After each matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.
Here’s what happened on Thursday in Qatar, in case you missed it…
Teams moving on: Morocco and Croatia (Group E), Japan and Spain (Group F)
Eliminated teams: Belgium and Canada (Group E), Germany and Costa Rica (Group F)
Round of 16 matches: Morocco vs. Spain and Germany vs. Croatia
MAIN TALKING POINT
Canada heads home with thoughts of ‘what might’ve been’
To be sure, Canada made history in Qatar. Alphonso Davies’ goal against Croatia, the first by a Canadian men’s team at a FIFA World Cup, will go down as one of the most iconic moments in Canadian soccer. For the better part of three games, Canada went toe-to-toe with three nations ranked in the world top 25. The Reds finished fourth in the Group F table after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Morocco, but John Herdman’s players can hold their heads high after playing with such spirit and putting in a solid competitive showing over the course of the group stage.
At the same time there will be genuine disappointment from the Canadian team over not picking up a point in Qatar, which means it has now lost all six of its matches at the World Cup, the joint-worst 100 per cent losing record in the history of the men’s competition alongside El Salvador. There will be questions about some of coach John Herdman’s squad selections and tactics, including playing Alphonso Davies as a right wingback vs. Morocco and deploying only two central midfielders against Croatia’s world-class trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić.
There’ll also be some painful Canadian reflections over what might have been in Qatar. What if Davies buried that early penalty in its opening game vs. Belgium? What if the Canadians were able to make their domination of the Belgians count for something in the form of a few goals? What if Herdman had his team take a more conservative approach after going up 1-0 against Croatia? What if hadn’t insisted his side play so openly against Modrić and his cohorts?
What if Milan Borjan didn’t commit that gaffe that resulted in Morocco taking the lead after four minutes? What if Atiba Hutchinson’s header which hit the crossbar was just a bit lower and tied things up in the 70th minute? “Two inches,” lamented Herdman in his post-match press conference. “Two inches from getting our first result.”
The margins between victory and defeat in international soccer are razor thin. Being able to close those margins is also one of the things that separates the game’s elite from the rest of the trailing pack. Canada came up short in too many key moments in Qatar. That cost Herdman’s side dearly, especially as it already had to overcome a significant quality gap between themselves and their three group stage opponents. It’s a lesson the Canadian team will be well-advised to learn in four years’ time when it co-hosts the next World Cup and when even more media scrutiny will be on them.
European giants Belgium and Germany bow out
Two of international soccer’s big boys are headed home early from Qatar after both Belgium and Germany were officially eliminated on Thursday. It has to be said: the tournament won’t suffer because of their absences.
The Belgians, ranked No. 2 in the world, were positively dreadful and their four-point haul flattered them. Kevin De Bruyne and this team of superstars failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype that pegged this collection of Belgian players as a “Golden Generation.” A 1-0 win over Canada had more to do with the wastefulness of John Herdman’s side than the Belgians’ quality. A 2-0 loss to a far superior Morocco followed, and their abysmal run came to an end with a goalless draw against Croatia. Flat and insipid from the opening kickoff of their first game to the final whistle of their last match, the Belgians can have no complaints about their premature exit.
As for Germany, it suffered the humiliation of back-to-back group stage exits at the World Cup for the first time in their glorious history. Scoring goals wasn’t the problem for the Germans – they found the back of the net six times. But they also conceded five times, and failed to record a single clean sheet. A pedestrian effort in an opening 2-1 loss to Japan was made worse by an equally uninspiring performance in a 1-1 draw with Spain, a game that put them behind the eight ball. Thursday’s 4-2 victory over Costa Rica was too little and too late, as the decisive blow for the four-time World Cup winners came when they couldn’t beat Spain on matchday 2.
GOAL OF THE DAY
After winning back possession inside its half in the 10th minute, Germany launched a quick counter-attack that ended with David Raum delivering a fabulous cross into the box for Serge Gnabry, whose header nestled inside the far post as Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas helplessly looked on.
MOMENT OF THE DAY
Alphonso Davies going into the stands at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium to hug his parents:
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s been the first time in a long time of being here,” Herdman said after the game. “We’d like to have been here longer, that’s for sure. But we’ve enjoyed the ride.” – Canadian coach John Herdman
SIX PACK OF STATS
• In Morocco and Senegal, two African sides have made it past the group stage of a men’s World Cup for just the second time (Algeria and Nigeria in 2014). Morocco is the first African nation to finish top of its group since Nigeria in 1998.
• Canada has been involved in the only two goals scored in the opening five minutes so far in this World Cup (Alphonso Davies 2′ vs. Croatia, Hakim Ziyech 4′ today vs. Canada).
• Belgium has failed to progress to the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time since 1998.
• Germany’s Manuel Neuer played in his 19th World Cup game, becoming the all-time leader in appearances for goalkeepers in the history of the men’s competition.
• French referee Stephanie Frappart is the first woman to take charge of a men’s World Cup game after handling Germany vs. Costa Rica. FIFA also assigned two women as assistants to Frappart – Neuza Back of Brazil and Mexico’s Karen Diaz Medina – to complete the first all-female refereeing team at the men’s World Cup.
• Alvaro Morata is the second player to score in his first three World Cup appearances for Spain’s men’s team, after Telmo Zarra in 1950.
Stats courtesy of Opta
THREE STARS OF THE DAY
1) Serge Gnabry (Germany): He scored one goal and set up another in a fabulous performance that still wasn’t good enough to send Germany to the next round.
2) Kai Havertz (Germany): He came off the bench in the 66th minute and went on to score two goals over a 12-minute span.
3) Achraf Hakimi (Morocco): Completed 81 per cent of his passes and made four tackles, while also collecting an assist on his team’s winning goal against Canada.
LOOKING AHEAD TO FRIDAY
The group stage comes to an end with four final games on Friday. Ghana faces Uruguay and South Korea goes up against Portugal (10:00 a.m. ET) in Group H, with the Africans in pole position to join the Portuguese in the next round. In Group G, Brazil plays Cameroon and Serbia squares off against Switzerland, where a win by the Swiss would allow them to join the Brazilians in the round of 16.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.