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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    World Cup roundup

    Spain's goalkeeper Unai Simon, 2nd left, jumps for a save during the World Cup group E soccer match between Spain and Germany, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

    Germany 1, Spain 1

    Only a win for Germany in the final group game will give the four-time World Cup champions a chance to avoid a second straight early elimination.

    At least they're improving.

    Substitute Niclas Füllkrug scored in the 83rd minute Sunday to give Germany a draw against Spain at Al Bayt Stadium in one of the most anticipated matches of this year's World Cup. A loss would not have eliminated Germany, but it would have left the team in a much more difficult position.

    Germany's fate will be decided on Thursday against Costa Rica, which defeated Japan 1-0 earlier Sunday. Even a win may not be enough for the Germans, who lost to Japan in their opener and are in last place in Group E. They need the other result to go their way.

    If both Germany and Spain win, both will advance. If there is a draw in the Japan-Spain match, Germany will need to overcome a goal-difference deficit against the Japanese. If Japan is victorious, then the Germans will have to top Spain — which beat Costa Rica 7-0 — on goal difference to get through.

    Álvaro Morata put Spain in the lead in the 62nd minute with a nice one-touch from close range after a well-placed low cross from Jordi Alba.

    Germany only threatened sporadically with a few breakaways and set pieces, but Füllkrug finally found the equalizer with a shot from close range into the top of the net.

    "They are Germany, a great team," Morata said. "They had an opportunity and they took advantage of it."

    Füllkrug's goal kept Germany from enduring consecutive losses at the start of a World Cup for the first time. The Germans won the 2014 World Cup but since then have won only one of its five World Cup matches. At the 2018 tournament in Russia, the team lost two of its matches and went home early.

    Spain hasn't lost to Germany in an official competition since the 1988 European Championship. The Germans lost to Spain 6-0 the last time they met, in the Nations League two years ago. Germany's last win against "La Roja" came in a friendly eight years ago.

    It was the fifth meeting between the powerhouses at World Cups, with Spain winning the most recent one 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

    Spain won its lone World Cup in 2010 and was eliminated in the round of 16 in 2018.

    Morocco 2, Belgium 0

    Morocco pulled off yet another World Cup shocker, and Belgium's aging "Golden Generation" took the hit this time.

    The upset left Kevin de Bruyne and the 2018 semifinalists in peril of a group-stage exit at what is likely the final World Cup for a highly-talented Belgian group that haven't managed to convert their promise into prizes.

    It might now be too late.

    De Bruyne didn't drive Belgium forward against Morocco, captain Eden Hazard was taken off after an hour, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was probably at fault for the opening goal.

    "We haven't seen the best Belgium yet," said Roberto Martinez, a Spaniard who has coached the team for six years. "We haven't been ourselves."

    Belgium could have become the second team behind defending champion France to advance to the last 16 if it beat Morocco. But it dropped from first to third in Group F and now plays against 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia trying to avoid its earliest elimination since 1998.

    Morocco captain Romain Saiss gave his team the lead with a barely noticeable deflection off his hip after a free kick from Abdelhamid Sabiri in the 73rd minute that got under the body of Courtois — for many, the best goalkeeper in the world.

    Zakaria Aboukhlal guided a shot into the roof of the net off a pass from Hakim Ziyech in stoppage time to make it 2-0 as Belgium's defense, boasting more than 300 international appearances but anchored by two players in their mid-30s, was beaten by a speedy 22-year-old forward playing at his first World Cup.

    Morocco's players kneeled and pressed their heads to the ground in prayer, then leapt up in celebration. Pulling himself up from the ground, Courtois just shook his head.

    The second big upset at the first World Cup in the Middle East involved another Arabic nation. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in the opening set of group games.

    Morocco, which was roared on by thunderous noise from its fans at Al Thumama Stadium, had started in Qatar with a promising 0-0 draw with Croatia.

    "We are delighted with that after Croatia and Belgium," Morocco coach Walid Regragui said. "That's absolutely outstanding for Morocco."

    Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world behind Brazil, had won its last seven group games at the World Cup before the upset, but that included a labored 1-0 win over Canada to open this year's tournament.

    Even De Bruyne said in a media interview before the World Cup that Belgium's squad was likely too old to win now.

    "I don't think any comments will affect a result or a performance," Martinez said, dismissing the suggestion that De Bruyne's interview might have unsettled Belgium.

    Morocco had to make a change right before kickoff when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou felt unwell but the North Africans were unaffected and clinched their first win at a World Cup since 1998 and only their third ever. Morocco moved to four points and Croatia is also on four points after beating Canada later Sunday. Belgium has three points and Canada has been eliminated.

    Morocco has only ever been past the group stage once at a World Cup, in 1986. And things were in turmoil ahead of the tournament after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired and Regragui was brought in at the end of August, less than three months before the World Cup. Regragui had only three friendlies to make his mark on the team before facing Croatia at the World Cup.

    Croatia 4, Canada 1

    A bit of trash talk meant to inspire Canada instead motivated Croatia.

    Canada coach John Herdman had tried to boost his team following a loss to Belgium to open the team's first World Cup appearance in 36 years — using colorful language that Croatia took exception to.

    The 2018 runners-up responded with a victory over the Canadians, who were eliminated after two matches in Qatar.

    "I have to say thank you to the head coach of Canada for the motivation," said Andrej Kramaric, who scored two goals on Sunday.

    Alphonso Davies scored Canada's first-ever men's World Cup goal a minute into the match but Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer also scored for Croatia, which lost to France in the final four years ago in Russia and opened with a scoreless draw against Morocco.

    Luka Modric, the 37-year-old captain who runs the midfield for Croatia, is still looking for his first goal of the tournament in what is likely his final World Cup.

    Canada opened the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Belgium. Afterward, Herdman stirred a bit of controversy when he recounted his post-game message to his players, using the first letter of a profanity to describe how they would beat their next opponents.

    Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic responded the day before the match and he was still salty about it on Sunday. He took a dig at Herdman, a 47-year old Englishman who coached Canada's team at the 2015 Women's World Cup, after the match.

    "He is a high quality professional, but it will take time for him to learn some things," Dalic said.

    Croatia and Morocco, which caused another upset at this year's tournament by beating Belgium 2-0 earlier Sunday, both have four points in Group F. Belgium has three points and still has a chance to advance.

    "Croatia once again demonstrated power, strength and quality, and no one was happier about that than me," Dalic said.

    Canada earned no points from its first two matches and can't advance even if it beats Morocco on Thursday in its final match. Croatia and Belgium will play at the same time.

    Davies, who plays for Bayern Munich, headed a cross from Tajon Buchanan just out of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic's reach 1 minute, 8 seconds into the match. The goal had the swath of red-shirted Canadian fans chanting "Can-a-da! Can-a-da!" at Khalifa International Stadium.

    "I am disappointed in the result. It was not easy," said Davies, who had a penalty saved in the opening loss to Belgium. "We did our best, we fought the entire game. We're looking forward to the next game and hopefully we get some points."

    Kramaric appeared to score the equalizer for Croatia in the 26th minute but he was ruled offside. His second chance counted about 10 minutes later, making it 1-1.

    Livaja put Croatia in front with a blast from outside the penalty box in the 44th minute, Kramaric added his second in the 70th and Majer scored in stoppage time.

    "I had a great opportunity and it's a great feeling to score two goals at a World Cup," Kramaric said. "This is not an everyday event."

    Canada was also eliminated in the group stage of the team's only other World Cup appearance in 1986.

    Herdman, who said he has not regrets about his comments to fire up his team, turned his attention to motivate them for the final match in Qatar — and set the team in the right direction for 2026, when Canada co-hosts the World Cup with the United States and Mexico.

    "I'm proud of what they achieved tonight, which was to make some history for our country," Herdman said. "They'll be disappointed tomorrow. They'll be hurting but then we'll look forward. We've got a big game coming up against Morocco, a huge game for Canada in the sense there's a lot for us to play for."

    Costa Rica 1, Japan 0

    Essentially written off after being battered by Spain, Keysher Fuller has changed everything for Costa Rica.

    Fuller took advantage of a defensive error and scored the only goal of the match to lead his team over Japan. Both teams now have three points after two matches and a good chance to advance to the round of 16 from Group E.

    "We're still alive," said Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez, a Colombian who also guided Ecuador and Honduras to World Cup berths. "We weren't dead yesterday, and now we are very much in this. The main thing is we are still alive. No one can forget about us. We can still dream."

    Fuller scored his goal in the 81st minute after Japan failed to clear the ball. He hit the net from 18 meters (yards), with the shot going in off the fingertips of leaping Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.

    The match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium was tactical and largely lackluster, particularly in a first half that did not yield a single shot on goal. Japan pressed throughout the second half until Costa Rica broke through.

    Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas came up with several saves in quick succession in the final minutes to ensure the victory.

    Japan has one Group E game remaining against Spain, while Costa Rica faces Germany in its final match. With a victory, Japan could have all but wrapped up a place in the knockout stage after a 2-1 upset win over Germany in its opener. Costa Rica was pounded by Spain 7-0 in its first game and just trying to survive.

    Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said Costa Rica's "solid defense" prevented his team from attacking more.

    "In the first half we couldn't really develop any chances," Moriyasu said. "I believe to a certain degree we were playing OK, however the result was a shame."

    The first half might have been one of the dullest of a tournament that has already seen five 0-0 draws. Neither team had a shot on goal.

    Ritsu Doan, who scored one of Japan's goals in the 2-1 win over Germany, looked the most threatening early with runs down the right side looking to cut in crosses. Costa Rica's most menacing player was Joel Campbell, trying to use his speed on the left flank.

    "We had more confidence with the ball than we had in the first game. We were more focused on defense and took advantage of our chances up front," Campbell said.

    There was more action in the first two minutes after the break than in the entire first half. Hidemasa Morita tested Navas with a blistering shot in the first minute, and Takuma Asano forced another save a minute later.

    Japan, which is appearing it its seventh straight World Cup, has reached the knockout stage on three occasions, losing each time in the round of 16. Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014.

    Japan is still winning goodwill with its tradition of cleaning up fan areas and player dressing rooms after the match. This dates from Japan's first appearance at the World Cup in 1998. This time, Japanese team officials arrived with 8,000 trash bags with thank you greetings in Arabic, Japanese, and English.

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