And just when you thought we achieved peak chaos at the World Cup on Wednesday, we had even ups and downs on Thursday. All four teams from Group E — Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, and Spain — were at some point either through to the round of 16 or outright eliminated.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Thursday’s World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to what’s next on Friday.
Group E chaos: Japan, Spain in; Germany faces re-boot
At halftime of both of Thursday’s late matches, it seemed as though one of the World Cup’s more intriguing groups would fall in line as predicted: previous winners Spain and Germany would advance, while Japan and Costa Rica would go home.
By the time the final whistles blew, it was Japan topping Group E after beating Spain, with Germany (yes, the team with four World Cup trophies) joining Costa Rica on the outside looking in.
Spain initially were in control against Japan after Alvaro Morata’s early goal, with Germany also cruising over Costa Rica thanks to Serge Gnabry‘s 10th-minute score. But as we should always expect at these tournaments, tables were turned, the scripts were flipped, and chaos ensued.
Both Costa Rica and Japan came out each of their locker rooms after halftime on fire, with each side scoring two goals in their respective games, and all of sudden it was all up for grabs. For a brief spell of two minutes, 55 seconds, even Costa Rica — who had lost 7-0 to Spain but then rebounded to defeat Japan — were in the driver’s seat to qualify.
When the dust settled, it was Japan — aided by a controversial VAR decision — who were group winners after holding off Spain 2-1. Germany rallied past Costa Rica 4-2 but it wasn’t enough to overcome Spain’s superior goal difference.
What about that Japan goal?
Of particular note was Japan’s second and ultimately decisive goal. In the 51st minute, Ao Tanaka buried the ball into the net after Kaoru Mitoma cut it back from the goal-line. Initially ruled over the line when the assistant’s flag went up, VAR decided that the ball hadn’t fully crossed over and remained in play.
Can you see it? Not convinced? Delve into the details here over the VAR decision here, or check out ESPN’s rules expert extraordinaire Dale Johnson as breaks down the goal that also ultimately sealed Germany’s World Cup fate.
ESPN FC’s Dale Johnson explains why VAR chose not to disallow Japan’s 2nd goal against Spain.
End of era for Germany?
Technically Germany did what it needed to do. They beat Costa Rica despite briefly trailing against Los Ticos in the second half thanks to Kai Havertz‘s brace and a late strike by Niclas Fullkrug. But that controversial goal by Japan proved costly, as did Spain’s goal difference from their big win over Costa Rica last week.
It’s a bitter way to exit the World Cup stage, especially for a traditional powerhouse such as Germany. After winning the 2014 World Cup, it is two straight exits at the group stage for the four-time winners.
The result is likely to lead to a major overhaul in German soccer, with coach Hansi Flick’s position as coach now vulnerable. Long-serving players such as Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan also might have come to the end of the line on the international stage.
ESPN FC’s Archie Rhind-Tutt labels Germany’s World Cup exit as a debacle.
Today’s top reads
Ziyech, En-Nesyri help fire Morocco into round of 16
Morocco’s win that put them into the World Cup round of 16 as Group F winners was kickstarted by an unfortunate error that led to the opening goal.
Croatia keep Belgium’s golden generation trophy-less
Croatia, World Cup runners-up in 2018, stay alive and send a star-studded but disappointing Belgium side home.
World Cup’s missing men: What are Salah, Haaland, Benzema doing?
Whether due to not qualifying or injury, some of the sport’s biggest names are still staying busy (or relaxing).
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for the Friday’s matches.
Dalen Cuff: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m looking to cash this for a third time. Brazil will dominate the ball and this game. Take A Seleção to win to nil (+114).
Paul Carr: Through two group games, Brazil had allowed only 11 shots and 0.5 expected goals, both among the three best defenses in the tournament. I have lineup concerns here too, though less so given Brazil’s depth. I like the win to nil bet a lot. I just want to see who is starting first.
Daniel Thomas: Brazil have been the best team of the tournament so far. Even if they rest key players, they are still overwhelmed with quality. I’d go Brazil to win 3-0.
Cuff: The Swiss likely will need a draw to advance. They are a resolute defensive group and Yann Sommer is one of the best goalies in the world. Serbia has been all over the place in this tournament and they need all three points to advance. I think the Swiss manage this game well and get the draw they need (+225).
Carr: Switzerland only needs a draw to advance, assuming Cameroon does not beat Brazil, and they are a veteran team that simply do what is necessary. They went unbeaten in qualifying, outscoring opponents 15-2 and grinding out draws of 1-1 and 0-0 with Italy. Serbia’s attack isn’t quite clicking (2.1 expected goals through two games) and Switzerland will continue that trend in a low-scoring game. Give me under 2.5 goals at -130.
Thomas: Take the under in goals. This is not going to be a fun one to watch.
Cuff: Ghana’s matches have been entertaining thanks to their ability to put the ball in the net (5 goals scored) but also their penchant to be scored upon (5 goals conceded). The Black Stars can likely advance with just a draw (assuming South Korea doesn’t beat Portugal), while Uruguay has to win to have any chance. Uruguay has been unlucky, hitting the bar three times in two games. I think they will capitalize on opportunities, pressing from the kickoff. The Black Stars may get on the board as well. That’s why I like over 2.5 goals at -105.
Carr: I’m on a similar page, in that Uruguay should have a goal or two already, given their 1.9 expected goals. Plus, both of Ghana’s games have had plenty of chances, with each team getting at least 1.0 expected goals in each game. I’ll take both teams to score at -110.
Thomas: I like Ghana here. They are a great value at +390. Uruguay has not impressed at all so far.
Cuff: South Korea has to win and generated a lot of chances against Ghana. The lineup for already-qualified Portugal will be interesting. I’m not sure I’m going to play this game and will definitely wait to see the starting 11. If it’s primarily the group that has led Portugal to wins in this group, I like both teams to score (-115).
Carr: After what happened to France‘s sub-optimal lineup on Wednesday, I’m not touching this game until I see Portugal’s starters.
Thomas: I also like both teams to score and I think this is going to be a thoroughly entertaining affair.
News and notes
United States midfielder Christian Pulisic said on Thursday he’ll “do everything in my power” to play in Saturday’s World Cup round-of-16 match against the Netherlands. Pulisic’s official status remains day-to-day with a pelvic contusion, according to a U.S. Soccer Federation spokesperson.
Brazil football legend Pele was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia after new tests on Thursday at a Sao Paulo hospital, sources told ESPN Brasil. The three-time World Cup winner was initially hospitalised on Tuesday to regulate the medication in his fight against a colon tumor, his daughter Kely Nascimento said. She added that there was “no emergency” concerning her 82-year-old father’s health.
Mexico’s national teams director Jaime Ordiales said he feels “professional embarrassment” for the national team’s early exit from the group stage of the 2022 World Cup and promised a rebuild for the next World Cup cycle. It was Mexico’s worst World Cup showing in 40 years, and El Tri had advanced past the first round in the previous seven consecutive World Cups.
Merritt Paulson announced his intention to sell the NWSL club Portland Thorns amid ongoing pressure since allegations of sexual harassment and coercion were made against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, for which he was fired for cause in 2015. That pressure — from both fans and sponsors — increased following the release of the Yates Report, which detailed systemic sexual and emotional abuse throughout the league. Paulson, who also owns the Portland Timbers, does not intend to sell the MLS club.
What else caught our eye
Fans in Morocco are celebrating in full force after finishing undefeated Group F, setting up a tantalizing round of 16 matchup with neighbors Spain.
Tom Hamilton reports from downtown Doha as Morocco fans take to the streets to celebrate their country’s victory over Canada at the World Cup.
It’s a rematch of a 2018 World Cup group stage thriller between La Roja and the Atlas Lions, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Who’ll get the bragging rights this time around?
ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti defends Morocco after Spain finish 2nd in their group and face them in the round of 16.
Matches on tap for Friday
Group H: South Korea vs. Portugal (Education City Stadium, 10 a.m. ET)
All Portugal need to do is stay healthy and avoid humiliation to advance, while South Korea could use a spark from Son Heung-Min in order to have a chance of going through. Will we see Cristiano Ronaldo, or will he be rested?
Group H: Ghana vs. Uruguay (Al Janoub Stadium, 10 a.m. ET)
This seismic grudge match — remember Luis Suarez‘s handball as Uruguay knocked the Black Stars out of the 2010 World Cup — has a lot on the line as both could advance. Ghana go through with a win or a draw (if South Korea lose), while Uruguay must win (and South Korea lose) to have a chance of progressing. Skip some meetings to tune in.
Group G: Serbia vs. Switzerland (Stadium 974, 2 p.m. ET)
There’s a lot of hostility here after their tempestuous meeting at the 2018 World Cup, but victory for either side secures a round of 16 spot.
Group G: Cameroon vs. Brazil (Lusail Iconic Stadium, 2 p.m. ET)
It’s unlikely that Brazil lose, but considering the chaos in both Groups C and E this week means literally anything’s possible. A Cameroon win with some help from Serbia/Switzerland would put them in the round of 16.