Portugal's power balance and the greatest group stage game ever: Five takeaways from day nine of World Cup 2022

Bruno Fernandes
(Image credit: Getty)

What. A. Day. Day nine of World Cup 2022 provided, without even a shred of doubt, the best back-to-back entertainment we've seen so far in Qatar. 

The opening two games on Monday might not have looked like thrillers on paper, but Cameroon's 3-3 draw with Serbia and Ghana's astonishing 3-2 win over South Korea provided relentless thrills and spills. 

In comparison, the world's most famous entertainers Brazil provided something of a damp squib, but they got the job done by beating Switzerland thanks to a thumping Casemiro strike, booking their place in the last 16 with time to spare. 

In the final game, Portugal swept Uruguay aside thanks to a stunning performance from their main man... no, not that one. But more on that soon.

So, after all that drama, what have we learned? 

Ghana vs Uruguay is going to be epic

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (4-2 on penalties), 2010 World Cup

Remember this? Ghana fans sure do... (Image credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The term ‘grudge match’ was invented for moments like this. You can’t develop much bigger sporting grudges than what the Ghanaians must have developed since 2010.  

In extra-time of their quarter-final clash at the South Africa World Cup, Luis Suarez cynically batted what would’ve been a last-gasp winner off the line with his hand. Then he wildly celebrated when Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Then the Uruguayans went on to win the shoot-out.

Suarez’s histrionics denied the Black Stars the chance to be the first African side ever to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

Now, more than a decade on, Ghana have earned themselves the opportunity to consign the South Americans to an embarrassing group stage exit and secure their own progress while they’re at it. It’s going to be a hell of an occasion.

The greatest group stage game ever?

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting

(Image credit: Getty)

On paper, Cameroon vs Serbia was far form the standout tie of the day. With Brazil, Portugal and Uruguay all in action later on, football fans could have been forgiven for skipping the first game in order to save themselves for the main events. 

Anyone who thought that way made a dreadful mistake. Cameroon and Serbia took lumps out of each other in a football match which resembled a tireless welterweight boxing match at times. 

After the Africans took the lead in the 29th minute, Serbia scored three in succession to seemingly put the game to bed. But the introduction of Vincent Aboubakar changed the narrative. The Al Nassr striker scored a ludicrous lob and played with the power and speed of a wrecking ball throughout the second half. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting levelled the scores in the 66th minute and, from then on, both teams went for the throat. 

While nobody could clinch the three points, both sides deserve plaudits for a thoroughly entertaining affair. Trust us, if you missed out, go and watch the highlights.

The Africans have joined the party

Ghana fans

(Image credit: Getty)

What an incredible few days for Africa’s representatives at the World Cup.

Ghana’s win over South Korea was the third African victory in four days in Qatar, while Cameroon’s 3-3 draw against Serbia kept the Indomitable Lions in the hunt too.

In fact, Tunisia were the only of the five CAF representatives to suffer a defeat in the second round of group fixtures.

But they – along with all of their continental rivals – are still in contention to reach the knockout stages going into the final round of fixtures. 

How good would it be to see them all in the last 16? You can’t count anything out at this unpredictable World Cup…

Who needs Neymar?

Neymar injury

(Image credit: Getty)

When Neymar limped out of Brazil's opening match with an ankle injury, Brazil fans were fearing the worst. The playmaker is clearly still his nation's most potent attacking weapon, and the leader of the team on and off the pitch. 

Yet his team-mates have admirably carried the can in his absence. After Richarlison's goalscoring heroics in the first match, an unlikely hero popped up to seal three points today. Tough-tackling midfielder Casemiro is a brilliant footballer, but he's hardly known for his shooting ability. So when he rifled a powerful shot into the Swiss net in the second half, it was hard not to sense that this Brazil team might just be unstoppable in Qatar. 

Neymar is due for a return in the knockout rounds and, of course, he'll instantly slot straight back in. But, for now, his supporting cast are shining without him. 

We need to talk about Bruno

Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring at the World Cup 2022

(Image credit: Getty)

As always, all eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Portugal's showdown with Uruguay. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has been hogging the headlines lately, from reports of him falling out with team-mates to having his contract with Manchester United terminated after the World Cup had started. 

Yet it was Bruno Fernandes who stole the show here, opening the scoring in the second period before lashing a penalty home to seal the win in stoppage time. 

Bruno has been forced to play second fiddle to Ronaldo for club and country lately, and his performances have dipped as a result. Today, he reminded everybody that he deserves to be the main man. He wouldn't have taken the penalty had Ronaldo not been subbed 10 minutes earlier, but he is arguably the more clinical from 12-yards. If Portugal are to win the World Cup, they may need to shift the power balance towards the midfielder instead of the 37 year old who wears the captain's armband. 

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Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio. 

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