Daniel Victor

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:33 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:33 a.m. ET

Image

Credit…Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

MAR flag

Morocco

CRO flag

Croatia

Flashes of brilliance! Bursts of energy! They’re things you’ll find in other games, and there were a few in this one. But there were no goals, and that produced a largely unsatisfying 90 minutes of soccer, and a 0-0 draw. There was little to get your heart racing.

Croatia, one of the tournament’s more veteran squads, began the game looking more old than experienced. They began to wake up in the final minutes of the first half and looked slightly more alive in the second, but none of their chances were particularly frightening, despite holding possession for 65 percent of the time.

Morocco had more sparks of danger, but the Croatian goalkeeper had little to fear. Achraf Hakimi uncorked a powerful strike on a free kick, briefly looking like it could be dangerous, but it flew straight to the goalkeeper and the sheet remained clean.

Group F was already thought to be perhaps the most inscrutable group of the tournament, and the draw brings no further clarity. The other members of the group, Belgium and Canada, play later Wednesday.

Rory Smith

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:23 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:23 a.m. ET

Slowly, quietly, Argentina’s players made their way back to their training camp in Doha, away from Lusail, away from a place they will never want to see again but where they will hope, more than anything, to return.

Nobody on that journey wanted to talk. The only voice was that of Lionel Messi, urging his devastated teammates to remain united, reminding them that even after defeat against Saudi Arabia, their fate is still in their hands. When they reached the hotel, Lionel Scaloni and his coaching staff told the players that, for once, their postgame meal was optional. If they did not feel like talking, they could stay in their rooms, to contemplate, to grieve.

Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia may, in time, come to be seen as the worst in the country’s history, beyond even the embarrassment of Cameroon in 1990. It is scant solace, but it should not go down as the greatest shock in the World Cup’s history: It is not of the order of the United States beating England in 1950 and North Korea overcoming Italy in 1966.

It is, though, a stark warning to the three European heavyweights who enter the contest today that nothing can be taken for granted. None of Spain, Germany and Belgium came into this tournament with expectations quite as high as Argentina, admittedly.

Spain, with only the apparently immortal Sergio Busquets remaining from the team that won the World Cup in 2010, is young and energetic, but inexperienced; Belgium’s age is seen as its weakness, the sense being that its moment has come and gone. Germany has the air of a team in transition.

Their opponents, too, will have been heartened by Saudi Arabia’s achievements. Costa Rica made the quarterfinals eight years ago; why should it fear Spain? Canada has not been here since 1986 but has two genuinely exciting stars to unsettle the Belgians’ creaking defense. Japan has a squad with plenty of experience in Europe. They all, in fact, have advantages that Saudi Arabia did not. If the Saudis could cause a shock, what is to stop anybody else?

Ben Shpigel

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Image

Credit…Julio Cortez/Associated Press

How to watch: 11 a.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

Matchups: One of the youngest teams in the field, Spain brims with one-named stalwarts in the midfield, from Pedri to Rodri to Gavi, who will thrust into the attacking third and stay there. At some point, though, Spain would be wise to relinquish the ball by shooting it — on goal, ideally — and it figures they will have plenty of opportunities to do so.

However, never, ever underestimate Costa Rica, which reached the 2014 quarterfinals and still features the elite goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, and top attacking threat, Joel Campbell, who powered that surprising joyride. Los Ticos will not control possession against Spain — in fairness, who does? — but they have the potential to absorb all means of pressure and then swipe a result off the counterattack.

Ben Shpigel

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Image

Credit…John Sibley/Reuters

How to watch: 8 a.m. Eastern. FS1, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

Matchups: Germany abounds with playmaking talent up front and in the midfield, but it is the back line that will dictate, to a degree, whether it flops or flourishes. Beyond Antonio Rudiger, the Germans are sturdy if not spectacular defensively, and that variability could benefit patient teams willing to wait and probe for mistakes.

Like, for instance, Japan, which would surprise few from Cologne to Leipzig if it emerges with, at worst, a draw in this match. Its strength is in the collective, not in any individual superiority, though Japan must contend with a relative paucity of finishing options up top. Many players compete in the Bundesliga and are familiar with their German counterparts.

Ben Shpigel

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:09 a.m. ET

Image

Credit…Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

How to watch: 2 p.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

Matchups: Despite never progressing beyond the World Cup semifinals, Belgium’s so-called golden generation remains in its waning stages a pleasure to watch, with Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard capable of wondrous feats of sorcery every time they touch the ball.

But a reliable, if older, back line headlined by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld could be vulnerable against the speed, speed and speed of Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan, who thrive in transition and have the capacity, if not the certainty, to make Canada’s first World Cup match in 36 years a surprising delight.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *