Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

World Cup
Composite: Guardian

The main event

Brazil’s legendary 1970 team of Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto is still regarded as the best World Cup team in history and despite being favorites again this time around, the 2022 iteration is unlikely to reach those glorious heights. But Brazil are certainly expecting a big tournament, having not lifted the trophy since 2002 when Ronaldo (the real one) shook off the trauma of the 1998 final by scoring eight goals and even finding time for a silly haircut.

Watching 20-year cycles is good for Brazil. 1962: winners, 1982: best team not to win, 2002: winners. But if his side rely on fate, current manager Tita will quickly beat it out of them as Qatar 2022 quickly develops into a World Cup full of shocks. Saudi Arabia and Japan surprised Argentina and Germany, respectively, and opponents Serbia on Thursday have the potential to block Brazil’s nose, although Selection beat them at this same stage in 2018. Brazil haven’t missed out on top of their World Cup group since 1978. If that run ends here, perhaps history is crumbling before our eyes.

It seems a good time to revisit Pelé’s quote that the African nation would win the World Cup by 2000. That 1977 claim gave the Brazilian legend six editions of the competition to play with. He obviously needed more. Time is ticking and no African side has yet managed to make it to the semi-finals. Three have reached the quarter-finals, with two of them, Cameroon and Ghana, bowing out on Thursday in Qatar 2022. Despite memories of Roger Milla’s corner flag dances and the collective demolition of Claudio Canigga’s groin in 1990, Cameroon have not won a World Cup match since 2002 Thursday’s opponents, Switzerland, look strong enough to extend that unwanted streak further.

A quick guide

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Ghana began their campaign against a Portuguese side determined to prove that Cristiano Ronaldo’s ignominious departure from Manchester United can be placed in a separate section labeled club football. “We didn’t talk about that topic. We are all focused on the national team and the World Cup,” said his now former Old Trafford teammate Bruno Fernandes. While the perfect finish for Lionel Messi is now under threat after the first defeat against Argentina, we may have all forgotten that a huge last hurray (and a mighty last laugh) for Ronaldo is not out of the question.

Japan’s win over Germany will give South Korea a boost ahead of their game against Uruguay. The two Asian nations excelled as co-hosts in 2002, but the Koreans generally have a ceiling at the World Cup and, unfortunately for them, it’s the group stage. They have been eliminated after three games in eight of their remaining nine World Cup appearances: even the last time Son Heung-min helped them win 2-0 against Germany. Son’s participation in Qatar looked under threat after he suffered a fractured eye socket, but the Spurs frontman was cleared to play. He will wear a face mask against Uruguay; maybe not a bad thing with Luis Suárez on the opposing side. DT

Talking points

A compact World Cup could help players
There’s not much to say about hosting the World Cup in Qatar – you know why. There’s not much to say about almost every competing country holding one mid-season – players who have worked their whole lives to reach the competition and then earn the right to play in it miss it injured, while those who win and lose the final won’t have time to assimilate the best and worst night of their lives before heading home, most probably in the depths of European winter. But there may be one aspect that works: even the bad games we’ve seen so far have been played with pace and intensity, probably because teams can rest without spending time traveling, just as they’re not exhausted at the end of 10 long months. DH

Lesser people benefit from courage
However, that intensity was visible in the absence of players from both Argentina and Germany after they took the lead against Saudi Arabia and Japan, and both were deservedly defeated. It may still be possible for the better teams to get through some games, but it’s a dangerous business, and the shocks have come with a lesson for the supposedly weaker players as well: be bold and aggressive. Saudi Arabia already knew this, playing with a high line and flying into challenges, but Japan had to learn it on the fly, forced to change tactics after falling behind – to devastating effect. Teams like South Korea, Ecuador and Serbia would do well to pay attention. DH

Takuma Asano of Japan celebrates after scoring during the win against Germany.
Takuma Asano of Japan celebrates after scoring during the win against Germany. Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock

Ecuador fans endeared themselves to fans around the world by chanting “We want beer” during their first win over Qatar. But, unfortunately, another of their songs had a depressingly familiar tone, and because of that, Fifa accused them of homophobic chanting. It is Fifa, of course, who allowed the World Cup to be held in a country where it is illegal to be gay, then invoked the laws of the game to dissuade players from protesting against it and the horrible behavior of the host country, but sadly remain so unmotivated by their own hypocrisy . DH

Follow global media

Under the title “The debacle begins for Germany!” Bild set the tone after a loss to Japan that left them staring at a second straight early exit from the World Cup. “This is just unreal,” thundered the tabloid. “The national team made a fool of themselves at the start of the World Cup, losing 2-1 to outsiders Japan… The debacle is reminiscent of the bitter tournament in Russia 2018, where Germany lost 1-0 to Mexico and was eliminated from the group stage for the first time.”

Germany's Antonio Rüdiger shows his frustration at full time.
Germany’s Antonio Rüdiger shows his frustration at full time. Photo: Javier García/Shutterstock

The result leaves Germany facing a crucial Group E game against Spain which Bild described as “already a final”. An additional caveat is that it comes against a team Germany have beaten just once in their last seven meetings (two draws, four wins by Spain). Meanwhile, website Bavarian Football Works described the result as disastrous but not a shock given the warning signs heading into the tournament. “The defense was simply terrible and a ticking time bomb,” came the verdict, as manager Hansi Flick was mocked for his “confusing” substitutions as the game slipped away in the second half. AR

The Internet is responding

The Japanese fans were at it again: they weren’t booing the German fans or throwing mugs of delicious Bud Zero in the air in victory. No, they meticulously cleaned up after themselves at the Khalifa International Stadium after their side’s remarkable victory:

Japanese fans are really the best.🇯🇵

They beat Germany in a famous victory, but before celebrating they stayed at the Khalifa International Stadium to help clean up.👏 pic.twitter.com/sZhNExEDqi

– Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) November 23, 2022

This is nothing new. Japanese fans are known for providing vocal support from the sideline for 90 minutes (or about 105 minutes at this World Cup), then handing out plastic bags and calmly cleaning up all their trash before leaving the stadium. It happened in Russia 2018, after winning their first game against Colombia and suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat by Belgium. It’s a habit that comes from Japanese culture, where it’s very important to clean up after yourself and never leave a mess. Of course, there is another theory as to why Samurai Blue supporters do this.

Japan will beat you up and clean up the whole place, leaving the crime scene without any evidence

— Viran🇲🇾 (@MadnessFc4) November 23, 2022

Today’s matches

Switzerland v Cameroon (Group G, 10:00 GMT, ITV1) Favored Samuel Eto’o has predicted that Cameroon can win this World Cup, but getting out of a fiendishly competitive Group G must come first. The Indomitable Lions attack with their teeth – Bryan Mbeumo, Karl Toko Ekambi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – but the results this year have been colorful. Switzerland shed their bad reputation at Euro 2020, knocking out France and then taking Spain to extra time before losing 5-3. Granit Xhaka is in the form of his life for the team that beat Italy in the qualifiers. With Brazil coming in, both teams urgently need the first three points. AR

Uruguay v South Korea (Group H, 13:00 GMT, BBC One) Son Heung-min being able to play despite a broken eye socket is the news all South Korean fans have been dying to hear. The Tottenham striker is crucial to his side’s chances of exploiting any holes in the defense of a side no longer led by Óscar Tabárez. New manager Diego Alonso has built his squad around Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde, behind an attack led by Luis Suárez and Darwin Núñez in a combination of Liverpool’s great strikers of the past and (probably) future. The key to stopping them is Napoli’s defensive “monster” in the form of Kim Min-jae. AR

Darwin Núñez (right) prepares to beat everyone in sprint training.
Darwin Núñez (right) prepares to beat everyone in sprint training. Photo: Mohamed Messara/EPA

Portugal v Ghana (Group H, 16:00 GMT, ITV1) Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed the headlines before kicking a ball in Qatar and, in theory, Portugal should go smoothly against the lowest-ranked team in the tournament: 61st-ranked Ghana. But while there is a rich seam of attacking talent in this Portuguese side – Rafael Leão, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes – can it thrive when built around a 37-year-old who is still sculpted like a Greek statue – but now also moves as much as one? As for the underdogs from Ghana, keep an eye on 22-year-old Ajax ace Mohammed Kudus, who may want to run against 39-year-old Pepe. AR

Brazil v Serbia (Group G, 19:00 GMT, BBC One) Tite’s ominously well-balanced Brazil no longer rely solely on Neymar, but have forward options from Vinícius Júnior to Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha to Antony. Serbia, however, has its own attacking threat in the form of two in-form strikers: Aleksandar Mitrović and Dušan Vlahović. Not many sides go on the attack with Brazil, but Dragan Stojković is uncompromising in Serbia’s attacking principles, insisting: “It’s important how we win.” In open play, Casemiro’s experience in midfield could be crucial, but keep an eye on Thiago Silva – still a magnificent defender in a back three, but perhaps less comfortable in the back four Brazil are likely to field. AR

A player to watch

Heung-min’s son The South Korean luminary, now 30, is unlikely to be anywhere near his prime at this level and will be attracting all eyes at the Education City Stadium. He will play with a hefty face mask while still recovering from a fractured eye socket he suffered just 23 days ago, and will be advised to double-check his padding before clashing with Uruguay’s narc-savvy back line, especially Diego Godín. “We’ll see how it goes,” said his manager Paulo Bento. “We hope they will be as comfortable as possible.” SG

And finally…

If the action is weak, it could still be a big day to treat the broadcast as livestreaming Where’s Wally? things in tattoos. As many birds, flowers, crucifixes and sets of Olympic rings as possible your count today?

Manuel Akanji shows off his tattoo.
Manuel Akanji shows off his tattoo. Photo: Lars Baron/Fifa/Getty Images

What time is the clock on Darwin Nüñez’s left hand? And can you notice that the text takes up more space than Manuel Akanji’s staggeringly large “Prove Them Wrong”? SG