2022 World Cup – Thursday 01 December 2022

Group D:

Tunisia 1 (0) – (0) 0 France (Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan)

Tunisia scorer: Khazri (58’)

France had already qualified going into the final round of games, with Australia second on three points and Tunisia and Denmark bringing up the rear with a point apiece.

Tunisia knew that only a victory would give them any chance of progressing to the last sixteen and they would have been heartened by the rotation to the French squad that saw players like Lloris, Griezmann, Giroud and Mbappe on the bench. In what was to prove an emotional and highly charged atmosphere given the historical and political links between the countries. Despite a lack of possession. Tunisia held their own and then struck just before the hour mark, winning the ball in midfield releasing ex-Sunderland player Khazri to advance on the French defence before slotting into the corner. Didier Deschamps the French coach reacted by throwing on his big guns in search of an equaliser, but it was not to be with Griezmann having his late strike disallowed for offside. Tunisia had secured the win they required, but with Australia beating Denmark it was the Socceroos who took second spot and a place in the last sixteen.


Australia 1 (0) – (0) 0 Denmark (Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah)

Australia scorer: Leckie (60’)

The equation was a simple one for both teams, win and progress. The Danes dominated possession but didn’t convert this into shots on goal and when they did they couldn’t find a way past Mat Ryan in the Australian goal. The vital goal came on the hour, as Australia broke with a lightning-quick counterattack finished off by Mathew Leckie.

For the Danes their Semi-Final spot at the Euros seems a lifetime away as they struggled in Qatar, gaining just a point. For Australia, progressing equals their best tournament in 2006 when they lost in last sixteen to a Italian penalty in time added-on.


Group C:

Poland 0 (0) – (0) 2 Argentina (Stadium 974, Doha)

Argentina scorers: Mac Allister (46′), Alvarez (67′)

Going into the final round, Poland topped the group (4 points), with Argentina second who were level on points with Saudi Arabia and Mexico last with a solitary point.

Yet again VAR and those who adjudicate to be frankly embarrassing. The awarding of a penalty to Argentina on 39 minutes was simply comical. Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny has his eyes on the ball as he attempts to punch/palm the cross away, the contact between his hand and Messi’s face is an accident…and then the acting from Messi for the ‘contact’ – well don’t get me started. Thankfully justice was done as the ex-Arsenal ‘keeper clawed away Messi’s spot-kick. No goals at half time – jeez how many times have I typed that during this World Cup.

Within a minute of the restart though they had their goals with Mac Allister’s shot going in off  the post. When Alvarez scored with twenty-three minutes remaining to make it 2-0 and the score over in Lusail, having started top the Poles were in danger of missing out on second spot. Indeed they were ragged in the last quarter of the game and can be grateful for Argentina’s profligate finishing which could have sent Poland home. Argentina recovered from the defeat against Saudi Arabia to finish top of the group and finding a bit of a groove.


Saudi Arabia 1 (0) – (0) 2 Mexico (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)

Saudi Arabia scorer: Al Dawsari (90’+5’). Mexico scorers: Martín (47′), Chavez (52′)

Mexico despite victory missed out on the last sixteen on goal-difference. They were ahead 2-0 after fifty-two minutes, the second a stunning free kick from Chavez. And as they went in search of more goals, the situation though in the group took some understanding (and believing). With Argentina beating Poland 2-0 and Mexico leading by the same score-line at Lusail Stadium in the fourth minute of time added on, El Tri (The Tricolour) needed one more goal to prevent them from going out according to FIFA’s fair play rule for having more yellow cards than Poland. However, this didn’t come into play as Salem Al Dawsari’s goal in the fifth minute of time added-on sent Mexico home on goal difference instead. Some drama at least in a World Cup that has yet to burst into any sort of life.

2022 World Cup – Wednesday 23 November 2022

GROUP C: Argentina 1 (1) – (0) 2 Saudi Arabia (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)

Argentina scorer: Messi (10’ pen) Saudi Arabia scorers: Al-Shehri  (48′), S. Al-Dawsari  (53′)


GROUP D: Denmark 0 (0) – (0) 0 Tunisia (Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan)


GROUP C: Mexico 0 (0) – (0) 0 Poland (Stadium 974, Doha)


GROUP D: France 4 (2) – (1) 1 Australia

France scorers: Rabiot  (27′), Giroud (32′, 71′), Mbappe (68′). Australia scorer: Goodwin  (9′)


Four games, two goal-less, a win for the current World Champions and the first big shock of the tournament.

In a day of four games, it was an early start for those in the UK with the Argentina game starting at 10:00 and La Albiceleste quickest out of the blocks. Messi had an early effort after two minutes saved but had put Argentina ahead just eight minutes later. Again you have to question the VAR decision. From a free-kick, Leandro Paredes was pulled down and the spot-kick awarded after a check. Please can someone tell me how this was different to the Harry Maguire incident in the England v Iran game…Anyway Argentina didn’t capitalise on their first half dominance with VAR doing its best to ensure it was 1-0 at the break. Out came the Saudis who were level within three minutes of the restart and ahead on fifty-three minutes with a superb strike from Al-Hilal  forward Salem Al Dawsari. The South Americans huffed and puffed and even with fourteen minute of time added on couldn’t find an equaliser. Credit to Saudi Arabia, but don’t write off Argentina just yet.

Group C’s other game between Mexico and Poland ended 0-0 where the crucial moment came on fifty-eight minutes as Polish captain Robert Lewandowski had his penalty saved.

Group D also saw a 0-0 with Denmark and Tunisia with Danes having the best chances in the second half.

The final game of the day for anyone still gorging on the fourth fixture saw Australia give World Cup holders a bloody nose with a Craig Goodwin goal after nine minutes. Two quickfire goals after twenty seven minutes and thirty two minutes saw the French go 2-1 ahead. First Rabiot headed home and them Oliver Giroud scored his fiftieth international goal after Australia gave the ball away at the back. France could have been out of sight at the break as they created further decent chances. Into the second half and the French eased to a 4-1 win with the ever busy and creative Mbappe heading in on sixty-eight minutes and then turning provider three minutes later as he delivered the perfect cross for Giroud to score with a header, equalling Henry’s record of 51 France goals in the process. France looking ominously good.


GROUP F: Morocco v Croatia (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor)

Morocco qualified as CAF third round winners so making it to the finals for the sixth time. Nayef Aguerd (West Ham), Ilias Chair (QPR), Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea) and Anass Zaroury (Burnley) will be familiar to English fans and are part of a squad who didn’t concede in their last three games before Qatar with wins over Chile (2-0) and Georgia (3-0) and a draw with Paraguay (0-0). Croatia of course put pay to the Three Lions hope of a final appearance in 2018 winning 2-1 in the Semi-Final clash. The side is led by the mercurial Luka Modric supported by the vastly experienced squad members Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric. I really can’t see anything other than a victory for Kockasti (The Checkered Ones).

GROUP E: Germany v Japan (Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan)

Four-times World Cup winners strolled through qualification from UEFA Group J with nine wins and a surprise 2-1 loss to North Macedonia. Die Mannschaft like England were far from convincing in their recent Nations League campaign and at the 2018 finals in Russia failed to make it out of the Group Stages, whilst at the Euros exited in the last sixteen to England. Will this be another tournament of frustration? Certainly their opening game against Japan will be a tester. Previous to 2022 the Blue Samurai have appeared at the last six finals reaching the last sixteen in 2002, 2010 and 2018. The Japan forward line looks short on goals at international level and this will be a concern.

GROUP F: Spain v Costa Rica (Al Thumama Stadium, Doha)

Spain had a fairly comfortable passage to the finals as UEFA Group B winners, whilst Costa Rica were the last side to qualify back in June after beating New Zealand 1-0 in the CONCACAF–OFC play-off final held in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Qatar. The Spanish side looks light on goals as this level with only Alvaro Morata and Ferran Torres in double figures, 27 and 13 respectively and the feeling is that it is a side very much in transition. This is Costa Rica’s sixth appearance at the finals, reaching the Quarter Finals in 2014 before going out on penalties to the Netherlands. They have an experienced squad with four players over the 100 caps mark, including, Keylor Navas (107), Celso Borges (155), Bryan Ruiz (146) and Joel Campbell (119). This could be a stalemate, although don’t be surprised if Spain pinch it by a single goal.

GROUP E: Belgium v Canada (Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)

Belgium won UEFA Group E going unbeaten with eight wins and two draws and were third place winners in the 2018 World Cup. A vastly experienced and talented squad, the criticism of Belgium teams down the years is that they have always underachieved. Certainly 2022 will be the last chance of World Cup glory for a number of the squad echoed in a recent interview by captain Eden Hazard, who also reflected that his own level is not what it was. Canada qualified as CONCACAF third round winners and last appeared in the finals in 1986 losing all three Group games to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union. They are coached by John Herdman an Englishman who moved to New Zealand in 2001 and coached the New Zealand women (2006–2011), the Canadian women (2011-2018) and the Canadian men from 2018. Within their squad is St Johnstone’s David Wotherspoon and Reading’s Junior Hoilett and eleven squad members playing in the MLS. Belgium to get off with a win must be on the cards.

World Cup diary 2018 – Tuesday 26 June

With the final round of group games starting yesterday, for those with something to play for, the pressure cranked up another notch.

First up were the two games in Group A, with Russia and Uruguay already confirmed as advancing to the knock-out phase and the result all about top spot. In the end the Uruguayans gave the Russian bear a bloody nose as they romped to a 3-0 victory over the host nation. Saurez opened the scoring on ten minutes with a clever low free-kick, with a Cheryshev own-goal after twenty-three minutes doubling the South American’s advantage. Even worse was to follow for Russia when Smolnikov was dismissed for a second yellow card fourteen minutes before the break. All that was left in the second-half was a tap-in for Cavani on the stroke of the full-time whistle to complete the scoring and secure top spot for Uruguay.

In the other group game, it was the battle to avoid finishing bottom, between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt dominated the opening half and went ahead after twenty-two minutes, with Mo Salah latching onto a ball through and lobbing the Saudi ‘keeper Yasser Al-Mosailem. It was Egypt’s first World Cup goal from open play since 1934. Now whilst it as a good finish, the goalkeeper rushing that far out made the choice for the Liverpool striker in terms of what he needed to do. Salah had another great chance when one-on-one with Al-Mosailem, but his dink over the ‘keeper this time drifted wide of the mark. Once again VAR was in the headlines, when with four minutes remaining in the first-half, Saudi Arabia were awarded a penalty for handball against Ahmed Fathi. Now I’ve watched it back and the player has his head turned away and the ball strikes his trailing arm, where is the intent in that? For me, justice was served when Egyptian ‘keeper El Hadary (who at 45 years and 161 days beat the record of Colombia ‘keeper Faryd Mondragon (43 and three days at Brazil 2014) to become the oldest player to take to the field), made a tremendous save from the spot-kick. However, like buses another penalty soon came long as Saudi Arabia were awarded another deep into first-half stoppage time, with Al Faraj slotting home. After the break, El Hadary was the busier of the two ‘keepers, but he could do nothing as in the fifth minute of stoppage time Salem Al Dawsari secured a 2-1 win for Saudi Arabia, to leave Egypt bottom of the group without a single point.

With Group A sorted it was the turn of Group B to reach its conclusion. Here going into the games, involving Iran against Portugal and Spain up against Morocco, all that was certain was that Morocco were out. And both games proved to have high drama and controversy. Iran knew they had to beat Portugal to make the last 16. The European Champions has the better chances in the first-half and scored on the stroke of the break, when a stunning strike from Ricardo Quaresma put them ahead. All the fun though was yet to start. It all began eight minutes into the second-half when after a VAR review Ronaldo who had been fouled, had his spot-kick saved. It gave the game an edge that was lacking in the opening half, and it ramped up controversially ten minutes from time. Ronaldo swung an arm at Morteza Pouraliganji, catching him in the face. Somehow after a lengthy VAR review, the Real Madrid player was only shown a yellow. I have every sympathy for the Iranian coach who said after the game that there was effectively one rule for players like Ronaldo and Messi and another for the rest. The question is though, is it the fault of VAR or the on-field referee? Then with Portugal seemingly on their way through with a 1-0 win, three minutes into time added-on Iran got a penalty after a VAR review. In my view a crazy decision, the Portuguese defender has merely challenged for a header with the ball catching him at close quarters on the arm. He couldn’t have got out of the way or at such close quarters had any intent to handle it. Again, VAR or poor call by the referee? Iran though had one last chance as Mehdi Taremi fire into the side-netting with his effort from inside the penalty box. If he had scored Iran would have been through.

In the other encounter Morocco took the lead after a cool finish from Boutaib following a mix-up on the halfway line by the Spanish just before the quarter of an hour mark. Spain were level just five minutes later though as Andres Iniesta brilliantly set-up Isco to score. Morocco regained the lead nine minutes from time with a stunning header from En-Nesyri, which looked to have secured a 2-1 win for the North Africans. However, it wasn’t to be as Iago Aspas back-heeled home an equaliser in stoppage time for the Spanish. It went to review and in a very tight decision the goal stood. It was cruel on Morocco, but enough for Spain to head Group B, courtesy of goals scored.

It was a day in which VAR did nothing to leave me thinking that it will improve the game. Currently there is no consistency as to the way it is used and for me has highlighted a weakness in the quality of the match officials as much as anything else. Are these really the best referees out there? After what I’ve seen so far, I’m not really sure.

Following the finish of Groups, A and B, it means the following last 16 games have now been confirmed:

June 30 Uruguay v Portugal and July 01 Spain v Russia

World Cup diary 2018 – Thursday 21 June

Yesterday saw a Group A fixture between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia and in Group B, Portugal v Morocco and Spain v Iran with all seemingly having come under the influence of the Arsenal coaching manual circa 1980s from George Graham, as all three games ended 1-0, with Uruguay, Portugal and Spain the victors.

Uruguay had a goal after twenty-three minutes from Luis Saurez to seal their victory and send La Celeste into the last 16 along with Russia, whilst Saudi Arabia are eliminated. The meeting of the two teams in the final round of fixtures will determine who tops Group A.

Another big name in Cristiano Ronaldo, scored the only goal after four minutes to put Morocco out of the tournament. Credit to the Portuguese star, who was brave in diving amongst the flying boots of the Moroccan defence to head home and with his fourth goal of the competition, lead the race for the Golden Boot. However, credit to the African side who exposed the weakness of the European Champion’s defence, yet couldn’t find a leveller and have just pride to play for in their final group game.

Finally to Spain, where a fortunate ricochet allowed Diego Costa to put Spain ahead early in the second-half. Iran had what they thought was an equaliser but with the aid of VAR the Ezatolahi effort was ruled out. Despite defeat Iran could still qualify for the knockout phase, but they will need to overcome Portugal in the Mordovia Arena next Monday. If the Iranians don’t get through, they will leave us with one of the comedy moments of the tournament. Into the last minute of normal time, Iran had a throw deep in the Portugal half, where defender Milad Mohammadi decided to opt for a spectacular summersault throw-in. However, the sight of him halting it after the initial roll, was bizarre to say the least.

Let’s hope for a few more goals today as Denmark take on Australia, France play Peru and Argentina take on Croatia and of course moments that bring a smile to the faces of the watching world.

World Cup diary 2018 – Friday 15 June

Well it couldn’t have gone much better for the hosts on Opening night with a 5-0 beating of Saudi Arabia. Substitute Cheryshev bagged a brace (43’ and 91’) along with goals from Gazinskiy (12′), (71′) and Golovin (94’) as Russia cruised to three points. There will be sterner tests ahead for Russia than Saudi Arabia who proved to be early contenders of the ‘give the ball away’ competition and defensively looked very, very poor.

Away from the action on the pitch, amongst the most annoying aspects of the game was the horrendous American announcer in the stadium and the banal commentary of ITV’s Glenn Hoddle.

After yesterday’s game, the other two teams in Group A, Egypt and Uruguay, play in the first of three games today starting at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg, the furthest east of the Finals venues and actually situatetd in the Asian sector of Russia. The stadium has caused quite a stir, as the seats in the two temporary stands behind each goal are located outside the main bowl of the stadium. Having looked at images of it, there is no way I’d feel comfortable sat in what looks like a precarious giant scaffold.

The two teams have met previously in a Friendly International in August 2006 at the Alexandria Stadium, with Uruguay winning 2-0 with a goal from centre-back Diego Godin and an own-goal from Abdelzaher El Saqqa. The expectation is that Uruguay will have too much for Egypt, but the biggest talking point could be around two players who have Liverpool in common – current Kop King Mo Salah, who faces a battle to be fit and ex-Red hero, dentists best-friend and all-round pantomime villain, Luis Suarez. Besides Salah the Egyptians boast a number of players familiar to an English audience with Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi (both WBA), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Ramadan Sobhi (Huddersfield Town) and Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) in their Finals squad. Uruguay to nick the points in a close game.

The second and third games of Friday see Group B get underway with Morocco against Iran at the St Petersburg Stadium followed by the European giants of Spain and Portugal as the Fisht Stadium. Morocco and Iran met in the LG Cup in 2002 in a game which ended 1-1 with Iran winning 4-3 on penalties in Tabriz. In the Iranian squad is a player with recent game-time in England, that being their captain Ashkan Dejagah who played for Fulham in the Premier League and last season spent time on loan at Nottingham Forest. Morocco have their own English connection with Romain Saiss, who was part of the Wolves team that took the SkyBet Championship title in 2017/18. Could be the tournament’s first draw.

Friday finishes with the Iberian clash of Spain and Portugal. These European heavyweights last met in a World Cup in 2010 when they played each other in the last sixteen. Spain made it to the Quarter-Finals 1-0 courtesy of a David Villa goal on sixty-three minutes with Rui Costa sent-off for Portugal. The Spanish made the headlines before a ball had even been kicked in this World Cup with the removal of their manager and the test will be to see if this has any impact on this talented squad. Star-studded line-ups on both sides, but could end in the second draw of the day.

World Cup diary 2018 – Thursday 14 June

Today will see the tournament start, but for many fans in England and beyond thoughts will have been dominated by the release of the Premier League fixtures this morning. You have to ask though, did it really need to be today to coincide with the start of the World Cup? The answer to me at least, is that the Premier League wanted maximum exposure and feels rather like a spoilt child looking for attention by jumping up and down shouting, “I’m here, I’m here”.

However, the reality is that the Premier League has a huge influence and a number of the players taking part over the next month in Russia will have in the back of their mind the hope of a life-changing move to the richest League in the world following a fine showing in the World Cup. Players stock could rise and fall and as an example Newcastle United will monitor closely the form of Serbian striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic, who fired Fulham to promotion. How much will he cost Fulham or indeed another club if he continues his fine form of 2018?

As it is the opening day, here’s a summary of the first games since the 1966 World Cup:

1966       England 0-0 Uruguay

1970       Mexico 0-0 Soviet Union

1974       Brazil 0-0 Yugoslavia

1978       West Germany 0-0 Poland

1982       Argentina 0-1 Belgium

1986       Italy 1-1 Bulgaria

1990       Argentina 0-1 Cameroon

1994       Germany 1-0 Bolivia

1998       Brazil 2-1 Scotland

2002       France 0-1 Senegal

2006       Germany 4-2 Costa Rica

2010       South Africa 1-1 Mexico

2014       Brazil 3-1 Croatia


Hard to imagine tonight’s game will be anything other than cagey. Avoiding defeat in your opening fixture is always high on the priority list and Russia have the added pressure as hosts. Opening games are full of banana skins as Argentina and France will testify. However, for me Russia to get the three points in an uninspiring ninety-minutes.

Let battle commence!

World Cup diary 2018 – Introduction

Here we are again…another World Cup…the 21st staging and the first to be held in Eastern Europe.

Am I excited? To be honest, not really. I’ve never known a build-up to a Finals that has been so quiet. Is it the influence of the Premier League and the Champions League, in that they are now such global events? Or is it that there isn’t the same hype from the English press and fans alike?

In all fairness, it probably is a bit of both. Perhaps though once the Opening Ceremony is over, Robbie Williams et al, and Russia and Saudi Arabia get onto the pitch and get the first ninety-minutes out of the way I may feel differently.

And that is part of the problem, because invariably until the action starts at the Luzhniki Stadium, the focus tends to be on the external factors around the tournament. In the case of Russia 2018, this has been the old problems of racism, homophobia and hooliganism.

It was of course mightily depressing to read that Tottenham and England defender Danny Rose has told his family to stay away from Russia for fear of the treatment they may receive and of his father responding that it saddened him that because of the threat of racism in the country he may never get to see him son play live in the Finals.

The reality is that nobody can predict whether there will be huge issues until the tournament gets underway.

Changing track though and to the opening game on Thursday in Moscow, which sees hosts Russia in Group A action against Saudi Arabia, who qualified via the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). These two teams have never met before, and it will be interesting to see how Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana deals with the pressure of a packed stadium dominated by home fans. Result-wise I can’t see anything other than a win for Russia to kick-start the tournament.

Finally though, on the last day before the football actually starts, there were two big World Cup stories. The first saw FIFA award the 2026 World Cup to a combined bid that will see the games played across the USA, Canada and Mexico and the second saw Spain sack head coach Julen Lopetegui after he was named the new Real Madrid boss, just two days before their opening World Cup match with Portugal. Taking over will be Fernando Hierro, an ex-Spanish international who most recently was the Sporting Director of the national team, with a playing career that included a spell in 2004/05 at Bolton Wanderers. With their opener against Iberian neighbours Portugal, it could be some baptism for the new manager.

Seems like the drama has started before a ball has even been kicked!