Jean-Charles Castelletto of Cameroon celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Group G match of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Cameroon and Serbia at Al-Janoub Stadium on November 28, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar Has. Image: Getty Images
Match of the day: Serbia 3-3 Cameroon
We could have gone either way with this one, as South Korea and Ghana played their own part in going haywire. But we will go for the early game today as it had another goal. It always feels corny to say that goals define football or that “goals change the game”, which is perhaps the most popular phrase among commentators. But it’s also just true.
Cameroon took the lead against the flow of play. They had just one shot at all in the first 20 minutes, although Serbia didn’t do much more than enter their defense in the opening games. But falling behind moved something in Serbia that we hadn’t seen before at the tournament, who then regained the lead by two goals before half-time, including this textbook header from Strahinja Pavlović to equalize:
By the way, could you find a more Serbian looking guy than Pavlović? You saw this guy smoking an unfiltered cigarette outside a bar with no sign, right?
After the break, the lead made Serbia purr even smoother as Dusan Tadić and Sergej Milinković-Savić (who scored Serbia’s second goal) teamed up with striker Aleksandar Mitrović, culminating in that superb third goal that was destined to be a killer smooth one Piece of music like the Pink Panther theme or a Sly song:
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And that was over. Or it should have been. Something funny happened. Cameroon coach Rigobert Song introduced striker Vincent Aboubakar, switched his team to a 4-4-2 and Serbia responded like a dinosaur. Twice Aboubakar broke Serbia’s defence/offside trap, both times Nikola Milenković on the right flank of Serbia’s three-man defense was the one who got caught too deep and kept Aboubakar on the side. The back three found covering one to the front a breeze. Throw a second one after them because there was a kindergarten fire drill back there. The first, when everyone assumed the flag was going to go up and eventually did, only for VAR to get the goal out of the trash again, was finished off by Aboubakar himself with the kind of shovel you’d only attempt if you were pretty sure doesn’t matter anyway:
If Aboubakar was sure he was on the side, is he just as relaxed? It does not matter now.
The second time Aboubakar looked square for Eric Choupo-Moting. And suddenly, without Cameroon really deserving it, they had the game tied and looked like they were the more likely winner. Unfortunately they only managed two more shots after the equaliser, but got what was needed to go into the final day with at least some play. Just gotta beat Brazil! Dead easy!
At 3-1, it seemed like the same story for Cameroon since last winter’s AFCON when something broke. After being eliminated on penalties at home, they were pretty wishy-washy and showed a lack of everything against Switzerland, especially after falling behind. They showed courage and fought on Monday.
For Serbia, they’ll regret not taking all three points here, especially when it’s all based on an already boiling game with Switzerland that just needs a draw. It’s strange that after seeing both Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahović together in qualifying, they’ve shied away from it in this tournament. Certainly not 100 percent, especially with Mitrovic. They played a great 50 minutes or so. But at a World Cup you can’t leave the other 40 on the table.
South Korea 2 – 3 Ghana
This was another game where a team that hadn’t shown much rushed back out of nowhere, only for the Koreans then to be unable to hold on. The concern for South Korea ahead of the tournament, especially with Heung-min Son barely fit, is that his meticulous and intricate way of building up attacks would end up looking like the worst tiki-taka, with no end product and yawning opposing teams endured them easily before charging in the other direction. And this is what the first half looked like. Ghana was hardly threatened (0.37 xG against) and was able to concede a set piece. With the comfort of a head start, Ghana then took a page from South Korea’s book and stitched together 31 passes to prepare Mohammed Kudus for his first of the day:
But nothing spurs a team on like looking into the abyss. Finally for the first time in two games. South Korea played with some pace and urgency in the second half and the whole game turned around with two Gue Song Cho headers. The second is a prime example of just wanting it more than everyone else around you:
From then on, Korea beat the Ghanaian goal as it should have been… except for the small problem of leaving the back door open. Which Ghana just sauntered straight through just seven minutes later:
Great dummy by Inaki Williams. At least that’s what he’ll say.
Ghana wasn’t that great. They scored when needed. South Korea couldn’t do it again. There’s your game.
Brazil 1 – 0 Switzerland
Well that was a comedown. Brazil without Neymar is certainly a different animal, both missing his enormous talent and their usual tendency to find him. With him absent for the remainder of the group stage, Switzerland didn’t find it too difficult to make Brazil look rather flabby. Without their number 10 in the heart of the attack. Brazil were much more reliant on going wide and Vinicius Jr had gone more inside in the first half to combine with Richarlison up front.
Fearing nothing in the middle, Switzerland simply went for a 4-5-1 and doubled the Brazilian wingers with their full-backs and wingers. You can do that against this Brazilian team because unlike in the past when they had real cowboy full-backs like Cafu or Roberto Carlos or Dani Alves, manager Tite prefers his full-backs to stay where they are. Éder Militao, who started at right-back today, is really a centre-back who makes a living. Switzerland cut all ties to outside fame, while Brazil didn’t have too much to answer in the middle.
The second half didn’t change all that much, even with Vinicius back on his normal left wing and Rodrygo moving to Richarlison. The goal came from Brazil who simply solved the problem of going through the middle with numbers instead of having Neymar as Casemiro found himself in the penalty area to fire an absolute rapier home. Switzerland didn’t have enough time to react and didn’t seem very interested.
Neymar will be back for the important games but unless he is fully healthy, the Swiss blueprint will be reverted to.
Portugal 2 – 0 Uruguay
And the actual descent. Here are two teams capable of igniting some veritable fireworks that spent the first 45 minutes kicking each other in seven different types of shit and berating the referee when they didn’t. Uruguay came for a point and didn’t get it.
It contained perhaps the greatest Ronaldo moment of all time, as he tried to claim in any way he could that this was his goal, even during the celebrations:
Dress for the job you want and so on.
Finally, after falling behind on goals, Uruguay actually tried to cross the halfway line with more than just Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani’s corpse, but only found the post again. Now they have to beat Ghana and hope Portugal don’t rest all and have enough left on the field so South Korea can’t sneak a victory past them. It didn’t have to be, but Uruguay apparently set it up that way.
Goal of the day: Aboubakar’s trampoline flick was a contender but Casemiro may never hit a shot like this again:
Did VAR screw up anything?: We saw both sides. Aboubakar’s goal is exactly why the referee’s assistants flew their flag until the end of the game because he was on the side and VAR saved a goal that should have stood. But Portugal’s penalty came from a handball by Jose Giminez as he just put his hand on the floor as he slid to the ground, the only place his hand can go and something that is specifically said is not to be a penalty .
And yet the VAR official called the referee on screen and that almost always ends in a reversal. The system still depends on people’s opinions, and it’s not hard to find two people who see the world wrong to make those decisions.
Did Alexi Lalas say something stupid?: No Alexi, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t have “haters” just because he’s good. You mentioned his “off-the-field affairs,” so go all the way, mate. Once you open that door, you can’t just dip a toe in and then run away.
The One True Ronaldo: It’s truly inspiring to see the OG Ronaldo and most of all the level of consistent satisfaction he seems to have achieved. Maybe you have to be the best striker of your generation to exude such a relaxed state, but maybe it’s there for all of us. Follow the OG Ronaldo to freedom:
Finally, I know a lot of people out there don’t follow sports. Most of their arguments are valid. Sometimes I even envy them. But the question I keep coming back to is, if you don’t follow a sport, why do you feel this way?