World Cup roundup, Day 11: Chaos in Group C, Aussies surprise everyone
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 11 of the tournament.
Rooting for chaos nearly pays off
So, so close. As the final minutes ticked away in Wednesday’s concurrent Group C fixtures – Argentina against Poland and Mexico versus Saudi Arabia – every onlooker had their abacus in hand.
With Argentina and Mexico leading their respective games 2-0 heading into stoppage time, the battle for second place in the group was, incredibly, coming down to the seldom-used fair play tiebreaker. By picking up two fewer yellow cards in the tournament up to that point, the Polish were clinging to the second spot ahead of the Mexicans. The permutations were endless as social media ate up the drama and concocted zany scenarios that would result in Poland picking up more cards. Everyone – besides the Poles and Mexicans, who were chewing their fingernails – was rooting for chaos.
Had Poland received two more yellow cards, it would’ve taken a drawing of lots to determine who would join Argentina in the next round. Polish coach Czeslaw Michniewicz seemed acutely aware, substituting veteran midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak shortly after he was shown a yellow card – Poland’s fifth of the tournament.
The Poles almost looked frightened to make any challenge, fearing punishment from the referee. It nearly allowed Argentina to score a third goal, which would have eliminated them. The South American side was inches away, quite literally, from another score on multiple occasions.
All the while, Mexico was throwing players forward with reckless abandon while seeking a third goal against Saudi Arabia. Thanks to a combination of Saudi netminder Mohammed Al-Owais, a fractional – but correct – offside call, and some wayward shooting, it never arrived. The tension rose with each chance, shredding viewers’ nerves – even if you didn’t have a rooting interest in the outcome.
In the end, Salem Al-Dawsari’s late tally meant that goal difference, not the fair play tiebreaker, decided second place in the group in Poland’s favor. But that roughly 30-minute spell was the best – and most chaotic – of the tournament so far. Only the World Cup can deliver such high drama.
Denmark stung by measly firepower
Denmark was supposed to make an impact at this World Cup. An appetizing group-stage draw alongside Australia, Tunisia, and France – already having beaten the latter twice competitively in 2022 – only lifted the Danes’ confidence after their impressive run to the European Championship semifinals in 2021.
“We have some belief now that we can do things, that we are actually a really, really good team,” forward Martin Braithwaite told theScore before the tournament started. “So, I think we have gotten more confidence since the Euro competition, and it’s going to help us at the World Cup.”
Despite beginning its campaign with two disappointing results, Denmark still had its fate in its own hands going into Wednesday’s decisive clash with Australia. This match was between a nation ranked 10th in the world and a ragtag bunch that limped into the World Cup – rather than merely claiming a win, the result should’ve been a morale-boosting victory for Denmark ahead of the knockout rounds.
That wasn’t how things played out. Mathew Leckie’s twisting run and low accurate shot ended Denmark’s World Cup with a surprising bottom finish in Group D. There have been more shocking scorelines than Australia’s 1-0 triumph in Qatar, but Denmark’s overall performance certainly was unexpected.
Denmark’s results in Qatar
Accusatory fingers will point at Denmark’s attack, and rightly so. Kasper Hjulmand deployed two forwards in the opener, a lone forward against France, and then a three-man attack, but Andreas Skov Olsen’s tame scuffed effort against Australia was the only shot on target from any player in those six starting roles. Defender Andreas Christensen was the only Danish player to score at this World Cup.
Converting, rather than creating, is definitely the primary issue. Denmark finished its campaign with 27 key passes, which is 42% more than the Netherlands managed en route to finishing atop Group A.
The Danes must yearn for another Jon Dahl Tomasson or Allan Simonsen for this era because this tournament could’ve played out so differently with a clinical striker on the squad.
Mooy typifies Aussie spirit
Aaron Mooy risked his primary source of income in an effort to give Australia a final push into the World Cup.
The midfielder refused to report for preseason training with Shanghai Port FC in May over fears that a COVID-19 lockdown would prevent him from joining Australia for its crucial playoff fixtures. Mooy was earning almost $130,000 per week in the Chinese Super League, sources told The Sydney Morning Herald’s Dominic Bossi.
“I won’t release the details of what that took for Aaron, but he’s made a big sacrifice to be here with us,” Socceroos coach Graham Arnold said at the time.
Mooy’s dedication to his country has been evident in his showings in Qatar. Although the 32-year-old usually stands out for his technical ability and inventiveness in Australia’s midfield, he’s instead worked diligently without the ball. He put in two big challenges and smashed away four clearances in the 1-0 win over Denmark, and he was similarly obstinate in the clashes with France and Tunisia.
Sometimes you need your stars to sparkle, but sometimes you need them to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work. Mooy, unlike other veterans at this tournament, has adopted the latter rather than chasing the former.
Deschamps up to his old tricks
Didier Deschamps couldn’t help himself. With France already assured progression to the World Cup knockout stage, he made nine changes to his starting lineup for the group finale against Tunisia. France, so entertaining and enterprising in its opening two matches, was unrecognizable en route to a 1-0 defeat. This second-string lineup has never played together, and it showed. Midfield maestro Eduardo Camavinga, in particular, looked lost playing an unfamiliar left-back role – a struggle Blaise Matuidi understands.
It didn’t harm his team, ultimately – France still won the group thanks to a superior goal difference over surprise runner-up Australia – but it called Deschamps’ decision not to include Real Madrid standout Ferland Mendy into question, especially since he had an additional roster spot available after injury forced Karim Benzema out of the tournament.
More importantly, his sweeping changes threaten to derail a French squad that was humming along. Reducing injury risk and keeping players fit – especially amid such a congested schedule – is crucial, but there was undoubtedly a less disruptive way to accomplish that.
Then again, Deschamps will point to his track record to dispel concerns: He did the same thing four years ago, making several lineup changes in the group finale against Denmark. Les Bleus, of course, went on to hoist the trophy.
Argentina’s enticing path forward
Argentina’s defeat to Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent handwringing it inspired, already feels like a long time ago. The Albiceleste dominated Poland on Wednesday, dictating possession, swarming around the ball on the rare occasions it was lost, and crafting openings at will against an opponent that seemingly had no desire to attack. Argentina outshot Poland 24-3, holding Robert Lewandowski and Co. without an effort on target. It was an onslaught, and only Wojciech Szczesny’s brilliance kept the score close. That performance level is what everyone expected from a team that came into the tournament on a 36-match unbeaten run. Now confirmed as the Group C winner, Lionel Scaloni’s side has a higher chance of reaching the semifinals thanks to a somewhat forgiving bracket. Argentina will meet Australia in the round of 16 and, with a victory, would then take on either the Netherlands or United States for a place in the final four. If you offered Scaloni, Lionel Messi, and the entire country that option at the tournament’s start, they would have gladly accepted.
Canelo apologizes to Messi
Turns out Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was a little overzealous. Quick to chastise Messi on social media for what he believed to be an insult against his country, the Mexican boxer walked back his criticism on Wednesday after it was pointed out to him that Messi did nothing wrong with a Mexican jersey in the locker room after the two nations met in Qatar. “I was carried away by the passion and love I feel for my country, and I made comments that were out of place for which I want to apologize to Messi and the people of Argentina,” the world champion fighter said on Twitter. “Every day, we learn something new, and this time it was my turn.” So ends one of the more entertaining and unexpected off-field storylines of this World Cup.
Gerardo “Tata” Martino didn’t have many supporters among the Mexican fanbase before this tournament began. He’s struggled to regain some popularity since El Tri’s three defeats to the United States in 2021 – including in the finals of the Nations League and Gold Cup – and a team that continually wastes scoring chances is never going to endear itself to the public. Mexico belatedly looked dangerous in Wednesday’s scuffle with Saudi Arabia, but failing to add a third goal before Al-Dawsari’s gut punch deep into injury time should be the final straw. This isn’t the finest era for the Mexico men’s team, but it’s been playing considerably below expectations for some time. This will likely be the end of Tata’s tenure.
Herdman won’t ‘F’ off
John Herdman drew plaudits for Canada’s performance in its opening defeat to Belgium but then gained infamy in some quarters for declaring that his team would “F” Croatia. Well, Canada lost 4-1 to Croatia. Nevertheless, the Canucks ended a 36-year wait to return to the men’s World Cup, and the development of numerous young players in the national team camp meant that Herdman’s job was secure regardless of what happened in Qatar. The Englishman was also adamant about his desire to take Les Rouges “to the next level” and lead them at the 2026 World Cup during Wednesday’s press conference.
Stat of the day
If not for another incredible performance from Szczesny, Poland would already be heading home. In addition to spectacularly denying Messi’s thunderous spot-kick – his second penalty save of the tournament – the Juventus netminder thwarted eight other Argentine efforts on Wednesday.
Tweet of the day
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Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action
The Champions League last 16 rumbles on this week, as the first four quarterfinalists are being decided. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Chelsea finally find their confidence
For the first half hour of Chelsea’s pivotal Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund, scoring seemed like the most onerous task in the world. Raheem Sterling panicked when sent through on goal, dawdling when more confident strikers would do something – anything – to get the ball out from underneath them. Kai Havertz, who hadn’t scored in any of his last seven matches, struck the post, and the ball somehow skipped across the goal line and out of harm’s way. Chelsea created chances but couldn’t finish any of them.
Then something clicked. Sterling banged one home at what seemed like the 11th time of asking, lifting the heaviness around Stamford Bridge. Havertz retook the penalty he had missed, picking out the same bottom right corner he targeted with his first attempt.
In that half-hour stretch, Chelsea were a blur of motion. All they wanted to do was score. Even Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly joined the rush. You could hardly tell this side from the one that toiled to get on the scoresheet in previous fixtures. If not for a couple of marginal offside calls, they’d have won 4-0.
This was a long time coming. Chelsea hadn’t scored multiple goals in any match since Dec. 27. Injuries certainly played a part, but for the longest time, the west London side had no attacking impetus. The players didn’t create particularly much or defend particularly well.
But head coach Graham Potter stayed the course. He managed to keep spirits high in training – even while dealing with death threats sent to him and his family. You could tell his players were up for this game. Potter’s back three pressed high, choking Dortmund’s attack before it could really get going. Cucurella was particularly aggressive, playing the kind of defense-splitting passes few expected him to play from the left center-back position.
Chelsea could of course revert to their old habits over the coming games. But that flurry of action in the middle of the game promised better things to come.
Handball rule continues to divide
What exactly is a handball offense? The International Football Association Board, which issues the laws of the game, says a “deliberate” offense occurs when a player moves their hand or arm toward the ball. A player is also at fault if they make their body bigger when their hand or arm is in an unnatural position.
Neither of these things seemed absolutely, undoubtedly true when Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell struck Dortmund defender Marius Wolf’s hand just inside the penalty area. Wolf was turning away when the shot was taken, his head looking in the opposite direction, ruling out deliberate handball. His hand wasn’t necessarily in an unnatural position, either. The German full-back wasn’t flailing his arm or stretching it out to make his body bigger. He was turning away, and his arm was still reasonably close to his body. But because Chilwell shot a yard away, Wolf couldn’t pull his entire arm in time.
Ultimately, match official Danny Makkelie reviewed the footage on the pitchside monitor and determined enough was there to award a penalty. Was Wolf’s arm out? Yes, undoubtedly so, but the circumstances here created reasonable doubt. The original non-call was not, by definition, a clear and obvious error.
The biggest issue here is enforcement. ESPN’s de facto rules official, Dale Johnson, tweeted that “competitions differ” when these calls are made. “I doubt the VAR would give it in the Premier League,” Johnson added.
Former FIFA referee Manuel Grafe expressed frustration at the call as well, saying these interpretations cause a kind of “injustice.” Sometimes they’re given, and other times not.
Chelsea’s Kepa earning his keep in goal
Kepa Arrizabalaga is redeeming himself one save at a time. It has been a strange and confusing year and a half for Chelsea’s beleaguered goalkeeper, who’s gone from afterthought to undisputed starter without fuss or fanfare. The club had no choice but to turn to Kepa once Edouard Mendy fractured his finger in January. But Mendy was losing his grip on the job before that. The world’s best goalkeeper in 2021 made a series of errors over the following year, and his confidence plummeted. Kepa stepped in and performed reasonably well as the rest of his teammates struggled and made two key saves Tuesday to keep Dortmund at bay when they threatened to take a foothold in the match. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is in his second act as Chelsea’s No. 1, and it’s worth watching.
Injuries catch up to Dortmund
You can only overcome key injuries for so long. Eventually, they catch up to you. That’s not the sole reason Dortmund were beaten by Chelsea on Tuesday – the Blues, as outlined above, delivered their best performance in months – but, clearly, Dortmund’s list of absentees loomed large at Stamford Bridge. Missing Youssoufa Moukoko and Karim Adeyemi zapped Dortmund of any spark up front or ability to stretch the field and get behind the Chelsea backline. The latter, in particular, lit up the first leg with his spectacular solo goal. That type of gamebreaking ability was absent Tuesday as Dortmund were largely contained by Chelsea’s defense. Losing Julian Brandt in just the fifth minute to an apparent hamstring issue only compounded the matter; the creative German international was one of Dortmund’s best players during their now-snapped unbeaten run to start 2023. As a result, Sebastien Haller was mostly a non-factor in the match, touching the ball just once inside the Chelsea penalty area as Koulibaly neutralized his impact before he was taken off for the more mobile Donyell Malen in the 77th minute.
Benfica can beat anyone
Sleep on Benfica at your peril. Roger Schmidt’s team has been a bulldozer this season, the latest impressive outing coming in a 5-1 romp against Club Brugge that capped a dominant 7-1 aggregate triumph. As a result, the Portuguese giants are off to the Champions League quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Benfica haven’t missed a beat since selling star midfielder Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea in January; Goncalo Ramos is establishing new records seemingly every time he steps on the pitch, Joao Mario has scored in five consecutive Champions League matches, and the machine that Schmidt has built just keeps chugging along. Benfica, eight points clear at the top of the table in Portugal, will fancy their chances of beating absolutely anybody in the next round, especially at the Estadio da Luz, where they’re unbeaten this season, having won 16 of 18 matches across all competitions.
Parker’s time almost up
Scott Parker has been an unmitigated disaster at Club Brugge. The Belgian side fired Carl Hoefkens in late December despite a stirring run to the Champions League knockout stages, citing poor domestic form as the reason behind the decision, and then made the surprising decision to appoint Parker as his replacement. They would surely like a mulligan right about now. The Englishman has won just two out of his 12 matches at the helm, with the 7-1 aggregate hammering against Benfica the latest humbling setback. Benfica have been steamrolling nearly everything in their path this season, but the meekness of Brugge’s performance Tuesday signified a team totally lacking in confidence right now. Parker’s squad has tumbled to fourth in the Belgian top flight, a whopping 21 points adrift of first place, and the brightest point of the season – the inspiring Champions League run – ended with a harsh thud. The former Fulham and Bournemouth manager may have already overseen his final match with the Belgian outfit.
Stat of the day
Decent company for Graham Potter.
Tweet of the day
It’s been a tough season for Parker all around.
Report: USMNT's Reyna was almost sent home from Qatar over lack of effort
The mysterious lack of playing time for Giovanni Reyna was one of the major talking points before and after the United States men’s national team was knocked out of the 2022 World Cup.
Just over a week after the USMNT lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16, it’s been revealed that the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was nearly sent home during the tournament due to his alarming training performances, sources told The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal.
The 20-year-old reportedly showed a lack of effort as the United States trained for its World Cup opening game against Wales in November. His perceived disinterest continued in a pre-tournament scrimmage when Reyna was reported to have walked around for the majority of his time on the field.
U.S. teammates, including DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Long, addressed their concerns with Reyna after his disinterested body language continued in a post-Wales training session, The Athletic added. His teammates urged Reyna to change his attitude and involve himself more moving forward.
Reyna eventually addressed the situation during a video session when he apologized to teammates and coaches for his actions. The issue was thought to be resolved within the team after the apology, and Reyna returned to training as normal.
Gregg Berhalter seemingly referenced the situation during his appearance at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday.
“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” the USMNT head coach said. “One of 26 players, so it stood out.
“As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that’s how extreme it was. And what it came down to was we’re going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we’re going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.
“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”
Reyna’s agent told The Athletic it was “disappointing” that the situation has been made public.
“Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup,” agent Dan Segal said. “The situation, relationships, and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported.
“It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.”
Reyna finished the 2022 World Cup with two substitute appearances against England in the group stage and the Netherlands in the round of 16. The attacking midfielder has two goals in 10 Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund this season.
Biggest winners and losers from wildest World Cup group stage ever
Everyone, take a breath. A most remarkable World Cup group stage came to an appropriately thrilling conclusion on Friday, as the knockout round was solidified following several days of non-stop drama. Below, we look back on the opening round of the tournament in Qatar by examining the biggest winners and losers from the past fortnight.
Winners: Plucky underdogs
Who had Australia, Japan, Morocco, and South Korea on their bingo card?
Few outsiders gave these underdog nations a chance, and not just because of their chequered form heading into the tournament. Each of them drew opponents ranked inside the top 15, giving them little hope of advancing from – let alone topping – their groups, but they each found their own inner strength. Australia beat Denmark, Japan upset Germany and Spain, Morocco ousted Belgium, and South Korea stunned Portugal with a goal in the 91st minute. Those wins set them on their way to the round of 16.
Each of them relied on a strong defensive foundation to make history and scored goals off counters and high-pressing moves. But Japan stood out most from the chasing pack. Drawing strength from his substitutes, coach Hajime Moriyasu made in-game tactical adjustments to help his side knock off its heavily favored opponents. Japan ended up winning the group, and the team now has a chance to continue its unexpected run against Croatia.
Strictly on the pitch, Qatar entered the competition widely viewed as the worst host nation the World Cup had ever seen – and it proved to be so. The Qataris set several unfortunate benchmarks during their brief tournament debut, becoming the first host to lose its opening game and, eventually, finish the group stage without a point. Qatar, with three defeats and a minus-six goal differential, officially finished last of all 32 competing sides.
Myriad issues off the field, both before and during the event, created a dark cloud around this tournament. Organizers were hopeful the action on the pitch – and ideally, a surprise showing from Felix Sanchez’s team – would distract the world and change the conversation. It didn’t. Not in the slightest.
Winner: FIFA (as always)
The World Cup that banned alcohol inside stadiums turned out to be the drunkest tournament of all. You can’t make this up. Australia over Denmark. Poland hanging on by a thread in Group C. The absolute madness of Group E. South Korea’s last-gasp win that simultaneously created tears of joy for Heung Min-Son and despair for Luis Suarez and Uruguay. Nothing can match the drama of the World Cup, particularly during the final round of group matches when permutations are being scoured and fortunes are changing every minute with each goal. Anyone rooting for chaos was more than satisfied this week.
No matter what, we’re hooked. And FIFA knows it. Hopefully, football’s governing body realizes that the current format – with four-team groups – shouldn’t be tinkered with going into the expanded 2026 event. Asking FIFA to do the right thing may be a fool’s errand, but after seeing the unrivaled excitement this format generated over the past few days, surely Gianni Infantino and his cronies won’t ruin it. Right?
Losers: Belgium and Germany
Belgium, a rickety team very clearly on the decline coming into the World Cup, was always going to struggle, but few expected the Red Devils to be this bad. Roberto Martinez’s tenure – and the “Golden Generation” – came to an unceremonious end with a group-stage exit. Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t himself. Eden Hazard ran out of gas. Romelu Lukaku barely played. There were rumors of infighting and disharmony within the squad. Any way you slice it, Belgium’s ouster after scoring just once in three games was humbling.
Germany, on the other hand, can count itself somewhat unlucky. The Germans dominated against Japan but lost, tied Spain, and racked up four goals in a hectic victory over Costa Rica. And yet, Hansi Flick’s team still went home despite compiling the best expected goal difference of any side in the group stage. Undeserved? Possibly. But this is now the second consecutive World Cup in which Germany has fallen at the first hurdle. For a once-vaunted team, this was another sobering failure.
Winner: Marcus Rashford
With three goals thus far, Rashford enters the knockout round as one of the World Cup’s top scorers. While his efforts may have come against beatable opponents in Iran and Wales, the 25-year-old can nonetheless count himself as one of England’s most important players in Qatar.
Rashford’s come a long way over the last 12 months. His campaign against child hunger won him plaudits off the pitch, but his form at Manchester United dropped significantly. He only played a bit role in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, appearing mostly as a substitute, and faced racist abuse in the aftermath of his country’s defeat on penalties to Italy. Now, Rashford’s back to scoring goals, and given Harry Kane’s only struggles, that’s a very welcome development.
Loser: Gianni Infantino
FIFA president Infantino tried his best to defend Qatar, but he only made things worse. In his opening remarks, Infantino feigned sympathy for marginalized fans who felt unwelcome in Qatar and lashed out against the West over criticism of the host nation’s human rights transgressions. “Today, I feel gay,” the 52-year-old said in a flippant display that only inflamed tensions between FIFA and marginalized people. “This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” the Swiss added.
Infantino stood by as Qatar’s regime enforced a stadium ban on alcohol days before the start of the tournament, and FIFA then barred captains from wearing a rainbow-colored armband in support of the LGBTQ community. It all happened on Infantino’s watch. For a man who initially ran for president on a promise of “change,” he’s ensuring the governing body stays stagnant in its ways.
Winners: Ajax and PSV’s bank accounts
Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are laughing all the way to the bank right now. Their respective decisions not to sell Mohammed Kudus and Cody Gakpo are about to pay off – quite literally – very handsomely within the next six months. Both players were already in demand this past summer, with Premier League sides particularly expressing interest, but a move didn’t materialize. Now, on the back of standout showings at the World Cup, the Dutch and Ghanaian stars have both boosted their stock.
Gakpo is carrying the Netherlands’ attack, as the angular forward is tied for the tournament lead with three goals heading into the knockout stage. Kudus, meanwhile, provided a spark for the Black Stars. No player in Group H completed more take-ons or scored more goals than the 22-year-old. The price tag for both players is only going in one direction.
Denmark built up a lot of goodwill after its run to the Euro 2020 semifinals, but it couldn’t justify its dark-horse status in Qatar. The team finished last in its group with just a single point and goal scored. Kasper Hjulmand’s team couldn’t produce any offense, making several uncharacteristic errors in the process. The Danes also missed an early opportunity to take three points against Tunisia, which ultimately set the tone for their disappointing group-stage exit.
Denmark could’ve afforded a loss to France but not Australia, which needed a shootout win over Peru in the intercontinental playoffs just to get to Qatar. The Danes managed only three shots on target against the Aussies and ultimately conceded the goal that eliminated them off an avoidable counterattack.
Winner: Alvaro Morata
Morata often finds himself as the butt of jokes. Critics laugh at the scoring record of a player whose cost clubs an estimated €189 million in transfer fees and scoff at the number of times he strays offside. He’s never scored more than 15 times in a single league season, yet he’s played for some of the biggest teams in Europe.
However, he’s shown he’s indeed a quality striker during the World Cup. Morata came off the bench to score Spain’s only goal against Germany, and his header against Japan ended up being one of La Roja’s only worthwhile plays in an otherwise uninspiring 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.
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