Sports

World Cup Watch: It’s Kickoff Time in Qatar

The highs and lows as the tournament begins


Photo via Getty Images

Qatar and FIFA (and Soccer)

Qatar's last-minute decision to ban the previously agreed upon beer sales at stadiums was followed by FIFA boss Gianni Infan­tino's bizarre rant defending the hosts, and inviting critics to blame him instead. Okay, he has a point: FIFA sucks also. For another example, it was they, not directly Qatar, who nixed a plan this week for several European teams to wear rainbow armbands to support gay rights (rights that do not exist in Qatar). So yes, FIFA is a worthy target – watch FIFA Uncovered on Netflix for more on that – and thanks for reminding us.

But soccer fans have a long history of not letting FIFA spoil their own party. Sure, there's corruption, and for some reason they've dragged everyone out into the desert in the winter, and there's so much more to talk about, but while we've got all the players here, let's just play the damn game. And thankfully that started on Sunday.

The Story So Far

Four of the eight groups have played their first games as we go to press, and there's been one massive surprise so far. In these parts the big news is the U.S. letting Wales off the hook and settling for a 1-1 draw after seeming the better side for much of the game. England's 6-2 waxing of Iran was surprising only in how very good England looked, and how shell-shocked Iran looked. Perhaps the political situation in Iran had something to do with that; the team all declined to sing the national anthem, which seemed pointed, and was likely noticed back home. Qatar, the current Asian champion, was equally at sea in a 2-0 loss to Ecuador that could've been much worse. Plus a good number of their fans left at halftime. Holland's 2-0 win over Senegal was a different matter, and might have gone either way until a pair of late goals sealed it.

Then came Tuesday, when the first game saw what BetMGM calls the biggest World Cup upset in history, as unfancied Saudi Arabia came from behind to shock Argentina, who was riding a 36-game unbeaten streak and a lot of expectations in Leo Messi's fifth and almost surely final World Cup. The blanco-celeste are still okay, but they may need to win out against Mexico and Poland to advance. Those two played to a scoreless draw, as did Denmark and Tunisia in Group D, with France shrugging off an early Aussie goal to cruise, 4-1, in a style befitting a defending champion.

What's Next

We'll see four games a day for the rest of the group stage, with Groups E and F playing Wednesday, G and H getting underway on Thanksgiving Day, and then starting with everyone's second games this Friday. Here's the day-by-day outlook.

Wednesday: On paper, this looks like an easy day for the favorites – in this case the four European teams, who are all very good. But watch out for Japan, a dark horse in a very tough group. I'll root for our neighbors, Canada and Costa Rica, but it could be a tough day for them against Spain and Belgium, respectively.

Thursday: We get our first look at Brazil, the overall favorite, and the enigma that is Group H, where anything could happen. Ghana has ruined the U.S. at multiple WCs; they could do the same to Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.

Friday: The plot thickens as teams start playing their second games. The U.S. will try to slow a potent British attack, and avoid becoming a Black Friday joke. Fun fact: England has never beaten the U.S. in the World Cup. Based on the first-game results, goal differential may be decisive in this group; if Wales can run up the score on Iran, they'll force the U.S. to do the same in the finale. Over in Group A, we'll see if Ecuador is for real, and whether Qatar becomes the first team eliminated from the tournament.

Saturday: Argentina-Mexico was always going to be an entertaining game, but now it's almost a must-win for Argen­tina. It would be sad for Messi to go out this early; check out the NPR podcast on him, The Last Cup. Saudi Arabia-Poland takes on a different flavor as well, now that the underdogs took the first bite. Denmark has already beaten France twice this year; now they'll try to three-peat on the big stage.

Sunday: Circle Spain-Germany as probably the marquee matchup of the first round. Tough matchups again for our continent-mates, in games they probably have to win.

Monday: Again, the group favorites meet in two games, while the outsiders meet in the others.

Tuesday-Friday: Starting Tuesday, each group concludes with all four teams playing simultaneously. The U.S. likely goes into this game needing a win, and maybe a big win. And watch out; that could be just what Iran needs to wake them up.



The Remaining Schedule

Note: All times CST. all games on Fox or FS1.

Wednesday, Nov. 23
4am: Morocco vs. Croatia (F)
7am: Germany vs. Japan (E)
10am: Spain vs. Costa Rica (E)
1pm: Belgium vs. Canada (F)

Thursday, Nov. 24
4am: Switzerland vs. Cameroon (G)
7am: Uruguay vs. South Korea (H)
10am: Portugal vs. Ghana (H)
1pm: Brazil vs. Serbia (G)

Friday, Nov. 25
4am: Wales vs. Iran (B)
7am: Qatar vs. Senegal (A)
10am: Netherlands vs. Ecuador (A)
1pm: England vs. USA (B)

Saturday, Nov. 26
4am: Australia vs. Tunisia (D)
7am: Poland vs. Saudi Arabia (C)
10am: France vs. Denmark (D)
1pm: Argentina vs. Mexico (C)

Sunday, Nov. 27
4am: Japan vs. Costa Rica (E)
7am: Belgium vs. Morocco (F)
10am: Croatia vs. Canada (F)
1pm: Spain vs. Germany (E)

Monday, Nov. 28
4am: Cameroon vs. Serbia (G)
7am: South Korea vs. Ghana (H)
10am: Brazil vs. Switzerland (G)
1pm: Portugal vs. Uruguay (H)

Tuesday, Nov. 29
9am: Netherlands vs. Qatar (A)
9am: Ecuador vs. Senegal (A)
1pm: Wales vs. England (B)
1pm: Iran vs. USA (B)

Wednesday, Nov. 30
9am: Tunisia vs. France (D)
9am: Australia vs. Denmark (D)
1pm: Poland vs. Argentina (C)
1pm: Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico (C)

Thursday, Dec. 1
9am: Croatia vs. Belgium (F)
9am: Canada vs. Morocco (F)
1pm: Japan vs. Spain (E)
1pm: Costa Rica vs. Germany (E)

Friday, Dec. 2
9am: South Korea vs. Portugal (H)
9am: Ghana vs. Uruguay (H)
1pm: Cameroon vs. Brazil (G)
1pm: Serbia vs. Switzerland (G)

Round of 16

Saturday, Dec. 3
9am: 1A vs. 2B
1pm: 1C vs. 2D

Sunday, Dec. 4
9am: 1D vs. 2C
1pm: 1B vs. 2A

Monday, Dec. 5
9am: 1E vs. 2F
1pm: 1G vs. 2H

Tuesday, Dec. 6
9am: 1F vs. 2E
1pm: 1H vs. 2G

Quarterfinals

Fri., Dec. 9
9am: 1E/2F vs. 1G/2H
1pm: 1A/2B vs. 1C/2D

Sat., Dec. 10
9am: 1F/2E vs. 1H/2G
1pm: 1B/2A vs. 1D/2C

Semifinals

Tue., Dec. 13, 1pm: 1pm: Friday winners
Wed., Dec. 14, 1pm: Saturday winners

Finals

Sat., Dec. 17, 9am: Third place
Sun., Dec. 18, 9am: Final

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

World Cup 2022

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