Germany 1-2 Japan
The first half of this match was all German, with Japan mounting zero attempts on goal. RB Leipzig' left wing back David Raum (the squad’s Robin Gosens replacement) earned a penalty awarded by VAR after goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda stumbled on him awkwardly. Ilkay Gundogan made no mistake, converting the penalty to give his team the lead heading into the intermission.
The German side started off the second half still in full control, wasting no time in threatening the Japanese back line. It looked as if Germany was poised to thrash Japan, but the Asian side (credit goes to the coach) replaced both of his left-sided players with fresh legs in an effort to turn the tide.
The changes allowed Japan to control the midfield heading into the final third of the game, and that’s when the Japanese coach played a masterstroke, inserting midfielder Ritsu Doan in place of right back Hiroki Sakai and changing formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-6-1. Results came in almost immediately. Manuel Neuer was forced into a difficult save but a minute later his second save bounced back to Doan, whose strike leveled affairs in the 75th minute.
Before the Japanese first goal, German gaffer Flick opted to take out his best performers Kai Havertz and Gundogan. After the Japanese goal, Gnabry, Thomas Muller and Jamal Musiala followed suit. These changes played a huge part in the eventual downfall of the Germans. Niklas Sule made a costly mistake in keeping Japanese substitute Takuma Asano onside, and Asano’s astonishing strike completed the well-earned comeback.
Japanese GK Gonda recorded 8 saves in the match, and half of those were during one German attacking bonanza towards the end of the match, which ended with Neuer playing as a forward. This match result qualifies as the second big upset of World Cup Qatar after Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in similar fashion.
Spain 7-0 Costa Rica
Spain had to make sure that they weren’t ambushed by the Costa Rican underdogs the way Germany was by Japan, and they most certainly did just that. The first half ended with three goals for the Spaniards. Dani Olmo started the hammering of Keylor Navas 11 minutes into the match. Marco Asensio scored the second from a Jordi Alba assist 10 minutes later. No more than ten minutes after that, Ferran Torres slipped one past Navas from the spot.
Costa Rica fared no better in the second half, as Spain continued to its comprehensive domination. Spain entertained the fans — friend and foe alike — and sent a strong warning to Germany and Japan by chalking up four more goals after the intermission. Ferran Torres became the fifth player to score 2 goals in the opening matchday of this tournament, scoring his team’s fourth.
Pablo Gavi capitalised on Alvaro Morata’s cross to score Spain’s fifth goal, putting a stamp on an outstanding individual performance. Carlos Scoler scored in the final minute of regulation before Morata got his own piece of the pie, netting in the 92nd minute from Olmo’s assist.
Morocco 0-0 Croatia
This match saw only one effort on goal during the first half, made by Croatian right winger Nikola Vlasic in the final moments before the break. On the whole, Morocco were probably the better side as Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech combined well on the right to create several chances that failed to find Sevilla striker En-Nesyri. Morocco players looked confident going forward, with Sofian Amrabet a rock in middle of the field, dispossessing Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic with ease.
After the break, both teams tried to sustain the tempo of the last few minutes of the first half, but neither team’s attack met with much success. Chances on goal were few and far between, and in the end Croatia was forced to settle for a draw against the organised Moroccan side.
Belgium 1-0 Canada
Canada is fast, organised, created chances, and had 8 shots on goal either saved or blocked 20 just minutes into the match against Belgium. But in football and more specifically in the World Cup only shots that end up in the net carry weight (although shots on target count for fantasy!). Canada should have gotten on the scoreboard after a Yannick Carrasco handball in the box awarded them a penalty, but Alphonso Davies’ take was saved by none other than Thibaut Courtois (best goalkeeper in the world?).
Belgium’s quality and experience in midfield then took advantage of the Canadian players’ inexperience as one successful dribble after another opened up space for dangerous chances. Michy Batshuayi finally put Toby Anderweireld’s assist into the back of the net in the last minute of the first half. Canada’s lack of good finishing cost them a couple of worthy chances in the added minutes.
Canada’s energy levels dropped slightly after the intermission and Belgium was able to cope well with the Canadians. The second half continued to showcase Canada’s poor finishing as the statistics showed a total of 20 attempts, out of which only 3 were on target, while Belgium had 6 attempts with 2 on target. When the referee blew the final whistle, Belgium pocketed three points to climb to the top of the group, Morocco and Croatia each with one point after their draw.