Lukaku wastes chances as Belgium come off
When it comes to hits and misses, there can’t be many more literal examples of the latter than Romelu Lukaku’s performance against Croatia. Heading into half-time with Belgium needing just one goal to progress, Lukaku missed four clear chances to score a goal.
The second, the header, would not count. The cross is out of play. The third, a close-range ricochet lag, he could not foresee. But the first miss was a big one and those subsequent chances couldn’t help him build confidence in the last one.
The post crashed. Attempting to score the ball when it was so close to the beaten goalkeeper that it would have been easier to put it into the net. It was a bad time for anyone, let alone a big-name striker with World Cup hopes.
It was brutal for Lukaku. He was devastated afterwards, even as Thierry Henry tried to console him. In some ways, he shouldn’t have been appointed to the position, tasked with rescuing his country, which has only played half an hour of club football since August.
Belgium have been so miserable in this tournament, so uneven, that it is impossible to imagine that these failures have cost them any convincing World Cup glory. Regardless, it’s unlikely to be much consolation for Lukaku to forget after this game.
Guardioli protects Croatia with his life
The Golden Boot winner, Golden Glove and Player of the Tournament are awarded individually. But what about “Fight of the Tournament”? Josko Guardioli kept Croatia in the World Cup with a flick of the boot. That denied Romelu Lukaku a certain goal. That capped off a great performance by the masked defender.
At just 20, he already looks the complete package and it was clear why Guardiola was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea among other clubs in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic said afterwards: “He’s phenomenal, he’s 20 years old and he’s already fantastic. He can play at the highest level and will only continue to improve. But I have nothing to comment on the Chelsea links.”
Well, now you can pay an additional 10 million. pounds per player rating. RB Leipzig have seen Guardiol’s development first-hand, but the Bundesliga side will struggle to retain his services for much longer if Croatia remain as compact and determined as they were on Thursday night.
Already a Rolls-Royce defender, Guardioli had nine tackles, eight tackles and six key passes in the final third, to go with two clearances.
Croatia were unconvincing and need to improve in the round of 16. Despite VAR disallowing an offside penalty, their threat was limited. But with Belgium’s aging defense creaking and Wout Faes unused throughout the tournament, Guardioli showed why it’s worth trusting youth.
Simon seems to be the weak link for Spain
As Spain shake off their remarkable 2-1 defeat to Japan and begin to look at what really happened, despite the VAR drama surrounding the decisive goal, they will surely conclude that Unai Simon was at least partly to blame.
The 25-year-old, Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of David Raya and Robert Sanchez with David de Gea out of the squad, almost cost them in the first half when he came under pressure from Japan striker Daizen Maeda and mishandled the ball. a similar scene emerged shortly after the break.
But this time Spain did not recover. His panicked pass found left-back Alejandro Balde but he was at an awkward height, allowing Japan to steal the ball through Junya Ito and move the ball forward to replace Ritsu Doan.
Doan’s follow-up shot was well struck, but Simon should have done better in that regard as well, with the Athletic Bilbao keeper getting both hands on the ball but still not stopping it.
There was little Simon could do for the winner, although his positioning was perhaps less than perfect, but the warning signs of what had happened with the equalizer were there well before the second half of Thursday night’s last game against Germany.
Twice in that encounter, Simon was lucky not to be penalized for errant passes on the edge of his own box. This time he was not lucky. Of course, he was not the only one responsible for Spain’s defeat, but he still looks responsible.
Germany’s inefficiency causes them to fail again
It is completely unthinkable that Germany would be eliminated from the group in two World Cups in a row. They were always praised for the efficiency that led to their continued success, but it was the sheer inefficiency that brought them down again.
Even coach Hansi Flick said: “We didn’t have any efficiency in this tournament and that’s why we were eliminated.”
Since 2014 the victories in Brazil were followed by a series of setbacks at the World Cups. With just one win and two defeats in Russia, they finished bottom of their group. Now, four years on and under a new manager, they are third on goal difference and an early flight to Berlin.
Given the chances they created – especially against Japan and Costa Rica – they should have made it to the last 16. They had 32 shots and 26 in a 2-1 loss to Japan on Thursday night.
Adding the 11 they managed against Spain took them to 69 in their group stage matches. Again, surprisingly, they only managed six goals, with goal difference ultimately deciding the game.
But mistakes in midfield and defense were also important. There was uncharacteristically sloppy passing and Manuel Neuer was needed more than once to get his defenders out of trouble. A prime example was his save on Keysher Fuller late in the first half following a foul by Antonio Rudiger.
While the shock 2-1 loss to Japan will stand out as their downfall from 2022 onwards, in the end, collective failure and errors throughout the team see Germany come home again. Hansi Flick has a real task to restore Die Mannschaft to its former glory.
Ziyech is a Moroccan gem
Go back a few months and Hakim Ziyech was not a name you would find in the Moroccan squad. The Chelsea striker has largely retired from international duty after falling out with former manager Vahid Halilhodzic. But after a short vacation, he is back at work again doing what he is good at. There was even a remnant of pace and industry that lured Chelsea into the transfer market back in 2020. – Ajax Ziyech if you will.
You might find the winger sprawling on the ground and making himself a nuisance at Al Thumama on Thursday, acting as Morocco’s point guard, attracting fearsome defenders with his mere presence. He caused untold problems in a disorganized Canadian backline while bringing others into the game with clever moves, insightful passes and audacious inventions.
Morocco likes to play on the front foot. It’s their style. That’s what their army of red-clad supporters demanded in this tournament. And Ziyech more than obliged, ruthlessly capitalizing on Milan Borjan’s mistakes to give his side the lead with just four minutes remaining against Canada.
On the stroke of luck, Borjan slotted the ball straight at the 29-year-old, who thanked the keeper for an early Christmas present with an overhead kick into an empty net. Incidentally, Ziyech is only the third Moroccan to score and score in the same World Cup. It’s a far cry from his club form this season – Chelsea fans must be wondering where this version of Ziyech is hiding.
Networking has cost Canada; Davies not used
One of Canada’s hallmarks under John Herdman was their ability to adapt to different leadership formations.
When it works, switching systems from game to game can help a side punch above its weight, nullifying opponents’ strengths and exposing their weaknesses. Herdman led Canada to their first World Cup in 36 years, so it’s hard to argue with the Englishman’s point of view.
But when the ruse backfires, the team can look disorganized, a description that could be compared to Canada in Qatar.
They lined up in three different formations over the course of three games, with Alphonso Davies – undoubtedly the star of Canadian football – getting three different starting positions and being moved around the field regularly as Herdman made further changes to the game.
Davies regularly lines up at left-back for his club Bayern Munich, but the touch map below shows just how varied he has been with Canada at the World Cup.
While it’s not uncommon for international teams to use players differently than they’re deployed at club level — Real Madrid defender David Alaba, for example, often plays in midfield or on the wing for Austria — Canada didn’t seem to know how to get the best out of Davies.
The 22-year-old played as a wing-back in a 4-4-2 on both sides and two up front, but Canada’s inability to make him a focal point of the game is demonstrated by the fact that he succeeded. one shot during the tournament.
It’s hard to be too hard on Canada, as they got past Belgium in the first game and took the lead in the second game against Croatia.
But the way they slumped in defeat to Croatia and then failed to respond to Herdman’s changes against Morocco raised the question of how they would have fared had they settled.
Great Japan forces Spain to surrender
The difference between Japan in the first half and Japan in the second half was so stark that you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at two completely different sides.
Tactical spells from Hajime Moriyasu? Did you just send the wrong command again? Who knows, really. But Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma – both introduced at half-time – turned the game around against Spain. The former scored the equalizer before the two combined for Ao Tanaka’s controversial winner.
Energy, pressure. Spain looked lost after the break, with no space, no time and no idea how to get back into the game. If they play anything like that again, Croatia won’t know what hit them in the back sixteen. Who knows how far Japan can go.