Everyone at the World Cup has now played once. We’ve been given a taste of what Qatar 2022 will be like.
While it’s always a bit premature to make sweeping judgements after just one round of games, let’s go ahead and do that now.
Here are five talking points from the first phase.
Early favourites have emerged
We knew Brazil were good, and they proved it today against a very strong Serbia side, winning 2-0 despite a tenacious fight from the Europeans.
We thought Germany and Argentina were good, but it turns out they aren’t. At least for now.
Aside from Brazil, three other sides have really put their hands up as early favourites; England, with their 6-2 win over Iran, Spain after demolishing Costa Rica 7-0 and France who looked sublime while dispatching Australia 4-1.
The caveat is, you never know at this early stage whether those results are due to the brilliance of the team or the strength of the opposition.
By the end of the group stage we will know a lot more, but those four teams will be sitting very comfortably with their three points, healthy goal difference and bucketloads of confidence.
Germany is in deep trouble
Of the two heavyweights mentioned above who lost in upsets, Germany’s situation is far more dire, due to the state of their group.
Germany has to play Spain next (yes, that Spain, the 7-0 Spain) which is a huge problem.
A draw in that game might not be enough for Die Mannschaft, as Japan will very likely beat Costa Rica and have six points after two games, leaving them out of reach.
So their only real path out of the group is to beat Spain, beat Costa Rica by a wide margin and hope they have the goal difference to pip Japan to the second spot in the group (they are unlikely to catch Spain on goal difference). And that would only be enough if Japan don’t get anything from their game against Spain.
It’s not impossible for Germany to beat Spain, but on the evidence of each team’s first games, trying to attack La Roja in order to get the win could turn out quite ugly.
Ronaldo is a record breaker
There was some talk before the tournament that Portugal might be a stronger side without the 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in the line-up.
Such doubts didn’t seem to exist among Portugal’s coaching staff, with manager Fernando Santos sticking with the all-time leading international scorer and starting him against Ghana.
When the now-clubless superstar failed to capitalise on a couple of early chances, doubts might have started to creep in.
But then he won a penalty, and there was only one man stepping up to take it.
Ronaldo converted the chance from the spot, of course, and with that broke another record — he became the first male player to score in five different World Cups.
He is following in the footsteps of Brazil’s Marta and Canada great Christine Sinclair, who have also achieved the remarkable feat of longevity.
Even if he does nothing else in this tournament, Ronaldo will always have that record to point to. And he seems the kind of guy to like records.
Brazil is on Neymar injury watch
Brazil is a team full of superstars, but there is one who shines brighter than all the rest: Neymar.
He’s the talisman of this side, and if they are to achieve glory, they expect him to be leading the way.
So an entire country is now waiting after he was taken down by a rough tackle from Serbia’s Nikola Milenkovic and had to be replaced with 10 minutes to go.
Neymar’s tears are such a regular occurrence that they’re now a meme, but pictures showed a swollen ankle on his right foot — which has given him plenty of trouble in the past — and a very distraught player.
Brazilian team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said it would take time to evaluate the extent of the injury, confirming it was a sprained ankle.
“Let’s see how he responds,” Lasmar told Brazilian media.
“We have started with the treatment but we need to be cautious and be patient. It’s too early to say anything. We’ll see how it progresses.
“We put ice on it while he was on the bench and then in physiotherapy,” Lasmar said.
“There is no test scheduled for now but we will schedule it if needed. He will be under observation. We will know more tomorrow.”
For what it’s worth, Brazil’s coach Tite, who is not a doctor, said he was “confident that Neymar will continue playing at the World Cup”.
Are bore-draws making a comeback?
After a couple of recent tournaments in which we moved away from 0-0 draws, the bane of every football fan’s existence seems to be making a comeback in Qatar.
There was only one goalless draw in Russia in 2018, and two at Euro 2020.
Already in Qatar 2022 there have been four 0-0s; South Korea, Uruguay, Morocco, Croatia, Mexico, Poland, Denmark and Tunisia have all failed to score or concede a single goal between them.
What’s the reason for it? I don’t know but I could make some things up:
- The belief that it’s more important to not lose your opening game than to win it
- There was no preparation time for this World Cup — teams came straight from their club season so they lack cohesion
- There are a handful of top teams and a few minnows, but most other sides are evenly matched
We’ll soon know whether these bore-draws are a trend or a blip.
Hopefully we’ve used up our quota for this World Cup already.