Tuesday 29 November 2022 saw the first group of eight teams, from Groups A and B, play their third and last group matches in FIFA World Cup 2022.
For half the teams would be their last matches of this year’s tournament; the others would be progressing to the knock-out phase of the tournament.
Both matches kicked off simultaneously: Ecuador played Senegal and the Netherlands play Qatar.
The permutations were complex with both the Netherlands and Ecuador on 4 points and Senegal on 3. With the Netherlands expected to see off the hosts, Qatar, and finish on 7 points as group leaders, Senegal would need to win to go through at the expense of Ecuador who would only need a draw to progress to the knockout phase.
The Netherlands were clearly the superior team, but Qatar were not there just to make up the numbers, with Al Haydos and Mohamad proving to be a threat on their right flank. On 26 minutes the Netherlands got the breakthrough when Gakpo broke through the Qatari defence after receiving a pass by Klaassen and slotted home from just inside the box, beyond the outstretched arms of Barsham, the Qatari goalkeeper. 1-0 to the Netherlands. After the goal, Qatar enjoyed longer periods of possession but lacked an attacking threat. Meanwhile, in the other match, Senegal scored from a penalty to go 1-0 up over Ecuador and, more importantly, move into 2nd place in the table behind the Netherlands. HT 1-0 to the Netherlands. Just 4 minutes after the restart, the Netherlands went 2-0 up. Depay latched onto a cross and shot straight at Barsham who could only parry the shot and could do nothing as de Jong was on hand to tap the ball home. 2-0 for the Netherlands. Qatar refused to lie down and were not afraid to attack but their final ball was either poor or there was nobody running into space. The Netherlands were content to knock the ball about without much urgency and attack when they saw a gap. This is exactly what happened very soon after the Netherlands made two substitutions and Steven Bergwijn slotted the ball home from close range; however, it was ruled out for offside. Still 2-0 for the Netherlands. Meanwhile, on 67 minutes in the other game, Caicedo equalised for Ecuador against Senegal, meaning that the South American team leapfrogged the African team into the 2nd place. However, just over 2 minutes later, Senegal regained the lead thanks to a goal from Koulibaly, with the teams swapping positions again. Back to the Netherlands-Qatar match: the host nation did have an opportunity in the 79th minute as they broke up the left wing, but Noppert in the Dutch goal was alert to the threat and smothered the ball. On 89 minutes they got the ball into the Dutch box but there was no real threat on goal. Berghuis almost extended the Dutch lead when rattling the woodwork but the score remained the same. FT 2-0 to the Netherlands; in the other match, Senegal prevailed 2-1.
So the Netherlands go through to the knockout phase as Group A Winners (A1) and Senegal as Group A Runners-up (A2). Ecuador can consider themselves to be unlucky but they did not get the required result against Senegal. The hosts, Qatar, lost their 3 games during which time they scored just 1 goal and conceded 7.
Both matches kicked off simultaneously: England played Wales and Iran played the USA.
The qualification permutations were complex. England, on 4 points, needed just a draw to progress to the knockout phase; even if Wales won they would probably not qualify. And realistically, Iran needed just a draw to progress, while the USA needed a win to go through. What would be the most likely outcome? England and the USA; however, this World Cup has already seen some upsets…
England made 4 changes to their starting line-up, with Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden coming in to start against Wales.
England started off with having the majority of the possession and spreading the ball wide to both flanks, with Wales content to sit back. On 9 minutes Harry Kane unlocked the Welsh defence but Marcus Rashford’s shot was smothered by Danny Ward in Wales’ goal. England were awarded a couple of free kicks in dangerous positions in Wales’ half but they could not make them count. Joe Allen in Wales’ midfield was central to everything they did, but was difficult with limited possession. 30 minutes and no score in either game. England still had almost all the possession against Wales but they just could not find the breakthrough. After a lengthy delay, Wales’ Nico Williams was replaced by Connor Roberts due to a head injury. Almost immediately England had a slick move with quick passing come to an end when Foden shot over. A minute later, Marcus Rashford had a spectacular scissors kick go over the bar. England were pressing hard and Ben Davies conceded a corner which came to nothing. In the other game, the USA scored against Iran through Pulisic on 40 minutes. Currently England and the USA were in the qualifying positions. England continued to press forward but Marcus Rashford seemed to lose possession regularly. From another corner, England’s John Stones rose highest at the far post but Ward gathered the ball easily. Wales had an attack before the break but Joe Allen’s shot was too high. HT 0-0 between England and Wales; in the other game, the USA were 1-0 up against Iran. Wales made a second substitution at the start of the second half with Ben Johnson on for Gareth Bale who hardly saw the ball at all in the first half. Ben Foden went on a mazy run and won a free kick just outside Wales’ penalty box. Marcus Rashford blasted the free kick straight into the top right corner of the net. 1-0 to England - no less than they deserved. Less than a minute later, England were 2-0 ahead when Harry Kane’s cross was side-footed into the net by Phil Foden. Wales attacked down the left and Daniel James’ curling shot was just wide. With just over 30 minutes remaining, England made 3 substitutions with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kalvin Phillips and Callum Wilson came on for Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Kyle Walker. Wales brought off Ben Davies for Joe Morrell. Shortly later, Kieran Trippier replaced Luke Shaw. The urgency went of the game as the new players on the pitch tried to get up to speed, with Wales getting more of the ball. On 67 minutes, Marcus Rashford got his second goal of the evening at the end of which was a real team goal. 3-0 to England. On 75 minutes he came off to be replaced by Jack Grealish. A minute later Bellingham and Foden could both have got on the scoresheet but Ward saves Wales’ blushes. Joe Allen was then replaced by Colwill. Heading into 4 minutes of added time, England were awarded a corner; the ball fell to John Stones whose shot from 6 yards out went over the bar. A minute later and the ball played pinball in the Welsh box but it was eventually cleared. FT 3-0 to England. With 9 minutes of added time in the other match, the USA were not yet safe. On 98 minutes Iran had the ball in the USA’s box and claimed a penalty but the referee waved play on. FT and the USA won 1-0. Drama to the end!
So England go through to the knockout phase as Group B Winners (B1) and USA as Group B Runners-up (B2). England had put their poor performance against the USA behind them to play free-flowing football as they did against Iran in their first game.
The last-16 pairings to play this Saturday 3 December are the Netherlands v the USA, and England v Senegal.
Meanwhile, today’s matches will see the teams in Groups C and D in action in the second day of the last group matches. In Group C, Poland play Argentina at the same time that the Saudi Arabia play Mexico. In Group D, France play Tunisia at the same time that Australia play Denmark.