Friday, December 2, 2022

World Cup News: Round Of 16 Set; Belgium Out; Germany Out; Mexico Out; Szczensy Saves Poland; Japan Strikes Back; Morocco Tops Group; South Korea Leaves It Late; Pulisic Fitness Key to US Chances

An era would appear to be over for Belgium as its Golden Generation exited the World Cup after a goalless draw with Croatia. The Belgians strangely played passively in the first half of a match it desperately needed to win. That changed in the second half with the insertion of Romelu Lukaku as teammates repeatedly found the imposing striker in the opponent’s box. Unfortunately, the one-time Premier League star missed on numerous chances and collapsed in tears after the match as Kevin De Bruyne’s prediction that Belgium was too old to win a World Cup proved true. Belgian Manager Roberto Martinez announced he would no longer continue as Belgium’s manager after a six-year run which delivered no major trophies despite a star-studded roster.

Few would have predicted that it would be Morocco which won the group which included traditional powers Belgium and Croatia.

Yet Morocco’s 2-1 victory over Canada, which included a goal by Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, clinched the top spot with Croatia advancing as runner-up. The Atlas Lions of Morocco return to the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time since 1986. Canada, meanwhile, exited the competition by losing a third straight match and failing to put a shot on target versus the Moroccans.

Germany failed to make it out of the group stage for a second consecutive World Cup despite a 4-2 win over Costa Rica. Japan’s 2-1 win over Spain meant that Germany would have need to score five more goals to win a tiebreaker with Spain. A second half brace by Chelsea’s Kai Havertz proved too little too late for Germany in this tournament.

Japan, meanwhile, rebounded from a disappointing loss to Costa Rica to shock Spain with a controversial goal which clinched the group’s top spot for the Blue Samurai. Controversy surrounded whether the ball had gone out of play before the cross which led to Japan’s winner. The 51st minute goal stood after VAR review and the Japanese defended furiously over the balance of the second half to finish as the surprising group winners, Spain advancing as runners-up.

Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler had the winner as Switzerland defeated Serbia 3-2 to qualify as runner-up to Brazil in their group. Brazil had already clinched the group before a surprising 1-0 final group match loss to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Former Stoke and Liverpool player Xherdan Shaqiri scored the opening goal for the Swiss to join Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the only three players to score a goal in each of the last three World Cups.

Wolverhampton’s Hwang Hee-Chan scored in stoppage time to put South Korea through to the next round with a 2-1 win over Portugal. Hwang’s goal eliminated Uruguay from the tournament despite the South American side’s 2-0 win over Ghana. Uruguay players were seen following the referee down the tunnel after the match, much of the emotion focused on an uncalled penalty on a perceive foul on Edinson Cavani. An additional goal would have moved Uruguay past South Korea in the qualification battle. Cavani and former Liverpool star Luis Suarez have now probably played their last World Cup match.

Mexico was eliminated from the tournament in similarly heartbreaking fashion as it failed to advance to the World Cup Round of 16 for the first time since 1978. Mexico defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 but needed one additional goal to have secured qualification. The frantic Mexicans took 26 shots and put 11 on target for the match but failed to find that final goal which would have given them the tiebreaker advantage over Poland to advance from the group. Poland owes its advancement to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny who made 11 saves and stopped a Lionel Messi penalty kick in a 2-0 loss to Argentina. Despite the loss, Poland advanced by the narrowest of margins on goal difference. Argentina received goals from Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez to clinch the top spot in the group and set up a Round of 16 meeting with Australia on Saturday.

Knockout play begins earlier that day when the US matches up against the Netherlands. The Dutch have been getting needed goals from PSV winger Cody Gakpo while relying on a stalwart defense led by Liverpool center back Virgil Van Dijk. The US chances could hinge on the fitness of Christian Pulisic who suffered a pelvic injury on the winning goal for the Americans versus Iran. Pulisic, as well as striker Josh Sargent, are listed as day to day after suffering injuries in the US victory.

England returns to action Sunday in an elimination match against Senegal which impressively made it out of the group stage despite the absence of injured former Liverpool star Sadio Mane.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment: