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≡ QATAR 2022 ≡
The FIFA World Cup elimination round started on Saturday with two taut games, both won by traditional powers Netherlands and Argentina, over the U.S. and Australia, respectively. The Dutch finished their chances with goals, while the Americans were frustrated, unable to convert their opportunities.
Australia gave away a silly goal in the second half to go down 2-0 and despite a goal of their own in the 77th minute, they could not find an equalizer. The Dutch and Argentina will meet in the quarterfinals.
Sunday’s matches include defending champion France against a defensive-minded Polish team and Group B winners England facing a very dangerous Senegal.
≡ Saturday’s matches ≡
● Netherlands 3, United States 1 ● An experienced Dutch squad, expected to contend for the World Cup title, let the U.S. control possession, but made the most of their chances and outclassed the Americans for a 3-1 victory in the Round of 16.
The Americans were on offense from the opening kick and star midfielder Christian Pulisic got an immediate look at goal in the third minute. Midfielder Tyler Adams sent a looping ball from the top of the box that found Pulisic all alone at the left of goal, but his left-footed shot was saved off the leg of 6-8 Dutch keeper Andries Noppert.
The U.S. controlled possession, but the Dutch countered in the 10th minute and a perfect Denzel Dumfries pass from the right side into the middle of the box found the charging Memphis Depay for a line-drive finish past American keeper Matt Turner and a 1-0 lead.
The Dutch were happy to sit back and defend against the continuing U.S. attacks, looking for a counter when available. Tim Weah sent a blast in the 43rd that Noppert had to push away and it appeared the pressure would continue.
But a breakaway at 45+1 saw essentially a repeat of the first goal, as Dumfires fired a cross from the right side again, but this time to fast-closing midfielder Daley Blinn, who rifled his shot past Turner for a 2-0 edge on the final play of the first half. The U.S. had 63% of possession, but trailed on shot (3-5) and on the scoreboard.
The second half started the same way. Off a corner, U.S. defender Tim Ream had the ball bound to him right in front of goal, but his touch wasn’t enough to keep Noppert from blocking it in the 49th. A minute later, the Dutch tried for a third cross-and-strike goal, as Dumfries sent another cross from the right side, but Blinn’s shot was saved by Turner. Turner had two more saves in the 71st to keep the U.S. alive.
The U.S. looked dead, but then it changed in a heartbeat. Off a corner in the 76th, sub DeAndre Yedlin passed to Pulisic on the right, who popped the ball into the middle of the box and sub striker Haji Wright barely touched it, but it was re-directed into the goal to cut the deficit to 2-1. Wright then had a golden chance in the 77th when a long ball left him racing with Noppert for possession, but the Dutch keeper got there first.
In the 81st, the Dutch ended the argument on another cross leading to a goal, this time from the left side as Blinn found Dumfries on the right side of Turner and he sent a left-footed laser into the net for the 3-1 final.
The U.S. ended with 58% of possession and had 17 shots to 11 for the Netherlands (8-6 on shots-on-goal), but it was hardly enough. Where the Dutch scored on their chances, the U.S. did not and the need for a better finisher is apparent. The U.S. will be one of the hosts of the 2026 World Cup and has the building blocks to be special. The Dutch are trying to win now.
The American loss eliminates the only CONCACAF team to reach the knock-out round.
● Argentina 2, Australia 1 ● While Argentina didn’t make past the Round of 16 in 2018, it was a solid favorite to do so here, but it was far from easy.
The first half was, for the most part, slow. Australia had plenty of possession, but did not seriously threaten and the Argentines had 61% of possession, but were methodical rather than brilliant.
Then Messi made the magic he is famous for in the 35th. Midfielder Alexis Mac Allister looped the ball from beyond the box to defender Nicolas Otamendi, who flicked it to Messi, who sent a left-footed, seeing-eye shot that went through multiple bodies and into the left side of the goal for a 1-0 lead. The half ended with just three shots total: two for Argentina and one for the Socceroos.
A FOX Sports stat that popped up after Messi’s goal: Argentina is 41-3-5 at the World Cup when scoring first. That looked like a sure bet early in the second half, when Aussie keeper Mathew Ryan was challenged by midfielder Rodrigo De Paul after taking a backwards pass, the ball rolled free and was pounced on by forward Julian Alvarez, who rolled it into the goal for a 2-0 lead in the 57th. Game over?
There was plenty of fight left in Australia and they got back into it in the 77th, when midfielder Craig Goodwin’s rocket from just beyond the left side of the box deflected off Argentine midfielder Enzo Fernandez and flew into the goal to make it 2-1.
The game was wide open now and both sides made dangerous runs, especially Australian defender Aziz Behich in the 81st, but his shot was blocked. The Aussies pressured until the whistle blew at 90+8 and Argentina moved on, but just barely. Argentina ended with 61% of possession – although it didn’t feel that way in the final 20 minutes – and had a 14-5 edge on shots.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
The quarterfinals continue through Tuesday, with two matches on Sunday:
Game 3: 10 a.m. Eastern time:
● France (Group D-1): 2-1 ~ goals 6-3
● Poland (Group C-2): 1-1-1 ~ goals: 2-2
The French are defending champions and looked unbeatable in wins over Australia (4-1) and Denmark (2-1), but then rested most of their stars and lost to Tunisia by 1-0 in the group finale. Poland was shut out against Mexico (0-0), defeated Saudi Arabia by 2-0 and then was shut out again (0-2) against Argentina. Can they score against France? In the last six World Cups, the French have been champions twice, runner-ups once and have won four Round of 16 games in a row. The only World Cup match between the two was a 3-2 win by Poland for the bronze medal in 1982.
Game 4: 2 p.m. Eastern time:
● England (Group B-1): 2-0-1 ~ goals: 9-2
● Senegal (Group A-2) : 2-1 ~ goals: 5-4
The national anxiety attack that is English football faces another test against Senegal, which is playing its third World Cup elimination match in its history. England won Group B, beating up on Iran (6-2), playing a scoreless tie with the U.S. and beating Wales, 3-0. England is 3-1 in World cup Round of 16 games this century and reached the third-place game in Russia in 2018. But the Senegalese have speed and power, losing their opener to the Dutch on two late goals, then beating Qatar (3-1) and Ecuador (2-1).
Monday’s matches have the last two Asian teams in the tournament, with Japan vs. Croatia and Brazil vs. South Korea.
FIFA posted a variety of statistics on the 48-match group stage that ended Friday, with 2.45 million spectators attending the games, about 96% of capacity.
The FIFA Fan Festival passed the one million mark in attendance, with an average of 70,000 entries per day. Applications for the Hayya Card, required to go anywhere in the World Cup, are at 1.66 million, and accreditations for the tournament so far are 174,499. The top countries in terms of Hayya Card applications are Saudi Arabia (77,106), India (56,893) and the U.S. (36,236).
The volunteer corps for the World Cup is about 20,000, with 3,000 from outside Qatar.
Qatar’s policy on spectators wearing politically-messaged shirts, hats or scarves has been quite stiff, but Reuters reported it has not been enforced much for those with pro-Palestinian apparel, while protests against the Iranian government has been mostly squelched:
“The contrast was laid bare this week outside the Al Thumama stadium. On Thursday, security ushered through hundreds of fans draped in flags, hats and scarves showing support for Palestine ahead of the Morocco v Canada match.
“Two nights earlier, security at the same stadium confiscated items showing support for Iranian protesters, forcing fans to remove T-shirts and some flags ahead of Iran’s crunch match against the United States.”
The Executive Director of the recognized fan-matters group Football Supporters of Europe, Ronan Evain, told Reuters, ‘What we see in the end is that FIFA has lost control of its own tournament.’”
Football is serious business in Argentina and the International Sports Journalists Association (AIPS) reported that a KLM flight out of Buenos Aires, headed to Amsterdam on 30 November, demonstrated this once again.
The flight was delayed for about an hour, which allowed the passengers to watch the first half of the Argentina vs. Poland match in Group C, which the Argentines needed to win to advance. The scene:
“Staff members from the shops at Ezeiza Airport had all left their positions to watch the game with the passengers. There are screams, cursing, and arguments. We are inside an airport, but this is more like a football stadium.
“The second half was much more difficult. Boarding was open, but many simply did not want to board. Those that were inside the plane quickly discovered that they didn’t have wifi and mobile data was not working. Nobody had an old radio. It was (almost) a complete blackout.”
Passengers who had received calls from family and friends forwarded the details of Argentina’s 2-0 victory to cheers from those seated in the plane, waiting for take-off. Finally, the captain came on and announced the scores and that both Argentina and Poland had advanced.
Although the World Cup is on, the repercussions of the abuse scandal within the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) are continuing. On Thursday, it was confirmed that Chicago Red Stars owner Armin Whisler had retained advisors to facilitate the sale of his controlling share of the team.
The Red Stars was one of the teams identified as allowing player abuse, notably by its coach, as documented in an independent report commissioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The team’s players had asked for Whisler to sell his ownership stake in October.
The almost-but-not-absolutely-dead European Super League continues to rile the football world, with a study of Spain’s La Liga finances by the advisory firm KPMG estimating the league could implode if the Super League were to commence.
La Liga commissioned the review, which indicated that the current value of the league is estimated at €3.316 billion (~$3.49 billion U.S.), but with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in a Super League:
“The existence of a Super League played in midweek would slash that value by 1.662 billion euro [to €1.654 billion or $1.74 billion U.S.] while if LaLiga was forced to become a midweek competition the impact is forecast to be even greater – with a reduction of 1.8 billion euro [to €1.516 billion or $1.60 billion U.S.] – a drop of 55 per cent.”
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