|Morocco were the better team on Sunday, beating world number two Belgium by two goals to nil. — AFP/VNA Photo|
HÀ NỘI — The eighth matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup started with high hopes for most top teams, but ended in disbelief for some.
Magical Morocco sinks rusty Red Devils
Had Belgium heard about Morocco's record against European teams, they would not have been that complacent: two wins against Portugal in 1986 and Scotland in 1998.
But Roberto Martinez's men did not play to the level of their 2018 third-place finish, rather, they displayed a performance similar to Martinez's stints at Everton and Wigan Athletic.
Martinez's switch from a back three to a back four did not bring consistency to the Belgian defence, instead, it showed their flaws.
The Belgians breathed a sigh of relief when Hakim Ziyech's free-kick goal was disallowed after a VAR review, but when Abdelhamid Sabiri's goal happened in a similar fashion, no technology was there to save Kevin De Bruyne and company.
An unfit Romelu Lukaku was finally brought on, but all was said and done. Morocco even put the match to rest with a last minute goal from Aboukhlal.
Canada's 36 minutes of flame extinguished by Croatia
|Croatia players celebrating Kramaric's second goal. — AFP/VNA Photo|
True to their coach John Herdman's pre-match rant on Croatia, the Canadians went all out and surprised the World Cup runners-up in the first minute.
Alphonso Davies took advantage of Lovren and Juranovic's complacency, and headed in the fastest goal of this World Cup, and Canada's first ever World Cup goal.
But if there was anything notable about the Croatians, it's that they are dangerous when they are behind.
Herdman's men stopped pressing forward and stayed back to defend, and this proved to be their mistake as it gave time and space for Luka Modric to retake control of the game.
In the 36th minute, Andrej Kramaric equalised after a great cross from Ivan Perisic, and Marko Livaja completed the Croatian comeback right in the first half with a screamer from outside the box.
Zlatko Dalic's men was all over Canada in the second half, and Kramaric had his brace in the 70th minute, before Lovro Majer completed the 4-1 rout in the 94th minute.
Croatia went top of group F with four points, and will secure qualification with a draw against Belgium on Thursday, while Morocco has their fate in their hands, should they not lose to Canada, who are already out of the World Cup.
Germany's slim hope for qualification lingers, Japan shoot themselves in the foot
|Niklas Fullkrug (9) celebrating his equaliser against Spain. — AFP/VNA Photo|
The late match of matchday eight was also the match of the day.
Champions League winning coach Hansi Flick came under fire after his team's shock loss to Japan and a loss would mean Germany's second consecutive World Cup exit at the group stage.
A win for Spain would not only bring qualification and joy to all Spaniards, but a smile upon Luis Enrique's face, on the birthday of his late daughter.
And Enrique did go bonkers, when substitute Alvaro Morata flashes past Dortmund's Niklas Sule in the 62nd minute and opened the scoring for Spain.
Although German supporters went gloomy after Morata's goal, Die Mannschaft did not. Flick's team kept on attacking, and got the equaliser very late into the game.
In the 83rd minute, Nicklas Fullkrug, a real centre forward that the German press was begging for, currently playing in the 2.Bundesliga, is the unlikely saviour when he cleverly went past Nico Williams, and scored Germany's first goal from open play.
Germany could have won it in stoppage time, had Leroy Sane beaten Unai Simon in a one-on-one but the match ended a draw.
In the remaining matches of group E, Japan dominated Costa Rica from the get-go, having 57 per cent of possession and 13 shots.
Costa Rica have only one shot on target, but it led to their winning goal.
In the 81st minute, substitute Hiroki Ito made a mistake deploying the offside trap, and Keysher Fuller was free right at the edge of the box. Fuller curled the ball into the top corner of Shuichi Gonda's net, securing the three points that Costa Rica desperately needed.
To qualify, Germany need to win against Costa Rica, and hope for Spain to beat Japan. Spain are almost sure to qualify thanks to their superior goal difference, and chances are still open for the remaining two teams. — VNS