Day Four: Japan defeat Germany, Spain thrash Costa Rica and Belgium narrowly overcome excellent Canada
The Samurai Blue have been an evidently improving outfit in recent years – as could be seen with how close they came to knocking Belgium out in 2018 – and they worked their way back into the game admirably after İlkay Gündoğan’s first-half penalty put Die Mannschaft ahead.
The other Group E opener was a throughly different affair, as Spain impressed with a 7-0 hammering of an admittedly poor Costa Rica.
Dani Olmo and Marco Asensio put La Roja ahead prior to a Ferrán Torres double either side of half-time. Gavi’s superb volley then saw him become the youngest World Cup finals goalscorer since Pelé in 1958 and substitutes Carlos Soler and Álvaro Morata rounded off the scoring.
The action then concluded with an engaging contest between Belgium and Canada.
The latter, playing in their first men’s World Cup finals since 1986, were highly impressive throughout as they created significantly more openings than their strong opponents.
It was the European outfit who came away with the three points, though. After Belgian stopper Thibaut Courtois saved Alphonso Davies’ early penalty, Michy Batshuayi’s ruthless finish shortly before half-time proved the winner.
John Herdman’s side have reason to head into Sunday’s meeting with Croatia with plenty of confidence, however.
Switzerland v Cameroon – 10am GMT
Uruguay v South Korea – 1pm GMT
Portugal v Ghana – 4pm GMT
Brazil v Serbia – 7pm GMT
Switzerland v Cameroon – Group G: Matchday 1
Kick-off time: 10am GMT
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Where can I watch? ITV (UK)
An interesting-looking contest to kick-off the day’s action.
Brazil are widely considered favourites in Group G – and, indeed, for the tournament – so both Switzerland and Cameroon will be keen to get off to a good start here ahead of the South Americans’ clash with Serbia at the end of the day.
The Swiss have developed into an increasingly assured outfit in recent years and many feel it is most likely to be them or Serbia who join Brazil in the last 16.
Granit Xhaka – who’s been so good for Arsenal so far this season – skippers the side, while goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Manchester City defender Manuel Akanji, left-back Ricardo Rodríguez and attacking threats Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo represent the strong spine that manager Murat Yakin has at his disposal.
They will be fancied to overcome Cameroon, but Rigobert Song’s team look a savvy outfit themselves.
André Onana is arguably one of the best goalkeepers at the tournnament, midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa has been a big part of Napoli’s strong start to the season, while skipper Vincent Aboubakar – alongside the likes of Karl Toko Ekambi and Bayern Munich’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – ought to offer considerable threat going forwards.
Uruguay v South Korea – Group H: Matchday 1
Kick-off time: 1pm GMT
Venue: Education City Stadium, Doha
Where can I watch? BBC (UK)
Uruguay can justifiably be seen as strong outside contenders at this World Cup.
As well as a defence that includes the excellent José María Giménez, they look exceedingly strong in midfield where Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde and Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur look set to play key roles.
Diego Alonso’s team may well fancy their chances of topping Group G, although it does look a potentially tough group to call and so they will be especially keen to get three points on the board before Portugal and Ghana meet later in the day.
South Korea look set to be dangerous opponents again, after memorably beating Germany four years ago.
Son Heung-min, crucially, looks like he should be ready to start, despite the fractured eye socket that he suffered playing alongside Bentancur for Spurs earlier this month.
Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan could offer another key attacking outlet while centre-back Kim Min-jae is another who’s been excellent for Napoli so far this term.
Portugal v Ghana – Group H: Matchday 1
Kick-off time: 4pm GMT
Venue: Stadium 974, Doha
Where can I watch? ITV (UK)
So much of the talk around Portugal in recent days will have focused on Cristiano Ronaldo, in the wake of the highly controversial interview which saw him strongly criticise Manchester United and manager Erik ten Hag.
That, therefore, may make the fact that the player and club have agreed to terminate his contract a welcome development to those of a Portuguese persuasion.
That particular soap opera appears to have been parked. And Portugal look very capable of doing well in Qatar.
Alongside Ronaldo, there is tonnes of talent from front to back.
Outstanding full-backs include the likes of João Cancelo, Nuno Mendes and Raphaël Guerreiro, while João Palhinha, Rúben Neves, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes are among the excellent midfield options.
Up top, Diogo Jota may be absent through injury, but the likes of Ronaldo and João Félix should offer plenty of threat.
Ghana look to have their work cut out, considering all of that, but they could pose notable questions themselves.
Brazil v Serbia – Group G: Matchday 1
Kick-off time: 7pm GMT
Venue: Lusail Stadium, Al Daayen
Where can I watch? BBC (UK)
Favourites for many, Brazil enter the tournament with plenty of excitement surrounding both the individuals and the collective coherence that manager Tite has built in recent years.
Neymar, once more, will be crucial to their success, but there is so much excellence elsewhere too.
Whether it be goalkeepers like Alisson Becker and Ederson, centre-backs Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, midfield general Casemiro or attacking talents such as Raphinha, Vinícius Júnior, Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus – it isn’t too difficult to see why Brazil are seen as well-placed to win the tournament for a sixth time.
They haven’t faced too many European opponents in recent times, though, with that novelty element often being one of the most fascinating factors within these competitions, and Serbia look to have a high-ceiling.
They are slightly lighter on tournament experience than fellow European Group G occupants Switzerland, but they have plenty of ability at their disposal.
Aleksandar Mitrović, Dušan Vlahović and Luka Jović are three brilliant striking options, while Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić and Ajax’s Dušan Tadić are among the exciting-looking creative influences.
Brazil will be fully aware that they will need to start sharply.