On the Volley: Groups A-D Group Stage Roundup
By Charlie DeMatteo
Groups A-D have finished their group stage games at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, so let’s take a look at how each group unfolded.
While Ecuador provided some quality play, Group A eventually went all chalk.
The Netherlands marked their return to the world stage by winning the group after victories over Senegal and Qatar, but were held to a 1-1 draw against a resolute Ecuadorian side. Cody Gakpo has been a revelation for the Oranje, scoring a goal in each of the three group matches. While their defense looks solid, the Dutch will have to create more chances to get past the USA in the Round of 16.
Senegal came into the World Cup as African Cup of Nations Champions but had to play without their star man Sadio Mané, who is out due to an injury. The Senegalese were unlucky against the Dutch, with Boulaye Dia and Ismaila Sarr both threatening the Dutch goal on numerous occasions.
Senegal made relatively light work of a weak Qatar side despite conceding a goal, and captain and Chelsea center-back Kalidou Koulibaly came through when it mattered most with a goal against Ecuador to send them through to the Round of 16 where England await them.
Ecuador started off the tournament’s opening match with a win over host side Qatar thanks to ex-West Ham and Everton striker Enner Valencia’s brace. The Ecuadorians followed that performance with another strong one against the Dutch, but in the end, didn’t have enough to take the game to Senegal and Koulibaly’s winner sent them home after a promising opening two matches.
Qatar finished bottom of the group with zero points and only one goal scored. A depressing effort from a team with not much quality. This was Qatar’s first-ever World Cup appearance and this will most likely be their last.
While England was tipped by many to win the group comfortably, second place was up for grabs, with Wales, Iran and the U.S. all vying for a place in the knockouts.
England started off the tournament with a 6-2 rout of Iran, quickly establishing their dominance. However, a strong USA side caused England massive issues at the back, and Southgate’s men found it difficult to break the U.S. defense down with the contest ending in a 0-0 draw. The Three Lions bounced back in a 3-0 trouncing over Wales, but questions still remain over Southgate’s ability to manage against high-level opposition, of which Iran and Wales are not.
The United States came into this World Cup with one goal: to get out of the group, and they did. A fantastic first half against Wales followed by a lackluster second saw them tie 1-1.
The U.S. went on to put in a great performance against the English where Tyler Adams shined, and came away with a 0-0 draw feeling they could have gotten more. Two draws set up the game against Iran as a win-or-go-home matchup for the States, and Christian Pulisic stepped up when it mattered most to score and give the U.S. the victory they needed to head to the Round of 16.
Iran’s opening 6-2 defeat to England was a wake-up call, and a 2-0 win against Wales in the next game in the 98th minute saw them wake up in a big way.
However, only needing a tie to advance, a poor approach in the first half saw the Iranian side go a goal down to the USA, and they didn’t have enough quality in the final third to ever trouble the American defense led by Tim Ream.
Wales came into this World Cup full of optimism, which quickly evaporated. The end of Wales’ golden generation of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey showed its decline, and while a positive second-half performance against the U.S. was encouraging, a slow and stale game against Iran saw them lose in added time. Needing a miracle to advance, they weren’t much better against England, and a 3-0 trouncing saw their first World Cup appearance in 64 years end unceremoniously.
Group C had drama until the last minute, but the final result wasn’t much of a shock.
Argentina had a nightmare start with their loss against Saudi Arabia, but responded well with strong wins over Mexico and Poland. Lionel Messi started to heat up as the games went on, and his impact was clear for all to see. While Argentina are playing better and better, it still remains to be seen whether they have enough to win the whole tournament.
Poland squeaked through to the Round of 16 after poor performances against Mexico and Argentina. But that point against Mexico proved to be a valuable one as their win against Saudi Arabia was enough to see them through to the knockouts on goal differential. With France coming up, it will be a tough game for Robert Lewandowski & Co.
Saudi Arabia started off their campaign with an outrageous shock win over Argentina which they thoroughly deserved. However, it looks like supposedly being gifted Rolls Royces after that big win didn’t help their focus. While they were unlucky to lose 2-0 against Poland, their effort against Mexico was poor, and in the end, they finished bottom of the group after a strong start.
The story of Group D lies in the quality of France and Australia, and the failure of Denmark.
France came into this World Cup with the curse of defending champions looming over their heads, as the past three World Cup winners have failed to make it out of their group the next year. With injuries aplenty, the French utilized their depth and the brilliance of Kylian Mbappé to take down Australia and Denmark, leaving their last game against Tunisia as a dead rubber matchup.
While the French weren’t considered genuine contenders at the beginning of the tournament, Mbappé & Co. have reminded everyone why they brought the trophy home in Russia.
Australia are truly the feel-good team of this tournament. The Socceroos took a tough 4-1 loss to France in their opener but bounced back with back-to-back wins over Tunisia and a shock win over Denmark. Harry Souttar sticks out as a key player for the Australians, as he made a game-winning tackle in the game’s final moments against Tunisia.
Tunisia can walk away from this tournament with their heads held high after a win against France, albeit against their B team, but in the end, they didn’t have the quality to deal with Australia or trouble Denmark.
Denmark came into this tournament as a potential dark horse after strong qualifying performances and a great Euro 2020 run. However, their lackluster performances across the board and lack of quality in the final third come as a massive disappointment for the Danes, who leave Qatar with just one singular point. Perhaps their magical run at the Euros was just a flash in the pan, as their 2022 World Cup showing was a huge letdown.