Tuesday 22 November 2022 saw the eight teams from Groups C and D take to the pitch to commence their FIFA World Cup 2022 campaigns.
As with the initial games in Groups A and B, there were a number of refereeing decisions that were difficult to fathom, with inconsistency the keyword.
Unbeaten in 36 matches going into the tournament, Argentina have been many people's favourite to win the World Cup, with 35-year-old talisman Lionel Messi in arguably his last opportunity to lift the ultimate prize in the sport. In Tuesday's early game against Saudi Arabia, ranked 49th compared to their opponents' 4th, the Saudi defence was tested as early as the 2nd minute, with their goalkeeper pulling off a wonderful fingertip save as early as the 2nd minute. Just 6 minutes later the referee's attention was brought to an incident for which he awarded a penalty (not unlike the incident the previous day when England's Harry Maguire was wrestled to the ground, but no penalty was awarded). Messi duly obliged by coolly converting the spot-kick for his 92nd goal for his country. Saudi Arabia managed their first shot on goal in the 16th minute showing that they were not overawed by the occasion; their defence was also very disciplined, catching Argentina offside on numerous occasions. On one such occasion, in the 22nd minute, Messi had thought he had got his second goal, but it was ruled offside, as was Martinez' effort 5 minutes later, and a third before half-time. On the half-hour, Saudi Arabia won their first corner of the game. 1-0 at half-time to Argentina, with many wondering how it was not more. But this was to be a game of two halves, as Saudi Arabia came out of their block firing on all cylinders, with Saleh Al-Shehri scoring the equaliser with a low shot and Salem Al Dawsari firing them ahead with a brilliant solo goal to set their supporters into a frenzy, within 10 minutes of the re-start. The Saudi defence held solid for the remainder of the game to secure what was only their 4th ever win at a World Cup. Argentina were humbled in this 2-1 defeat which has been one of the biggest World Cup shocks in history. Credit to Saudi Arabia (coached by an Argentinian) who seized their chance when it presented itself. When the referee blew the final whistle, the team, substitutes and management, not to forget their supporters in the stadium, celebrated as if they had won the entire tournament.
The second match in Group A saw Mexico face Poland, whose captain, 34 year-old Robert Lewandowski, has been one of the top strikers in European football over the past number of years, scoring 13 goals in 14 matches for Barcelona this season (previously 238 goals in 253 appearances for Bayern Munich over 8 seasons). The Poles started the match sitting back, allowing Mexico to come at them and seemingly hoping to catch the Central American team on the break. This nearly back-fired in the 12th minute when Mexico almost scored from a corner. But Poland were looking much more comfortable on the ball, increasing possession. On 25 minutes, Mexico threatened the Polish goal once more, but their shot was just wide; just two minutes later, Mexico closed in again on Poland's goal but, yet again, Poland's defence held firm. But it was starting to creak. Mexico were playing strongly, ferocious in the tackle and not shirking any challenge, playing at a consistently high tempo, with their wing-backs exposing the gaps outside Poland's 3-man defence. But the first half remained scoreless. 10 minutes after the restart, Mexico conceded a penalty after VAR asked the referee to look at replays. A contentious decision if ever there was one... Incredibly, Mexico's goalkeeper saved from Lewandowski! Buoyed by this, Mexico surfed forward and piled the pressure on the Polish goal. Played at an increasingly high tempo, the referee was blowing his whistle frequently; however, he was still missing a number of fouls committed by both sides. Mexico had more shots on goal, but most were long-range efforts and unlikely to trouble Poland's goalkeeper. But the Central American side kept up the pressure until the final whistle, with Poland continuing to play deep. 7 minutes of added time were announced, and still Mexico were the team pressing forward, with Poland preferring to try to catch their opponents on the break. A hectic end to the match ensued, with opportunities at both ends of the pitch. But that was it. 0-0 at the full-time whistle.
In the next games of Group C, Argentina face Mexico on Saturday, while Saudi Arabia take on Poland.
The first match in Group D saw Denmark up against Tunisia who qualified ahead of Egypt and Nigeria. Before the tournament, Denmark had planned for their players to wear jerseys without all badges and logos the same colour of their jerseys, as a protest against the tournament being held in Qatar, but this was outlawed by the game's governing body. It was quite difficult to tell the supporters apart in the stadium, with Denmark playing in red and white, and Tunisia in white and red. The North African team were fast out of the starting blocks, putting the European team under constant pressure. Mid-way through the first half, Tunisia had a great break down the right flank and managed to put the ball in the back of the net; however, the goal was (correctly) ruled out for offside. Denmark had their chances too, with pin-point accurate crosses into the Tunisian box, but the final touch was letting them down. At half-time the score was 0-0 but not for the lack of endeavour of both teams: the half finished with a flurry of chances for both teams. Tunisia had been arguably the stronger of the two teams in the first half, and started the second half in the sane fashion. 10 minutes into the second half, Denmark had the ball in the back of the Tunisian net after upping the tempo somewhat; however, it was ruled out for offside. With 20 minutes left on the clock, Denmark almost scored from a corner; however, after a goalmouth scramble, Danish players failed to head it home. At 90 minutes on the clock, 5 additional minutes were announced - where that came from is anyone's guess as the ball seemed to have been in play the entire second half without stoppages. 2 minutes later, Denmark nearly had the ball in the net after a long-range shot. Tunisia had a last-minute reprieve when Denmark's claim for a hand-ball in the box were turned down - that decision could easily have gone the other way. Denmark finished very strongly but it ended scoreless. Interestingly, the only 0-0 draw in the last World Cup also featured Denmark, when they faced France.
The second match in Group D, the last of the day, involved previous winners (the holders) France up against the Socceroos from Australia. With France expected to win, and win well, they started strongly, with Mbappe moving like lightning, but it was Australia who opened the scoring on 10 minutes with a cracking goal by Craig Goodwin. France needed to make a substitution due to an injury to Lucas Hernandez in the same move, with his brother Theo replacing him. Although racked by injuries before the tournament, France were still expected to win with the quality and experience of players on the pitch. France tried to move the ball up the pitch and play the ball on the ground, but the Australians were proving to be rugged opposition. On 25 minutes, out of the blue, a ball into the box by Hernandez was headed home by Rabiot as the Australian defence went awol. And 5 minutes later Olivier Giroud put France 2-1 ahead. France started to influence their authority on the game and to control the tempo. Just before half-time, France could have scored as Kylian Mbappe missed an open goal. The following minute, Australia could have equalised as they hit the post of Australia's goal. 6 minutes of time added on, but no further goals. 2-1 for Australia at half-time. Just after the re-start Giroud had a wonderful opportunity to put France further ahead with a spectacular bicycle kick, but the ball went wide of the post. Australia tried to get a goal back but France stood strong and upped the tempo again. Antoine Griezmann had a shot cleared off the line on 66 minutes, but almost immediately afterwards, Mbappe scored with a shot in off the post. 3-1 to France. 3 minutes later, Giroud got his 2nd goal of the night, with an assist by Mbappe. 4-1. 7 minutes of injury time added on, but the competitive aspect of the game had long fizzled out. Full-time: 4-1 to France.
The next matches in Group D will be played on Saturday and will see Australia against Poland, followed by France against Denmark.