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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    World Cup roundup

    Japan's Ritsu Doan celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Germany and Japan, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
    Spain's Gavi, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's fifth goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Spain and Costa Rica, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

    Japan 2, Germany 1

    Another World Cup day, another World Cup shock.

    Substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored late goals Wednesday to help Japan come from behind and upset Germany.

    Both Doan and Asano play for German clubs.

    "I believe it's a historic moment, a historic victory. If I think about the development of Japanese soccer, thinking of players, for them this was a big surprise," said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu, who had five Germany-based players in his starting lineup and three, including the scorers, on the bench.

    "They're fighting in a very strong, tough, prestigious league. They've been building up their strength. In that context we believe that those divisions (Bundesliga and second division) have been contributing to the development of Japanese players," Moriyasu said. "I'm very grateful for that."

    Ilkay Gündogan had given four-time champion Germany the lead with a first-half penalty. But Doan, who plays for Freiburg, pounced on a rebound to equalize in the 76th minute after Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer blocked a shot from Takumi Minamino.

    Then Asano, who plays for Bochum, sprinted clear of Nico Schlotterbeck and beat Neuer from a narrow angle in the 83rd minute.

    It was the first competitive meeting between the two nations. They played two friendlies in the past, with Germany winning 3-0 in 2004 before a 2-2 draw in 2006.

    Germany outplayed Japan for much of Wednesday's match and had 24 attempts on goal compared to Japan's 11. The Japanese had only 24% possession.

    "It's brutally disappointing, not only for the players, but also the coaching team," Germany coach Hansi Flick said. "We deserved to go in front. It was more than deserved. Then you have to say that Japan gave us a lesson in efficiency."

    The match was played a day after Argentina's 2-1 upset loss to Saudi Arabia.

    Before their game, Germany's players covered their mouths during the team photo to protest against FIFA following its decision to stop plans to wear armbands that were seen as protesting discrimination in host nation Qatar.

    Nancy Faeser, Germany's sports minister, attended the match at the Khalifa International Stadium and was sitting beside FIFA president Gianni Infantino while wearing the same "One Love" armband that FIFA had outlawed with its threats of consequences.

    It was only the third time Germany had lost its tournament-opening game after defeats against Algeria in 1982 and Mexico in 2018. In the other World Cup openers for Germany, the team had won 13 matches and drawn four.

    Belgium 1, Canada 0

    Kevin De Bruyne threw his hands up in disgust as another pass went astray. Eden Hazard was easily knocked off the ball. Michy Batshuayi was hauled off by his angry coach after a lazy flick to no one at all.

    Belgium didn't live up to the hype of being the second-ranked team despite starting the World Cup with a victory over Canada.

    Thibaut Courtois saved an early penalty and Batshuayi scored the only goal at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to spoil the North American team's return to the tournament after 36 years.

    Aside from the result, there was little for the Belgians to celebrate, with De Bruyne — one of the world's best players — mocking the decision to name him player of the match.

    "No, I don't think I played a great game," a miserable-looking De Bruyne said after being told of his award. "I don't know why I got the trophy — maybe it's because of my name."

    Belgium's aging team was outplayed at times by Canada, which has yet to collect a point or even score a goal in four World Cup matches — including the three games from its debut in 1986.

    This should have been the game the Canadians broke that run. Alphonso Davies, the star of Canada's team, squandered the best chance when his penalty was blocked by Courtois, one of 21 shots taken compared to Belgium's nine.

    "They showed tonight they do belong here," Canada coach John Herdman said of his players.

    One moment of class in the 44th minute wound up deciding the game. It wasn't from one of De Bruyne's brilliant through-balls or Hazard's mazy dribbles, but instead a simple long ball over the top of Canada's defense by center back Toby Alderweireld.

    It split the defense and Batshuayi ran through, letting the ball bounce twice before guiding a left-footed finish into the far corner.

    "Delighted that, without being ourselves, we won the game," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said.

    Martinez said it was his team's worst performance on a technical level since he took charge more than six years ago.

    "But was it the worst game?" he added. "No. Because it's a win."

    There were six players in their 30s in Belgium's starting lineup, four of them having accrued more than 100 international appearances. Courtois and De Bruyne might reach three figures at this World Cup, in what looks like being a last hurrah for this group of players often described as a "golden generation."

    The absence of Romelu Lukaku — a prolific scorer and big presence up front — is a huge blow to Martinez, with Batshuayi failing to impress as his backup aside from his well-taken goal.

    Spain 7, Costa Rica 0

    Not since Pelé in 1958 had someone as young as Gavi scored a goal at the World Cup.

    The 18-year-old midfielder led the way as Spain pulled off the biggest World Cup victory in its history.

    "I could never have imagined it," said Gavi, who was named the game's most valuable player. "I know I'm the youngest in the team and I respect everyone, but on the field it's different and I bring out my best."

    Pelé scored two goals in the 1958 final, when Brazil won its first World Cup by beating Sweden 5-2.

    "I'm proud to be in that podium," he said. "Not even in my dreams I had imagined this."

    Gavi only managed to score one goal on Wednesday, but his teammates added plenty of others.

    Not long after Japan surprised Germany 2-1 in the other Group E match, Spain's young squad avoided any chance of an upset with Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres scoring a goal each in the first half. Torres, Gavi, Carlos Soler and Álvaro Morata added to the lead in the second half.

    In addition to Gavi's mark, Olmo's goal was the 100th at World Cups for "La Roja," which became the sixth nation to score more than 100 times in the tournament.

    It was the first time Spain scored seven goals in a World Cup match, and the first time a team completed 1,000 passes in a 90-minute game at the tournament.

    "Our only goal is to control the game continuously, and to do that you need to have the ball," Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

    With Gavi and 19-year-old Pedri starting, Spain also became the first European nation with two teenagers in the starting lineup of a World Cup match in 60 years, according to statistics platform Opta.

    Gavi and Pedri were among the many youngsters picked by Luis Enrique in a revamped squad in Qatar — the third-youngest team among the 32 nations, after the United States and Ghana.

    Morocco 0, Croatia 0

    Another surprisingly strong performance by an Arab country at the World Cup in Qatar stifled the threat of Luka Modric and held 2018 finalist Croatia to a 0-0 draw.

    Morocco's resilient performance came 24 hours after Saudi Arabia sparked the first World Cup in the Middle East into life by beating Lionel Messi's Argentina in one of the biggest upsets in the tournament's history.

    Tunisia followed that up with a scoreless draw against European Championship semifinalist Denmark.

    Morocco managed to do enough to rein in Croatia captain Modric, who was still his team's best player in their Group F opener and had one of the best chances when his shot just rose over the crossbar in the first half. Dejan Lovran got a shot off at a corner in the second half and Sofyan Amrabat cleared off the line for Morocco to preserve the draw.

    "It was a difficult game, especially in the first 15 minutes," Modric said. He said Croatia "missed something up front."

    Modric didn't have nearly the same kind of impact he had throughout the last World Cup in Russia when he led Croatia to its first final before losing to France.

    That was largely down to Morocco, who harassed and harried the Croatians at every turn, buoyed by their red-shirted fans, who outnumbered and made much more noise than the Croatian supporters.

    "They played their hearts out. I congratulate them on that," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. "They had a really energetic game and they had great support."

    The 37-year-old Modric is playing in his fourth and what's expected to be his final World Cup, where he's looking to add an international title to his trophy-laden career with Real Madrid.

    He was voted best player at the World Cup four years ago to wide acclaim. When he was then announced as player of the match on Wednesday, it was greeted by an outburst of boos from Morocco fans who had chanted and whirled scarves as they jumped up and down in the final minutes at Al Bayt Stadium.

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