Argentina, Germany shocks; FIFA a mess

We’re one full week of action into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and already, there’s been an entire tournament’s worth of talking points both on and off the field.

On the pitch, the likes of Spain, England, France and Saudi Arabia have impressed with notable wins, while Argentina (who lost to the Saudis), Germany (who were stunned by Japan) and Wales have all struggled to make an impact.

We’ve had FIFA U-turns and issues with protests against the hosts, we’ve had more 0-0 draws than we saw in the entirety of Russia 2018, and there are some new stars making their mark on the sport’s biggest stage.

ESPN’s reporters in Qatar discuss their talking points and best/worst moments of the opening week both on and off the field, based on games they’ve attended so far.

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Best on-field moment of week one?

Rob Dawson: Saudi Arabia arrived in Qatar as the second lowest ranked team at the World Cup, gave Argentina and Lionel Messi a 1-0 headstart and still came back to win 2-1. How do you top a moment like that?

Gab Marcotti: Takuma Asano‘s strike past Manuel Neuer that sent Japan to a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Germany. It came moments after Japan’s equaliser and it turned the game — and the story — on its head.

Mark Ogden: Richarlison‘s second goal for Brazil against Serbia. The Tottenham forward is almost the forgotten man in Brazil’s front three alongside Neymar and Vinicius Junior, but he claimed the spotlight for himself by not only winning the game for the World Cup favourites, but his scissor-kick goal was the best of the tournament so far.

James Olley: Bukayo Saka‘s brace for England in the 6-2 win against Iran. Saka was racially abused after missing a penalty in last year’s shootout against Italy and 498 days later, the Arsenal star scored twice on Monday. It wasn’t quite redemption — that will hopefully come later in the competition — but his first tournament appearance since that Wembley trauma was immensely satisfying.

Tom Hamilton: The sight of seeing Christian Eriksen back on the pitch for Denmark in a major tournament. It was closely followed by Breel Embolo‘s finish in the 1-0 win against Cameroon, which ended my personal drought of two-and-a-half games without seeing a goal.

Julien Laurens: To see Olivier Giroud equal Thierry Henry’s goal scoring record for France (51 in 115 caps) was a special moment. I’ve known Olivier for 10 years, we are friends and he deserves so much credit for his incredible career. No one believed him when he was younger but he never gave up. He kept working hard, kept believing in himself and made it all the way to the very top. Respect.

Jeff Carlisle: It would have to be Tim Weah’s goal in the 1-1 draw against Wales, one of the few times that the United States capitalized on a transition moment. Such a deft finish, too.

Sam Borden: Weah’s goal for the US is hard to top, but I’ll go a little more global and highlight the emotion from the Tunisia players — and their incredible fans — during the national anthem ahead of their first match, which was a 0-0 draw with Denmark. One of the best parts of this tournament being in Qatar is seeing the African and Asian teams play in front of some fantastic support.

Kyle Bonagura: Weah’s goal was a beautiful sequence from the US, but let’s remember how unique that moment was: The son of a current head of state (Liberia), and the only African to win the Ballon d’Or (George Weah), scored at a World Cup while representing another country.

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Julien Laurens confirms Neymar will miss the rest of the World Cup group stage for Brazil after injury in the victory against Serbia.


Worst on-field moment of week one?

Marcotti: Neymar limping to the sidelines after twisting his ankle towards the end of Brazil’s 2-0 win over Serbia. This may be his final World Cup and, like him or loathe, him, the game is richer with him on the pitch.

Ogden: Every time the fourth official has raised the board for stoppage time and signaled for far too many additional minutes. Football isn’t basketball: The referee has always been able to use discretion as to when to add time and when not to. Adding time for goal celebrations is pointless; the ref should just tell the players to cut them short on the pitch.

Olley: Alphonso Davies‘ penalty miss for Canada against Belgium. Playing at their first World Cup in 36 years, Canada were superb in the 1-0 loss against Belgium, and Davies had the chance to score the opening goal from the spot after just 10 minutes. Thibaut Courtois is a master of saving penalties and he repeated the trick again, repelling a poorly taken spot-kick and giving Belgium the platform to sneak a win.

Dawson: The look on Inaki Williams‘ face after he had missed the chance to equalise in the last second against Portugal. You could tell he knew it was a huge moment for Ghana.

Hamilton: The entirety of Croatia 0-0 Morocco. Morocco were the better team, but it was a dire game lacking clear-cut chances.

Carlisle: Walker Zimmerman conceding a penalty to Wales’ Gareth Bale. The US was so close to seeing this game out and claiming a vital three points. Now the Americans are in a dogfight to get out of the group.

Borden: Watching home team Qatar essentially be out of the tournament-opening match after half an hour against Ecuador was disappointing, especially as it took so much energy out of the Qatari crowd. Literally too, as it turned out, since so many fans left long before the final whistle.

Laurens: I miss Eden Hazard (I think we all do) but the real one, not the version that I saw on Thursday for Belgium against Canada. Not that Hazard. I know he is out of form and not match fit, but I was still expecting more. He lasted 63 minutes, his stats were poor and he had no impact on the game. I am still hoping to see him getting better through this tournament.

Bonagura: Uruguay and South Korea understood how detrimental a loss would be to get out of the group and their 0-0 result was an absolute bore: Neither team recorded a shot on goal as star forwards Luis Suarez and Son Heung-min were both invisible.


Best off-field moment in week one?

Dawson: The celebrations in the stands when Saudi Arabia scored their second in the shock 2-1 win against Argentina. A mixture of joy and disbelief.

Marcotti: The guy selling (probably unlicensed) Qatar-Ecuador half-and-half scarves before the opening game. And the fact that he misspelled Ecuador, calling it “Equator.” And the fact that none of the folks buying it seemed to care.

Ogden: A Qatari on the Metro before Brazil vs. Serbia, sitting alone in a carriage full of fans, spotted a Brazil supporter struggling to turn his Brazilian flag into a keffiyeh head scarf and walked across, introduced himself and asked if he could do it for him. Ten seconds later, the Brazilian had a perfectly neat head scarf and aqel rope.

Olley: Germany’s closed-mouth gesture in response to the “One Love” armband fiasco. They found a way to express their point of view without FIFA sanction through a powerful visual image projected around the world.

Borden: I know it didn’t presage a good performance in the match itself, as they lost 2-1 to Japan, but I appreciated the Germany players covering their mouths in their team photo as a way to highlight that FIFA was muzzling them from speaking out against intolerance.

Hamilton: The noise of the Tunisia fans was just incredible in their 0-0 draw with Denmark, made even more raucous by the cheerleading skills of their wonderful midfielder Aissa Laidouni.

Carlisle: The US training session with migrant workers. Yes, in some ways this was a photo op for the Supreme Committee. But good on the US players for stepping up and trying to create some lasting memories for those workers who took part.

Laurens: My team winning the ESPN FC four-a-side match against Nedum Onuoha’s team. Nedum is my guy of course but it was sweet to beat him. He will say that he scored four goals, which he did to be fair. I only scored one but I gave four assists and was the perfect maestro leading my team. The video of the game is available here on the ESPN FC YouTube channel so go and treat yourself!

Bonagura: The little moments have left the biggest impression for me. It’s encouraging to see fans from all over the world, irrespective of language, come together to share impromptu moments of laughter and joy.

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James Olley recaps a remarkable speech from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in which he called out the “hypocrisy” of nations criticising Qatar.


Worst off-field moment of week one?

Marcotti: Gianni Infantino’s news conference to open the tournament, which turned into an interminable and much mocked speech about colonialism and Western entitlement. He wanted to talk about inclusion and the tangible steps FIFA and Qatar have taken together; he ended up achieving the opposite.

Ogden: Where do you start? The last-minute stadium alcohol ban, the threat of punishment for teams who wore the “One Love” armband, the empty seats in stadiums? There has been too much controversy for a football tournament, but the “One Love” armband issue was by far the worst. A crazy move by FIFA.

Olley: The whole “One Love” armband was symptomatic of FIFA tackling discrimination only on their terms but the bigger window into the organisation’s mindset came in Infantino’s alarming pre-tournament news conference. An hour-long monologue mixing delusion and almost despotic behaviour.

Dawson: The decision by European FAs to abandon their plan to wear the “One Love” armband. Risking a yellow card is nothing compared to the risk involved in being a gay man or woman in Qatar, and some things are more important than football.

Hamilton: The general restriction of rainbow-coloured clothing, and attire. This was meant to be a World Cup for all, rather than a censored tournament. Infantino’s opening speech just behind in second place.

Carlisle: Wales fans getting their rainbow bucket hats confiscated. Just one of many instances of the authorities being heavy-handed.

Borden: Infantino’s news conference, and by some distance. Rambling, absurd and at times outright offensive, it was a simply awful opening.

Laurens: France star Karim Benzema’s injury just before the tournament. He had been waiting eight years for another opportunity to play in a World Cup and was looking forward to it. Just like that, it all went to dust! It was a sad moment. The Ballon d’Or winner left Doha on a flight at 8 a.m. last Sunday heartbroken and leaving his team behind.

Bonagura: The experience of attending Wales’ first World Cup appearance in 64 years was spoiled for some fans, who were not allowed to bring their rainbow bucket hats into the venue. Chalk it up as another shameful moment for FIFA, which later clarified the hats would be allowed.


Player who’s impressed you the most?

Marcotti: Vinicius Jr. I thought he was the only attacking player to perform during Brazil’s first half against Serbia and played a key part in the goal. There are very few antidotes to speed and commitment.

Ogden: Gavi. This is a close one with Jude Bellingham, but if you become the youngest player since Pele to score in the World Cup, that’s some achievement. And what a goal it was, too.

Olley: Jude Bellingham. A 19-year-old charged with the responsibility of solving a position (central midfield) that’s been a problem in the English team for years. He could hardly have made a better start against Iran, scoring the opening goal and displaying now characteristic maturity beyond his years in possession.

Dawson: Bruno Fernandes. He was pushed out wide for Portugal’s opener against Ghana, but it was his influence that won them the game as he set up his side’s second and third goals.

Hamilton: Aissa Laidouni. From the matches I’ve seen, Tunisia‘s defensive midfielder takes this. Magnificent against Denmark as he tackled anything and everything in sight.

Carlisle: Tim Ream. The US team’s elder statesman has been a steadying influence on what is the second-youngest team at this World Cup. So far, the last three weeks have been quite the capstone to a solid career.

Borden: Tyler Adams. He’s hardly a secret at this point given his start with Leeds United, but Adams continues to show himself as a top-class international midfielder. He’s the engine that makes the USMNT go.

Laurens: Stephen Eustaquio. The Canada midfielder was superb against Belgium despite the defeat. He bossed the midfield and shut down Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel. He is only 25 but this season, he has been of the best midfielder in the Champions League with FC Porto. He has confirmed all his potential and rising talent already in this World Cup.

Bonagura: Gavi. Not only was Gavi the youngest player on the field in Spain’s 7-0 rout of Costa Rica, he was the best. And his goal — to become the third-youngest scorer in World Cup history — might have been the most impressive on Matchday One until Richarlison’s stunner for Brazil.

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Mark Ogden has a look around Ras Abu Fontas fan village 10 miles south of downtown Doha.


Every team has played at least one game. Who’s winning this World Cup?

Marcotti: Might as well stick with Brazil.

Ogden: Portugal. This is a long shot, and Brazil and Spain both impressed, but Portugal are strong in all departments and they stepped up a gear to beat Ghana in their opener. It’s also no longer all about Cristiano Ronaldo. They’re a dangerous side.

Olley: I’m sticking with Brazil. Spain were obviously impressive in winning 7-0, but that came against a poor Costa Rica team. Brazil had a similar level of control against a stronger Serbia side, and that bodes well given the relative lack of preparation time. However, losing Neymar for any length of time would clearly be a major blow.

Dawson: Argentina were poor in the second half against Saudi Arabia, but in 1990 they lost their opener to Cameroon and still reached the final. They’ve certainly got the players to win it.

Hamilton: I said Argentina going into the tournament, and I’m not bailing on them after one round.

Carlisle: I’ll stick with Brazil. The first fixture against Serbia was a tricky one, yet they managed to get the win.

Borden: It’s hard to defend this pick after the Saudi Arabia game, but I’m still riding with Lionel Messi and Argentina. I like a good story, and there’s no better story than Messi finally winning in his last World Cup.

Laurens: What a question! We all know the answer. Everyone wrote France off after all their injuries — especially the Benzema one — but this squad is getting stronger for it, more united than ever and with great belief. It is their destiny to defend the World Cup. Sixty years after Brazil, against all odds and adversity, they will retain their title.

Bonagura: Spain. The performance against Costa Rica might have been the single most dominant performance in World Cup history. That won’t continue against better opposition, but it was quite the statement.


Biggest surprise (good or bad) since arriving in Doha?

Marcotti: I was genuinely surprised seeing so many Qatar fans leave before the end of the opening game loss to Ecuador, especially given the lengths this country has gone to host it.

Ogden: The inability of the local authorities to handle crowds of people, whether it is in a Metro station or outside a stadium. Qatar is small, with a tiny population, so neither the police or locals know how to react when so many people are trying to occupy the same space.

Olley: The temperature at night. Leaving the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium after Belgium beat Canada (Kick off: 10 p.m. local time), it felt, well, not cold, but there was a coolness in the air I didn’t anticipate. The 10 p.m. kick offs are a real advantage to avoiding the heat of earlier in the day, and even that is offset by the ferocious air-conditioning in the stadiums. With more than three weeks to go, I might have to buy more warm clothing.

Dawson: So far, the infrastructure in Doha appears to be coping with the influx of fans from around the world and the heat hasn’t been as extreme as some were predicting.

Hamilton: The eye-watering prices in certain restaurants, even for a bottle of water. The complete destruction of my laundry routine from the expected one-shirt-a-day policy, ruined by the heat.

Carlisle: I’d say transport, mostly in a good way thanks to the utility of the subway system. That said, the frequency of some road closures has been maddening at times.

Borden: The heat or, really, the lack thereof. Obviously we’re playing this tournament in a Northern Hemisphere winter for a reason, but the temperatures haven’t been bad at all. They’ll almost surely be more extreme at some venues during a summer tournament in North America in 2026.

Laurens: We are only a week in but it has been a hectic week. However, I have loved the energy that you find in Doha. We go to bed late, usually after 4 a.m. because of the various ESPN FC TV shows we do and the time difference with the US; we are up early to go to matches or news conferences, chasing news story, writing features and yet we are still in top form because the energy is there. The vibe is good in Qatar. We are staying in a vibrant area, Mushaireb, where lots of fans from all around the world gather and it’s great to see.

Bonagura: I suppose I could have researched this beforehand, but I was definitely caught off guard by sunset coming in the 4 o’clock hour. The sun is intense during the day, but in the weather has been comfortable in the evenings when most of the action is happening.

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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