2022 World Cup Best Moments: Group Stage
The group stage is over at the 2022 World Cup and it was a very exciting 48 matches. There were some record-breaking performances, great saves, and huge upsets. This was absolutely a group stage to remember. So before the 2022 World Cup Round of 16 kicks off here is a look at the best moments from the first two weeks of action from Qatar.
Every fan of any sport loves a good upset and the group stage had plenty of them. It took only three days for the first major upset to occur when Saudi Arabia found a way to beat Argentina 2-1. A goal from Lionel Messi and numerous offside calls held Argentina to a 1-0 lead at halftime. Saudi Arabia had a game plan for the second half and it worked immediately. They pressed Argentina high up the pitch and found an equalizer and winner within the first eight minutes. This was an incredible win that Saudi fans will remember forever.
They were not the only Asian nation to cause a major upset in the group stage. Japan not once but twice came from behind in the second half to upset a European giant. First, it was Germany, in which two goals late in the second half stole victory from the Germans. Then needing a win to guarantee moving on from the group against Spain, “Samurai Blue” did it again scoring two second-half goals to flip a 1-0 halftime deficit into a 2-1 victory. The two famous victories helped Japan end up winning what I considered the “Group of Death” ahead of Spain and Germany.
African nations got in on the shock fun as well at the World Cup. Morocco beat the number two team in the world Belgium 2-0. But the scoreline was generous because “The Atlas Lions” dominated the entire match. Like Japan, the big upset helped them win their group and advance to the Round of 16. In the last round of group matches, two more giants fell to African countries. France lost to Tunisia 1-0 in a match that almost saw Tunisia advance to the knockout stage (more on that later). Then on the last day of group stage action, Cameroon upset the best team in the world, Brazil, 1-0 with a late winner from Vincent Aboubakar in the 93rd minute.
High Scoring Thrillers
Football is often considered a low-scoring sport by American standards, but in the 2022 World Cup group stage, there were some extremely exciting high-scoring matches. There were a total of nine matches that had five or more goals scored in them. Sure a few were blowouts *cough, cough* Spain, England, and France. Those teams won their opening three matches by a combined 17-3, yikes. But there were also some close matches that went back and forth until the final whistle.
One common theme for these was that it almost always involved an African team. There was the 3-3 draw between Cameroon and Serbia, in which “The Indomitable Lions” roared back from 3-1 down to steal a point. Then just hours later Ghana had their second five-goal thriller. This came against South Korea. “The Black Stars” had a 2-0 lead before South Korea’s Cho Guesung scored twice to level the match. Looking like the “Taeguk Warriors” looked in control until Ghanain midfielder Mohammaed Kudus scored his second goal which ended up being the winner. This was a relief for Ghana because they lost their opening match 3-2 against Portugal in a match that could have ended 3-3 with a great late chance for Ghana.
Serbia also kept the fun going into their last match of group play. Needing a win over Switzerland to advance, the “Оrlovi” had to play attacking football. This paid off when they took a 2-1 lead in the first half. However, the Swiss equalized the match right before halftime and were able to sneak one more past Serbia in the second to claim a 3-2 win and a spot in the Round of 16.
Let’s start off with World Cup appearances. Three players played in their fifth World Cup during the group stage. Those were Mexico’s Andrés Guardado, and two small-name players Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. With these three there are now just six players who have ever played in five separate World Cups. Talk about longevity.
With it being their fifth World Cup both Messi and Ronaldo set a record of their own. With an assist to Enzo Fernández in Argentina’s 2-0 win over Mexico, Messi became the first player to have an assist at five World Cups. Ronaldo on the other hand became the first player to score a goal at five different World Cups when he slotted home a penalty in their opener against Ghana.
There were also a couple of national records that have been broken or tied. Spain is relying on youth this World Cup and no player in the history of “La Roja” has been younger than Gavi at any major tournament. When he debuted at the 2022 World Cup, the midfielder was just 18 years and 110 days old. At 18 I was enjoying being done with high school not playing in a World Cup or being crushed on by a Spanish princess. Gavi scored a goal in Spain’s 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica, therefore, becoming the youngest Spaniard to score in the World Cup. He also became the youngest player to score in a World Cup since Pelé in 1958 when he was just 17 years and 249 days old.
While Gavi set a national record, French forward Olivier Giroud tied a national record. By scoring twice in France’s 4-1 win over Australia, Giroud equalized Thierry Henry with the most goals in French history with 51. With France looking very dangerous at the 2022 World Cup this record could soon belong solely to Giroud.
Goalscorers seem to get most of the attention, but the goalkeepers do a lot of the dirty work and can save the day at times. There has been some superb play by goalkeepers in the 2022 World Cup so far. Poland’s Wojciech Szczęsny has been playing out of his mind. He has 16 saves through his team’s three group-stage matches. Without him, Poland may not have advanced to the Round of 16. He has been tested, twice he faced a penalty, and twice he saved the pursuing spot kick. One came against Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al Dawsari and the other against Messi. Had either of those goals gone in, then Poland would have not advanced from the group because of goal difference.
There have been a few other goalkeepers that have given their team a shot at advancing. Tunisia’s Aymen Dahmen needs to be recognized and given a round of applause for his performance in the 2022 World Cup group stage. In a group with France, Denmark, and Australia, Dahmen conceded just one goal against Australia while holding both France and Denmark goalless. If he had any support in the attack then Tunisia may have moved on.
Another goalkeeper that has allowed just a single goal through group play is Andries Noppert. The Netherland number one saved 12 of 13 shots he faced and played a big role in getting his team to the Round of 16.
Plenty of Late Drama
There is nothing that gets the blood pumping more than a late goal to win or even equalize a match, and we have seen plenty of that in the group stage. There have been a whopping 27 goals scored in the final 10 minutes of regular play or stoppage time. Nine of these 27 goals have been the match winner while two have tied the match up to steal a point.
The late winners started early on just the second day of World Cup play with the Netherlands scoring both of their goals in their opening 2-0 win over Senegal in the 84th minute and later. The same day, Wales used a Gareth Bale penalty in the 82nd minute to draw 1-1 with the United States. Little did we know this was just the beginning of the late-match drama.
A few days later Japan used an 83rd-minute goal to complete the comeback over Germany. Then Portugal scored in the 80th minute which ended up being the difference in a 3-2 win over Ghana.
Even the big teams used late winners to gain important three points. France’s Kylian Mbappé scored in the 86th minute to give France a 2-1 win against Denmark. While Brazil needed a goal in the 83rd minute from Casemiro to beat Switzerland 1-0.
The late drama started on the second day of the 2022 World Cup group stage, but it went all the way through to the final day of group play. Both South Korea and Cameroon scored stoppage-time goals on Friday to earn themselves the win. For South Korea, the 91st-minute goal from Hwang Hee-chan secured them a place in the Round of 16. Just hours later Vincent Aboubakar scored in the 93rd minute to beat Brazil. He was promptly shown his second yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration and sent off. This was historic as he became just the second player to score in a World Cup match and be sent off along with Zinédine Zidane who did both in the 2006 World Cup Final.
The best thing about football and especially the World Cup is the passion that fans have for their nation. This 2022 World Cup has been no different. It does not matter the time difference, the fans will be watching from wherever they are. Australia is a great example. The last time the “Socceroos” did anything of note at a World Cup was back in 2006 when they made the Round of 16. They were very nearly not moving on as Tunisia took a 1-0 lead against France which would have seen them go through ahead of the Aussies. But, they finally moved on again, and even though it was 3:30 AM in Melbourne the fans were out in the thousands watching their team make history.
Australia made history and so did Morocco. They advanced to their first knockout stage at a World Cup since 1986 and their fans just took over. At the Souq Waqif market in Doha, Moroccan fans in the hundreds flooded the streets in celebration. As they did around the world from London to Paris to Casablanca.
It was not even one’s own country that drew the eruption of fans. In Bangladesh, fans went mental for Argentina when Messi scored the go-ahead goal against Mexico. This is incredible since Bangladesh is a mere 10,600 miles. This just shows how beautiful the game is and how it impacts people around the world.
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