Japan 0-1 Costa Rica
Costa Rica conjured the spirit of catenaccio against Japan, applying the Italian tactic to the letter. For the first half this seemed successful, as Japan failed to threaten the Costa Rican goal. On the flipside, however, Costa Rica finished its third straight World Cup half without a single shot on target.
In the second half Japan finally fell into the catenaccio trap. The build-up to the fall of the Japanese started with their first couple of substitutes, as more attack-minded players were substituted in for defensive players. Japan attacks began to threaten Keylor Navas, forcing him into some heroic saves. As time passed Japan committed more and more players to the attack, knowing that a win would see them through to the Round of 16.
In the 81st minute Costa Rica mounted one of the few of its counterattacks that was able to threaten the Japanese box. Hiroki Ito broke his side’s back line, playing Yeltsin Tejeda onside to set up an easy goal from Keysher Fuller. This would prove the be the only goal of the match, turning the tables in the group.
Spain 1-1 Germany
The most anticipated match of the Group Stage started on the back of a stunning German loss to Japan 1-2, and a Spanish hammering of Costa Rica 7-0 in MD1. In the first half Spain seemed most likely to score, but it was Germany who netted first with Antonio Rudiger’s header. Unfortunately for the Germans, the goal was disallowed as the Real Madrid defender was an inch offside.
The second half started with a lower tempo, with both teams seemingly contemplating whether a draw in this match might be the best way forward. An early substitute for Spain made the difference in the 62nd minute when a fresh Alvaro Morata tapped in a low Dani Olmo cross beyond Manuel Neuer’s reach to score the first goal of the match.
Germany coach Hansi Flick had no choice but to make wholesale changes, including the addition of newly-recovered Leroy Sane. But it was not the Bayern Munich star who made an impact; instead it was Niklas Fulkrug who leveled the scoreline when he broke through the Spanish defenders to smack the ball in at the 83rd minute, courtesy of a helper from Jamal Musiala.
Belgium 0-2 Morocco
Morocco must have rightly identified Canada as an energetic team capable of qualifying as a dark horse, because it was obvious that Africans did not want to have to rely on their MD-3 to punch their ticket to the knockouts. They took today’s game to the Belgians right from the kickoff.
Belgium fans suffered through the most frustrating 90 minutes in the side’s recent history as Morocco played a possession game with an attacking mentality, Hakim Ziyech even scoring a first-half goal from a free kick that was subsequently disallowed for offside.
The second half started with the same tempo, with Belgium trying to break on the counter but without success. Morocco's substitutes on the 65th minute made an immediate impact, earning a free kick near the corner of the pitch which Abdelhamid Sabiri sent curling into the back of the net as if mirroring Ziyech's disallowed goal.
20 minutes later, substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal sent Ziyech's assist (after a world class dribble) into the ceiling of the net. Belgium threw desperate substitutions onto the pitch, including a still-recovering Romelu Lukaku, but to no avail.
Croatia 4-1 Canada
Just over a minute into this match, Bayern Munich and Canada left wingback Alphonso Davies scored the first goal for his country and the fastest in the current World Cup, nodding in a high cross from Tajon Buchanan. Despite the lead, Canada stayed on its front foot and tried to nick a second goal, but Croatia was able to absorb the nonstop attacks. Then, in what amounted to a football management masterclass, the 2018 finalists adjusted their play style to absorb, intercept and hit Canada on the counter.
This tactical shift soon bore fruit. The first goal for Croatia was scored by Andrej Kramaric from an Ivan Perisic assist in the 36th minute. It took Croatia only eight more minutes to complete the comeback when Josip Juranovic set up Marco Livaja for the second goal.
Croatia continued to exploit Canada’s inexperience with defending counters in the second half, with Peresic setting up Kramaric in the 70th minute for each of them to record his second assist and goal respectively.
Substitutes Mislav Orsic and Lovro Majer converted Kamal Miller’s mistake into a 2-on-1 with Canada’s goalkeeper. Orsic dribbled at Milan Borjan to draw him out before squaring to Majer for his teammate to finish into an empty net.