And just when you thought we achieved peak chaos at the World Cup on Wednesday, we had even more ups and downs on Wednesday. All four teams from Group E – Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, and Spain – are in a place either through the round of 16 or eliminated directly.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you may have missed from Wednesday’s World Cup events, and a look ahead to what’s to come on Friday.
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Group E chaos: Japan, Spain; Germany faces a re-boot
At half time of the last matches on Thursday, it seems that one of the more interesting teams of the World Cup will fall in line as predicted: The previous successes of Spain and Germany will continue, while Japan and Costa Rica will go home.
By the time the final whistle blew, it was Japan who topped Group E after beating Spain, with Germany (yes, the team with four World Cups) joined by Costa Rica on the outside going in.
Spain were initially 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 should always be expected in these tournaments, the tables were turned, the scripts were changed, and chaos ensued.
Both Costa Rica and Japan came out of each of their locker rooms after halftime on fire, with each team scoring two goals in their respective games, and it was all sudden. For the short span of two minutes, 55 seconds, even Costa Rica – who lost 7-0 to Spain but then bounced back to beat Japan – was in the driver’s seat to qualify.
When the dust settled, it was Japan – aided by a controversial VAR decision – who were the group winners after holding off Spain 2-1. Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 but it wasn’t enough to overcome Spain’s superior goal difference.
What about that Japan goal?
Of particular note is the secondary goal and ultimately the deciding factor. In the 51st minute, Ao Tanaka buried the ball into the net after Kaoru Mitoma cut it back from the goal line. Initially ruling the line when the assistant’s flag went up, VAR determined that the ball had not been fully crossed and was in play.
Can you see it? Doesn’t it matter? Go into the details on the VAR decision here, or check out ESPN’s legal expert Dale Johnson as he breaks down the goal that also sealed Germany’s World Cup fate.
Dale Johnson of ESPN FC explains why VAR didn’t allow Japan’s 2nd goal against Spain.
The end of time for Germany?
Technically Germany does what it needs to do. They beat Costa Rica despite trailing briefly 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 came at a cost, as did Spain’s goal difference in their big win over Costa Rica last week.
It was a bittersweet exit from the World Cup stage, especially for a traditional powerhouse like Germany. After winning the 2014 World Cup, it was two straight exits in the group stage for the four-time winners.
The result is likely to lead to a major renaissance in German football, with coach Hansi Flick’s position as coach now vulnerable. Long-time players such as Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan may also have reached the end of the line on the international stage.
ESPN FC’s Archie Rhind-Tutt labeled Germany’s World Cup exit as a sock.
Today’s top reading
Ziyech, En-Nesyri help fire Morocco reached the round of 16
Morocco’s victory that put them in the World Cup round of 16 as winners in Group F was started by an unfortunate mistake that led to the opening goal.
Croatia killed Belgium’s gold medal-less generation
Croatia, World Cup runner-up in 2018, stay alive and put a star-studded but disappointing Belgium home team.
The missing men of the World Cup: What are Salah, Haaland, Benzema doing?
Whether due to being unfit or injured, some of the biggest names in the sport are still busy (or resting).
Your best bets (odds by 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, picks and futures. Here’s what we have for Friday’s matches.
Group G: Cameroon (+750) vs Brazil (-275), Draw (+375)
Dalen Cuff: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I am looking for this money for the third time. Brazil will dominate this football and game. Get A Seleção from win to nil (+114).
Paul Carr: Through two group games, Brazil has allowed only 11 shots and 0.5 expected goals, both among the three best defenses in the tournament. I have line concerns here too, though less so for Brazil’s depth. I want the win to nil bet a lot. I just want to see who starts first.
Daniel Thomas: Brazil has been the best team in the tournament so far. Even if they rest key players, they are still strong with quality. I will go to Brazil to win 3-0.
Group G: Serbia (+150) vs Switzerland (+180), Draw (+230)
Belly: The Swiss will likely need a draw to progress. They are a determined defensive team and Yann Sommer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Serbia has been everywhere in this tournament, and they need all three points to advance. I think the Swiss managed this game well and got the draw they needed (+225).
Carr: Switzerland only need a draw to advance, assuming Cameroon didn’t beat Brazil, and they are a seasoned team that can easily do what is necessary. They are undefeated in qualifying, outscoring opponents 15-2 and drawing 1-1 and 0-0 with Italy. Serbia’s attack lacks much pressure (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: Bring under the goals. This is not going to be fun to watch.
Group H: Ghana (+390) vs Uruguay (-140), Draw (+300)
Belly: Ghana’s matches have been entertaining thanks to their ability to put the ball in the net (five goals scored) but also their penchant to score on (five goals scored). It is possible that the Black Stars can continue with a draw (assuming South Korea does not beat Portugal), while Uruguay has to win to have any chance. Unlucky Uruguay, hit the woodwork three times in two games. I think they will capitalize on the opportunity, pressing from kickoff. The Black Stars can get on board as well. That’s why I want over 2.5 goals at -105.
Carr: I’m on the same page, in that Uruguay should have a goal or two already, given the 1.9 goals they expect. In addition, both Ghana games have had many opportunities, with each team having at least 1.0 expected goals in each game. I’ll take both teams to score at -110.
Thomas: I want Ghana here. They are great value at +390. Uruguay has not impressed at all so far.
Group H: South Korea (+375) vs Portugal (-150), Draw (+300)
Belly: South Korea had to win and create many chances against Ghana. The line-up for an already competent Portugal will be interesting. I am not sure that I will play this game and will definitely wait to see the starting 11. If it is the first team that leads Portugal to win in this group, I like both teams to score (-115).
Carr: After what happened to France’s best lineup on Thursday, I didn’t touch this game until I saw Portugal’s starters.
Thomas: I still want both teams to score, and I think this will be a very interesting affair.
News and notes
United States midfielder Christian Pulisic said Thursday he will “do everything in my power” to play Saturday’s World Cup round-of-16 match against the Netherlands. Pulisic’s official status remains day-to-day with a hip injury, according to a Soccer Federation spokesman.
Brazilian soccer player Pele was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia after new tests Wednesday at a Sao Paulo hospital, sources told ESPN Brasil. The three-time World Champion was first hospitalized on Tuesday to receive the drug in his fight against a brain tumor, his daughter Kely Nascimento said. He added that there is “no emergency” regarding the health of his 82-year-old father.
Mexico’s national team director Jaime Ordiales said he felt “professional shame” for the national team’s early exit from the group stage of the 2022 World Cup and pledged to rebuild for the next World Cup round. It was Mexico’s worst World Cup showing in 40 years, and El Tri has passed the first round in the previous seven World Cups.
Merritt Paulson announced his decision to sell NWSL team Portland Thorns amid ongoing pressure since allegations of sexual assault and battery 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 team.
What else caught our eye
Fans in Morocco are celebrating in full after finishing Group F unbeaten, setting up a 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 in the World Cup.
It was a rematch of the 2018 World Cup stage thriller between La Roja and Atlas Lions, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Who will take the bragging rights this time?
ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti defends Morocco after Spain finished second in their group and face them in the round of 16.
Matches on tap for Friday
Group H: South Korea vs. Portugal (Education Stadium, 10 a.m. ET)
All Portugal need to do is stay healthy and avoid embarrassment to progress, while South Korea could use fire from Son Heung-Min to have a chance to go. Will you see Cristiano Ronaldo, or will he rest?
Group H: Ghana vs Uruguay (Al Janoub Stadium, 10am ET)
This seismic rivalry – remember Luis Suarez’s handball as Uruguay knocked the Black Stars out of the 2010 World Cup – has a lot on the line for both sides to continue. Ghana goes through with a win or a draw (if South Korea loses), while Uruguay must win (and South Korea lose) to have a chance to advance. Skip some meetings to tune in.
Group G: Serbia vs. Switzerland (Stadium 974, 2 p.m. ET)
There was a lot of disappointment here after their stormy meeting in the 2018 World Cup, but the victory for both teams secured the round of 16 points.
Group G: Cameroon vs Brazil (Lusail Iconic Stadium, 2pm ET)
It is unlikely that Brazil will lose, but considering the chaos in groups C and E this week means literally anything is possible. A win for Cameroon with some help from Serbia/Switzerland will put them in the round of 16.