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 Saturday in Qatar, in case you missed it…
MAIN TALKING POINTS
Les Bleus book their spot in round of 16
France clearly means business in Qatar. Rather than wait until Matchday 3 to clinch a spot in the round of 16, the defending World Cup champions took care of things early with its second Group D win in a row on Saturday. In doing so, Les Bleus became the first nation to advance to the knockout stage in Qatar. World Cup holders haven’t fared so well at the past few tournaments, but France has bucked that trend, becoming the first reigning World Cup champion to reach the knockout stages since Brazil in 2006.
Didier Deschamps’ side has played some stylish soccer at this competition, but they’ve also shown a great deal of grit in rolling up their sleeves when they have to get the job done. After going down 1-0 to Australia only nine minutes into their match earlier this week, the French quickly settled down, took control of the match and scored four unanswered goals to turn back the challenge of the Socceroos. On Saturday, Denmark frustrated France’s sparkling attack for an hour before Kylian Mbappé finished off a sweeping move by the World Cup champions, poking the opening goal past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
To their great credit, the Danes fought back and equalized just seven minutes later. A stalemate appeared to be in the cards, but then Mbappé netted the winner with four minutes left in regulation off a sublime cross from Antoine Griezmann. Mbappé made history with the brace — he became only the second man to score seven World Cup goals before his 24th birthday. The other is Pelé, which should tell you all you need to know about the Paris Saint-Germain star.
Even with six goals and a pair of wins from two games, France hasn’t fully hit its stride in Qatar. They’ve played some excellent soccer thus far, and yet, you can tell from watching them that they could still shift into a higher gear. A former World Cup winner as a player, Deschamps knows the value of “tournament management,” and understands that this is a marathon, not a sprint. One can’t help wondering how dangerous the French will look once the knockout stage of the competition begins.
Magical Messi helps keep Argentina alive
Argentina looked to be on its deathbed in Qatar following a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in its Group C opener earlier this week, a result that stands as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Though Lionel Messi scored from the penalty spot, questions were asked of the 35-year-old after the loss to the Saudis, and whether both he and his battered team could pick itself up, dust itself off and rebound for Saturday’s match, knowing that a loss would send them crashing out of the tournament after only two games.
The answer, as it turned out, was an emphatic YES! Argentina’s World Cup campaign was taken off of life support thanks in large part to the magical Messi, who put his nation’s hopes on his shoulders and brilliantly carried the load. With his team facing elimination squarely in the face, the Argentine ace conjured a sensational goal out of nothing, beating Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa with a shot from distance through traffic after taking a touch to create half a yard of space for himself. The goal came after the Mexicans frustrated Messi and his Argentine cohorts for just over an hour with their smothering play in midfield and a steely five-man defence.
The result still hung in the balance until the dying minutes when Messi fed Enzo Fernández, who then curled a gorgeous shot from inside the box past the diving reach of Ochoa and into the far corner of the net. It was the least the South Americans deserved on the night after relentlessly trying to pry open the Mexican’s bend-but-don’t-break back line. Messi has now scored as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona (eight), and only needs two more to eclipse Gabriel Batistuta as his team’s overall top scorer at the tournament.
Maradona had a penchant for coming through in the clutch in the biggest moments during his playing days, leading Argentina to important victories with his skill on the ball and his leadership. Like the former Boca Juniors star, Messi has been the one that Argentina has consistently turned to for a bit of inspiration since he made his international debut as a teenager in 2005. In so many pressure-filled moments, Messi is the one who has had to find answers to the biggest problems facing his country. He did it again on Saturday, and the soccer-crazy nation of Argentina owe him another debt of thanks.
GOAL OF THE DAY
In the 64th minute with the game tied at 0-0, Lionel Messi took a quick touch from Angel Di Maria’s pass from the right wing and then drove a low shot from 25 yards out through traffic inside the penalty area and into the bottom corner.
MOMENT OF THE DAY
After failing to score in any of his four previous games for Poland at the World Cup, veteran striker Robert Lewandowski finally came through in the 82nd minute when he scored his 77th career goal for his country to seal an important win.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I actually was messaging some of my family, saying that I was going to score today, and I told my son that I was going to be able to share this moment with him and get that celebration. I haven’t seen it yet but apparently, he did it back to me from the stadium, which was a really special moment that I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.” — Mitchell Duke on his celebration after scoring Australia’s winning goal. He formed a “J” with his fingers in honour of his son Jaxson who was in the stadium for the game.
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Australia’s only other clean sheet at the World Cup came when it battled Chile to a 0-0 draw in 1974 in West Germany.
• There were five yellow cards shown in the first half of Poland-Saudi Arabia, the most in the opening half of a World Cup match since the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands.
• Robert Lewandowski is the first Polish player to score and record an assist in a single World Cup match since Janusz Kupcewicz vs. France in 1982.
• France has won six consecutive World Cup games for the first time in its history, while it is the first team to do so in the tournament since Spain in 2010.
• Lionel Messi played in his 21st World Cup game on Saturday, tying him with Diego Maradona as Argentina’s all-time appearance leader at the tournament.
• Enzo Fernández (21 years and 313 days) is the youngest Argentina player to score a goal at the World Cup since Lionel Messi against Serbia in 2006 (18 years and 357 days).
Stats courtesy of Opta
SPORTSNET IN QATAR
Sportsnet.ca contributor Peter Galindo is in Qatar covering the World Cup. He was at Saturday’s match between Argentina and Mexico and took notice of the electric fan atmosphere even before the game even kicked off:
THREE STARS OF THE DAY
1) Kylian Mbappé, France: The PSG star tormented the Danish defence with his movement with the ball at his feet and bagged a brace to take his tally at this tournament to three goals.
2) Lionel Messi, Argentina: The Argentine ace scored on a magical strike and then set up another goal to pump new life into his team’s hopes of advancing to the round of 16.
3) Wojciech Szczęsny, Poland: The Juventus goalkeeper made a brilliant double save on a Saudi penalty in the 41st minute and another important save from close range in the second half to earn his second clean sheet of this World Cup.
LOOKING AHEAD TO SUNDAY
Canada will be facing an early World Cup exit squarely in the face when it takes on Croatia (11:00 a.m. ET) in All Rayyan in Group F action. A loss against the Europeans would eliminate John Herdman’s side after only two matches, so they need a win or a draw to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the knockout round. Can the Canadians rebound after totally dominating Belgium in a 1-0 loss earlier this week? Will they score their first goal and earn their first point at the World Cup? Sunday’s other marquee matchup sees Spain and Germany (2:00 p.m. ET) in Group E. The Germans could also be eliminated tomorrow with a loss if Japan beats Costa Rica in the other Group E match earlier in the day.
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.