Today, in Group F play of Qatar’s World Cup 2022, Morocco defeated Belgium 2-0 while Croatia beat Canada 4-1. The African upset over the Europeans was highly unexpected yet deserved while the European win over the Americans was expected and particularly well-earned.
In today’s earlier game Morocco outplayed a tired, distracted, and at times dispirited Belgium. The Red Devils seemed unable to control the match and when they did have possession and their few good plays the Moroccan defenders were more than up to the task of blunting the Belgian’s efforts. All match long it seemed Roberto Martinez did not have the pulse of the match or the knack to bring in the right subs to make a difference. On the other side of the field, Morocco was having an easier time getting at the Europeans’ penalty area and that facility seemed to increase as the game progressed, while Belgium’s starters seemed unable to switch into their top gear to put the match away.
At the 73rd minute, Romain Saiss bamboozled Thibault Courtois with a direct shot from an acute angle when the Moroccans seemed to be setting up for a cross from the awarded free kick. The ball bounced past the melee of players in front of him and past a prone Courtois who seemed to have lost his bearings.
At the 90+2 Hakim Ziyech had his moment and in a pretty play was able to dribble toward the goal line from close in and then turn to feed Zakaria Aboukhlal who one-timed a shot into the upper ninety leaving Courtois with nothing to do but react and he did not do so in time. Morocco 2-0 Belgium, game over and win well-earned.
In their Group F match, Croatia outplayed Canada for all but the first fifteen minutes of the first half. The Canadians came out like gangbusters and overwhelmed the Croatians and in the second minute of the match, a great cross from Tajon Buchanan found Alphonso Davies streaking down the middle of the Croatian penalty area and outjumping the surprised European defense to head in Canada’s first World Cup goal and give the Americans the early lead.
But Croatia, who took another 10+ minutes to settle down finally did so and began to take control of the match with their superior midfield of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic. The combined efforts of the European team were just too much for the Americans and though Buchanan and Davies shined for Canada it was the entire Croatian team, Zlatko Dalic’s substitutes, and starters, who stood out as a unit to win the match. Link-2 profiles, gen-Cro
At the 36th-minute, Andrej Kramaric scored to bring the sides even and at 44th minute, Marko Livaja scored to give the Europeans a lead they would not relinquish. The second half was more frenetic as the Canadians looked to equalize, but that left them open in defense and the Croatians, who missed several easy scores, managed to tally at the 70th again via Kramaric and at the 90+4 via Lovro Majer to put the game to bed—Croatia 4-1 Canada.
The results ensure Croatia can qualify with a draw or win over Belgium in their final game, while Belgium need to beat Croatia to progress. Morocco need only draw with Canada, who has already been eliminated before that match begins, to move on to the Round of 16. At the end of Group Stage play, one European will have been eliminated.
In the final game of the day, Spain and Germany drew 1-1 in Group F, leaving Spain needing a draw or win over Japan to progress, while if Japan wins they progress. If Germany beats Costa Rica, they will have to wait to see what happens in the other game to know if they move on and if Costa Rica beats Germany they will progress. The Group could not possibly be any more open.
The game was a very tough, technical, and strategic match, as expected, but it was Hansi Flick who got the best out of his troops. The New-Look Young Spaniards scored at the 62nd minute off Luis Enrique’s choice for a substitute, the veteran Alvaro Morata, who’s beautiful, flicked redirect on the run, off veteran Jordi Alba’s cross opened the scoring. Meanwhile, Flick’s substitute, Nichals Fullkrug, drew the sides even at the 83rd minute with a close-range blast inside the Spanish penalty area. The game became frenetic for the remaining of regulation and stoppage time and the Germans squandered many opportunities to pull ahead while the Spaniards had a couple of chances snuffed.
The game should have been won by Germany who seemed to play the Spaniards even while having half of La Roja’s possession. At game’s end, the Germans had 11 shots/4 on target to the Spaniard’s 7 shots/3 on target. Unfortunately for Flick, his side managed to waste multiple scoring opportunities, some from point-blank range, and also had an Antonio Rudiger-headed goal ruled out for offsides.
The Spaniards have the easiest path forward while the Germans, once again underperforming, will need some good fortune to move on. It is very likely a pre-tourney favorite will be eliminated at the end of group play.
Photo: Alphonso Davies, Shutterstock ID: 1205284582, by Chris McPhee.