Day four of the 2022 World Cup saw another eight teams get their campaigns underway, with Group E and Group F entering the fray.
2018 runners-up Croatia got the ball rolling against Morocco in the early kick-off, while Germany took on Japan hoping to make up for a 2018 tournament and Spain faced Costa Rica. There was also a first World Cup appearance since 1986 for Canada as they played European giants Belgium.
This is how all of the action unfolded…
Belgium weathered a significant storm from a Canada side representing their country at a World Cup for the first time in 36 long years in Wednesday’s final World Cup game.
Canada were vibrant and took the game to the world’s number three ranked national team. They had multiple opportunities to score in the first half, the best when a VAR intervention resulted in the referee awarding a penalty. But Alphonso Davies failed to beat Thibaut Courtois.
Michy Batshuayi, playing his club football in Turkey with Fenerbahce this season, eventually gave Belgium a lead after racing onto a long through ball down the middle. Second half substitutions from Roberto Martinez also helped kill off the game in Belgium’s favour.
Without Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi took his chance / PressFocus/MB Media/GettyImages
Belgium need to be better
If Belgium are to have any hope of winning international silverware before the last remnants of their golden generation fall away, they need to play better than they did here.
The Red Devils had Courtois to thanks for keeping them in it in the first half, while Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Youri Tielemans all played well beneath themselves.
With three points secured and Morocco and Croatia now to come, Belgium should secure a place in the knockout rounds. But things will get tricky in the latter stages if nothing changes.
Spain put shock defeats for Argentina and Germany to one side as they swept aside Costa Rica 7-0 in one of the most one-sided World Cup games seen in recent memory.
Luis Enrique named a starting XI consisting of seven midfielders, but his bold selections paid dividends as they absolutely dominated a dismal Costa Rica from the first minute.
Dani Olmo opened the scoring, Marco Asensio grabbed the second and Ferran Torres put the contest to bed before half-time with a third from the penalty spot. The Barcelona winger grabbed another early on in the second half, before Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata added the gloss to what was a terrific performance from Luis Enrique’s side.
Ferran Torres was cool as you like from the penalty spot / Elsa/GettyImages
Spain in absolute cruise control
Spain will have far, far tougher tests at this World Cup but the manner of their biggest-ever win at the world’s most famous tournament shouldn’t be totally overlooked.
The passing, movement and link-up play of Luis Enrique’s side was a joy to watch, and further announced Pedri and Gavi to the world’s stage – if they even needed further introducing. Costa Rica were woefully poor – one of the worst World Cup sides in recent memory – but the emphasis should be on how this Spain side could go after Germany’s shock defeat to Japan in their opening Group E game.
Japan secured one of their most famous results with a 2-1 comeback win against Germany.
The Samurai Blue actually had the ball in the net early on at the Khalifa International Stadium, but Daizen Maeda’s strike was ruled out for offside. Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda conceded a first-half penalty when he brought down David Raum, with Ilkay Gundogan making no mistake from the spot.
But Japan emerged for the second half a completely different outfit and put Germany to the sword, finding a well-deserved equaliser through Ritsu Doan.
With seven minutes remaining, a simple free-kick over the top caught the Germans cold, allowing Takuma Asano to race in behind and slot over Manuel Neuer.
Japan were victorious / PressFocus/MB Media/GettyImages
How did Germany blow it against Japan?
Germany were punished for their wasteful finishing and their lackadaisical defending. They should be critiqued as such.
Nevertheless, Hajime Moriyasu deserves credit for changing the game with his subtitutions. Scorers Doan and Asano both came on during the second half, while ex-Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino and current Premier League favourites Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kaoru Mitoma made great impacts.
Gonda also atoned for his early error and pulled off a string of fabulous saves to keep Japan afloat.
Wednesday began with Morocco and Croatia playing out a 0-0 draw at the Al Bayt Stadium.
After just one goalless stalemate in 2018, we’ve already seen three such results in 24 hours here.
Ivan Perisic and Nikola Vlasic went closest to scoring for Croatia in the first half but couldn’t quite find the net, while Achraf Hakimi’s piledriver from 30 yards was beaten away by Dominik Livakovic and that was as good as it got for Morocco.
Luka Modric and co were held to a draw / James Williamson – AMA/GettyImages
Croatia stumble in first test
This will be seen as a missed opportunity for Croatia in their expected battle with Belgium to top the group.
They looked far flatter than they ever did in 2018 on their run to the final, with their veteran stars looking a little worse for wear.
Both teams lacked pace, but could rely on strong performances from their defenders to claim a point at least.