Sports Talk with Charles: World Cup of Upsets


Insanity after insanity. This year’s FIFA World Cup has been the talk of the globe since the group stage kicked off about three weeks ago, and the quality of the matches surely have not disappointed.
With this year’s competition likely being the final World Cup of several of this generation’s most transcendent stars which include the likes of Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, anticipation was at an all-time high. Both Messi and Ronaldo are aiming to cap off their legendary careers with a World Cup win. The two rivals have previously won major international tournaments—Messi with the 2021 Copa America win and Ronaldo with the 2016 Euro Cup win—but neither has brought home a World Cup for their country.
The first of several stunning upsets was on the third day of group stage matches when Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in FIFA rankings, defeated third-seeded Argentina, 2-1. The latter struggled with their offensive positioning as three goals made by both Lautaro Martinez and Messi were ruled offside, while the former gained their lead with an impressive top right corner strike by Salem Al-Dawsari.
The following day, Japan, ranked 24th, topped 11th ranked Germany, 2-1 with a second-half comeback. The 2014 winners held a 1-0 lead at the half, but Japan found their attacking groove with two goals in the span of eight minutes towards the final whistle.
The third shock of the tournament came from a Moroccan victory against Belgium, 2-0, in which the two goals were both scored in the second half. The 22nd seed fended off the second seed with a determined defensive squad that didn’t allow a goal from Belgium’s 10 shots and nine corners.
Group D also featured two matches in which the heavy underdogs achieved the unthinkable, with 30th ranked Tunisia’s win against France, the defending World Cup champions, as well as 38th ranked Australia’s win against number 10 Denmark.
In the final two days of group stage action, the surprises continued to roll as Japan defeated seventh seeded Spain, while 28th seeded Korea Republic defeated ninth seeded Portugal.
Japan’s winning goal against Spain was just millimeters away from being out of bounds before Ao Tanaka knocked the ball into the net. The controversial goal was initially ruled out due to the ball not touching the line, but after officials reviewed the aerial view, the goal was given since the sphere was still on the line. Their win ultimately knocked Germany and Costa Rica out of the World Cup and placed them as second in Group E.
South Korea came into the Portugal match at the bottom of Group H; however, stoppage time heroics made by a slick pass through several defenders by Son Heung-min to a finish by Hwang Hee-chan allowed for a 2-1 victory, putting the team at the second in the group. The team anxiously waited for Uruguay’s match against Ghana to end, since an additional Uruguay goal would have kicked South Korea out of the tournament. That goal was never made and the South Korean team and their fans celebrated with excitement and tears.
These victories by Japan and South Korea made history as it was the first time three teams in the Asian Football Confederation—Japan, Korea Republic and Australia—advanced to the Round of 16. This tournament is certainly a contender for the greatest World Cup with one of the wildest group stage results of all time.