World Cup roundup, Day 4: Mixed fortunes for giants, Canada can be proud
The 2022 World Cup is in full swing. At the end of every matchday, we'll review the biggest talking points emanating from Qatar and break down all the action on the pitch. Below, we look back on Day 4 of the tournament.
Dominant play counts for nothing
Argentina and Germany dominated their opponents in every statistical category but one: the scoreline. Argentina lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia before Japan upended Germany by the same score. Just like that, two of the World Cup's biggest teams fell behind the count, taking nothing from games they had controlled from start to finish.
Argentina's 2.14 expected goals significantly dwarfed Saudi Arabia's 0.13. Germany also fired 26 shots to Japan's 11, controlled 74% possession, and made nearly three times the passes its 24th-ranked foes could manage. None of it mattered.
That's the World Cup. It's a 28-day sprint with very little margin for error, a tournament driven by results, not style and panache. Teams that can combine the two are few and far between.
Argentina is lucky Poland and Mexico played out a goalless draw. The loss to Saudi Arabia could have left La Albiceleste three points from the top two places. Now that it sits just a point behind Poland and Mexico in Group C, Argentina can forge a path forward.
Germany has a much more difficult path ahead. With Spain and Japan on three points apiece, Die Mannschaft must win against La Roja on Sunday or risk being eliminated just two games into the group stage.
Moroccans tenacious but toothless
Walid Regragui has only been in charge of Morocco for three months, but the organization of his team in its goalless World Cup opener against 2018 finalist Croatia was yet another addition to a fine coaching resume. After only starting his managerial career in 2014, he's won two league titles in Morocco, the Moroccan Throne Cup, Qatar's first division, and the African Champions League.
Morocco's approach was studied and certainly conservative at Al Bayt Stadium. Aside from a couple of passes that gifted Croatia the ball in dangerous areas, Sofyan Amrabat's combativeness and overall energy set the tone in the middle of the park. Morocco packed the center, sometimes forcing Luka Modric behind his own defenders as he sought the space required to influence proceedings.
Vast chasms weren't left on either side for Croatia's widemen, though. Hakim Ziyech attempted three tackles as he and Sofiane Boufal withdrew from the frontline out of possession, doubling up with the full-backs to ensure opposing forces like Ivan Perisic were largely ineffectual.
Chances were at a premium for Croatia - but there was also little to indicate the goals would be flowing for Morocco at any point in this tournament. The Atlas Lions mustered two shots on target during the opening 15 minutes of the second half, and that was it.
Even with Ziyech, Boufal, or promising youngster Abdessamad Ezzalzouli given more license to roam against Belgium or Canada, will the goals arrive? Striker Youssef En-Nesyri counter-pressed well, but with two goals in around 16 months for Sevilla, he's not full of confidence in Qatar. His replacement against Croatia, Abderrazak Hamdallah, has an impressive scoring record away from the international stage, albeit in the top tiers of Morocco, Norway, China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
This Morocco team won't engage many neutrals with free-scoring football, but it could progress from Group F on the back of Regragui's management and a little luck in front of goal.
Spain restores order with merciless win
Things couldn't have gone any better for Spain.
After two days that featured a pair of results once thought inconceivable, Spain did its part to restore order with an emphatic win over Costa Rica in Wednesday's Group E contest.
Hopes of the CONCACAF nation potentially following in the footsteps of World Cup giant slayers, such as Saudi Arabia and Japan, only lingered during the aftermath of Germany's shocking defeat. Because after kickoff, Luis Enrique's men immediately wiped out any chance of another upset with a suffocating attacking scheme that their shell-shocked opponents couldn't handle.
Most of Costa Rica's struggles stemmed from Spain playing with a false nine. Defenders were often out of position and struggled to determine when to press or drop back as Spain opened a commanding 3-0 lead after 31 minutes. Instead of taking its foot off the gas in the second half, Spain stepped it up a level to bang in another four goals in a 7-0 win that matches Costa Rica's worst-ever defeat.
If there was any doubt before, the 2010 World Cup winner certainly looks to have found its rhythm heading into Sunday's heavyweight tilt against a reeling Germany team. Regardless of Costa Rica's quality - or lack of it - the lopsided result reminds the world why Spain is among the favorites to win it all in Qatar.
New heroes for Canada despite defeat
Numerous unexpected heroes emerged as Canada traversed qualification to this World Cup. It wasn't all about Alphonso Davies - the Bayern Munich star missed seven of his country's 20 qualifiers - as other players rose to prominence, such as Stephen Eustaquio and Tajon Buchanan. But the standout narratives of that run arguably belonged to the unsung heroes - the grafters and those written off earlier in their careers - who earned themselves cult followings through their performances.
And that continued in Canada's unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Belgium. The likes of Sam Adekugbe and Alistair Johnston got rave reviews during qualifying, and then on the biggest stage of all, it was Kamal Miller and Richie Laryea who rose to the fore.
Miller, part of the central defense that has drawn the most concern from critics and fans, was colossal at the back for John Herdman's side. He raced across his defensive third to thwart numerous Belgian attacks, throwing his body on the line with last-gasp tackles and heroic blocks. It's no exaggeration to dub this one of the finest defensive displays so far at this tournament.
Laryea had a point to prove. He didn't make the grade at Nottingham Forest, loaned back to Toronto FC in August after under seven months with the English club, but he gave Belgium a torrid time in Ar-Rayyan. In 74 minutes, he produced four key passes, won two tackles, and blocked a shot as he thrived on both sides of the ball. He was irrepressible at times, at one point shoving Yannick Carrasco aside as he journeyed upfield once more.
Carrasco and Youri Tielemans were both substituted at the interval. Belgium was shook.
The cruel fact is Canada didn't covert any of its 21 attempts on goal. The loss could signal the start of Canada's farewell to Qatar: Croatia and Morocco are up next, and they proved their defensive stubbornness in their 0-0 draw earlier in the day.
However, this World Cup is about growth ahead of co-hosting the 2026 tournament. It's about giving a young team valuable experience. It's about making a country proud. And Canada is already succeeding on all counts.
Kane training despite injury concern
England captain Harry Kane is training ahead of Friday's much-anticipated meeting with the United States. The marksman needed a scan after injuring his right ankle during the Three Lions' 6-2 win over Iran to begin their World Cup campaign and has been troubled by ankle issues throughout his career. Gareth Southgate doesn't boast much striking depth, with Newcastle United's Callum Wilson and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford the likeliest players to assume the No. 9 role should Kane miss out.
Canada caught Belgium off guard
Roberto Martinez offered clear evidence outlining how Canada unexpectedly made life difficult for Belgium after Wednesday's narrow win. The Red Devils head coach had nothing but positive things to say about the Group F opponent, conceding that Canada was "better than us in what we wanted to do." Martinez added that Canada's style forced Belgium to adopt a new strategy. "To be fair, we had to show another side of our play. I'm delighted because we won the game through grit and experience."
Germany's World Cup protest
German players took part in a silent protest against FIFA before Wednesday's loss to Japan. During a team picture, members of Hansi Flick's team covered their mouths in a show of defiance against the world football governing body's warning to several football federations that players would be punished for wearing "One Love" armbands - which are a symbol for unity and inclusion. Hick told reporters, "It was a sign from the team, from us, that FIFA is muzzling us."
Stat of the day
The future's bright for Spain.
Tweet of the day
Versatile Canadian Junior Hoilett is 32 years old.