Day eight of the Qatar World Cup saw a social media post prompt calls for the United States to be thrown out of the tournament, Spain and Germany’s forwards go back to the future, a coach pay tribute to his late daughter and Canada make history — but still be headed home early.
- Costa Rica 1 — 0 Japan
- Morocco 2 — 0 Belgium
- Croatia 4 — 1 Canada
- Spain 1 — 1 Germany
Here are five talking points.
Flag drama leads Iran to call for US to be thrown out of Cup
When the United States and Iran meet at a World Cup — or in any sporting competition really — the stakes and emotions tend to be higher than usual.
With the two nations due to meet on Thursday morning in a loser-goes-home match at Al Thumama Stadium, the spotlight is on both teams.
On day eight, things ramped up considerably after the US Soccer Federation briefly displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, saying the move was supporting protesters against the Iranian government.
The US men’s team accounts posted to Twitter and other social media platforms with a banner with the team’s group stage matches, featuring an Iranian flag with only its green, white and red colours.
The altered flags in the posts were removed within hours – the US Soccer Federation said in a statement: “We wanted to show our support for the women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours.”
The incident comes amid months-long demonstrations challenging Iran’s government following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.
Iran state-aligned Tasnim news agency posted on Twitter quoting a legal advisor of the Iranian Football Federation saying the association would file a complaint to FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
An accompanying tweet cited section 13 of FIFA rules, that “any person who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or group of people … shall be sanctioned with a suspension lasting at least 10 matches or a specific period.”
Spanish coach Luis Enrique remembers his late daughter
Even in the middle of one of the world’s biggest sporting events, sometimes we have to take a step back and realise that the players, coaches and staff who are taking part in the tournament are just people, too.
Spain’s coach Luis Enrique reminded us of that today, with a video he posted to social media before the game against Germany.
As he filmed himself cycling around Doha, Enrique spoke about the day’s other milestone aside from the match.
“Not only we play against Germany today, but Xanita would have turned 13.”
His daughter Xana died of a rare bone cancer in 2019. Enrique wished her “a good day” wherever she was right now.
He then summoned the energy and the focus to guide La Roja through their crucial game, before speaking to reporters afterwards.
“It was a special day for me and my family. Obviously we don’t have our daughter with us physically anymore, but she is still present every day.
“We remember her a lot, we laugh and think about how she would act in each situation that we experience.
“This is how life works.
“It’s not only about beautiful things and finding happiness, it’s about knowing how to manage these moments.”
First-ever goal not enough to stop Canada World Cup exit
Canada has made history at the World Cup on day eight with their first ever goal at the men’s tournament finals — but it was not enough to stop the Maple Leafs being eliminated from contention for the knockout stages in Qatar.
Their game against Croatia at Khalifa International Stadium was just two minutes old when Canada burst forward down the right and when the ball was crossed in, young star Alphonso Davies was there to thump a header into the net.
Back in 1986, Canada’s first tilt at the men’s World Cup finals ended without a goal or a point after losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
This time round, Canada got to the finals with a strong performance in CONCACAF qualifiers, drawing another difficult group.
They began strongly, going down 1-0 to world number two ranked Belgium in their group opener last week.
Overnight, they faced a Croatian side who were runners-up to France in the last World Cup four years ago.
But Davies’ early goal rocked the Croatians and it took more than 35 minutes for them to respond with an equaliser through Andrej Kramarić. That was only the start, however, as the Croatian’s experience told with three further goals to seal victory 4-1.
The Canadians still have one game to go, facing Morocco on Friday morning (AEDT).
Revenge of the ‘real number nines’
When Spain lined up to face Germany this morning, it was as much a tactical battle as a clash of members of the World Cup honour roll.
The 2010 winners, Spain, came in on a high after destroying Costa Rica 7-0 first-up, while four-time champions Germany were in peril after losing to Japan 2-1.
The game had action, just an inability from either side to take advantage of their chances, or avoid missing the mark with a telling pass.
As frustration mounted, and the game remained scoreless into the second half, both managers opted for change — and a move to a more traditional set-up.
First Luis Enrique took ‘false nine’ Ferran Torres off and replaced him with the out-and-out striker Alvaro Morata.
The Atlético Madrid player brought more intensity and a much more direct attack to the table — eight minutes after coming on, he stole in and put the ball beyond Manuel Neuer in the German goal to give Spain the lead, and a potential spot in the last 16.
Then it was German coach Hansi Flick’s turn. With 20 minutes left he made a triple change, most importantly bringing on striker Leroy Sane for midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and opting for a traditional ‘big man’ in Werder Bremen forward Niclas Füllkrug.
The German attack changed and again proved more difficult to deal with — then in the 83rd minute Füllkrug grabbed the ball on the right side of the box and unleashed a ferocious right-foot shot across goal past keeper Unai Simon to level things up.
In the SBS commentary box, Martin Tyler was clearly relieved to not have to talk any more about false nines and the like, as he responded to Füllkrug’s strike with the line:
“There’s nothing like a real number nine. And that was one for the brethren, really.”
Quite. We don’t know if this was just a one-off, or whether these moves will mark a proper change in tactics from both sides. Time will tell.
Is there a ‘curse of the As’ at the World Cup?
With a hat-tip to my colleague Dan Colasimone, there is a disturbing trend so far at this World Cup — could there be a “curse of the As” at work?
As mentioned above, Canada are headed for an early exit after losing their first two games against Belgium and Croatia. Regardless of their result in the final game against Morocco, they will be out.
The only other team to already be eliminated from contention for the knockout stages is Qatar. Keen-eyed readers may notice that both Qatar and Canada share the same singular vowel.
Now this could all just be coincidence, but there is another team who could be eliminated from contention if they lose tonight against South Korea — it’s Ghana.
Thank goodness for the Socceroos, Australia spreads the vowels about a bit, so hopefully Denmark will hold no fears for Graham Arnold’s men on Thursday morning.