World Cup Daily: Unsung heroes shine in Portugal’s win

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After each matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.

Here’s what happened Thursday in Qatar, in case you missed it …

THE RESULTS

Switzerland 1, Cameroon 0 in Al Wakrah: Match report || Match stats 

Uruguay 0, South Korea 0 in Al Wakrah: Match report || Match stats 

Portugal 3, Ghana 2 in Doha: Match report || Match stats 

Brazil 2, Serbia 0 in Lusail: Match report || Match stats

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MAIN TALKING POINTS

Unsung heroes shine in Portugal’s win

All eyes were on Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as he made his debut in Qatar just two days after his public breakup with Manchester United, and he marked the occasion by making history. He converted from 12 yards out in the 65th minute vs. Ghana after drawing a somewhat debatable penalty. In doing so, the Portuguese star became the first male in history to score in five different World Cup tournaments.

Ronaldo will garner the headlines from his team’s 3-2 win in Group H play, but it was a trio of other players who were far more influential on the night for Portugal. João Félix, 23, is someone who hasn’t quite lived up to his hype, but the Atlético Madrid star took his chance well when he scored with a sublime finish in the 78th minute to give Portugal a 2-1 lead.

Shortly after Rafael Leão, 23, demonstrated why he was one of the top young stars to watch at this tournament. Leão came off the bench and took only three minutes to score in his World Cup debut when his first-time shot found the far corner of the net. His strike proved important as Ghana nicked a late goal to make things incredibly uncomfortable for Portugal down the stretch.

Both goals from Leão and Félix were set up by Bruno Fernandes, who delivered picture-perfect passes that split open Ghana’s defence. All game long, the Manchester United star served as Portugal’s chief architect with his excellent distribution and by linking up with his attacking teammates. If not for his efforts, the Portuguese could have suffered a different fate. Instead, they top the table in Group H in large part to the efforts of their unsung heroes.

It took a while, but Brazil left its mark

Brazil entered this World Cup as the tournament favourite and lived up to its billing with a convincing 2-0 win over Serbia in Group G play. The score line rather flattered the Serbs, who found themselves smothered by the South Americans’ swarming attack for the majority of the match. Serbia defended well and benefited from some outstanding saves by Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, as Brazil enjoyed 63 per cent possession and a 22-5 edge on total shots (10-0 on target).

Much is expected of Brazil every time the team takes to the pitch, no matter the setting. As spiritual caretakers of the game, the Brazilians have an obligation to entertain. It’s not enough to simply win; they also have to entertain and win in style.

The Serbs did their best to prevent that from happening with their resolute defending. When Richarlison broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute with his first World Cup goal, a sense of relief overcame the Brazilians who had been thwarted at every turn by their opponents. Richarlison’s rebound effort was scrappy, but it put Brazil on the board and gave it the lead it so desperately needed.

With that out of the way, it was time for Brazil to put on a show and give what everybody had come to see: the type of magic that only it can produce. Richarlison was more than happy to oblige, scoring on a spectacular volley from 12 yards out that was pure highlight-reel material. If Serbia’s hopes weren’t dashed by Richarlison’s scrappy opening goal, they certainly were after his spectacular second effort. Brazil collected three points, and everybody was happy. Except for Serbia.

GOAL OF THE DAY

In the 73rd minute, Vinícius Júnior chipped a ball across the Serbia penalty area for teammate Richarlison, who had his back to the goal. Rather than try to control the ball and turn, he cushioned it with his left foot and then swiveled his body as he smashed the ball with his right foot with a fabulous volley from 12 yards out into the back of the net past the reach of Serbian goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. Easily the goal of the tournament thus far.

MOMENT OF THE DAY

What an emotional experience it must have been for Switzerland forward Breel Embolo to score his first World Cup goal against Cameroon, his birth nation and where his father still lives to this day.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Football writes these stories. I told Breel [Embolo]: ‘Cameroon are your friends, but they are your opponents too.’ I’m happy with his performance.” – Switzerland coach Murat Yakin.

SIX PACK OF STATS

• Xherdan Shaqiri is the second Swiss player to play in four World Cups (2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022) after Valon Behrami.

• Diego Godín (36 years and 281 days) is the oldest Uruguayan player to play in a World Cup, breaking the previous record established by Obdulio Jacinto Varela in 1954 (36 years and 279 days). 

• Cristiano Ronaldo is only the fifth man to play in five different World Cups (2006-2022), joining Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Márquez (Mexico), Lothar Matthäus (Germany) and Lionel Messi (Argentina).

• Portugal vs. Ghana was just the fourth World Cup match to feature at least five goals after being tied 0-0 at halftime. The others were Poland 5-1 Peru (1982), Netherlands 2-3 Brazil (1994), and Belgium 3-2 Japan (2018).

• Brazil is unbeaten in its opening game at the World Cup in its last 20 appearances in the tournament (with 17 wins).

• Not a single player was shown a red card through Matchday 1 of this World Cup. It’s the first time that has happened since the 1986 tournament.

Stats courtesy of Opta

THREE STARS OF THE DAY

1) Richarlison, Brazil: The Tottenham forward now has nine goals in seven games for Brazil after bagging a brace against Serbia.

2) Bruno Fernandes, Portugal: The Manchester United star collected two assists in setting up his team’s second and third goals with perfectly weighted through-balls.

3) Federico Valverde, Uruguay: He ran his team’s show in midfield both on the attacking and defensive end of things.

LOOKING AHEAD TO FRIDAY

Qatar returns to action in Group A when it takes on Senegal (8:00 a.m. ET), with both nations looking to earn their first win at this World Cup.

But the marquee match of the day sees England take on the United States (2:00 p.m.) in Group B play. These nations have met at the World Cup before. The Americans pulled off the greatest upset in tournament history when they beat the English 1-0 in 1950 in Brazil. They also played to a 1-1 draw at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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