Many of you may ask why do the final games of the World Cup group play for each group happen simultaneously? It’s a controversy that goes back to the first round of group play at the 1982 World Cup. For a long time, I thought it was the 1978 Cup but it’s 1982.
The first round of group play at Espana 1982 was just like at this World Cup; four in a group and the top two advance. With 24 teams in 1982, they were divided in six groups of four. Group 2 had West Germany, Algeria, Chile and Austria. In the opening match West Germany lost to Algeria 2-1 while Austria beat Chile 1-0. For the second matches, West Germany won big over Chile 4-1 and Austria beat Algeria 2-0. The third matches were held a day apart. Algeria played Chile and won 3-2.
With a day to go, West Germany and Austria knew Algeria’s final results: two wins, a loss, five goal scored, five conceded. Austria had two win, three goals scored, none conceded. West Germany had a win and a loss, five goals scored, three conceded. For West Germany and Austria to qualify to the next round, West Germany would have to win 1-0 or 2-0 to advance along with Austria. In the match the next day in El Molinon Stadium in Gijon, Spain, West Germany did beat Austria 1-0 and both progressed to the next round. Three teams with two wins and a loss, but West Germany’s and Austria’s better goal differentials helped them advance.
It was right there in the stadium that thousands of people suspected something. Especially since the lone goal from Horst Hrubesch in the tenth minute was pretty lacklustre and Friedrich Koncilia appeared to put a weak effort into stopping. The mostly Spanish crowd was infuriated, West German fans even were angered, and FIFA investigated it to see if any match fixing. In the end, they could not find any evidence to prove that the match was fixed between the two. Nevertheless the match, one of many shockers and scandals of Espana 1982, would be remembered as the “Disgrace of Gijon.” In addition, FIFA instituted a new rule that each World Cup group’s final matches of group play all be held simultaneously. Simultaneous play of final group matches even happens at the Euro, Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
Now onto Qatar 2022 and the tenth time the final matches of group play will be played simultaneously. With one game left to play, three teams have already qualified for the knockout stage, two teams are already out of all chances, and twenty-seven teams will need Game 3 to decide who’s among the other thirteen to advance. In this blog, I’ll break down each group’s action and give the details of which team needs what to qualify for the knockout round. Teams that have already qualified are in bold and links to my original blogs are in the headings.
It started with a win for Ecuador over hosts Qatar. Then followed with a win for Netherlands over Senegal. Senegal won against hosts Qatar, then Netherlands and Ecuador had a 1-1 draw. As of now, none of the teams have guaranteed qualification. The Netherlands and Ecuador can make qualification happen if they just draw in both their games. Senegal will face Ecuador in their third game. Winner definitely qualifies. Ecuador can afford to draw but this is a must-win game for the Senegalese to qualify. The only way the Netherlands can’t qualify is if they lose to Qatar and the Ecuador/Senegal game ends in a draw, and I bet that won’t happen.
As for Qatar, it’s over. They are now the second host nation to not advance past the opening round of a World Cup. Netherlands and Ecuador have a win and a draw each which means even if Qatar win against the Netherlands, which I doubt would happen, it will be too much too late.
Sometimes it happens in a group with a World Cup group with a single game to go, all four still have chances to qualify. That’s how it worked out with the play. England opened strong with a 6-2 win over Iran. The US and the Welsh drew 1-1 thanks to goals from American star Tim Weah and Welsh sensation Gareth Bale. In Wales vs. Iran, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey got the Cup’s first instant red card in the 86th minute. That may be what allowed Iran to score two goals in stoppage time and give them their biggest World Cup victory ever! The England-US game was expected to be a tough rivalry, but it ended in a scoreless draw. That’s how it all makes game three to be a free-for-all.
England has the easiest chance to qualify. Even if they lose to Wales, the loss will need to be 3-0 if they’re to fail to advance. Iran could qualify with a draw, but they shouldn’t take chances as it may be possible Wales wins and qualifies based on goal differentials. Don’t forget Iran’s loss to England was by four goals. Both Iran and Wales have goal differentials of -2. The US need nothing less than a win to qualify. Wales not only needs a win over England to qualify, but for a draw to happen in the Iran-US game. If a winner happens in that game, Wales victory over England will have to be a three-goal differential like 3-0 or 4-1. It’s that tight!
Of all groups here in Qatar, this group has the most shockers. Nobody expected Argentina to lose to Saudi Arabia 2-1. Saudi Arabia was so elated by the win, a national holiday was declared! The Mexico/Poland match resulted in a scoreless draw: one of five scoreless draws in Qatar 2022. Game 2 became a case for teams to want to play like they meant it. Poland made up for its lackluster opener by defeating Saudi Arabia 2-0. Argentina, disappointed with their loss in what should be called the “Saudi Surprise,” knew they had to defeat Mexico to regain their reputation. And they did 2-0.
All four teams have a chance of qualifying. Poland in the top spot has it easiest because they could just simply draw against Argentina and it would be enough to qualify, but they know the Albiceleste are hungry to redeem themselves, so they don’t want to take any chances. Speaking of Messi and the boys, they could draw against Poland, but could face elimination if Saudi Arabia defeats Mexico, so you can bet the Albiceleste will want to make this a win. As for the Saudis, they too can’t take chances against Mexico. Don’t forget they had a win at the last World Cup, but also had two losses and failed to advance. A draw would be too risky with goal differentials coming into play, plus who knows how the Argentina/Poland game will go? So a win against Mexico will be needed. Mexico, in last place, still have a chance if they win against the Saudis and Poland beats Argentina. If Argentina wins or draws against Poland, Mexico will need a win of either 3-0 or 4-1 to make it in. Slim, but still possible.
It’s widely considered that there is a curse of the World Cup champion. Four of the previous five World Cups, including the last three, have seen the defending champion end their World Cup run in the group stage. Here in Qatar, France ended all concern of the curse by winning their first two games and becoming the first team to guarantee qualification! They opened with a 4-1 win over Australia and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Denmark, and that secured it. They ended the curse! Funny thing is they appear to have started it in 2002 when they not only were ousted, but failed to score a single goal! Even if France loses against Tunisia, they will still qualify.
All of the other three teams still have a chance. Second in the group is Australia. After their 1-4 loss to France, they knew they needed to win their next game against Tunisia to be in contention, and they did it: 1-0. For the Australia/Denmark match, it’s a case of whoever wins qualifies. While Denmark needs nothing short of a win to qualify, Australia could qualify simply by drawing, but they could be ousted if Tunisia defeats France and goal differentials come into play. A win against France and the Australia/Denmark game being a draw is Tunisia’s only chance of qualifying for the group stage. Also if Denmark wins over Australia, Tunisia’s win over France will have to be 2-0 or 3-1 to have that chance. Although I don’t think France will have them win, anything is possible.
Group E is another case where all four teams still have chances to qualify for the knockout round. Group E is another group that had surprises. First was Japan’s win over Germany 2-1. Then came the huge win of Spain over Costa Rica: 7-0. Then Costa Rica won over Japan 1-0 and Spain drew against Germany 1-1. Although it’s not guaranteed, Spain has the best chances of qualifying even if they lose. It could be a case they lose to Japan and Germany wins their game, but their big win over Costa Rica puts them in an excellent position to qualify.
Japan looks like the team that can best qualify if they draw, but their chances are slim because of Spain’s huge win. A win over Germany will solidify. Same with Costa Rica. They will need to win over Germany if they want to advance because of the huge loss they had to Spain. Their win against Japan was a boost, but goal differentials will have an impact in qualifying. Germany is the nation where a win is absolutely critical. The Mannschaft are the only team in this group without a win. They will not only need to win against Costa Rica, but hope that the Japan/Spain game results in a draw or Spain winning because if Japan wins, Japan and Spain will have the advantage with goal differentials. That’s the World Cup for you.
At first it appeared that Group B would be the “Group Of Death” of the Cup. Seems like almost every group has become like a Group Of Death and Group F is no exception. The first matches started with Morocco and Croatia in a scoreless draw and Belgium defeating Canada 1-0. How about that? The first games end and there’s only a single goal! Then in the second matches, Morocco surprised Belgium 2-0– Morocco’s first World Cup win since 1998 — and Croatia dominated over Canada 4-1.
Three teams still have a chance at qualifying. Although both Morocco and Croatia have a win and a draw, Croatia have the best chances of qualifying because of their goal differentials. Either team can qualify by simply drawing, but it may not be something they’d want to do because of the opponents they’ll face. Belgium knows it will need a win if they want to stay alive. That loss to Morocco really set them back and they can’t afford to take chances since Morocco will be taking on Canada.
Canada is the second team in this World Cup to be eliminated after the second game. They lost 1-0 against Belgium but impressed the world with their strong play and strong defense. In their match against Croatia, they opened strongly with Alphonso Davies delivering what is so far the fastest opening goal of the World Cup. Over time, the Croatians poured it on and exposed the weaknesses in Canada and they lost 4-1. Even before the World Cup, I knew Canada’s chances of qualifying were slim. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too worried about qualification because Canada will be co-hosting the next World Cup. I figured this would be a learning experience for the team as the team consists mostly of young players while teams like Belgium and Croatia consist of well-seasoned players. I wish Canada all the best for 2026.
Before Monday, November 28th, France was the only team assured qualification with one game to go. At the end of Monday, two more were added, and both are lusophone nations! You can imagine that the nation football fans would most have their eyes on would be Brazil. Brazil did not disappoint. They opened their World Cup with a 2-0 win over Serbia, thanks to two second-half goals from 25 year-old Richarlison. Their second match was against Switzerland and it was a single goal from Casemiro in the 83rd minute that gave Brazil their victory 1-0. Even if they lose to Cameroon on Friday, they’re guaranteed in there.
The three other teams in Group G also have chances to be the other team to advance. Switzerland has the best chances as they had a 1-0 win over Cameron and their loss to Brazil leaves them with even goal differentials. In fact if Switzerland wins over Serbia and Brazil loses to Cameroon, they can take the top spot of Group G if their win is 2-0 or 3-1! A draw against Serbia is too risky because if it so happens that Cameroon beats Brazil, Cameroon could advance because of better goal differentials thanks to their 3-3 draw to Serbia. Actually both Cameroon and Serbia will need wins to have any chance of advancing. Serbia has the slimmest of chances to qualify with a loss, a draw, three goals sores and five conceded. If they win against Switzerland and Cameroon draws, they can be the team that advances. Even in football, the slimmest of chances are still possible.
Four short hours after Brazil became the second team to qualify to the knockout stage, Portugal became the third! It all started in their first match against Ghana. After a scoreless first-half, Portugal won 3-2 and Cristiano Ronaldo made history as the first player to score a goal in five World Cups! A win against Uruguay thanks to two second-half goals from Bruno Fernandes booked them qualification to the Round of 16! Even if they lose to South Korea on Friday, they’re still going!
Any of the other three Group H teams can become the second team to qualify, but their play in the third game will finalize who’s the one. Both matches on Friday are of intrigue. The South Korea/Portugal match because both have Portuguese head coaches, with South Korea’s playing in the 2002 World Cup. The Ghana/Uruguay game because…well, if you saw the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal, you’ll know why Ghana has an axe to grind with Luis Suarez!
Of the three still waiting, Ghana is the one with the best chances. To think before Qatar 2022 began, Ghana was seen as the team with the least odds of winning the Cup and was the team in Qatar with the lowest rank on FIFA’s list: 61st. They may have lost in their opener to Portugal, but their 3-2 loss sent the message not to underestimate the Black Stars. Then against South Korea, they clinched a 3-2 win! A win against Uruguay will solidify qualification. Ghana could qualify if they draw, but they better hope South Korea doesn’t beat Portugal. I’ll bet they don’t want to chance it. As for South Korea and Uruguay, both are in a case where they will need nothing less than a win to qualify. Not only would South Korea need Ghana to draw to qualify, but the Taegeuk Warriors have to win 2-0 or 3-1. Uruguay have it toughest of all as they haven’t even scored a single goal yet. They’ll have to win 2-0 or 3-1 over Ghana and just hope Portugal either beats South Korea or draws against them in order to advance.
And that’s my breakdown of the qualifying chances of the teams of the World Cup right now. These next four days will finalize everything. No wonder I call the final games of the group stage a test of nerves.
WIKIPEDIA: Disgrace of Gijón. Wikipedia.com. 2022. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.