And just when you thought we had peak World Cup mayhem on Wednesday, we had even more ups and downs on Thursday. All four teams in Group E – Costa Rica, Germany, Japan and Spain – have at some point either reached the round of 16 or been eliminated entirely.
Make sure you check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Thursday’s World Cup action and a look at what’s next on Friday.
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Chaos in Group E: Japan, Spain in; Germany is facing a reboot
At half-time of Thursday’s two late games, it looked like one of the World Cup’s more intriguing groups would fall into line as predicted: previous winners Spain and Germany would advance, while Japan and Costa Rica would go home.
By the time the final whistle blew, Japan topped Group E after beating Spain, and Germany (yes, the team with four World Cup trophies) joined Costa Rica on the outside.
Spain were initially in control against Japan after Alvaro Morata’s early goal and Germany also cruised past Costa Rica thanks to Serge Gnabry’s 10th-minute goal. But as we should always expect during these tournaments, tables were turned, scenarios were flipped and chaos ensued.
Both Costa Rica and Japan walked into each of their dressing rooms after half-time on fire, with each side scoring twice in their respective games, and suddenly it was all set. In a brief time of two minutes and 55 seconds, even Costa Rica — which lost 7-0 to Spain but then bounced back to beat Japan — was in the driver’s seat to qualify.
When the dust settled, it was Japan — aided by a controversial VAR decision — who were group winners after fending off Spain 2-1. Germany defeated Costa Rica 4-2, but it was not enough to overcome Spain’s superior goal difference.
What about that Japan goal?
Of particular note was Japan’s second and ultimately decisive goal. In the 51st minute, Ao Tanaka buried the ball in the net after Kaoru Mitoma cut it from the goal line. Initially ruled over the line when the assistant’s flag was raised, VAR ruled that the ball had not been fully crossed and it remained in play.
Can you see it? Not convinced? Check out the details of the VAR decision here, or check out ESPN’s rules expert extraordinaire Dale Johnson as he breaks down the goal that also ultimately sealed Germany’s World Cup fate.
ESPN FC’s Dale Johnson explains why VAR chose not to disallow Japan’s second goal against Spain.
End of an era for Germany?
Technically Germany did what it had to do. They beat Costa Rica despite falling behind briefly Los Ticos in the second half thanks to Kai Havertz’s dunk and Niklas Fulkrug’s late strike. But that controversial Japan goal proved costly, as did Spain’s goal difference from a big win over Costa Rica last week.
It’s a bittersweet way to exit the World Cup scene, especially for a traditional powerhouse like Germany. After winning the World Cup in 2014, it has been two consecutive group stage exits for the four-time winners.
The result is likely to lead to a major change in German football, with coach Hansi Flick’s position as coach now vulnerable. Long-serving players such as Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger, Mario Götze and Ilkay Gundogan may also have reached the end of the line on the international stage.
ESPN FC’s Archie Reinde-Tat labels Germany’s World Cup exit a debacle.
Today’s tip reads
Ziyeh, En-Nesiri help with the fire Morocco in the round of 16
Morocco’s victory that sent them into the last 16 of the World Cup as Group F winners was started by an unfortunate mistake that led to the first goal.
Croatia retain the trophy without a trophy from Belgium’s golden generation
2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia stay alive and send a star-studded but disappointing Belgium home.
Missing people at the World Cup: What are Salah, Haaland, Benzema doing?
Whether due to ineligibility or injury, some of the biggest names in the sport are still staying busy (or relaxing).
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 Friday’s games.
Group G: Cameroon (+750) vs Brazil (-275), draw (+375)
Dalene Cuff: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is the third time I am looking to earn it. Brazil will dominate the ball in this game as well. Take Selesao to win to zero (+114).
Paul Carr: Through two group games, Brazil have allowed just 11 shots and 0.5 expected goals, both among the top three defenses in the tournament. I have line-up concerns here as well, though less so given Brazil’s depth. I really like the win to zero bet. I just want to see who starts first.
Daniel Thomas: Brazil is the best team in the tournament so far. Even if they rest key players, they are still brimming with quality. I would go to Brazil to win 3-0.
Group G: Serbia (+150) vs. Switzerland (+180), draw (+230)
Foxes: The Swiss will likely need a draw to qualify. They are a resolute defensive group and Jan Sommer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Serbia have been everywhere in this tournament and need the three points to progress. I think the Swiss do well in this game and get the draw they need (+225).
Carr: Switzerland only need a draw to advance, assuming Cameroon don’t beat Brazil, and they are a veteran team that simply does what it takes. They went undefeated in qualifying, beating their opponents 15-2 and drawing 1-1 and 0-0 with Italy. Serbia’s offense isn’t exactly clicking (2.1 expected goals over two games) and Switzerland will continue that trend in a low-scoring game. Give me under 2.5 goals at -130.
Thomas: Take the floor in the goals. This is not going to be fun to watch.
Group X: Ghana (+390) vs Uruguay (-140), draw (+300)
Foxes: Ghana’s games have been entertaining thanks to their ability to put the ball in the net (5 goals scored) but also their penchant for scoring (5 goals conceded). The Black Stars can probably only progress with a draw (assuming South Korea don’t beat Portugal), while Uruguay must win to have any chance. Uruguay were unlucky, hitting the bar three times in two games. I think they will take advantage of the opportunities, pressing from the start. Black stars can also get on board. That’s why I like over 2.5 goals at -105.
Carr: I’m on a similar page, because Uruguay should already have a goal or two, given their 1.9 expected goals. Plus, both of Ghana’s games featured plenty of chances, with each team getting at least 1.0 expected goals in each game. I’ll take both teams to score -110.
Thomas: I like Ghana here. They are great value at +390. Uruguay has not impressed at all so far.
Group X: South Korea (+375) vs Portugal (-150), draw (+300)
Foxes: South Korea must win and created many chances against Ghana. The lineup for already qualified Portugal will be interesting. I’m not sure I’ll play this game and I’ll definitely wait to see the starting 11. If it’s primarily the group that led Portugal to wins in this group, I like both teams to score (-115).
Carr: After what happened with France’s sub-optimal lineup on Wednesday, I won’t touch this game until I see Portugal’s starters.
Thomas: I like both teams to score and I think this will be a thoroughly entertaining affair.
News and notes
United States midfielder Christian Pulisic said Thursday he will “do everything in my power” to play in Saturday’s World Cup round of 16 match against the Netherlands. Pulisic’s official status remains day-to-day with a pelvic contusion, according to a spokesman for the US Soccer Federation.
Brazilian soccer legend Pele was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia following new tests Thursday at a Sao Paulo hospital, sources told ESPN Brazil. The three-time World Cup winner was initially hospitalized Tuesday to regulate medication in his fight against a colon tumor, his daughter Kelly Nascimento said. She added that there was “no emergency” regarding her 82-year-old father’s health.
Mexico national team director Jaime Ordiales said he felt “professional shame” over the national team’s early exit from the 2022 World Cup group stage and promised a rebuild for the next World Cup cycle. It was the worst World Cup in Mexico in 40 years, and El Tri advanced to the first round of the previous seven consecutive World Cups.
Merritt Paulson has announced his intention to sell the NVSL club Portland Thorns amid continued pressure after allegations of sexual harassment and coercion were made against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, which led to his firing for cause in 2015. That pressure — from both fans and sponsors — increased after the release of the Yates Report, which detailed systemic sexual and emotional abuse throughout the league. Paulson, who also owns the Portland Timbers, has no intention of selling the MLS club.
What else caught our eye
Fans in Morocco are celebrating in full force after finishing Group F unbeaten, setting up a tantalizing round of 16 clash with neighbors Spain.
Tom Hamilton reports from downtown Doha as Morocco fans take to the streets to celebrate their country’s victory over Canada at the World Cup.
It is a replay of the 2018 World Cup group stage thriller between La Roja and the Lions of Atlas, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Who will get the bragging rights this time?
ESPN FC’s Gabe Marcotti defends Morocco after Spain finished second in their group and will face them in the round of 16.
Friday Touch Competitions
Group H: South Korea vs Portugal (Education City Stadium, 10am CET)
All Portugal need to do is stay healthy and avoid humiliation to advance, while South Korea could use a spark from Son Heung-Min to have a chance of going through. Will we see Cristiano Ronaldo or will he be rested?
Group X: Ghana vs Uruguay (Al Janoub Stadium, 10am CET)
This seismic grudge match – remember Luis Suarez’s handball when Uruguay knocked the Black Stars out of the 2010 World Cup – has a lot on the line as both men could progress. Ghana go with a win or a draw (if South Korea loses), while Uruguay must win (and South Korea lose) to have a chance to advance. Skip some meetings to get involved.
Group G: Serbia vs Switzerland (Stadium 974, 14:00 CET)
There is plenty of animosity here after their tumultuous encounter at the 2018 World Cup, but a win for either side secures a round of 16 spot.
Group G: Cameroon vs. Brazil (Lusail Iconic Stadium, 2 p.m. ET)
It’s unlikely that Brazil lost, but given the chaos in both Groups C and E this week, it means that literally anything is possible. A win for Cameroon with help from Serbia/Switzerland would put them in the round of 16.