The first World Cup to be held in a Middle-East Asian country, Qatar has made the world wonder with its auspicious host for such an international event and the festival of football, FIFA World Cup 2022. As for Asia, it’s the first world cup in which six participants from AFC (Asian Football Confederation) – Qatar, with their first-ever appearance along with Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia – are representing the 48 Asian countries in total.
Deemed as underdogs, Asians are enlisted at the bottom of football’s so-called order, coming after Europe, both North and South America and Africa. But, when calculating the ambience of a World Cup, it’s quite hard to ‘discriminate’ against the countries according to their regions. Because it’s the venue where we could spectate real fights to showcase their true potential wrapped with much audacity and hope.
And the warmth of the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup is just an example of the mounting strength of the AFC which is quite encouraging. Despite the loss in the opening game of this tournament a 2-goal deficit against Ecuador and the devastating result of Iran 6-2 against the stronghold side England, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran in their 2nd match day had caricatured how much confidence they possess when they come against the top rankers of world football, who had the powerful experiences from the top 5 leagues.
The opening match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia was a thriller where the South American side was hammered with an unexpected blow later in the second half.
Again in Group E, the match between Germany and Japan was deliberately predicted in favour of the 2014 Champions. But the Nippons came back with terrific attacks at hand securing the crucial three points and thus taking the second position in the group as they only need a win against Costa Rica for cruising to the round of 16.
Matchday 2 took the turn in Group B as Wales are now on the verge of knocking out by receiving 2 goal defeat later during the injury time from reinforced Iran, which improved their playing style and confidence.
The Desert Storm
The first twist in Qatar World Cup was in the Group C opener, the favourites Argentina come against Saudi Arabia. The blues were in much confidence with a winning streak of 36, ahead of their opponents at 51 in the FIFA ranking. Earlier in the opening minutes, Lionel Messi scored from the spot, giving an advantage in the game. Following the lead, they caught up in multiple VAR traps and denied a quarter dozen sure goals.
As if nothing to lose, Saudi Arabia regained their strength and unleashed all its power. Rather than choosing a defending strategy, they went for frequent attacks on the 4-4-2 squad. And they overturned the flow of the game in just five minutes against the defending champions of Copa America.
Al Shehri scored from a quick counter in 48′. Shocked by this sudden blow, Argentina received another sensational goal from the left of the D-box scored by Al Dawsari in 53′. The final whistle created cacophonous cheering from the Saudi fans who burst out with joy.
This precious victory for Saudi Arabia is the first team to beat Argentina at the World Cup since Cameroon in 1990 and they are the first Asian team to beat Argentina in World Cup history at the fifth attempt. Also, there is a fun fact that the last three teams to beat Argentina at the World Cup have either gone on to win the tournament as Germany in 2014 or reached the final like Croatia in the 2018 WC. “The stars have aligned. Argentina is a fantastic team, but this is football. Sometimes crazy things happen,” Herve Renard said following Saudi Arabia’s win.
Embracing the spirit of Saudi Arabia, Japan thrashed well-equipped Germany by a scoreline of 2-1. Scoring a penalty, Ilkay Gundogan gave them domination over the game but Japan produced such beauty over the pitch. They knocked the German goal face with impressive touch and pace.
They succeeded in getting a tie in 75′ from the boots of Ritsu Doan and registered their victory after scoring a roof slasher overhead of Manuel Nuer. This fascinating match was a record for Japan to come back from behind to win a World Cup match for the very first time, having drawn two and lost two out of their thirteen appearances so far.
Taking lessons from the earlier defeat, Iran in Group B, eased their pain with a 2-goal victory over Wales in Matchday two. Having the first red card of the tournament, Welsh are now on the brink of knocking out Qatar with only a single point and fourth position in the group.
Welsh goalkeeper, Hennessey collected a red card for his aggressive defence against Teremi. Hennessey is the third goalkeeper to receive a red card in a World Cup. Later, the roaring Iranians scored 2 goals from R. Cheshmi in 90+8′ and R. Rezaeian in 90+11′ respectively.
In short, Asians are creating their own room in this World Cup with unexpected twists and turns. Hopefully, it shows the improvement of AFC nations which is quite remarkable so far.