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World Cup roundup, Day 8: Naive Canada punished, Germany survives

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 8 of the tournament.

Canada’s inexperience laid bare

Canada didn’t deserve to lose to Belgium. It certainly didn’t deserve to lose by three goals to Croatia. But the World Cup is ruthless. Teams of the caliber of Belgium and Croatia capitalize on chances. Canada couldn’t.

The men’s national team learned a lot of harsh lessons in just over 180 minutes of football in Qatar. Canada played incredibly well against Belgium but lacked composure in the final third. It started brightly against Croatia but lost control after 25 minutes. John Herdman’s side couldn’t put it all together. What it had in spirit, it lacked in experience.

Zlatko Dalic’s side forced Canada to backpedal and, like Belgium, took the lead minutes before halftime. The Croatians ran freely in midfield, and the Canadians switched off at the worst possible time to gift Croatia at least two of its four goals. Canada couldn’t manage the game after taking the lead and struggled to mount a comeback once it lost the advantage.

Atiba Hutchinson was one of Canada’s weakest links in the first half. The 39-year-old allowed Andrej Kramaric to streak into the area and score Croatia’s first goal, and ambled around the pitch as the Croatians passed their way through the heart of the field.

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Herdman thought about substituting Hutchinson when the game was still within reach, but the captain wanted to stay on the field – and did. The coach seemingly allowed a player to make a decision that actually hurt the team, showing loyalty to a legend of the program who was clearly struggling. That can’t happen.

Herdman’s prematch comments also came back to haunt him. By saying Canada would “go and ‘F’ Croatia,” the Englishman inadvertently gave the opposition bulletin board material. The rallying cry, while intended to inspire his players, took attention away from all the good things Canada did in its opener against Belgium – the high pressing, the chances created, the fearlessness in the face of a top-ranked opponent – and left his team open to criticism. His comments, not his players’ positive play, shaped the narrative around this team.

That’s one of many lessons Canada must take to heart. The team could’ve done so much more in Qatar. It’s no longer a question of belief – it’s about execution and composure.

Germany can’t afford to bench Fullkrug

Niclas Fullkrug isn’t the most fashionable of names at the 2022 World Cup. He played in the German second tier as recently as last year and made his international debut in November at the wily old age of 29.

But Germany needed a striker. With Timo Werner unavailable, Hansi Flick called up Fullkrug.

Flick just didn’t know how much he’d need him.

Fullkrug’s vicious equalizer against Spain on Sunday salvaged Germany’s chances in Qatar. It handed the Germans their first point of the tournament, enough to keep hope alive heading into Thursday’s Group E finale against Costa Rica.

Team W-D-L GF GA GD Pts
Spain 1-1-0 8 1 7 4
Japan 1-0-1 2 2 0 3
Costa Rica 1-0-1 1 7 -6 3
Germany 0-1-1 2 3 -1 1

And Fullkrug needs to start Thursday. He was far more active in the penalty area than Thomas Muller, the man he replaced, racking up more shots than anyone on the field in just 20 minutes of playing time. Jamal Musiala took up dangerous positions with Fullkrug on the field, and Leroy Sane added a sense of urgency Ilkay Gundogan couldn’t provide.

Germany’s shape changed with Fullkrug up top, and the team finally looked capable of scoring. In a must-win situation, Flick has to make the sensible choice and ride the one player who can make a difference.

But a win over the CONCACAF minnow won’t be enough. Germany needs Spain to beat Japan, or at least hold it to a low-scoring draw, to advance to the round of 16.

Kevin De Bruyne was right

Kevin De Bruyne had a feeling.

“No chance, we’re too old,” the midfielder conceded when asked about Belgium’s chances of winning the World Cup by The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone. The interview, published Saturday, was conducted weeks earlier.

He knew. And, as it turns out, he was onto something.

Belgium, for the second consecutive match in Qatar, was outplayed and overrun by a younger, more athletic, more dynamic team. This time, though, the Red Devils didn’t escape with a result, falling 2-0 to Morocco. The outcome leaves Belgium staring at the very real possibility of a group-stage elimination after reaching the quarterfinals in 2014 and finishing third in 2018. Belgium had the chance to secure progression with a win Sunday, but De Bruyne was largely ineffectual once again, captain Eden Hazard was substituted after an hour of underwhelming play, Romelu Lukaku was a nonfactor upon his return from injury, and Thibaut Courtois, a hero against Canada, was oddly feeble.

Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

“We haven’t seen the best Belgium yet,” manager Roberto Martinez said after the contest. “We haven’t been ourselves.”

The problem, of course, is that the Red Devils have been themselves. This is just what has become of the lauded “Golden Generation,” which, barring a stunning turnaround in the team’s Group F finale against Croatia, will exit the tournament in meek fashion having failed to claim any silverware.

Quick free-kicks

Score one for CONCACAF

CONCACAF, at last, is on the board. After three defeats and three draws to open the tournament, the confederation picked up its first win of this World Cup on Sunday. It came from an unlikely source, too. Costa Rica, which began the competition with a humbling 7-0 defeat to Spain, rebounded nicely, picking up a surprising 1-0 win over Japan via a late, lofted strike from Keysher Fuller. Japan, remember, was coming off a stunning triumph over Germany earlier in the week. Another reminder that there’s no transitive property in football, least of all at the World Cup, where every match is its own spectacle. Los Ticos have now played 180 minutes in Qatar, and, despite having just one shot on target in that time – Fuller’s goal – are in with a chance of advancing out of Group E, widely considered the most difficult quartet in the competition. The World Cup always delivers the unexpected.

Beef between Queiroz, Klinsmann

Tension is obviously high on the pitch in Qatar, but tempers are flaring off it, too. The latest kerfuffle involves Jurgen Klinsmann and Carlos Queiroz, after comments the former made on BBC irked both the Iranian federation and the team’s manager. Queiroz demanded that the former Germany star resign from FIFA’s technical study group after Klinsmann, in reference to Iran’s win over Wales, said playing dirty and using tricks to influence the referee fits the team’s “culture.” Queiroz dubbed the remarks a “disgrace to football” during an impassioned Twitter retort. Klinsmann is a former coach for the United States. The USMNT plays Iran in a critical Group B encounter Tuesday.

Morocco proving impenetrable

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

The Atlas Lions are roaring. Sunday’s 2-0 win over Belgium, spurred on by raucous support inside Al Thumama Stadium, has Morocco on the verge of the World Cup knockout stage for just the second time, and first since 1986. Considering the turmoil surrounding the team just months ago, it’s a dazzling achievement just to be in this position with one group game left. Former manager Vahid Halilhodzic – who froze Hakim Ziyech out of the team – was fired in August and replaced by Walid Regragui, who only had three friendly matches before the World Cup with which to tinker and put his imprint on the team. That’s been plenty, though. Morocco has yet to concede a goal under Regragui – the team’s shutout streak stands at six matches and dates back to June – and, more impressively, hasn’t really looked like conceding in Qatar. The organized and compact Moroccans have a genuine chance of not only winning Group F going into their final game against already-eliminated Canada, but of also making a deep run in the competition thanks to an airtight backline that makes the opposition work for every little opening.

Stat of the day

Mateo Kovacic was an absolute monster against Canada.

Tweet of the day

This Alvaro Morata kid might just make it.

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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.

Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

Quick free-kicks

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

Chris Brunskill/Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

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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.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

“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.

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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

Patrick Smith – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

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.

Loser: Qatar

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)

Peter Bryne – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

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

Alex Livesey – Danehouse / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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

David Ramos – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

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.

Loser: Denmark

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

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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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