Surprises of the World Cup Group Stage
The 2022 World Cup Group Stage has come to a close and it was one for the ages.
Belgium bows out early, Japan winning Group E and Denmark's disappointment were some of the biggest surprises during the Group stage in Qatar.
Let’s dive into the biggest surprises of the group stage.
Belgium Bows Out Early
The 2018 World Cup semi-finalists and winners of the third-place game will not get a chance for redemption as they were eliminated from the World Cup after a 0-0 draw with Croatia.
The Golden Generations' last chance for glory got off to a great start in their opening match versus Canada, winning 1-0 thanks to a fantastic strike in the 44th minute by Michy Batshuayi and Thibaut Courtois stopping a penalty shot.
Batshuayi’s goal would be Belgium's only one in the tournament.
Morocco shocked Belgium 2-0 as Abdelhamid Sabiri scored on a ridiculous angle from a free kick, and Zakaria Aboukhlal scored in stoppage time.
After that disappointing result, all Belgium needed was a win over Croatia to advance.
Belgium’s star striker Romelu Lukaku had been struggling with fitness and wasn’t expected to appear until after the Group Stage.
But out of desperation, Roberto Martinez subbed him on in hopes of sparking a goal. While Lukaku got chance after chance, he couldn’t find the back of the net despite having an expected goal total of 1.67, which is more than most teams have in a game.
Shortly after being eliminated, Belgium announced that Martinez would not be returning to coach the Red Devils, ending this period of Belgium soccer that was full of expectations but yielded zero results.
Japan Wins Group E
Entering the tournament, expectations were low for Japan. Many thought it was a foregone conclusion that soccer juggernauts Germany and Spain would be the ones advancing out of Group E.
However, Japan came to play. They opened up the tournament against Germany and found themselves down 1-0 after Ilkay Gündogan converted a penalty. But in what would become a theme for the Samurai Blue, they did not give up.
Ritsu Doan equalized in the 77th minute before Takuma Asano’s strike just seven minutes later gave Japan a lead they would never relinquish and their first-ever win over Germany.
Japan disappointed in their next match, losing 1-0 to a Costa Rica side that Spain destroyed 7-0 in its opening match. The Samurai Blue needed a positive result against Spain to advance to the knockout stage.
Japan went down early against Spain as Álvaro Morata scored in just the 11th minute. But once again, Japan did not give up.
Doan equalized in the 48th minute with a beautiful strike into the top right corner. Then, just three minutes later, Japan took the lead. Kaoru Mitoma hustled to narrowly keep a ball in that was going over the backline and crossed it into the box, where Ao Tanaka tapped in.
Japan survived Spain’s late offensive surge to win the game and the group.
Japan will aim to continue its miraculous run on Monday when they square off against the 2018 runners-up, Croatia.
After a run to the semi-finals in the 2020 European Championship, many had Denmark not only advance but as their dark horse candidate to win the entire tournament.
Opened up the tournament against Tunisia, and despite dominating the possession 61% to 39%, Denmark could not find the back of the net, resulting in a 0-0 draw.
Denmark then squared off against the defending World Cup champions, France. Kylian Mbappé opened the scoring in the 61st minute for France. Andreas Christensen equalized with a fantastic header just seven minutes later for Denmark.
Then as it looked like both squads would be walking away from a point, Mbappé struck again. In the 86th minute, Mbappé struck in a cross and that gave France a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish. Resulting in a ‘win and you’re in’ scenario for Denmark against Australia.
Denmark again dominated the possession but could not score. Australia’s Mathew Leckie scored the game's lone goal in the 60th minute as his strike snuck past the outstretched arms of Kasper Schmeichel.
Denmark finished the tournament at the bottom of Group D with just one point, certainly a disappointing result for a squad that had such high expectations.
Ben Palillo is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email email@example.com.