Argentina and Germany On The Brink As Asian Football Rises

Argentina and Germany On The Brink As Asian Football Rises

“Moments like this….
Screaming fans glued to the seat,

Everyone looks at me with a grin.
Pay it no mind for they will see….

I hear the voices in the crowd.
Just keeping playing without a word.

The game approaches the end.
They surround me by four.
So I shoot one more” – Dylan Chase Clifton

This is an excerpt of a short poem about basketball by Dylan Chase Clifton called, ‘The Underdog’ & it describes the essence of what has transpired in the 2022 FIFA World Cup’s opening few matchdays perfectly.

After Qatar and Iran’s woeful performances in the opening 2 days of the tournament, it was unanimously thought that the balance of footballing power still very much remained with Europe and South America despite the event being hosted in Asia.

But then came matchdays 3 and 4, which felt like a fervent dream. The status quo was truly challenged, when Asian teams Saudi Arabia and Japan shocked the footballing world with spectacular wins over tournament favourites Argentina and Germany.

All the talk before the start of this World Cup was about Argentina’s staggering 36-game unbeaten streak. All the talk was about La Albiceleste finally playing as a unit under manager Scaloni. All the talk was about Messi, finally (in every sense of the word) having a chance to get his hands on the one thing that has eluded him his entire career; the World Cup trophy.

All that talk ended in stunning fashion as the South American giants’ unbeaten streak was put to the sword when Saudi Arabia scripted a comeback win that will go down in the history books. So shocking and unexpected was Saudi’s 2-1 win on Tuesday over mighty Argentina, that a holiday was declared the next day in the Arab country to celebrate the win.

“We fully respect Saudi Arabia as we do with other teams, that’s not the reason for our defeat,” said Scaloni after the shocking loss. “They are a good team with technical players, they are very well prepared physically.”

That’s high praise indeed for a team that’s ranked 51st in the FIFA world rankings, the lowest of any Asian team participating in the tournament. Prior to this victory, the Middle Eastern country had only won 3 out of 16 games in their World Cup history. But on a day when they overcame so many hurdles, even a Messi goal inside the opening 10 minutes wasn’t going to stop the Saudi green from changing that history.

Even after Alshehri equalized 3 minutes into the 2nd half, it seemed like Argentina had enough time to take the lead back again. But just 5 minutes later, Aldawsari wriggled the ball from out his feet to score a belter that sent the Saudi fans into a frenzy. They then battled hard for over 45 minutes, best summed up by heroic performances from keeper Al Owais, who was the man of the match, and Alshahrani, who went off the field with a nasty blow to his head.

On the other hand, Argentina could be on the brink of an exit. “We’re hurting, hurting a lot from our first defeat (in more than three years), and on top of that at the World Cup,” said a dejected Emiliano Martinez after the game. They will have to somehow pick themselves up when they face Mexico on Saturday night in a must-win game. If they fail to get 3 points against El Tri, it could very well be Messi’s penultimate game in a World Cup in the famous blue and white stripes.

Meanwhile, at the Khalifa International Stadium on matchday 4, the World Cup bore witness to another major upset. Four-time World Cup winners Germany succumbed to a 2-1 loss to Japan, who were playing in just their 7th World Cup. Germany in comparison, made their 20th appearance, only behind Brazil.

Japan might be a stronger opponent than Saudi Arabia was to Argentina, but it was still a result shocking enough to have the footballing world in disbelief. This game also started off with Germany opening the scoring through a penalty and then scoring an offside goal only for it to be ruled out; sharing parallels with the Argentina vs Saudi game.

The Germans dominated the first half, making it look like men against boys. They dominated the opening exchanges of the second half as well. But Japan waited patiently for their chance to get a footing in the game. They are a team that has 16 players in their squad playing the World Cup for the first time, and are naturally, a group that exudes energy and fearlessness.

Keeper Gonda made save after save, denying the wasteful Germans their chance to put the game to bed. They were made to pay as Ritsu Doan, quite poetically, took his chance and slotted home against the country in which he plies his trade.

As the Germans over-committed in search of a winner, the Samurai Blues delivered the sucker punch. A swift counter saw Asano driving forward with the ball and blasting it through the roof of the German net from a tight angle to ensure a stunning result for the islanders.

The 2014 World Champions, now having lost to 2 Asian teams in back-to-back tournaments, have some serious problems they need to address. Much like Argentina, Germany also now have a potential knockout tie on Sunday, when they take on Spain. With Low no longer at the helm to point the finger towards, Die Mannschaft will have to up their game under Flick.

It is no longer the case where European and South American teams bulldoze their way to glory against supposed minnows from other continents. With more players from across the world playing in prominent leagues in Europe, football has become a more diverse and global game than ever before. And perhaps Ritsu Doan’s goal perfectly encapsulated that notion.

It further highlights how football has progressed in recent times in Asia & other continents where the game developed much later historically speaking, in countries that are considered inferior to their European & South American counterparts.

It’s a significant & evident testament to the ever-improving level of football in these countries & others around the world. Countries are no longer here to just fill in the numbers, they want to compete and win. Everybody wants the top prize. Maybe, just maybe, the World Cup is finally becoming the global event that it strives to be. If this is what Qatar 2022 has in store for us, bring on the action.

Also read: FIFA WC 2022: England’s Young Lions Roar The Loudest

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