Game of the day: Japan 2 - Germany 1
While some wanted to paint this as an upset on the magnitude of Saudi Arabia upending Argentina yesterday, it doesn’t rise to anywhere near that for a couple reasons. One, Germany is not Argentina and two, this wasn’t a sucker punch. Japan came into the tournament a lot of people’s (including me) pic to fuck some shit up, and they thoroughly deserved, at worst, a draw based on their second half performance alone.
The first half was a little too passive from Samurai Blue, and Jamal Musiala was a terror from the left side of the attack, consistently weaving his way through traffic. Germany had some trouble getting through the midfield wall of Wataru Endo, so they just went over his head for their goal. They went fullback-to-fullback as Niklas Sule was able to pick out David Raum, who completely lost every Japanese marker and was alone in the box, which forced Japan keeper Shuichi Gonda to completely lose his marbles and basically foul him twice to give away a penalty.
But the thing about Germany is we still don’t know who can consistently score from open play, and we don’t know how good some of the squad is when it isn’t Bayern Munich rolling over the rest of the Bundesliga. Kai Havertz isn’t a No. 9, and Thomas Müller may just be too old for this level to play in the hole. Havertz should probably be playing where Müller was.
In the second half, Germany still had their chances to ice it but didn’t take advantage, which tends to happen when you don’t have someone who consistently finds the net. But as soon as Japan brought on Takuma Asano and Kaoru Mitoma on in the 57th minute, their attack bucked up. Japan hit Germany in the exact way everyone thought they would, which is quickly, directly, and off turnovers. As Müller and Kimmich started to tire, those became more prevalent. No one attacks at speed quite like Japan.
The other problem for Germany is that their defense can be on the slow side. Sule fell asleep on the game’s winning long ball, keeping Asano onside when Rudiger and Schlotterbeck had stepped up. But both were slow to react, which is a problem Rudiger has had for a while and why Chelsea had to keep playing a back three when he was there. They never caught Asano who finished with aplomb from a tight angle for a Landon Donovan Special.
Germany has got serious problems now. It’s hard to judge how good Spain really is thanks to Costa Rica being a complete no-show, but they’re at worst really good. Get beat again and their tournament is over. Even a draw is going to leave them with a lot to do if Japan gets by Costa Rica, which at the moment looks the same challenge as filling out your name on the SAT. Germany may get to play more on the counter against a Spanish team that will dominate the ball, and maybe that suits them more, especially if they deploy either of the speedy Dortmund players they have in Karim Adeyemi or Youssoufa Moukoko or if Leroy Sane can get fit. But someone’s going to have to finish, and that person’s identity is still a mystery.
Other results: Croatia 0-0 Morocco
That whole thing about being old? Croatia very much looked it. While they had the majority of the ball, they never looked threatening because they simply didn’t have the gas to counter when they could nor to stretch the Moroccan defense in any fashion. Both teams combined for four shots on goal, and 0-0 looked the most likely outcome from about the 15th minute on. This was every bit of two corpses in the sun.
Spain 147-0 Costa Rica
You don’t have to worry about not having a real striker when your opponent applies no pressure whatsoever. It was unclear what Costa Rica was trying to do, not pressuring the Spanish defense but also not pressuring the midfield either. Which meant that Gavi and Pedri could simply turn and run to link with Olmo, Asensio and Torres to their hearts’ delight. If those five can dance around the 18-yard box without a challenge, they’re going to pile up chances. And goals. This was utter batting practice.
Are Spain good? Yes. Are they this good? That’s hard to tell, but we’ll find out in a hurry.
Belgium 1-0 Canada
It’s a cruel sport, as Canada got jobbed and also got what they deserved? It can also be a strange sport.
Canada was most certainly the better the first half and by some margin. They piled up 2.14 in xG in the first 45 alone, and indication of how many shots they were able to get off. They were done a huge favor by Belgium Roberto Martinez, because he’s a moron, who seemingly wanted to deploy the ol’ Marcelo Bielsa 3-3-1-3 with Youri Tielemans as a right winger? At least I think?
Whatever it was, Axel Witsel was completely alone in the Belgium midfield, which means the Belgian defense who all have very creaky bones had little to no outlet from the Canadian press. There were giveaways and turnovers galore as Witsel was completely under siege and Tielemans was lost in the woods 50 yards upfield. He also shoved Eden Hazard into the starting lineup despite playing about 12 minutes for Madrid this year, and despite a few flashes Hazard looked it.
But the thing is, you have to make that count. Canada didn’t. They got an early penalty. Alphonso Davies served it up to Thibaut Courtois more like he’d just bought him a round rather than he was trying to score on him. They only put three shots on frame in the whole game. And they were lucky in that Kevin De Bruyne’s radar was seemingly jammed (LONESTAR!!) all game, as he completely missed a couple of killer passes on the break that we’re used to seeing him make every time. It actually could have been worse.
It should have been better, too. Canada should have had a second penalty, but we’ll get to that. But fair play to Martinez, because after about half an hour he moved Tielemans back into midfield alongside Witsel and then brought on Amadou Onana at halftime to really shore that spot up. Canada only had two shots from the 32nd minute until halftime, compared to 12 before. As Belgium had more options to get through the press with the move to a double-pivot, the mistakes Canada was feasting on dried up.
Canada can take heart from the performance, but they’ll have to find someone who has a compass in the opposing penalty area.
Goal of the day: Spain certainly provided a buffet, but I’ll have to go with Gavi’s goal that was Spain’s fifth. This finish is so cocky and so smooth and so assured that I basically just feel like I have to hand it my girlfriend without a fight:
Did VAR fuck anything up? Of course! Canada can feel totally screwed because they should have had a second penalty 10 minutes after their first. Eden Hazard, looking as rusty as someone should who hasn’t played regularly in years, deliberately passes the ball back to Tajon Buchanan in the Belgium box, which makes Buchanan onside. He was then completely cleared out by Jan Vertonghen But because the assistant was flagging for offside, wrongly, the foul was ignored. Janny Sikazwe never went to review nor was he asked to, as it was claimed that Vertonghen got a touch on the ball, which I can’t find with a microscope.
Sikazwe is the same ref who blew a game final short of the final whistle twice during the AFCON, though it was later revealed he was suffering from heat stroke. But this is what having two sets of eyes is supposed to solve. This was glaring, and it didn’t even get looked at.
Did Qatar fuck anything up? Nothing more than usual, it would seem.
Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid? Not today, though his clear jealousy of not having a shared handshake that Clint Dempsey and Stu Holden have from their time on the national team together was kind of adorable.