Today in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, South Korea defeated second-string Portugal 2-1, Uruguay defeated Ghana 2-0, Switzerland defeated Serbia 3-2, and Cameroon defeated second-string Brazil 1-0. The results ensured that in Group G Brazil and Switzerland advanced in that order and in Group H Portugal and South Korea advanced in that order. Brazil will face South Korea and Portugal will face Switzerland in the Round of 16.
FIFA President, Gianni Infantino could be seen at many of the matches wearing a suit and tie with tennis shoes and sitting on a plush seat that bore a nameplate with his title on it and came with a complimentary snack and drink basket on a stand next to his spacious seating area. Neymar and his similarly injured teammates watched from good but not fancy seats while all types of past soccer icons seemed to have plush seating available to watch the game.
Three of the four games played were exciting as their results were in contention, the fourth, a meaningless match for the overall tournament favorites, Brazil, served as an opportunity for their coach, Tite, to substitute nine starters and give them a rest before their upcoming match against South Korea. The final result, an embarrassment for the South Americans, was the African team’s high point in the tourney as they bowed out at the Group Stage. For the South Americans, the portent was real, they may have a good second string, but not a stellar one and it is the starters who need to be on the pitch come the knockout round.
The South Korea v Portugal match began with most Portuguese starters on the bench and Cristiano Ronaldo making a start in hopes of bolstering his scoring. He had several chances and muffed them all and was substituted in the second half. The Koreans needed the win and played like it and the Portuguese needed nothing and played like it with the exception of a few passages where they decided to try. In the fifth minute, Ricardo Horta scored the game’s opening goal and it took the Koreans 22 minutes to equalize.
In the second half, Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos, decided to bring in five subs but none had an impact, since, without the likes of Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, and Ruben Dias, the team seemed stale. All the while the Koreans, playing with most of their starters, were pushing for a win. In the 90+1-minute Son Heung-min took off on a breakaway and confronted two defenders who he held off for eons until Hwang Hee-chan arrived at the top of the penalty box with his marker. The Portuguese defender allowed Hwang the inside track to a simple through ball from Son and without even having to worry about Diogo Costa, or his marker, the Korean shot from close range for the win. Portugal were clearly stunned when they should not have been the Koreans wanted the win badly.
The embarrassing result for Portugal might have been a good wake-up call for their team as it reminded them, that as the French and Spanish before them and the Brazilians later in the day, he who soft pedals pays the piper.
In the Uruguay v Ghana match, both teams obtained a victory of sorts. The Uruguayans could not have entertained the idea that the Portuguese would lose so they played their best game of the tourney and won 2-0. But the Ghanaians got the last laugh since the win was not enough for the South Americans to progress. It must be said that toward the end of the match a foul on Edinson Cavani in the Ghana penalty area went uncalled and unchecked and had it been there was a good chance the trip that did occur would have been caught and Uruguay might still be in the tourney. At the final whistle, several Uruguayan players surrounded and harassed the game’s referee who was tracked into the locker rooms by several of the remonstrating players.
The most exciting game of the day was the Serbia v Switzerland match as the Serbs had been playing much better football coming into the cup than the higher-ranked Swiss. But the small Central European nation seems to know how to get under the skin of the Serbs and it showed in a very emotional up-and-down game.
The match’s opening score came in the 20th minute courtesy of Xheridan Shaqiri and six minutes later Aleksander Mitrovic had drawn the sides even. Dusan Vlahovic then put Serbia ahead at the 35th only to see Breel Embolo even things at the 44th. In the second half, a fast lead goal by Remo Freuler at the 48th was the final score as the contentious match (42 fouls and 11 yellow cards) but only two corners between the teams, boiled over when a foul in the Swiss penalty area was not called in favor of the Serbs. The Serb bench empties onto the pitch and the ref had to hand out multiple yellows to restore order. Unfortunately for the Serbs, replays would show there was no contact and they were lucky the striker’s dive was similarly not sanctioned.
The final ignominy of the day’s proceedings was the shirtless goal celebration by Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar, upon scoring against Brazil. Unfortunately for him, he had forgotten he was on a yellow. The American referee struck his heart twice with the palm of his hand (signifying his heartfelt sadness at what he had to do) and then he shook the Cameroonian player’s hand before lifting the yellow and then the red card above the Aboubakar’s head as he was sent off the pitch.
Photo: Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar, Shutterstock ID: 549887767, by Vlad1988.