Germany become the second giant to succumb to a shock defeat at World Cup 2022, losing 2-1 to Japan in their opening fixture of the tournament - but not without their starting XI producing a powerful gesture lining up for their team photo. Following the controversy of the OneLove armband, Germany decided to stand up to FIFA by covering their mouths with their right hands.
Elsewhere, Spain proved their tournament credentials, blasting seven past an admittedly poor Costa Rica side. Whether they have what it takes to go all the way, time will only tell.
Meanwhile, Belgium's ageing stars truly look like they're struggling to reproduce the magic that allowed them to finish third at the 2018 World Cup, with the day kicking off with yet another goalless draw - leading FourFourTwo to question, is there a severe lack of out-and-out strikers nowadays?
Japan follow Saudi Arabia’s lead
Just as our pulses were returning to a normal rate following Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina, another monumental shock struck.
This time, it was Japan who were the unlikely heroes, coming from behind to beat Germany in a game that had striking similarities to the upset a day earlier.
Firstly, although the Japanese were outplayed in the first half and looked miles away from being able to mount a comeback, they went in at the break still in it at 1-0 down – just like the Saudis.
Secondly, they upped their game hugely after the break to swing the momentum in their favour – just like the Saudis.
Helped by a top performance from their goalkeeper – just like the Saudis.
And to top it off, the winning goal from Takuma Asano was every bit a moment of individual brilliance as Salem Al-Dawsari's a day earlier.
Germany prepared to take a stand against FIFA
One of the main talking points around Germany's eventful World Cup opener came before a ball had even been kicked.
As the star-studded German team lined up for the usual pre-match team photo, they all covered their mouths with their right hands in a sign of protest.
It came on the back of the controversy surrounding FIFA’s decision to threaten punishments to teams wanting to wear the OneLove armband, something the German FA are considering challenging legally.
Although Manuel Neuer didn’t wear the armband – following the example of the likes of Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and Virgil van Dijk – his side did make a statement that they then explained on social media.
“We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect. Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard,” the DFB wrote.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position”.
Spain are the real deal
Spain's 7-0 victory over Costa Rica is perhaps the most convincing of any of the sides to have played at the World Cup so far, the European team controlling the game from start to finish with a dominant display across the pitch and throughout the 90 minutes.
Sure, Costa Rica were very poor defensively, but Spain can only beat what's in front of them - and we've already seen at World Cup 2022 through sides such as Argentina and Germany that beating supposedly lesser opposition isn't always a foregone conclusion. With this result, Spain have been elevated alongside Brazil as one of the tournament favourites.
Spain's midfield three, comprised of solely Barcelona players, really stands out in the team. Gavi's provided class and produced a sublime finish at just 18-years-old, while Pedri played a game well beyond his years. Sergio Busquets, captaining the side, marshalled the middle of the pitch expertly, allowing the younger upstarts to wreak havoc ahead of him.
Their Euro 2020 semi-final penalty shootout defeat to eventual winners Italy could well be an important step in this Spain side's development, too. They know what it's like to suffer agonising heartbreak, building their character to attack this tournament - and, in Luis Enrique, they have arguably the best manager at the tournament.
A lack of clinical striker might cause Spain to come unstuck against better defences, but they managed just fine with Cesc Fabregas the furthest man forward in 2010, didn't they?
Lack of quality strikers clear
As the tournament goes on, it's becoming ever more apparent that the World Cup is short on quality strikers, in their prime. Croatia's bore draw with Morocco was the third match in four to feature no goals at all, with neither side capable of putting the ball in the back of the net.
Later on, Canada deserved to get something out of their clash with Belgium but, likewise, didn't have a seasoned poacher in the ranks. It's theme seen across the tournament, with many teams lacking a quality centre-forward. Senegal are sorely missing Mane, Denmark vs Tunisia ended goalless despite a glut of chances, Mexico and Poland could have gone on for 12 hours without a goal (Robert Lewandowski is top class, admittedly, but he's now 34) and Germany lost because they couldn't convert their early dominance into goals.
There is evidence to suggest humid conditions can contribute to low-scoring games but, clearly, a dearth of prime gunslingers is affecting things.
Age is catching up with Belgium
Yes, they defeated Canada, but Belgium's age is starting to show. They were sluggish in the first half against technically-limited but hard-working opponents. Too often they found themselves chasing white shirts back towards their own goal as the North Americans looked to exploit ageing legs with balls in behind. This was best exemplified by the fact Belgium's centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld entered this clash with a combined appearance tally of 248. It showed.
Kevin De Bruyne & Co. remain a dangerous side in possession, but many of their golden generation are over the age of 30 and nearing the end of their careers. They may need to adapt their style to sit deeper, or they'll soon find themselves punished by more clinical teams.
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