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22 most exciting youngsters to watch in 2022

Over the next 12 months, a fresh crop of footballers will establish themselves atop the men’s game. Here, theScore looks at some talented youngsters – aged 21 and under – who are set to flourish in 2022, while deliberately excluding those who made our lists in previous years.

Previous selections: 2019 | 2020 | 2021 (Part one and two)

Yacine Adli ??

Club: AC Milan | Age: 21 | Position: Attacking midfielder

AC Milan quietly executed a shrewd piece of business by signing Adli this past summer. You can see why. The Frenchman, who’s spending the season on loan at Bordeaux to continue his development, can take you by surprise with the kind of mesmerizing quick feet that you don’t typically associate with someone of his rangy physique.

Julian Alvarez ??

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Club: River Plate | Age: 21 | Position: Forward

Alvarez trained with Real Madrid before he was a teenager, but it’s at River Plate where he’s exploded with 19 goals and seven assists over his last 16 appearances. The attacker seemed destined to use Major League Soccer as a stepping stone into Europe, but his influential role in River’s league triumph may mean he bypasses North America on his way to the top.

Ander Barrenetxea ??

Club: Real Sociedad | Age: 20 | Position: Winger

Alexander Isak (22) isn’t the only rising star at the Anoeta right now. Barrenetxea, a tricky dribbler who typically operates on the left wing, has caught the eye in limited action for Real Sociedad this season. Able to cut inside and beat multiple defenders with one mazy run, the Spanish youth international is the latest to emerge from the Basque club’s famed academy.

Antony ??

BSR Agency / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Ajax | Age: 21 | Position: Winger

Ajax are one of the most exhilarating sides to watch in Europe thanks in part to the inventiveness and trickery of the left-footed Brazilian. Antony has made a habit of cutting in from the right wing and either finding the net himself or teeing up the likes of Sebastian Haller; the explosive youngster has racked up five assists in as many Champions League matches this season.

Armando Broja ??

Club: Chelsea | Age: 20 | Position: Forward

Broja had to bide his time for the first league start of his Southampton loan spell and his work ethic has been questioned by Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, but he’s finally taking the chance to prove himself. He’s the club’s top scorer with six goals despite starting only nine matches across all competitions but needs to learn to use his 6-foot-3 frame more effectively when holding up the ball.

Maxence Caqueret ??

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Lyon | Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder

Caqueret has been one of the few bright spots for a struggling Lyon side this season. A product of the club’s fabled academy, he captained the team at every level before leaping into the senior squad. Though slight and diminutive in stature, the French midfielder is smooth as they come on the pitch, and he reads the game so well that he always seems to be in the right place.

Jonathan David ??

Club: Lille | Age: 21 | Position: Forward

David is already a star. The forward has scored 12 times in the 2021-22 Ligue 1 campaign – just one goal behind his tally from Lille’s 2020-21 title-winning season – and he powered Les Dogues to the Champions League round of 16 with three strikes during the group stage. David’s seven goals and three assists in World Cup qualification have also put Qatar 2022 in Canada’s sights.

Charles De Ketelaere ??

BRUNO FAHY / AFP / Getty

Club: Club Brugge | Age: 20 | Position: Forward

De Ketelaere is ready for the next step. After establishing himself in the Club Brugge senior side over the last two seasons, the young Belgian forward is enjoying a true breakout campaign, scoring nine goals – all from open play – and adding six assists, both career highs, through 21 matches. An opulent transfer, likely in the summer, beckons.

Conor Gallagher ?gbeng

Club: Chelsea | Age: 21 | Position: Midfielder

Gallagher is a contender for the 2021-22 PFA Young Player of the Year award. His aggressive work off the ball for loan side Crystal Palace can be overlooked due to the brilliance of his energetic, incisive play at the other end of the park. Chelsea have a real talent on their hands, though his style is arguably a better fit for a team like Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

Gavi ??

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Barcelona | Age: 17 | Position: Midfielder

Like compatriot Pedri before him, fellow teen sensation Gavi has enjoyed a meteoric rise at Barcelona. Controlling the midfield for one of the biggest clubs in world football is a herculean task, let alone for a 17-year-old, but with a mixture of poise and technique, Gavi makes it look frighteningly simple. His feel for the game is innate, and that’s something you simply can’t teach.

Tino Livramento ?gbeng

Club: Southampton | Age: 19 | Position: Right-back

Livramento has played the most Premier League minutes for Southampton this term despite only making his top-flight debut on the first weekend of the campaign. Such is his attacking threat, Livramento is the most-fouled defender in the division, and his excellent form has forced right-back Kyle Walker-Peters – one of the Saints’ standout players last season – onto the left-hand side.

Lorenzo Lucca ??

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Club: Pisa | Age: 21 | Position: Striker

Lucca won’t be playing in Italy’s second tier for very long. The mountainous center-forward, who idolizes Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is the top scorer for Serie B-leading Pisa this season. Either via promotion or transfer, the striker dubbed the “Tower of Pisa” should get an opportunity to show off his devastating aerial prowess in Italy’s top flight in 2022.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty ??

Club: Toronto FC | Age: 17 | Position: Winger

Marshall-Rutty’s recent training sessions with Liverpool have earned the admiration of Reds midfielder Harvey Elliott, who urged the Canadian teenager to “sign” in an Instagram response. Through his rise up Toronto FC’s ranks and 12 MLS appearances thus far, the winger has proven he can deliver pinpoint crosses, accelerate in an instant, and often make the right on-pitch decisions.

Gabriel Martinelli ??

Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC / Getty

Club: Arsenal | Age: 20 | Position: Forward

The Martinelli hype has soared over his recent run in the first team. He’s scored three over his past four league starts and regularly gets more touches of the ball and completes more dribbles than his fellow attackers. “He’s come a long, long way because his energy, his passion, his commitment – it doesn’t get much better than that, ever,” Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said in December.

Cole Palmer ?gbeng

Club: Manchester City | Age: 19 | Position: Attacking midfielder

Palmer is expected to get more game time for Manchester City following the sale of Ferran Torres. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have given Palmer advice on how to play the No. 8 role in the past, but his early senior outings have mainly been in attacking positions. He impressed in a fluid frontline when he scored from 18 yards during a cameo against Club Brugge in October and was a false nine the following month for his first Premier League start in a 3-0 win over Everton.

Ricardo Pepi ??

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Club: FC Augsburg | Age: 18 | Position: Striker

El Tren has already had his breakout year. In 2021, Pepi was named MLS Young Player of the Year for his team-best 13 goals for FC Dallas and U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year for three goals and two assists since his international debut in September. In light of that success, the fearless and fiercely competitive striker completed a record-breaking move to Augsburg.

Yeremi Pino ??

Club: Villarreal | Age: 19 | Position: Winger

Nobody has appeared in more league matches for Villarreal this season than Pino, who continues to show why he’s regarded as a future superstar every time he gets on the ball. The Spanish club recently inked the exciting winger to a lengthy contract extension that, in true La Liga fashion, includes an €80-million release clause. That could eventually be a bargain.

Jesurun Rak-Sakyi ?gbeng??

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Crystal Palace | Age: 19 | Position: Winger

Rak-Sakyi may have to wait until next season for an extended run in the first team, but the departures of Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew – and potentially Jeffrey Schlupp – to the Africa Cup of Nations could present chances for him to be an impact sub in the coming weeks. He’s scored 10 goals in 13 starts for Palace Under-23s this season, underlining his rapid improvement over the past 18 months.

Jacob Ramsey ?gbeng

Club: Aston Villa | Age: 20 | Position: Midfielder

Ramsey’s a courageous midfielder who always looks to move his team forward, and he’s thriving since Steven Gerrard identified him as a key player following the Scouser’s appointment as Aston Villa manager in November. Ramsey’s younger brothers are also at the club: Aaron, 18, made his senior debut in August and Cole is making an impression in Villa’s younger ranks.

Nicolo Rovella ??

Gabriele Maltinti / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Juventus | Age: 20 | Position: Midfielder

The answer to Juventus’ longstanding midfield issues may already be in-house. Rovella, currently on loan at Genoa, is an assured central midfielder whose poise playing in front of the defense belies his youth. The feisty Italian is tidy in possession, has an impressive passing range, and balances that out nicely with significant defensive output.

Kamaldeen Sulemana ??

Club: Rennes | Age: 19 | Position: Winger

Sulemana has more successful Ligue 1 dribbles (50) than both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe this season, and he’s accomplished that feat despite touching the ball only 522 times; the Paris Saint-Germain duo come in at 756 and 877, respectively. That, in a word, is electrifying. The blossoming Ghanaian is nightmare fuel for full-backs.

Nico Williams ????

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Club: Athletic Bilbao | Age: 19 | Position: Winger

The Williams legacy lives on at the San Mames. The younger brother of beloved ironman Inaki, Nico Williams is already establishing himself as a vital contributor at Athletic Bilbao; he’s one of only three players to appear in every league match for the club this season. The teenager is quick, skilled, clever with the ball, and plays with a passion that fans adore.

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Japan stuns Spain to top Group E, Germany eliminated from World Cup

Japan scored twice in two minutes and 22 seconds Thursday at Khalifa International Stadium to snatch a 2-1 comeback victory over Spain that knocked its heavily favored opponent out of first place in Group E and eliminated Germany from the World Cup entirely.

Japan topped the group with six points after opening the tournament with an upset win over Germany. Surprisingly, its only loss of the group stage came against Costa Rica.

Spain finished second on four points, only ahead of Germany on goal difference.

# Team W-D-L GF GA GD Pts
1 Japan 2-0-1 4 3 1 6
2 Spain 1-1-1 9 3 6 4
3 Germany 1-1-1 6 5 1 4
4 Costa Rica 1-0-2 3 11 -8 3

Germany fought back to beat Costa Rica 4-2 in Thursday’s other match, but the result ultimately made no difference. The four-time world champion needed Spain to either draw or beat Japan to advance to the knockout round.

Instead, Die Mannschaft suffered elimination in the group stage for a second straight tournament.

Japan will next face Croatia in the round of 16 on Monday. Spain will take on surprise package Morocco on Tuesday.

The most chaotic day of the World Cup began with Spain sitting pretty in first place. Alvaro Morata had given La Roja a 1-0 halftime lead, and Germany, racing to a 1-0 lead of its own, had also put itself in a position to advance.

But everything changed in the second half.

Japan flew out of the gates, forcing Spain into a critical turnover that presented substitute Ritsu Doan a chance to equalize. Doan came off the bench to score in his country’s 2-1 win over Germany at the same stadium, and he played the hero again Thursday, flashing a shot that Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon couldn’t palm to safety.

Minutes later, teammate Kaoru Mitoma scrambled to keep the ball in play, and Ao Tanaka outmuscled Spanish midfielder Rodri to bundle home Japan’s second goal. Replays showed Mitoma retrieved Doan’s pass before it crossed the goal line.

(Courtesy: TSN)

Germany, suddenly in need of a goal from Spain to extend its stay in Qatar, watched as its own advantage evaporated. Despite being outshot and outplayed at Al Bayt Stadium, Costa Rica scored twice in 12 minutes to go up 2-1, a score line that threatened to knock Germany and Spain out of the World Cup.

Kai Havertz responded with two goals, and substitute Niclas Fullkrug added another in the 89th minute to restore Germany’s lead and keep Spain on course for the knockout stage.

Luis Enrique’s side, however, couldn’t do the Germans a similar favor.

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When Messi found his voice, Argentina found its leader

Alejandro “Papu” Gomez cried like a baby. Lisandro Martinez felt like eating up the entire pitch. The speech made everyone in Argentina’s locker room breathe fire. Lionel Messi, soft-spoken to the outside world, showed a side of himself inside the bowels of the Maracana Stadium that few had seen before.

“(It’s been) 45 days without seeing our families, guys,” Messi bellowed before the Copa America final in July 2021. “(Emiliano Martinez) had a daughter and couldn’t even see her. He couldn’t hold her in her arms. Chino also had a son, and he only got to see him for a little while. All for what? For this moment. Because we had a goal, and we are very close to achieving it.

“And you know what the best of all is? That this depends on us. That’s why we’re going to go out on the pitch, and we’re going to raise the cup.”

Messi didn’t score that night. He didn’t have to. Argentina beat Brazil on Brazilian soil to win the Copa America for the first time since 1993. The players celebrated with Messi on their shoulders. They knew who to thank – and who deserved thanking.

“Half the world would have run to hug him,” head coach Lionel Scaloni told The Guardian.

That moment brought Messi peace. It removed a “thorn from his side,” according to Scaloni. Messi lost in many finals, faced so much criticism back home, and put his face in his hands too many times to count that winning something with Argentina barely felt real.

Winning a World Cup would complete the fairy tale. This is his fifth and likely final appearance at this tournament, and he’s already played his part, scoring the winning goal against Mexico to give Argentina hope of progressing to the knockout round. A win over Poland on Wednesday would do the trick. Anything less would put Argentina at risk of elimination.

But the pressure to win isn’t there, at least not as it once was. Messi’s tossed aside the desperation that used to fit him like a straitjacket. Now, he feels a sense of joy and privilege. His perspective has changed, and so has the country’s view of him.

For so long, Messi and Argentina were worlds apart. When things went wrong, the naysayers had explanations ready. He spent most of his life in Barcelona, they said. How could he ever know what it means to play for Argentina?

Jetting off to Catalonia at 13, Messi left behind his hometown of Rosario, his family, and even his future wife, Antonela Roccuzzo. He could’ve played for Spain – the Spanish football association tried to call him up when he was still a teenager – but he knew what he was. Messi never lost his Argentinian accent or his love for his country’s customs. Mate in hand, he always looked and sounded like the kid from Rosario. He always felt distinctly South American, even if the skeptics back home – a group that only seemed to grow by the summer – continued to question his Argentinianness.

Daniel Jayo / Getty Images Sport / Getty

“The more he won in Catalonia, the more he lost with Argentina, and the more Argentina wondered how much ‘The Flea’ still belonged to them,” Angelo Carotenuto wrote in the Italian magazine Rivista Undici.

Messi won the Champions League four times with Barcelona from 2006-16. During that same stretch, Argentina lost twice in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and in the final in 2014. Messi went eight years without scoring a goal in the biggest tournament known to sports, lost in three Copa America finals, and missed a critical penalty in one of them.

But it wasn’t just the failures that weighed on him. Something didn’t jive. Until recently, Messi wouldn’t sing the national anthem, preferring to hum the tune during pre-match recitals. He didn’t speak up when Argentina lost or faced scrutiny. Having dodged so many assassination attempts on his character, Messi retired, albeit briefly, from international duty in 2016.

They said Messi was nothing like Diego Maradona, and they were right. He wasn’t the street fighter from the ghetto. Messi was from the lower middle class, saved from the rough upbringing that forged Maradona’s very soul and, in many ways, the soul of the country itself. When Maradona won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986, he did it in the most Argentinian way possible: Punched in the face and kicked and beaten, he put the team on his back and took it to the very top.

Argentina’s image of Maradona was of a man who fought for his people, a reflection of itself. Argentina’s image of Messi was of a boy who couldn’t carry the same burden.

“Maradona had the enormous advantage that he didn’t have to be like anyone else,” Argentinian writer Martin Caparros told the New York Times in 2014, “and Messi has to be like Maradona all the time.”

Messi only temporarily reentered the good graces of the thankless public. There was the hat-trick he scored in qualifying that ensured Argentina’s participation in the 2018 World Cup, and then the picturesque volley that sent Maradona into bedlam and Argentina into the round of 16 later that tournament. But these were moments, nothing more. There was no grand reveal or blood, sweat, and tears smeared on his jersey. There was no parabolic journey through the muddy, crime-ridden slums or flaws in his brilliance, just a squeaky-clean image free of personality. Argentina could see itself in players like Carlos Tevez, the scruffy striker from the streets of Buenos Aires. It couldn’t in Messi, no matter how hard he tried or how many gestures he made.

Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

When he refused to accept MVP honors at the 2016 Copa America, Messi did it quietly. But Jorge Sampaoli, his coach at the time, noticed. He knew Messi wasn’t there to win any personal accolades. He was there, Sampaoli said, to win something for Argentina.

After retiring, something changed inside Messi. The man who fought so hard for the respect of his compatriots, for a country that gave him nothing but grief in return, took a stand.

It first emerged in the form of a hammer blow in April 2017. Unmarked in the penalty area, Messi swept home a stunning goal to clinch a dramatic 3-2 victory for Barcelona. It was his 500th career goal, scored against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, as perfect a moment as he could ever have to send a message to the world. Tearing off his shirt, Messi held it aloft as if to say to his rivals that he was back, he was Messi, and he was proud of it.

“This is me,” Caparros imagined Messi saying in that moment. “Look, and shut up.”

Messi responded off the pitch, too. He ripped the officiating during Argentina’s 2-0 loss to Brazil in the Copa America semifinals, claiming the referees showed bias toward the host nation. He later accused CONMEBOL, which governs South American football, of corruption. He stood up for his teammates, insisting the national team played some of its best football, even if it had tripped over yet another hurdle.

That also shifted something inside the people of Argentina.

“Messi spoke out because he had to,” Scaloni told The Guardian. “People think Leo doesn’t speak, but he’s a true Argentinian, it’s in his blood, the most pissed off at losing.

“That day, there were many reasons to be angry. People identified, appreciated we played well. At a different stage, they could’ve said, ‘They lost, get rid of them all, the coach has to go,’ but there was a connection.”

CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / Getty

Messi didn’t seem as stressed as in years past when he’d furrow his brow and scrub his face before even kicking a ball. The play on the pitch improved as much as his demeanor. During last year’s Copa America, the 35-year-old led in goals, assists, chances created, and total shots, and his teammates followed suit. Martinez, the goalkeeper, saved three penalties in the semifinals. Defensively, Argentina shut down everything and everyone, conceding just three times all tournament. Messi’s teammates no longer stood there spectating in vain hope, praying he’d bail them out of trouble. They played for him, and he played for them.

Messi had become a leader of an inexperienced group that, according to Papu Gomez, felt they had more in common with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner than any other player. He created not just a winning culture within the dressing room but a brotherhood, forging bonds with youngsters who would’ve been intimidated by his presence. He led by example, and opened the doors to the next generation.

“Perhaps knowing these are his last years,” Gomez told La Nacion in August 2021, “he’s a more open Leo who interacts much more with everyone.”

Now that he’s freed himself from the shackles of public opinion, Messi no longer seems to see his career as a chore to be fulfilled. He’s lighter on his feet and quicker to smile. He’s living this World Cup “with intensity.” He’s not just focusing on the next match. He’s enjoying the moment with his children, family, and friends, who also happen to be his teammates. He loves that his boys sing all the Argentinian songs, songs they heard during last year’s Copa America.

This is the legacy Messi values. This is what he’s taking from this journey. Winning in Qatar is not all that matters, even if everyone on the outside says it is.

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World Cup roundup, Day 7: Messi's magic moment, fearsome France

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 7 of the tournament.

Argentina stays calm – and reaps rewards

Argentina poked and prodded at Mexico’s backline for 40 minutes before finally attempting a shot on goal. Lautaro Martinez’s header, though, went well wide, forcing La Albiceleste to break for halftime Saturday with virtually nothing to show for their dominance in possession.

Enter Lionel Messi. A left-footer from range found the bottom corner, Argentina went up 1-0, and a national team that’s frequently come up short mitigated further disaster. A draw would’ve left Argentina in third place in Group C ahead of its final match Wednesday against Poland and in need of a draw between Mexico – one of the most underwhelming sides in Qatar – and surprise package Saudi Arabia just to have a chance of reaching the knockout stage.

Except Argentina didn’t play with the urgency many teams in its position would have. It didn’t gun for goal. Messi’s only touch in the penalty area was an unsuccessful dribble in the 76th minute, and Angel Di Maria toiled on the wings without breaking through Mexico’s force field. But the methodical play eventually paid off. The deeper Messi dropped, the more space he found, and he manipulated that space to his advantage, lulling Mexico into a false sense of security before firing a snap shot past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the 64th minute. Di Maria’s dribbling took attention away from Messi, allowing him breathing room and, ultimately, the time to score.

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

That goal, followed by Enzo Fernandez’s wonderful insurance marker, signaled Argentina’s belated arrival to a tournament many expected it to win. It also showed that these players won’t panic. They didn’t launch cross after cross in the hopes that one of their diminutive forwards would get to them. You could hardly tell they were in survival mode.

Argentina’s self-belief has been evident since it won the Copa America in July 2021.

“The reality is that the team plays with more calmness now, because the external pressure of not winning isn’t there anymore,” Messi said before Argentina’s World Cup campaign kicked off with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. “I always tell them that, or I used to say that before we won, that tomorrow is a new day, and we have to be calm. That was the only way we could play and develop our game. We achieved that, and we’re going onto the pitch calmer than ever.

“That’s crucial in order to play in such a big tournament like a World Cup. Go out there calm.”

That patience is Argentina’s biggest strength, and it’s slowly showing its merits.

Griezmann is France’s unsung hero

Kylian Mbappe’s performance against Denmark on Saturday didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. He’s a match-winner and a generational player who’s on his way to breaking every scoring record imaginable. Of course he’d score the goals that booked France’s place in the knockout stage.

But he’s not the only reason for his country’s success in Qatar. Antoine Griezmann has carved out an equally influential role in France’s squad, providing both cover in defense and inspiration in attack.

It’s refreshing to see Griezmann in this kind of form. Coming off a horrible year at Barcelona, the 31-year-old returned to Atletico Madrid a broken player. He even found himself on the bench at the start of the season, playing only 30 minutes at a time.

Now released from virtual purgatory, Griezmann is back to his usual self, making plays all over the pitch to help his squad while his teammates take the spotlight.

Griezmann set up Mbappe’s game-winning goal in the 86th minute but also led the team with two interceptions and four successful tackles. He made more touches in France’s own end than he did in the final third, and he quarterbacked play from deep-lying positions.

(Courtesy: WhoScored)

One particular defense-splitting pass nearly forced Denmark’s Andreas Christensen into a red card. His all-action play gave France the momentum it needed to score a victory against a Danish side that had beaten it twice before in 2022.

Szczesny’s penalty prowess

Most players, teams, and fans celebrate the awarding of a penalty kick with gusto. It’s understandable. The majority of them are converted, after all. But, when Wojciech Szczesny is between the posts, you can’t exhale until the job is done. Saudi Arabia learned that lesson the hard way Saturday.

The Polish netminder rescued his team, and kept the Saudis at bay, with an immaculate double save in first-half stoppage time of Poland’s eventual 2-0 win. Szczesny sprung to his right to thwart Salem Al-Dawsari’s low penalty before immediately vaulting back to his feet and making a second, vastly more impressive fingertip save from Mohammed Al-Burayk on the rebound.

He was swarmed by his teammates, who pumped their fists and roared their approval for the outstanding sequence of stops. It was a familiar sight for the 32-year-old; Szczesny turned aside three spot-kicks last season for Juventus.

Saudi Arabia was the better and brighter team for large portions of Saturday’s contest, creating some excellent chances, but it couldn’t solve Szczesny, who delivered the best performance from a netminder in the tournament with five saves. He’s now nullified more shots (nine) than any goalkeeper at the World Cup thus far.

Once derided during his time at Arsenal, Poland’s No. 1 was showered with praise after getting his team within touching distance of a first appearance in the World Cup knockout stage since 1986.

Don’t forget the Duke

Much of the pre-tournament attention surrounding Australia was elsewhere. Aaron Mooy is the team’s undisputed superstar, the eccentric Jason Cummings earned a call-up despite previously representing Scotland, and 18-year-old Garang Kuol – who’s yet to start a senior game for club or country – is heavily hyped.

Not many column inches were dedicated to Mitchell Duke. The third-oldest outfield player in coach Graham Arnold’s squad, he’s played for modest clubs in Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.

Now, Mitchell’s name has been etched into Socceroos folklore after his flicked header proved enough to secure an emotional 1-0 victory over Tunisia – the Aussies’ first at the World Cup in over 12 years.

The result left Arnold wiping away tears and prompted a celebratory team rendition of Men at Work’s 1981 hit single “Down Under.” Even Martin Boyle, who was ruled out of the tournament due to injury, joined the lively huddle on crutches.

But the day undoubtedly belonged to Mitchell, who scored his first competitive goal for his country in over a year. He celebrated by forming a “J” with his fingers as a tribute to his son Jaxson.

“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,” Duke said.

Quick free-kicks

De Bruyne: ‘No chance’ of Belgian glory

Many World Cup viewers wrote off Belgium’s chances of winning the tournament after the Red Devils’ fortuitous opening win over Canada. But Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t convinced of his national team’s credentials weeks earlier. “No chance, we’re too old,” the midfielder said during an excellent interview with The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone published on Saturday, adding, “I think our chance was 2018. We have a good team, but it is aging. We lost some key players.” Belgium faces Morocco on Sunday.

Serbia charged for Kosovo banner

Serbia is awaiting its punishment after FIFA found the team breached its disciplinary rules regarding “demonstrations of a non-sporting nature.” A banner displaying a map of its country with Kosovo – a neighboring state that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 – within its borders hung over the lockers of Milos Veljkovic and Andrija Zivkovic before Thursday’s 2-0 defeat to Brazil. The slogan “No Surrender” was daubed over the image. The message comes in a year when tensions have risen between Kosovo, its minority Serbian population, and the nation of Serbia.

FIFA representative defends CR7 penalty call

Sarah Stier – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of scoring in five separate World Cups overshadowed the decision that led to his goal. Ghana coach Otto Addo described the penalty call as a “gift.” Onlookers wondered why the referee wasn’t asked to consult his pitchside monitor. But now, the awarding of Ronaldo’s dubious spot-kick has been defended by a member of FIFA’s technical study group. Rather than express sympathy for the Ghanaian team, Sunday Oliseh – who represented Nigeria at two World Cups – praised the Portuguese frontman for his “total genius” to draw a foul from Mohammed Salisu. “Maybe the strikers are getting smarter,” he added on the high number of penalties in Qatar.

Comeback or collapse for Germany?

A key sponsor has withdrawn its support of the men’s team. The World Cup viewing figures for the Japan defeat were the lowest in Germany for over 30 years. With dwindling support back home, Germany’s seaside base must feel like a lonely place right now. Hansi Flick knows what’s at stake: He’s dubbed Sunday’s showdown with Spain “our first final” as Germany attempts to avoid two World Cup group-stage exits in a row. The must-watch clash between the European giants concludes this weekend’s slate.

Special moment for Enzo Fernandez

What a way to score your first senior international goal. Fernandez, the ascendant 21-year-old midfielder, helped turn the tide against Mexico after being introduced off the bench in the second half. Mexico had largely nullified a jittery Argentina throughout a tense affair in Lusail. It was always going to take something special to break the deadlock. Messi delivered that with his eighth World Cup goal – the same number Diego Maradona scored. But Fernandez’s sumptuous curling effort to cap the win was even better. The Benfica youngster, destined for a big transfer in the very near future, gave Argentina more control in midfield with his energy and passing range. Lionel Scaloni’s decision not to start him in the first two matches wasn’t entirely surprising, considering the groove Argentina found en route to Qatar, but Saturday’s showing, both from the team and the midfielder himself, made it abundantly clear: Fernandez needs to start every game from here on out.

Stat of the day

Two tie Zizou.

Tweet of the day

Messi really is a father figure for this Argentina side.

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