Unpredictable results at the Mondial? After Lionel Messi’s surprise defeat by Argentina against Saudi Arabia (2-1), Germany, Spain and Belgium tiptoed onto the rink in Qatar on Wednesday, fearful of suffering the same inaugural disappointment.
The day after France’s lucky entry against Australia (4-1), the posters Croatia-Morocco (11:00 from Paris), Germany-Japan (14:00), Spain-Costa Rica (17:00) and Belgium-Canada (20:00) offer a priori unbalanced comparisons between a European contender and a lesser rated challenger.
But in this unusually scheduled tournament at the end of the calendar year, interrupting the club championships in Europe, the big selections and their overloaded players fear knowing the fate of Argentina, surprised on Tuesday afternoon by the brave Saudis, the 51st nation in the FIFA rankings.
“There will be surprises in this tournament, also because preparation is shorter,” admitted Spain’s Roberto Martinez, Belgium coach, on Tuesday. “We saw that with Argentina, but all the players are very aware of the level it takes to win a game, so it doesn’t worry me.”
Shortened preparation, no series of friendlies to break the automatisms, the favorites approach the great planetary match without a net and without points of reference.
– Germany unrecognizable, Spain rejuvenated –
This is the case with Germany: unrecognizable, the four-times world champion selection arrives accompanied by many doubts, symbolized by its defensive errors, the poor form of the charismatic striker Thomas Müller or the injury of Timo Werner.
“I won’t say we are the favorites of the tournament, but there isn’t a team completely above the lot,” admitted Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the German selection.
Opposite the Nationalmannschaft is Japan, many of whose players play in the German Bundesliga and who dream of reaching eighth place again, as in 2002, 2010 and 2018.
To progress to the next round, the “Blue Samurai” will have to come out of a very strong group which also includes Spain, which is launching its quest for a second world title against Costa Rica.
“Our aim is to go to the final if possible,” said Spanish coach Luis Enrique, the self-proclaimed “leader” of a much rejuvenated Roja, on Tuesday.
With “Lucho”, Spain reached the semifinals of the Euro last year and even without a big star, the talents Pedri, Gavi or Ansu Fati promise to renew the “Spanish” passing game that marked the heyday of the team that won the Euro-World-Euro treble between 2008 and 2012…
“Having players of this quality can help you achieve your goals. I hope they give their best performances,” said Sergio Busquets, 2010 world champion and now experienced captain of this new generation.
-Ronaldo on the market-
However, Costa Rica and their goalkeeper Keylor Navas, replacing Paris SG, promise to complicate Spain’s life, in the hope of reliving the 2014 epic that brought the “Ticos” to the quarter-finals.
And what about Canada, which is on the way to a Romelu Lukaku-deprived Belgium?
“There’s a shot to be played” for the “Canucks” to return to the World Cup, 36 years after their first appearance, Lille’s Canadian striker Jonathan David assures AFP.
Finally, against Croatia, Morocco are also hoping to play a trick on a higher ranked nation, as Tunisia did against Denmark (0-0).
Are we at the end of our surprises? On the sidelines of the World Cup, the announcement of Cristiano Ronaldo’s farewell from his Manchester United club, after an amicable resolution, places the five-time Ballon d’Or winner (37 years old) on the market.
Ronaldo, present in Doha to lead Portugal in group H, had made headlines in recent days by accusing the English club, where he had been sidelined, of having “betrayed” him.
This result leaves “CR7” without a club and puts the rest of his career in question, because his XXL salaries and huge ego are not suited to mid-table clubs. What mood will Ronaldo be in on Thursday against Ghana? And who will be the next favorite to bite the dust?