Consider the first matchweek of the World Cup officially in the books.
There’s been a number of upsets and surprises, nations have proven their credentials as favourites and a bolter for the golden boot has emerged that we should have seen all along.
Plus the Socceroos were taught a brutal lesson against the world’s best, but there’s a silver lining.
Foxsports.com.au breaks down all of the action in World Cup Talking Points!
Degenek confident of Tunisia bounceback | 02:32
ARNIE, AUSSIES TAUGHT BRUTAL TACTICAL LESSONS IN ULTIMATE TEST
For the space of 18 minutes, every Socceroos fan was in dreamland thanks to Craig Goodwin’s stunning opener against France.
Sadly, the dream quickly turned to a nightmare once France found their groove as Les Bleus eventually ran out 4-1 winners and some may argue the scoreline should have been greater had the French taken all their chances.
It was a stark reminder of the gulf between the two nations when it comes to football, as the Aussies simply didn’t have the individual quality to match the defending world champions.
But for a period of time, we got a glimpse of what the Socceroos could do when they take the game to their opponents in the first half.
Graham Arnold’s side were down 2-1 to begin the second half, but the tactics were slightly altered to a more conservative approach.
They didn’t pay off, which is partly down to fatigue and lack of match fitness for a number of the Socceroos.
World Cup Diary: What Qatar is REALLY like and the big myth Aussies fans just busted
World Cup Wrap: PL star’s ‘staggering’ strike as Brazil roars to life; Ronaldo’s epic response to brain fade
World Cup fan tries ‘genius hack to sneak booze into stadium’
Degenek confident of Tunisia bounceback | 02:32
Yet Australian legend Craig Foster was left questioning whether Arnold should have changed his approach earlier in the game than when he did.
“I think the question for Graham is whether he should have changed the game earlier,” Foster told SBS.
“We were 2-1 down but really we were conceding a lot of really good chances.
“We thought that maybe he was going to change (Nathaniel) Atkinson earlier. He got through an incredible amount of work.”
Foster added: “The other question is the ambition and the second half at 2-1 down whether you are going to try and change things. We come out in the second half and the pattern of the game was exactly the same. So at what point are we going to go up and start to press them? Bring the team and start to put some pressure on them. Take more risk.”
Arnold will certainly have to take more risks against Tunisia on Saturday (9pm AEDT) if the Socceroos are to progress to the Round of 16.
“What are you going to do about that?” | 00:38
HOW WILL ENGLAND LIVE WITHOUT HARRY KANE?
An England line-up without Harry Kane leading the attack is like eating a burger without fries: sure, it can work, but it doesn’t feel quite right.
Kane, valued at $138m (AUD), went down clutching his ankle after defender Morteza Pouraliganji caught him with a lunging tackle early in the second half of England’s World Cup opener against Iran in which Gareth Southgate’s side romped to a 6-2 win
The Spurs skipper managed to keep calm and carry on, but was eventually replaced by Callum Wilson in the 76th minute.
However, Kane appeared to be limping after the game and had his right ankle strapped up.
The 29-year-old subsequently had a scan on his ankle as a precaution, with Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate quick to allay fears that England’s Captain Fantastic could be seriously hurt.
But Southgate will eventually have to make a crucial call on Kane ahead of what looms as a crunch match against the United States.
On the proviso Kane is cleared to play, which appears to be the case based on the latest reporting, does Southgate roll the dice and start him up front?
Or does he play it safe and look at the long-term picture at the World Cup?
Some may point to the fact five different English players not named Kane were on the scoresheet against Iran as a way of proving England will have no problems scoring against the US.
After all, it was a performance that former England international Jamie Carragher gushing with praise.
Nothing to separate South Korea, Uruguay | 00:49
“Imagine the reaction if Brazil or Argentina score six in their opening game,” Carragher wrote in a column for The Telegraph.
“No-one will be talking about the quality of the opposition. They will be talking about how tasty the pre-tournament favourites look and purring over how brilliantly taken some of the goals were.
“The rest of the world would see a force to be reckoned with.”
But five of the six goals were scored with the skipper on the pitch, and he even assisted two of them.
Furthermore, England has a number of back-up options for their front line to torment the Americans.
Newcastle United striker Callum Wilson is a like-for-like replacement for Kane.
So can Marcus Rashford, who is a different type of forward to Kane but offers rapid pace and can stretch opposition backlines like an elastic band.
If Southgate’s feeling creative, he might even go with a false nine up top with Raheem Sterling.
There’s clearly other options at Southgate’s disposal, so it’s not all doom-and-gloom.
But, as The Times’ Paul Joyce notes, losing Kane at the World Cup might very well be a living hell for Southgate.
“If only for a fleeting moment, the fear of being without their skipper during this World Cup would have represented Gareth Southgate’s worst nightmare, primarily because it represents a lurch into the unknown,” Joyce said.
“The value the England coach places on his skipper as a penalty box predator and also creator means that Kane has understandably started every match at a tournament barring the group dead rubber with Belgium at the World Cup in 2018.”
Ronaldo has ‘no regrets’ over interview | 02:11
THE FUTURE OF SPAIN IS BRIGHT
Costa Rica was sentenced to death by 1000 passes — 1045 if we’re being precise — as Spain toyed with the Central American nation for 90 minutes.
Spain ran out 7-0 victors in a match that resembled more of a training drill more than a World Cup fixture, as Luis Enrique’s side suffocated Costa Rica to the point where they had just 18 percent of the ball and completed 230 passes.
Sure, it’s easy to point to the vast gap in quality between the two sides as to why the scoreline was so big.
Yet it was the Barcelona-based midfield that proved to be decisive.
Costa Rica lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with 34-year-old Celso Borges and 30-year-old Yeltsin Tejeda lining up in central midfield.
On the other side was skipper Sergio Busquets (34yo) and teenage pair Gavi (18yo) and Pedri (19yo).
Unsurprisingly, it was the baby-faced duo that ran rings around their opponents as well as clocking up a sky-high number of completed passes.
Saucy Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 | 01:19
Between the two, they completed 152 of 162 passes between them with Gavi also bagging Spain’s fifth goal of the day, making him the youngest at 18 years and 110 days to score at a World Cup in Spanish history and the third-youngest in overall World Cup history.
Granted, Gavi and Pedri are still so young and will continue to grow and develop as the years go on.
But Sky Sports’ Nick Wright couldn’t help but draw a direct comparison between the dazzling duo and two faces who Busquets is awfully familiar with.
“As Spain seek to recapture their former glories, it is impossible to watch Pedri and Gavi and not be reminded of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, Barcelona teammates of a previous generation, who, together with Busquets, helped turn La Roja into World Cup and European Championship winners a decade ago,” Wright said.
“There is a long way to go if they are to match those feats, of course. The real tests are still to come for Enrique’s side at this tournament.
“But what Pedri and Gavi are doing is already extraordinary.”
Whether Pedri and Gavi can continue such form throughout the World Cup and against tougher opponents remains to be seen, but the future is certainly bright in Spain’s midfield department.
Swiss start perfectly, 1-0 over Cameroon | 00:57
HOW 36YO STAR PROVIDED ‘SOURCE OF FRENCH COMFORT’
France are good, like, really good.
Unfortunately it was the Socceroos who had to deal with Les Bleus’ forward forays that seemed endless.
Whether it was Kylian Mbappe on the left, Ousmane Dembele on the right or Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud through the middle, there was little anyone in the Aussie backline could do to halt their advances.
Mbappe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot scored two of France’s four, with the other two scored by Giroud who equalled the legendary Thierry Henry as the nation’s all-time goalscoring king with 51.
Funnily enough, this was not meant to be Giroud’s World Cup.
Karim Benzema, the latest winner of the Ballon d’Or, was set to lead the line for Didier Deschamps’ side.
But a thigh injury ultimately consigned the Real Madrid man to the sidelines for the World Cup, gifting a berth in the starting side for 36-year-old Giroud.
Ronaldo scores as Portugal survive Ghana | 01:15
Given Benzema once described himself as a “Formula One car” and labelled Giroud a “go-kart”, it’s funny how things work out sometimes.
If anything, Giroud’s inclusion may have been more beneficial for France.
He famously didn’t score a single goal at the 2018 World Cup that Les Bleus went on to win, but his work off the ball and bringing others in to play was a skill set that proved invaluable.
It helps that Giroud is also familiar with how Mbappe, Griezmann and Dembele all operate.
“Giroud rarely attract the limelight, but he quietly pins his centre-back, all clever movement and flashes of canny aggression and strength, while those with flair – Mbappe, Griezmann, Dembele – conjure their tricks, flicks and surging runs,” The Athletic’s Dominic Fifield wrote.
“They know the 36-year-old’s runs well enough by now.”
Giroud needs just one more goal in Qatar to take the record from Henry and become France’s outright all-time leading goalscorer.
But even if that transpires, Fifield noted “the focus will still remain on glitzier and more glamorous names in this side.”
Yet Giroud likely won’t be bothered because he is “integral to how Deschamps’ team plays, a forward pivot around whom Mbappe et al can have their fun”.
Most importantly, “his presence is a source of French comfort.”
Keeper brain fade almost burns Portugal | 00:28
GERMANY, ARGENTINA CAUGHT FLAT-FOOTED… BUT IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM YET
Hands up, who had Saudi Arabia beating Argentina?
The Green Falcons’ 2-1 triumph over Argentina will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest upset in World Cup history.
What made the victory even more remarkable was the fact Saudi Arabia erased a one-goal deficit and scored two quick goals in the second half.
For Argentina, a team considered heavy favourites to win the World Cup, the result no doubt shocked the team.
Yet former England international Joe Cole believed he could “see fear in the eyes of the Argentina players” when the cameras caught their faces.
“It was there in their play too – good footballers failing to do the basics, coming out second best in challenges,” Cole said in a column for The Telegraph.
“When the pressure is on and a big game is going against you – unexpectedly – then it is possible to be gripped by a premonition.
“In other words a vision of what is coming, of what the hours and the days will be like after a defeat like this.”
The reaction across the world was fierce, none more so than in neighbouring nation and arch footballing rivals Brazil.
But it wasn’t the only result that caught the world off guard, as Germany copped a 2-1 loss to Japan.
Germany on the brink after HUGE upset | 01:14
Less of an upset than Saudi Arabia’s triumph, but still a surprise result nonetheless.
The defeat was also Germany’s fifth in their last eight in tournament matches and leaves them with some serious work to do if they want to progress from Group E given Spain’s destruction of Costa Rica.
With such a long run of poor form, The Times’ James Gheerbrant felt compelled to ask: “Is Die Mannschaft broken?”
“For so many decades, Germany were the ultimate tournament team, peaking with clockwork inevitability, operating with calm command when the glare and pressure was most intense,” Gheerbrant wrote.
“After the Low lows of 2018 and 2021, Hansi Flick’s high line and high press were supposed to have restored this reliable big-stage juggernaut to full working order.
“But as this match began to turn against them, as the afternoon departed from their script, as the drums beat like a defeaning pulse in the blue end of the stadium, the familiar frailty spread through this team like a hairline crack.”
For all the doom and gloom, the underlying numbers for Argentina and Germany demonstrate they theoretically should be OK.
Argentina had an xG (expected goals) of 2.2 against Saudi Arabia, who had an xG of 0.1, per FBRef.
As for Germany, they had an xG of 3.2 to Japan’s xG of 1.4.
Numbers don’t paint the whole picture, but it presents an element to their performances that proves they didn’t play horribly, they were just unable to capitalise on their chances.
Irvine proud of Socceroos’ protests | 02:40
TWO MOMENTS OF MAGIC PROVE BRAZIL STAR IS HERE TO STAY
Granted, it took 45 minutes for Brazil’s world class forward line to click into gear.
But once they did, it was relentless.
Led by Richarlison up top and an attacking midfield trio of Vinicius Jr., Raphinha and Neymar, it seemed a matter of when, not if, they would find a way past a steely Serbian defence.
Many fans and pundits tipped Neymar to be the star of the show and quite rightly so, given the Paris Saint-Germain superstar has 11 goals and nine assists in 14 appearances this season.
But it was Richarlison that stole the headlines, scoring both goals in Brazil’s victory.
The first one was a simple tap-in that fell kindly to him after Serbian goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic made a good stop to deny Vinicius Jr.
Well, it might have won the goal of the tournament award and we’ve only had one set of games.
Richarlison slots goal of the World Cup? | 00:36
Richarlison controlled the ball from a Vinicius Jr. cross before firing an acrobatic strike that looked like it was straight out of Shaolin Soccer.
The two goals mean the Tottenham Hotspur forward now has nine goals in his last seven international appearances.
But what’s somewhat remarkable was that Richarlison didn’t really get involved in a lot of the build-up play.
He had 25 touches of the ball, the least of any starting outfield player before he was substituted off in the 79th minute for Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus.
As The Athletic’s Mark Carey described, Richarlison was “low volume, but maximum impact.”
Despite his relatively low involvement in Brazil’s overall game, is there any way he could be displaced after a two-goal haul?
It’s not as if Brazil are starved of forward options, either.
Tite can call upon Gabriel Jesus, Flamengo forward Pedro or Real Madrid star Rodrygo.
But it’s Richarlison’s shirt to lose now and if he continues his absurd international goalscoring form, he might prove to be the bolter we should have seen coming in the golden boot race.