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≡ QATAR 2022 ≡
Second-round matches were held in Groups C and D, with France set to advance, but everything else up in the air with one round of matches set to go:
● Group C: Poland is now 1-0-1 (W-L-T) and leads with four points, ahead of Argentina (1-1: 3) and Saudi Arabia (1-1: 3), and Mexico (0-1-1) fourth with one point. Everything is still up for grabs in the final matches on Wednesday (30th).
● Group D: France (2-0-0) has six points and will advance to the Round of 16. Australia (1-1) has three points, with Denmark (0-1-1) and Tunisia (0-1-1) both with one. The final matches in this group will also be played on the 30th.
Sunday has matches in Groups E, with Japan (3 points) facing Costa Rica (0) and Spain (3) playing Germany (0), and Group F, with Belgium (3) against Morocco (1) and Canada (0) vs. Croatia. (1)
≡ Saturday’s Matches ≡
● Group C: Poland 2, Saudi Arabia 0 ● After a scoreless tie with Mexico, Poland desperately needed a win, but the Saudis were the aggressors in this match from the start. The Poles scored first, however, after a shot by defender Matty Cash was saved, then a second attempt by star forward Robert Lewandowski failed, but Lewandowski tracked the ball down at the endline and sent a perfect pass back to midfielder Piotr Zielinski in front of the net, and he buried it in the 39th minute for a 1-0 lead and the only goal of the half.
The game was physical, with 33 fouls called and 18 against Poland, and in the 43rd minute, defender Krystian Bielik was called for a penalty. But striker Salem Al Dawsari’s try for goal was saved by Wojciech Szczesny, as was the rebound shot by Mohammad Al Burayk, which was blocked over the goal. The half ended 1-0.
The Saudis kept up the pressure in the second half, with double shots at goal in the 51st, 55th and 60th minutes, but no goals. An Arkadiusz Milik header hit the crossbar for Poland in the 63rd, and Lewandowski hit the post in the 66th. Then Lewandowski, playing aggressively, took possession from Abdulelah Al-Malki on a clearance and smashed the ball into the goal from about six yards out for a 2-0 in the 82nd minute that clinched the match. It was super-scorer Lewandowski’s first-ever World Cup goal.
The stat sheet showed the Saudis with 64% of the possession and a 16-9 edge on shots, but nothing to show for it.
● Group C: Argentina 2, Mexico 0 ● This was do-or-die for Argentina, after stunning loss to the Saudis in their opening match. But the game was physical and the defenses were stiff and despite chances on both sides, the half ended 0-0.
It was superstar Lionel Messi who broke the deadlock, taking a pass from Angel Di Maria in the middle of the field, about 25 yards out and sending a swift, seeing-eye shot with the left foot that whipped past Mexican keeper Memo Ochoa in the 64th for a 1-0 lead. Argentina continued on the attack and substitute midfielder Enzo Fernandez sent a curving blast over Ochoa’s outstretched left hand and into the net in the 87th for the 2-0 final.
Argentina ended with 58% of the possession and a 5-4 edge on shots that underlined – along with 34 fouls – the tightly-played nature of this game. The Argentines had to have a won and they got one; their future is again in their hands.
● Group D: Australia 1, Tunisia 0 ● In another physical game, in which 31 fouls and three yellow cards were handed out, Tunisia had the best of possession and play, but could not score for the second straight match.
As in their first game against France, the Aussies took the lead fairly early, this time on a header by forward Mitchell Duke, who headed a bounding pass from midfielder Craig Goodwin to the far side of the net in the 23rd minute for a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t appear that one goal would hold up, but the Tunisians just could not complete their plays in the Australian end. Shots went wide, shots were blocked and Aussie keeper Mathew Ryan made four saves to maintain the shutout and cinch Australia’s first World Cup win since 2010.
Tunisia ended with 58% of possession and 14 shots to nine for Australia, but it didn’t help.
● Group D: France 2, Denmark 1 ● Could France crack a tough Danish defense that had shut down Tunisia? Superstar midfielder Kylian Mbappe caused a lot of problems in the first half, but the Danish defense – and especially keeper Kasper Schmeichel – were equal to the challenge and maintained a scoreless tie through the half.
But the French kept getting closer and closer and finally broke through in the 61st, as Mbappe and defender Theo Hernandez executed a perfect give-and-go, with Hernandez crossing the ball back to Mbappe at the left side of the net and he punched it in through traffic.
However, that only fired up the Danes and they swarmed the French zone. A Christian Eriksen corner in the 68th was headed by defender Joachim Andersen toward the middle of the penalty area and found the head of fellow defender Andreas Christensen, whose shot flew into the goal for a tie.
The game did not settle down at all and both sides had chances, and French keeper Hugo Lloris was busy fending off multiple Denmark chances. But the French pressure was relentless and midfielder Andre Greizmann sent a diagonal, line-drive cross from the right side at the top of the box right to the left corner of the goal and Mbappe was there; the ball caromed off his thigh and into the net for a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute. That’s how it ended.
The French held on and at 2-0, secured their place in the knock-out round. The Danes actually had 52% of the possession, but the French mounted a 21-shot attack on Schmeichel, while Denmark managed 10 shots and only two on goal.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against the Football Association of Serbia due to a flag displayed in their dressing room on the occasion of the Brazil v Serbia.”
The inquiry arose from a dressing room image seen on social media platforms of a flag which shows the now-independent country of Kosovo as part of Serbia. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and joined both FIFA and UEFA in 2016.
Hajrulla Ceku, Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, tweeted:
“Disgraceful images from Serbia locker room, displaying hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages towards Kosova, while exploiting FIFA World Cup platform.
“We expect concrete actions from FIFA considering that the Kosovo Football Federation (FFK) is a full FIFA and UEFA member.”
The Associated Press reported raw emotions between pro-government fans and protestors at Iran’s matches against England and Wales, with Qatar security officials taking away flags which are different from the country’s approved national flag.
Iran has been rocked by protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September after an arrest for not wearing the hijab (headscarf) appropriately.
The AP noted “Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ and others shouting back ‘The Islamic Republic!’”
An Iranian woman who lives in Spain and attended the 2-0 win over Wales, “said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.”
In a related development, former Iranian national team player Voria Ghafouri was arrested Thursday after a training session with his club team for comments which “tarnished the reputation of the national team and spread propaganda against the state.”
Ghafouri has been publicly critical of the Iranian government and its crackdown following the death of Amini.
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