Japan’s Ritsu Doan cheers after scoring his team’s opening goal during the World Cup Group E soccer match between Germany and Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Image: AP
Match of the day: Japan 2 – Germany 1
While some have wanted to portray this as excitement at the magnitude of Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina yesterday, it falls short of that for a number of reasons. Firstly, Germany is not Argentina and secondly, it was no slouch. Japan came into the tournament because of the images of a lot of people (myself included) screwing up some shit and they deserved a tie at worst just based on their second half performance alone.
The first half was a little too passive from Samurai Blue and Jamal Musiala was a scare from the left side of attack, consistently weaving through traffic. Germany had some trouble getting through Wataru Endo’s midfield wall, so they just went over his head to score their goal. They went full-back to full-back as Niklas Sule was able to pick out David Raum, who completely lost every Japanese marker and was alone in the box, forcing Japan keeper Shuichi Gonda to lose his marbles completely and basically fouling him twice to give away a penalty.
But the thing about Germany is that we still don’t know who can consistently score from open play and we don’t know how good part of the squad is if it’s not Bayern Munich who are rolling over the rest of the Bundesliga. Kai Havertz is not No. 9 and Thomas Müller may just be too old for that level to play in the hole. Havertz should probably play where Müller was.
In the second half, Germany still had chances on the ice but didn’t take them, which often happens when you don’t have someone who hits the net consistently. But as soon as Japan brought in Takuma Asano and Kaoru Mitoma in the 57th minute, their attack bucked. Japan hit Germany exactly as everyone thought, namely quickly, directly and without turnover. The more Müller and Kimmich got tired, the more they performed. No one attacks as quickly as Japan.
The other problem for Germany is that their defense can be on the slow side. Sule fell asleep on the game’s winning long ball, keeping Asano on the side as Rudiger and Schlotterbeck were up. But both were slow to react, which is a problem Rudiger has had for some time and is why Chelsea kept having to play a back three when he was there. They never caught Asano, who finished with aplomb from a tight angle for a Landon Donovan special.
Germany now has serious problems. It’s hard to judge how good Spain really is with Costa Rica completely eliminated, but at worst they’re really good. Get beaten again and your tournament is over. Even a tie will leave them plenty to do if Japan gets past Costa Rica, which at the moment poses the same challenge as filling out your name on the SAT. Germany might be able to play more on the break against a Spanish side that dominates the ball and that might suit them better, especially if they use one of the fast Dortmund players they have in Karim Adeyemi or Youssoufa Moukoko, or if they get Leroy Sane can fit. But someone has to finish, and that person’s identity is still a mystery.
Other results: Croatia 0-0 Morocco
The whole aging thing? Croatia looked very much like it. Despite having the majority of the ball, they never looked menacing because they simply didn’t have the gas to counter when they could or to stretch the Moroccan defense in any way. Both teams combined four shots on target and from around the 15th minute, a 0-0 seemed the most likely outcome. That was exactly two bodies in the sun.
Spain 147-0 Costa Rica
You don’t have to worry about not having a real striker if your opponent isn’t applying any pressure at all. It was unclear what Costa Rica was trying to do, not pressuring the Spanish defense, but also not pressuring the midfield. Which meant Gavi and Pedri could just turn and run to bond with Olmo, Asensio and Torres to their heart’s delight. If those five can dance around the 18-yard box without a challenge, they’ll be piling up opportunities. And goals. That was absolute punching practice.
Are Spain good? Yes. are they that good It’s hard to say, but we’ll find out in a hurry.
Belgium 1-0 Canada
It’s a cruel sport as canada got out of work and also got what it deserved? It can also be a strange sport.
Canada was certainly better in the first half and by some margin. They amassed 2.14 in xG in the first 45 alone, showing how many shots they were able to fire. Belgian Roberto Martinez did them a huge favor as he’s an idiot who apparently wanted to use veteran Marcelo Bielsa 3-3-1-3 with Youri Tielemans on right winger? At least I think so?
Whatever it was, Axel Witsel was completely alone in the Belgian midfield, meaning the Belgian defence, all of which have very creaky bones, had little to no outlet from the Canadian press. There were giveaways and sales galore as Witsel was completely besieged and Tielemans was lost 50 yards up in the woods. He also pushed Eden Hazard into the starting line-up despite playing around 12 minutes for Madrid this year and despite some flashes Hazard looked the part.
But the thing is, you have to count that. Canada not. They got an early penalty. Alphonso Davies served it up to Thibaut Courtois as if he’d just bought him a round rather than trying to score against him. They only managed three shots on target in the whole game. And they were lucky that Kevin De Bruyne’s radar seemed to be jammed the whole game (LONESTAR!!) as he completely missed a couple of killer passes on the break we’re used to seeing him make every time. It actually could have been worse.
It should have been better too. Canada should have gotten a second penalty, but we’ll get to that. But fair play to Martinez as after about half an hour he moved Tielemans back into midfield alongside Witsel and then brought on Amadou Onana at half-time to really cement that place. Canada had just two shots from the 32nd minute to halftime, compared to 12 before. With Belgium having more opportunities to get through the press with the move to a double pivot, the mistakes Canada were enjoying dried up.
Canada can bounce back from performance but need to find someone in the opposition box with the compass.
Goal of the day: Spain certainly provided a buffet, but I have to reckon with Gavi’s goal, which was Spain’s fifth. This finish is so sassy and so smooth and so confident that I basically just feel like handing it to my girlfriend without a fight:
Did VAR mess something up? Of course! Canada can feel totally screwed because they should have gotten a second penalty 10 minutes after the first. Eden Hazard, looking as rusty as someone who hasn’t played regularly in years should, purposely passes the ball to Tajon Buchanan in the Belgium penalty area, putting Buchanan on the side. He was then completely cleared by Jan Vertonghen. However, since the assistant wrongly marked offside, the foul was ignored. Janny Sikazwe never went for verification nor was he asked to as it was claimed Vertonghen touched the ball which I can’t find with a microscope.
Sikazwe is the same referee who twice blew a match final just before the final whistle during AFCON, although it was later revealed he was suffering from heat stroke. But that’s what it’s supposed to solve, having two pairs of eyes. It was glaring and nobody even looked at it.
Did Qatar screw something up? Nothing more than usual it seems.
Did Alexi Lalas say something stupid? Not today, although his apparent jealousy at not sharing a handshake, which Clint Dempsey and Stu Holden share from their time together on the national team, was kind of adorable.