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Competition Intensifies at the World Cup as Group Stage Concludes

5 mins read
Reuters

With only two days left until the knockout round begins, the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been filled with surprises, upsets, and intense competition between teams. Taking place in Qatar, the quadrennial men’s soccer tournament welcomed 32 teams to compete from Sunday, Nov. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 18. Of the 32 competing teams, sixteen will advance to the single-elimination knockout stage that begins on Saturday, Dec. 3.

World Cup competition began on Sunday, Nov. 20, in Al Khor, Qatar, where the host nation faced off against Ecuador. Qatar fell to Ecuador 2-0 in the opening match in the host country’s first-ever World Cup appearance. Qatar was later eliminated after going 0-3 in the group stage. 

The United States men’s soccer team secured a spot in the top sixteen with a 1-0 win over Iran on Tuesday, Nov. 29, behind a lone goal from Christian Pulisic. After two draws earlier in the tournament with a 1-1 matchup against Wales and a scoreless draw against England, the U.S. was in a must-win situation against Iran in its final group stage matchup in order to advance. The U.S. will now face the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3, in the knockout round. It has been eight years since the team earned a spot in the round of sixteen, which occurred in the United States’ last appearance in the 2014 World Cup, but it has been even longer since the U.S. won a game in the knockout stage. The last time the U.S. won a match in the knockout stage was two decades ago, in 2002. Though the U.S. still remains undefeated this World Cup, the path to the championship will remain challenging.

EA Sports, which correctly predicted the 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup winners, simulated all 64 matchups of this year’s tournament and predicted that Argentina would win the championship. However, Argentina’s opening matchup was one of the biggest upsets yet to happen at the World Cup this year. Saudi Arabia bested Argentina 2-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 22. The favorite to win the tournament was facing elimination in their matchup against Mexico on Saturday, Nov. 26, which Argentina won 2-0 behind a goal from Lionel Messi. Argentina secured a spot in the knockout round with a 2-0 win over Poland on Nov. 30, so despite an early loss, the team remains in the tournament. Argentina will face off against Australia on Saturday, Dec. 3. 

France, the defending champions of the 2018 World Cup, was the first team to punch a ticket to the knockout round of sixteen with a 2-1 win over Denmark on Saturday, Nov. 26, behind two goals from Kylian Mbappé. With a roster of many members familiar with winning a championship, France has shown that they have yet to be counted out for the title and are still contenders for a repeat championship. However, despite a strong 2-0 start in the World Cup, France fell to Tunisia 1-0 on Nov. 30. Though France will still be competing in the next round, the loss shows that even the defending champions can be on the losing side of a match. France will face Poland on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Despite numerous upsets, there have been eight draws in the tournament, which highlights the very competitive playing field. There have also been five scoreless draws played in the group stage — only two away from the tournament record of seven scoreless draws at the 2014 World Cup. If the close scores continue to happen in the knockout round, where a winner must be determined, many of the matchups might end in penalty shootouts. Teams’ World Cup fates could be determined within a total of ten shots on goal.  

With three weeks of the tournament still left to play, all teams have shown that the title is up for grabs. With powerhouse teams, such as Argentina and France, facing upsets and tough competition in many group stage matches, several teams are still in contention for the trophy. So far, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Senegal, and the United States have all qualified for the knockout round, and the last six spots will be secured today and tomorrow before one of the sixteen teams will be crowned the champion on Dec. 18 in Qatar.

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