World CupArgentina Fell Hard to Saudi Arabia While France Soared Over Australia

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Kevin Draper
Nov. 22, 2022, 1:45 p.m. ET

France vs. Australia: Les Bleus show off their depth of attacking talent.

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Credit...Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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France

Group D

Final

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Australia

After starting the game slowly and giving up an early goal, the reigning World Cup champion France eventually found its mojo and its goals, thumping Australia, 4-1. Even without the injured Karim Benzema France’s attacking talent, led by two goals for Olivier Giroud and one for Kylian Mbappé, was too much for the Socceroos.

Before they got into gear, however, Les Bleus were stunned by Australia, one of the tournament’s least favored teams. In just two passes in the ninth minute, Australia carved the French defense apart, first with a long pass upfield to winger Mathew Leckie, and then with an inch-perfect cross across the box to Craig Goodwin, who buried the first-time shot.

Australia generated a handful of chances, but France dominated possession and unleashed 23 shots on Australia’s goal. France evened things up in the 27th minute, when Adrien Rabiot headed home a lovely ball from Theo Hernandez and took the lead for good five minutes later when Giroud tapped in from the penalty spot following an Australian turnover.

France scored two more goals 20 minutes into the second half. Mbappé, after several missed chances, headed in a cross from Ousmane Dembélé, and he also played provider for Giroud’s second goal.

About the only bad news for France was that their injury woes continued: Left back Lucas Hernandez went down early with a non-contact knee injury and had to be substituted.

Ben Shpigel
Nov. 22, 2022, 1:21 p.m. ET

Ronaldo and Manchester United part ways ‘by mutual agreement.’

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Ronaldo had been relegated a spectator for most of this season with Manchester United.Credit...Lindsey Parnaby/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Manchester United said Tuesday that the star forward Cristiano Ronaldo will leave immediately “by mutual agreement,” announcing his exit less than a week after he criticized management in an interview and charged the club with betraying him.

“The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 goals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future,” Manchester United said in a statement.

His departure ends a turbulent second spell with Manchester United, in which, for most of this season Ronaldo, 37, has been relegated to spectator, a precipitous fall for one of the best players in the sport’s history. He refused to enter as a substitute earlier this season against Tottenham Hotspur, and was even dropped from the squad entirely in the Red Devils’ next match, a few days later against Chelsea. In 12 Premier League matches, Ronaldo has scored only once.

Ronaldo released his frustrations in an interview with Piers Morgan on a British television network, TalkTV, saying that he lacked respect for the manager, Erik ten Hag, whom he felt was forcing him out.

In Qatar, where Ronaldo is competing for Portugal in the World Cup, he said Monday that he did not regret his comments.

“Timing is always timing,” Ronaldo said at a news conference. “From your side it is easy to look at how we can choose timings. Sometimes you write truths, sometimes you write lies. I don’t have to worry what others think. I talk when I want to. Everybody knows who I am, what I believe in.”

Portugal opens Group H play at the World Cup on Thursday against Ghana.

Victor Mather
Nov. 22, 2022, 10:39 a.m. ET

Bettors who wagered $100 on Saudi Arabia likely won $1,800 or more.

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Saudi Arabia was considered, along with Costa Rica, the unlikeliest of teams to win the World Cup.Credit...Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Saudi Arabia’s shocking 2-1 World Cup win over Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday in Qatar was a huge upset. But how big was it? One way to quantify the surprise is to look at the betting odds.

Odds vary slightly from bookmaker to bookmaker and can change in the days and hours leading up to a game. But most oddsmakers made Saudi Arabia an 18-1 to 20-1 underdog to win the game. If you had bet $100 on the unlikely upset, then, you would have got your $100 back, plus $1,800 to $2,000 more.

In contrast, if you had bet Argentina you would very likely have been offered odds between 1-7 and 1-10. That means you might well have had to put up $1,000 just to have a chance to win $100.

You could also bet that the game would end in a draw, with odds of about 7-1 or 8-1. It might seem humdrum to bet that a game will wind up tied, but people do it. Those bettors were no doubt happy when the score was 1-1 but less so when Saudi Arabia scored the winner.

Point spread betting like in football and basketball is not as popular for soccer, but is available in many places, and is particularly popular in Asia. Argentina was a 2- or 2½-goal favorite, a spread they didn’t come close to covering.

Saudi Arabia was considered, along with Costa Rica, the unlikeliest of teams to win the World Cup before it started, with prices of 1,000-1 or more readily available. One win over Argentina, no matter how memorable, will not win them the World Cup. But their odds have dropped to 300-1.

As for Argentina, bookmakers are mostly keeping the faith that they can fare better against Mexico and Poland and still advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. Their odds to win of 5-1 have slipped only slightly, to 7-1.

James Wagner
Nov. 22, 2022, 10:36 a.m. ET

Mexico and Poland draw and miss a chance to gain the upper hand in their group.

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Mexico

Group C

Final

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DOHA, Qatar — Saudi Arabia’s stunning victory over Argentina on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, so its ripple effects, of course, are plentiful. They were still felt hours later, at Stadium 974, where Mexico and Poland faced off in their first matches of the 2022 World Cup.

All four teams are in Group C and only two get to advance to the knockout rounds. A title contender, Argentina was widely expected to win this group, with Mexico and Poland duking it out for second. Argentina’s loss blew the race for first wide open, but neither Mexico nor Poland firmly seized the chance.

With a 0-0 draw, each team earned 1 point but failed to more clearly define a path to the last 16. The result felt like a missed opportunity more for Mexico, which outplayed Poland in many ways. Mexico possessed the ball 61 percent of the time, attempted nearly double the shots on goal and limited Robert Lewandowski, the 34-year-old star striker who plays his club soccer at Barcelona and the most talented player on the field.

But, in a fast-paced game, Lewandowski was part of the most pivotal moment, a hairy situation that had Mexico teetering on the edge before goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the rare player to appear in five World Cups, pulled it back to safety. With a diving stab early in the second half, he rejected Lewandowski’s penalty kick, Poland’s best chance at erasing Mexico’s otherwise solid efforts. Lewandowski is Poland’s career leading scorer but has yet to notch a goal in a World Cup.

“We know Lewandowski,” Ochoa said. “I’m happy to have stopped that penalty and kept it at zero.” Mexico forward Henry Martín said in Spanish, using Ochoa’s nickname, “Memo is made for big moments.”

Midfielder Charly Rodríguez called the result bittersweet given how Mexico had handled Poland but was unable to notch 3 points in the standings.

“We need to be calmer in that final pass and that final decision because we had a lot of possession and we generated a lot,” he said in Spanish. “And sometimes we have clear options and we don’t complete them. Having that tranquillity is difficult in a World Cup because you’re playing at miles per hour, but we have to strive for that.”

While neither team is expected to contend for the FIFA World Cup Trophy, they arrived in Qatar against starkly different backdrops. Poland has far less of a World Cup pedigree than Mexico, getting eliminated in the group stage in each of its three previous trips to the tournament. Mexico, on the other hand, had many World Cup demons.

Only two countries have advanced out of the group stage in each of the past seven World Cups: Brazil and Mexico. Brazil, though, has won the World Cup twice in that span, while Mexico has an ignominious record. El Tri, as the national team is known, was immediately eliminated in the first knockout round all seven times, a failure that has come with immense pressure and criticism in Mexico.

“It was a great game, and we should have won the 3 points,” Mexico defender Jorge Sánchez said in Spanish. “It wasn’t easy, but we leave happy with the game we played. We possessed the ball a lot, we had a lot of shots and we injected adrenaline into the fan base, which is important.”

From the opening whistle, Mexico tried frantically to pressure Poland with the forwards Alexis Vega and Hirving Lozano, who used their speed and shiftiness. They did and had Poland on its heels repeatedly, but couldn’t capitalize. Of their six shots in the first half, only one was on target. At least they were trying: Poland and Lewandowski mustered just one shot on goal in the first half.

But Lewandowski nearly changed the game in the second half. As Lewandowski charged toward the goal with the ball, Mexico defender Héctor Moreno yanked his jersey in the penalty area. No penalty was issued at the time, and play continued.

It wasn’t until moments later, when Mexico was setting up for a free kick on the other side of the field, that a check of the video assistant referee system was called for, prompting boos from a stadium seemingly full of Mexican fans. They booed louder when the referee Chris Beath signaled for a penalty kick and pulled out a yellow card for Moreno.

But all was not lost for Mexico thanks to Ochoa. Lewandowski took the penalty in the 58th minute and fired a low strike to his right. Ochoa dived to his left and slapped the ball away. After his teammates ended the threat by clearing the ball, Ochoa pumped his fists as the stadium erupted. Fans chanted “Yes we can!” in Spanish.

Wojciech Szczesny, Poland’s goalkeeper, commended Ochoa’s save and noted that Lewandowski normally watches the opposing keeper on penalties. But against Mexico, he said, Lewandowski “decided to choose a corner and kick it, and he made a good save.”

Szczesny continued: “Unfortunately, it cost us a win but looking at the whole game, it was probably a deserved result.”

More clarity to a group flipped upside down will arrive on Saturday, when Mexico takes on Argentina and Saudi Arabia plays Poland.

“In the World Cup, there are always surprises and all the teams prepare well,” Ochoa said. “We, too, are prepared and are looking to compete well against our rivals.”

Nov. 22, 2022, 9:18 a.m. ET

Dejected Argentina fans press for a turnaround: ‘Basically they fell asleep.’

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Fans of Argentina watched their team lose to Saudi Arabia at an outdoor screening in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.Credit...Gustavo Garello/Associated Press

Outside a car wash in La Paternal neighborhood of Buenos Aires, home to Diego Maradona’s first football club, Adrian Lioy, 24, sat slumped in a plastic chair. Obviously, he had expected a different outcome, and his reaction was severe.

“In the next game they have to change all the players. They need a better coach,” he said. “It was like the players were asleep.”

Nearby, Liliana Merce, 65, was sweeping leaves in front of her Maradona-themed restaurant. “What a disgrace,” she said.

She and her husband, Claudio Merce, were indignant about the would-be goals that were counted offside. “They played very well, and it’s unjust what they did,” she said of the game’s referees. “Argentines want to be happy, but we want to be happy winning properly. I don’t think they should have discounted those goals. We should have won.”

Merce, 64, concurred, blaming the calls on more sophisticated technology that, he said, takes something away from the essence of the game.

“Modernization changed everything,” he said. “Those were goals our whole lives. Now because of technology, because of an arm,” they aren’t, he added.

Yet he said the loss did not change his expectations for the World Cup. “We were all super excited because we’re coming off a 20-something string of victories but football is football,” he said. “Messi did what he could. But they’re going to figure it out.”

Adrian Inzaurralde, 24, got up early to watch the game at a friend’s house with yerba mate and pastries. Afterward, walking home quietly, he said he had felt “deceived.”

“Basically they fell asleep,” he said. “We have to set our mind on the next game. Because if our head gets stuck in this one, we’re going to feel worse, and it’s just going to get worse for us.”

Victor Mather
Nov. 22, 2022, 7:39 a.m. ET

Denmark vs. Tunisia: Christian Eriksen returns to a global stage in a 0-0 draw.

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Denmark and Tunisia played to a scoreless draw in their opening World Cup game.

Buoyed by the overwhelming support of the crowd, and perhaps heartened by Saudi Arabia’s shocking upset of Argentina earlier in the day, Tunisia held its own against favored Denmark for much of the game.

Denmark had more of the ball, but Tunisia’s swarming defense, and a few ill-timed bad passes, frustrated its efforts.

Tunisia nearly scored in the 43rd minute when Issam Jebali got past the defense and found himself one-on-one with Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel. But Schmeichel got a hand on his chip. Earlier, Anis Ben Slimane of Tunisia eluded two defenders and put the ball in the net only to be ruled offside.

As the game wound down, Denmark became more threatening. A shot from Christian Eriksen of Denmark in the 69th minute was saved by Aymen Dahmen. A diving close-in header by Andreas Cornelius moments later failed to go in as well. A long-distance blast by Jesper Lindstrom in added time drew a leaping save from Dahmen.

Both teams could have used a win. With mighty France presumably getting one qualifying spot from Group D, these teams plus Australia are all fighting for the other.

  • You can’t talk about Denmark without talking about the incredible story of the attacking midfielder Eriksen. Only a year and a half ago, in a game against Finland at Euro 2020, Eriksen sustained a cardiac arrest and was carried off the field. The moment was so terrifying that there was a great debate about whether the game should even have continued (it did). Amazingly, less than a year later Eriksen was back as a key player with the Denmark team. He started the game on Tuesday and took Denmark’s corners. He took over as captain when Simon Kjaer was substituted in the second half.

Andrew Das
Nov. 22, 2022, 7:32 a.m. ET

German retailer ends sponsorship to protest FIFA’s decision on #OneLove armbands.

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Credit...Hannah Mckay/Reuters

Update: Germany’s players protested a FIFA decision that blocked their captain from wearing a rainbow armband.

The retail giant Rewe ended its long sponsorship of Germany’s soccer federation on Tuesday in protest of FIFA’s decision to prevent several European teams, including Germany, from wearing rainbow-colored armbands at the World Cup.

On Monday, FIFA, world soccer’s global governing body, threatened to issue a yellow card to any player who wears a rainbow armband at the tournament. That scuttled a plan by at least seven European nations to wear versions with the phrase “One Love” during the tournament. The armbands were meant to be a show of support for minority groups amid continuing concerns about the treatment of the L.G.B.T.Q. community in Qatar, where homosexuality is a crime.

FIFA, however, said the armbands violated its strict uniform rules for the tournament and would lead to discipline, and the national teams quickly backed down. Rather than risk in-game punishments for valuable players, the teams said, they had asked their captains not to wear the armbands at all.

A day later, Rewe, a partner of Germany’s federation since 2008, said it no longer wanted to be associated with FIFA after its decision.

“We stand for diversity — and football is diversity too,” Rewe’s chief executive, Lionel Souque, said in comments reported by Der Spiegel. “FIFA’s scandalous attitude is absolutely unacceptable for me as the C.E.O. of a diverse company and as a football fan.”

Andrew Das
Nov. 22, 2022, 7:12 a.m. ET

Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

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Credit...Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Saudi Arabia, a team widely viewed as a sacrificial lamb when it ran out to face Lionel Messi’s Argentina at the World Cup on Tuesday, instead stunned the world, and perhaps even themselves, by walking off with a 2-1 victory.

The result was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, but not Argentina’s first opening humiliation: It arrived at Italy 1990 as the defending champion, after all, and lost its first game to Cameroon.

Messi and his teammates had started just as expected on Tuesday, putting the ball in the net four times in the first half alone. But three were ruled out for offside, and even though Messi had given his team the lead with a 10th-minute penalty kick, the failure to expand on it proved costly.

Saleh al-Shehri pulled Saudi Arabia even three minutes into the second half, and his teammate Salem al-Dawsari put Argentina behind five minutes after that with a curling shot that will be one of the goals of the tournament, regardless of what happens to either team from here.

Nov. 22, 2022, 3:44 a.m. ET

Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia: This should’ve been a cakewalk for La Albiceleste. But it wasn’t.

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Credit...Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock

Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia

How to watch: 5 a.m. Eastern. FS1, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

Live: Saudi Arabia has shocked Argentina, 2-1. Follow here.

How they match up: The first match of what could be the final World Cup of the 35-year-old Lionel Messi’s transcendent career comes against the weakest opponent Argentina will face all competition. Sitting on 91 international goals, he’ll have a delicious opportunity to continue rampaging toward 100.

Even if he doesn’t score nine (or eight), Argentina, known as La Albiceleste, has not lost in 36 matches, and friends, if you expect that unbeaten streak — which commenced before the coronavirus pandemic began, in July 2019 — to end against Saudi Arabia, then may we interest you in a bridge in Tierra del Fuego?

Saudi Arabia, which borders Qatar, figures to represent well at Lusail Stadium. Its supporters, for certain. But its team, without a single player in a major European league, must somehow pierce Argentina’s defense, which has yielded three goals in the last 17 games. Buena suerte.

Ben Shpigel
Nov. 22, 2022, 3:23 a.m. ET

How to watch Mexico vs. Poland: A win here goes a long way.

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Credit...Moises Castillo/Associated Press

Mexico vs. Poland

How to watch: 11 a.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

How they match up: The winner will gain an early — and perhaps decisive — advantage toward advancing to the knockout stage from Group C behind the favorite Argentina. Contrary to popular belief, Poland does have players beside its superlative striker Robert Lewandowski (though it sure would be amazing with 11 Lewandowskis), and it would be served best both if Lewandowski can tally his first World Cup goal and the cluster of talent around him — namely, Piotr Zielinski — coalesces to alleviate the scoring pressure.

On balance, Mexico, known as El Tri, is stronger at midfield and in the back end, but it lacks a Lewandowski of its own. El Tri failed to beat the United States and Canada during World Cup qualifying, scoring just twice across those four matches. Without the injured striker Jesús Corona, Mexico’s output, against Poland and in the tournament at large, hinges in part on the fitness of Raúl Jiménez, who has been slowed the last two and a half months by a persistent groin injury.

Ben Shpigel
Nov. 22, 2022, 3:11 a.m. ET

How to watch Denmark vs. Tunisia: Danes can’t overlook this nuisance.

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Credit...Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Denmark vs. Tunisia

How to watch: 8 a.m. Eastern. FS1, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

How they match up: The Danes are as formidable as any European entrant, organized and cohesive, with world-class talents in the midfielders Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Christian Eriksen, who is, quite remarkably, healthy after collapsing on the field during the European Championships 17 months ago. Check with France, which lost to them twice over the last five months.

But before a rematch with the French this weekend, Denmark must contend with Tunisia, which fashions itself as a genuine nuisance. Though they project as the weakest of Africa’s five challengers, the Eagles of Carthage seem to relish frustrating more skilled opponents, relying on defense and counterattacking to squeeze out a result.

Ben Shpigel
Nov. 22, 2022, 2:52 a.m. ET

How to watch France vs. Australia: Depleted champs are still formidable.

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Credit...Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

France vs. Australia

How to watch: 2 p.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock (free).

How they match up: It is almost easier to list the players available for France in its title defense than those who are not — almost — so we’ll keep it short(ish): Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe and the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, awarded to the world player of the year, Karim Benzema, who injured his thigh in Qatar.

Among others.

Even so, the French are loaded, with Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé fronting their attack. France’s depth will be tested at some point, even during the group stage, but likely not against the Socceroos, who, despite the awesomeness of their nickname (and jerseys), have not won a World Cup match since 2010. That stretch includes a loss to France in the teams’ opener in 2018.