.
Finally, in Seoul’s World Cup Stadium, Brazil scored at the seventh, forty-second, fifty-seventh, eightieth, and ninety-plus-three to defeat an outclassed Korea Republic team 5-1. The game was tied 1-1 at the 30th minute but it took South Korea’s opening goal before Brazil moved up a gear to tie the match and then came out in the second half with a changed attitude to win it.
The Selecao employed a number of lineups, experimenting all night long, and welcoming Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho back into the fold. The returning players’ reaction, each scoring a goal, was just what Brazilian coach, Tite, was looking for, while on the settled side of the ledger Neymar coolly scored two penalties. South Korea is not a world power like Italy or Uruguay so the ease with which the Brazilians won was not impressive. The team has serious issues to settle roster-wise, in terms of tactics, and above all in terms of attitude.