The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was often dubbed as one like no other in the build-up to kick-off — with football’s greatest competition moved to the winter for the first time in its storied 92-year history as the Middle East played host to the World Cup for the first time ever, and the unpredictability that loomed pre-tournament has carried on into the event itself.
We’ve had the odd high-scoring game, too many goalless draws from a fan’s point of view and a crazy amount of added time to the end of halves — with the average match lasting 104 minutes after the first 10 games. But, most importantly as everybody loves a good underdog story, there were a few shocks in the World Cup tips during the group stages.
So, as we gear up for the knockout stages, let’s take stock of some of those upsets.
Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Argentina went into the World Cup as one of the favourites to win the tournament having gone unbeaten in their last 36 games and entering as Copa America winners. But just one game away from making a new world record for the most successive wins in international football, Saudi Arabia caused arguably the biggest shock in World Cup history.
It was expected to be an easy win for Lionel Scaloni’s men, and when Lionel Messi converted from the spot inside the first 10 minutes, it looked like Argentina would go on to win comfortably. La Albiceleste did have the ball in the back of the net twice more in the first half, but both Messi and Lautaro Martinez were found to be offside.
Let off the hook and just a goal down at half-time, Saudi came out firing in the second 45 minutes and it wasn’t long before they were level — with Saleh Alshehri scoring the equaliser in the 48th minute. With momentum on their side, Salem Aldawsari scored a wonderful curling effort that left Emi Martinez with no chance five minutes later.
35 minutes left on the clock, Argentina had plenty of time to spare their blushes. However, Saudi were too resilient and held on for an historic three points.
Germany 1-2 Japan
Just over 24 hours later, and Japan had a memorable victory of their own. In many ways there were similarities between this match and the Argentina vs Saudi Arabia game, as the Germans took the lead from the penalty spot through Ilkay Gundogan in the first half — but they never really looked good enough, and were ultimately punished by Japan.
The Samurai Blue were knocking at the door for much of the second half, either wasting chances or being denied by Manuel Neuer — who did his best to ensure Germany kept hold of the three points in a must-win game in the ‘Group of Death’. However, the breakthrough came with 15 minutes to spare when Ritsu Doan smashed in a rebound initially saved by the Bayern Munich man.
With the wind in their sails and the German’s stunned, Japan seized the opportunity to put Hansi Flick’s men to the sword. Takuma Asano got on the end of a hopeful longball forward and riffled an unstoppable effort past Neuer and into the roof of the net.
Germany did all they could to salvage a point in the final minutes, even sending the keeper up for a late free-kick and corner, but Japan held on.
Belgium 0-2 Morocco
Not quite on the same scale as the two aforementioned shocks, Morocco’s 2-0 win over Belgium was certainly still an upset — as there are 20 places between the sides in the FIFA World Rankings. Second in the world, this year’s World Cup was the last chance for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’. However, they have looked far from convincing and confidence looks low in the aging camp.
That was evident when star player Kevin de Bruyne claimed he and his teammates were ‘too old’ to win the competition prior to the Morocco match, and Walid Regragui’s men took full advantage. It looked like the African side had taken a 1-0 lead into the break, but Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick was ruled out as Romain Saiss strayed offside.
Saiss made amends in the 73rd minute, glancing a header past Thibaut Courtois and Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed the 2-0 victory late on for what was just Morocco’s third ever World Cup victory.