The Saturday World Cup action saw our first team book their place in the round of 16, while one of the tournament’s GOATs returned to winning ways. A Kylian Mbappe brace saw France beat an inspired Denmark side and in the process advance to the knockout round.
In the final match of the day, Argentina bounced back from their shock defeat to Saudi Arabia. Lionel Messi scored the eventual match winner in a 2-0 victory over Mexico, a result that sees the Albiceleste climb to second in Group C.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from the Saturday World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to what’s next on Sunday.
France and Denmark have squared off twice in the past six months. And twice, the Danes have emerged victorious, securing Nations League wins by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. Not that Les Bleus needed any additional motivation to win their Group D contest, but those two defeats sure added some fuel to the fire.
The likes of Antoine Griezmann and Aurelien Tchouameni spoke of France’s recent losses, and how the team spoke ahead of the Saturday match about this time being different, and it was. Kylian Mbappe scored twice, Griezmann starred in midfield and the partnership of Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano in central defense looked imperious. Denmark never made it easy, but there was an air of inevitability about this France team.
The reward for Didier Deschamps’ team? A place in the round of 16, the first side in this edition of the World Cup to reach the knockout stage.
That’s not the end of Denmark, though — not yet anyway. They’ll take on Australia on Wednesday, and assuming that France win or draw against 30th-ranked Tunisia, a victory over the Socceroos will take them through to the round of 16.
Messi, Argentina bounce back vs. Mexico
Has there been a bigger upset in this World Cup than Saudi Arabia beating Argentina in their Group C opener last week? It was the sort of result that looked ominous, casting a shadow over what is the final appearance in this competition for one of the game’s all-time greats in Messi.
With Poland having beaten Saudi earlier Saturday, Argentina were at the foot of the table at zero points. Anything short of victory would’ve left the Albiceleste with a mountain to climb against Robert Lewandowski & Co. on the group’s final matchday.
And three points is exactly what Argentina got from El Tri. While Mexico’s tactical tweak failed to truly stifle Lionel Scaloni’s side, they did look short of ideas for much of the 90 minutes, ultimately relying on the individual brilliance of Messi — again.
It’s a result that serves as a lifeline for Argentina, who are now second in Group C. Their destiny is in their hands, with a win over Poland in their final match of the group stage securing them a place in the round of 16 — they’ll need help from elsewhere if they’re holding to a draw, and a defeat would make the uplifting win Saturday meaningless as a group stage exit would be confirmed.
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Spain inspired Germany; now La Roja might end their World Cup
Germany rebuilt themselves in Spain’s image and won the 2014 World Cup. Now they face being eliminated from Qatar 2022 by La Roja on Sunday.
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for the Sunday matches.
Japan vs. Costa Rica (Japan -220, Draw +300, Costa Rica +700)
Thomas: Japan looked so good in the second half against Germany; in contrast Costa Rica look like the worst team in the tournament. Japan will win this comfortably. I’ll take total team goals over 2.5 +220.
Cuff: I was big on Japan pre-tournament to get out of this group and they delivered against Germany. They showed their quality and athleticism while dominating the second half. I don’t think Costa Rica were as horrible as they looked against Spain, but I struggle to see how they’re going to generate many quality scoring chances. Japan to win to nil +115.
Carr: Agreed on Dalen’s win to nil pick. Japan are a legit team, with the physicality to handle whatever CONCACAF-ness Costa Rica might throw at them. Unlike the Spain game, the Ticos should get a shot against Japan, but not much else. Don’t overthink this one.
Belgium vs. Morocco (Belgium -108, Draw +235, Morocco +310)
Thomas: Belgium were fortunate to get the win against Canada, but you can’t imagine them putting in another lackluster performance. I don’t think there will be many goals. Belgium 1-0 +600.
Cuff: Belgium were dominated by Canada, conceded 20 shots and somehow not only won but kept a clean sheet. Their attacking talent is still evident despite Romelu Lukaku’s injury. However that was not a deserved three points. Morocco have great pace on the wings and ability to play in transition like Canada will yield opportunities. Both teams to score -115.
Carr: Kevin De Bruyne said Belgium are too old to win the World Cup, and he’s right. The aging defense was on display against Canada, which had 1.8 expected goals without counting the penalty. Morocco should be able to exploit the back line too, with the pace of Hakim Ziyech, Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui. I’ll take Morocco +0.5 at -125.
Croatia vs. Canada (Croatia +107, Draw +235, Canada +260)
Thomas: This is tough to call given what we saw from both sides in the opening game. I’m taking the draw here +235.
Cuff: Canada were great in their opener, no team was more impressive, and came away with nothing in the first round of games. They showed no fear and dominated Belgium. Croatia have experience and some new blood in the squad but I think the Canadians put together another performance and I’m playing them to win outright +260.
Spain vs. Germany (Spain +135, Draw +245, Germany +190)
Thomas: Here we go, then, what a match this should be. Germany have to go for it after that defeat vs. Japan. I’m expecting goals and lots of them. Over 3.5 +190.
Cuff: Two giants of world football and in completely different positions in the group. Spain smashed Costa Rica 7-0 while Germany’s loss to Japan means they’ve got everything to play for. A loss could eliminate the Germans before the final group game. I like Dan’s play above with over 3.5 goals but I think this ends in a draw +245.
Carr: This game has to have goals in it. Spain play a much more open style than the previous generation’s tiki-taka. Germany have plenty of top-class attackers and plenty of questions at the back, both of which were on display in the opener, when Germany had 3.1 expected goals and conceded 1.5. I’m on over 3.5 (+190) too, which scares me a bit!
News and notes
Cristiano Ronaldo performed a stroke of “genius” to win a controversial penalty for Portugal in their 3-2 win over Ghana, FIFA’s expert World Cup analysts said Saturday. FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) held a media briefing in Doha in which it said this World Cup is on track for a record number of penalties and praised Ronaldo’s winning of the spot kick. Former Colombia goalkeeper and TSG panel member Faryd Mondragon said: “Maybe the strikers are getting smarter? If you look at the penalty that Ronaldo got, people can say what they want about this man, but the smartness and the ingenious thought to just being patient and wait for that split second to touch the ball first before you, and continue my leg so that your contact will hit my leg. That is total genius.”
Luis Enrique has said Spain midfielder Gavi can “define an era” ahead of their World Cup group E clash with Germany on Sunday. The 18-year-old Barcelona academy graduate scored and was named MVP in Wednesday’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica, the country’s biggest-ever victory at a World Cup. “The most surprising thing for everyone is that someone, at 18 years and 100 days old, has that amount of self-confidence,” Enrique said at a news conference Saturday. “You have to look at the intelligence he has in his positioning, how he dominates the technical aspects of football, and his physical capacity despite being 18. We have to stay calm, he’s 18, but he can define an era.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his side “deserves respect” following controversial comments made by Canada coach John Herdman this week. Herdman said he told his players to “go and ‘eff’ Croatia” in an on-pitch huddle following their narrow defeat to Belgium in their World Cup Group F opener Wednesday. The word ”eff” — widely assumed to be an abbreviation for an obscenity — sparked furore in the Croatian media. “The Croatia team deserves respect from everyone,” Dalic said Saturday, the day before the two sides met in a must-win match. “We are the runners-up, second in the world. We respect everyone equally so we expect our opposing teams to respect us. This way of putting words together is not a sign of respect.”
Matches on tap for Sunday
– Group E: Japan vs. Costa Rica (Ahmad bin Ali Stadium; 5 a.m. ET)
Japan scored an upset win over Germany in their tournament opener, putting them in a comfortable position to face Costa Rica, who were ripped to shreds 7-0 by Spain on Wednesday. A win for the Samurai, with a bit of help from Spain in their match against Germany, will see Japan through to the knockout stage.
– Group F: Belgium vs. Morocco (Al Thumama Stadium; 8 a.m. ET)
Belgium were incredibly lucky to emerge from their opening match against Canada with a win. Morocco put in a valiant effort to take a scoreless draw against Russia 2018 finalists Croatia. If the Red Devils turn in another stale performance, a more experienced Moroccan side won’t let them off the hook so easily.
– Group F: Croatia vs. Canada (Khalifa International Stadium; 11 a.m. ET)
The fuse for this game has already been lit, after Canada coach John Herdman told his team to go “eff Croatia” in their next match. The Canadians were dominant against Belgium, but came away empty-handed. Taking on Croatia was always going to be a challenge, and one they needed to meet, but their coach’s words have made that task all the steeper.
– Group E: Spain vs. Germany (Al Bayt Stadium; 2 p.m. ET)
This is a must-win game for Germany. If they lose, they will go out of the competition. Meanwhile, Spain can move on to the round of 16 with a win over Die Nationalmannschaft and Japan win or draw against Costa Rica.
What else caught our eye
Before Poland’s game against Saudi Arabia, Lewandowski had played in four World Cup matches but had failed to score. He was risking joining other greats such as Luis Figo, Pavel Nedved and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in playing in a World Cup for their country but never scoring. That changed, in emotional fashion, Saturday.
Gab Marcotti and Nedum Onouha react to Robert Lewandowski scoring his first goal in the FIFA World Cup.