Tournament heavyweights Germany were stunned by Japan as their remarkable protest became the talk of the World Cup.
Asian Reigning finalists Croatia, meanwhole were expected to get their tournament off on the right foot, but were instead held to a 16-year low by the group minnows.
Follow Matchday 4 including Morocco v Croatia (9pm AEDT), Germany v Japan (12am AEDT), Spain v Costa Rica (3am AEDT) and Belgium v Canada (6am AEDT) in our live blogs below!
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LES BLEUS MURDER! Socceroos ripped apart after early goal stuns champs in WC opener
“What are you going to do about that?” | 00:38
MOROCCO 0, CROATIA 0
Croatia has fallen to a 16-year World Cup low, kept goalless in the tournament for the first time since 2006 by a much more dynamic Morocco side in their 0-0 draw.
The 2018 finalists were warm favourites to escape their group, which also includes Belgium and Canada, but could only earn a point after being made to look old and tired by a speedier North African outfit.
Croatia had scored a goal in 11 consecutive World Cup matches, including all of their games in Russia when they fell 4-2 to France in the final, inspired by player of the tournament Luka Modric.
Instead they could not crack the Moroccan defence, though theirs held firm as well, with each side producing just two shots on target.
What appeared to be a heavily pro-Morocco crowd packed the Al Bayt Stadium with whistles raining down on the Croatians whenever they had the ball.
There were few early chances with several Morocco turnovers deep in their defence causing the only real dramas.
But the Moroccans’ speed kept the more experienced Croatians on their toes, with a Luka Modric foul just outside the box in the 19th minute handing their unfancied opponents the first true chance of the match, but Hakim Ziyech sent it into the wall.
Croatia faced a dangerous moment after the referees missed a ball clearly going out for a goal-kick, with the commentators left stunned it was missed both live and on replay. “That’s well out!” one proclaimed.
It took until right at the end of the opening half for the best chance of the game so far to emerge, with Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou forced to scramble back into position to defend a close-range attempt, just moments after rushing out to knock away a dangerous bouncing ball.
Modric then smashed one from just outside the box which flew only a metre or so over the top crossbar as the teams went into halftime at 0-0. There were just two minutes of added time, summing up how uneventful things were in the opening stanza.
Things began to get more dramatic and open up in the second half with Morocco furious after Noussair Mazraoui was left hurt just outside the playing area, which meant the referee allowed play to continue. Croatia exploited his absence for several dangerous chances, one off a corner that saw three bodies collide heavily including the keeper Bounou.
Mazraoui somehow made his way three quarters of the way down the pitch but then fell to the turf again, requiring treatment for what looked to be a heavy fall onto his hip trying for a header.
He returned to the match but did not look right and limply sat on the ground to announce he could no longer go on.
A brilliant, curling Modric free kick was nearly turned in by the Croatians but a desperate aerial kick by a Moroccan defender saved them from conceding. Two consecutive corners that followed produced nothing.
The game then limped to a scoreless draw.
“I’ve never seen Modric so spent after a game,” John Aloisi said on SBS post-match.
Morocco (4-3-3): Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss (capt), Noussair Mazraoui; Sofyan Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Selim Amallah; Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri
Croatia (4-3-3): Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric (capt), Marcelo Brozovic; Nikola Vlasic, Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric
Re-live Morocco v Croatia in our live blog below!
Ex-Socceroo ROASTS Cummings sub | 00:57
JAPAN 2, GERMANY 1
Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their World Cup opener on Wednesday, punishing the four-time champions for not taking their chances after they dominated the first half.
The German team covered their mouths for the team photo before the match in a powerful protest against FIFA’s decision to ban rainbow-themed armbands.
Germany came to Qatar under huge pressure to avoid the disaster of 2018, when they failed to make it out of the group stage in Russia as World Cup holders.
Hansi Flick’s side took the lead through a first-half penalty from Ilkay Gundogan and should have been out of sight after creating a host of chances.
But Japan hung on and equalised through substitute Ritsu Doan in the 75th minute.
Takuma Asano then completed a remarkable turnaround eight minutes later, smashing the ball home to send the Japanese bench and their boisterous fans wild.
To add to the storyline, both Doan and Asano play in the German Bundesliga.
“The players came together as one team, we prepared well and we stuck in there, and that’s what led to the win,” said Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“Lots of our fans have come to Doha and they were behind us pushing us on. I want us to keep a level head after this and look at what we could have done better and look to win the next match.” Germany’s World Cup future is now once again on the line, with games to come in Group E against Spain and Costa Rica.
“We made it too easy for Japan. I don’t know if an easier goal has ever been scored at a World Cup,” Gundogan told Germany’s ARD TV network.
“This must not happen to us.” Thomas Mueller told Germany’s Magenta TV it was “ludicrous that we are now standing here with a defeat.”
Japan meanwhile are eyeing a place in the knockout round after a dramatic comeback that scarcely looked possible at half-time.
Germany’s players covered their mouths for the team photo before their World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday in protest at FIFA’s refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.
Captains of seven European teams had planned to wear the anti-discrimination armbands during the tournament in Qatar as part of a campaign for diversity.
But they backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from football’s governing body, including yellow cards.
The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Germany’s football federation tweeted in English moments after the photo protest: “It wasn’t about making a political statement — human rights are non-negotiable.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser did wear the “OneLove” armband as she watched the game sitting next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
She said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.
Follow Germany v Japan from 12am AEDT in our live blog below!
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SPAIN v COSTA RICA – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Spain coach Luis Enrique insisted that he is the team’s leader in the absence of any obvious star player, ahead of their first World Cup game against Costa Rica.
World Cup winner and captain Sergio Busquets tends to keep a low profile, while youngsters like Ansu Fati and Pedri could one day become stars in their own right but are still developing.
“The leader of the national team has to be the coach,” Luis Enrique told a press conference the day before Spain open their campaign against Los Ticos.
“I have to say I am the leader because who will believe in what I tell them, if there is any doubt.
“I decide who plays, when we travel, how we play, I am a leader who gives solutions to the team.
“I am delighted to be here, to debut as coach at a World Cup, enjoy this party of football, have the last training session this afternoon and take on the first game with joy.” Spain have the third youngest squad at the World Cup, with Luis Enrique leaning on younger talents while some older players like Sergio Ramos were left out of the squad.
“It’s very positive because young players bring energy to the team, we try to manage that with the experience we have as staff,” said Luis Enrique.
The coach admitted that the worst moment of the tournament so far came last week when he exercised that leadership, replacing Jose Gaya with Alejandro Balde, after the Valencia defender suffered a sprained ankle.
Asked about Spanish reports that Gaya’s ankle had already healed and he would have been able to play in the tournament, Luis Enrique explained his choice.
“I take decisions, if I took them by the heart, with what I feel for Gaya and his professionalism, then he’d still be here,” said the coach.
“I have to take them with my head. Two of the three games he would not have been 100 percent in, I was told it was an injury that would last 10 to 15 days. I had to take the best decision for the team and the country.
“Imagine if I listened to what they wanted and then Jordi Alba got injured, and I had no full-back for the first game, imagine what you would say about me.
“I have to lead this team and choose the best for it.” Luis Enrique said his lack of cover at left-back also contributed to Gaya departing, whereas in other positions he could have waited for an injured player to heal.
Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said he took a different approach to leadership.
“I just help the leaders, I can facilitate them,” he told a press conference later Tuesday.
“In my group I have different leaders. I can have a few of them so I can manage them. Bryan (Ruiz) is one, Keylor (Navas) is another, Joel Campbell is another.
“We have a different type of leadership. We have to be smart enough to know who the leaders are and help them.”
Follow Spain v Costa Rica from 3am AEDT in our live blog below!
Argentina stunned in an all-time upset | 01:11
BELGIUM v CANADA – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said his side have “huge respect” for Canada who will be playing their first World Cup game for 36 years when the teams meet in Qatar.
Martinez’s side finished third in Russia four years ago and will be heavy favourites against Canada, playing at the finals for the first time since 1986.
Belgium faced a similar proposition in 2018 when they beat tournament debutants Panama 3-0 in their opening game with three second-half goals.
“We have huge respect for what Canada have achieved because when you finish top of the (qualifying) group ahead of national teams such as United States and Mexico, it’s something with substance, it’s not a coincidence,” Martinez told a pre-match press conference.
“They look like a team, not just a group of players coming together to play for the national team.
“That’s a very dangerous situation, when you’re playing a team with nothing to lose. We saw that with Panama for 50 minutes, and we have to match that enthusiasm.” Belgium, ranked second in the world behind Brazil, played a warm-up friendly against Egypt last week in Kuwait but lost 2-1.
“The friendly was important for us and we took that game almost as a competitive training session,” said Martinez.
“I think it was a very good starting point.
“It’s good sometimes to feel like we’re not there yet. It was a wake-up for us. Probably that defeat will speed up the process.”
Belgium’s record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku is set to miss their first two matches as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.
Captain Eden Hazard has also struggled for game time at Real Madrid due to struggles with form and fitness.
But veteran defender Jan Vertonghen said Belgium would be ready, despite the unusual build-up to the first World Cup played midway through the European club season.
“(Normally) you can close your season with your club and then have time to work with your (national) team, a team you don’t work with too much, and get a feel for the tournament,” he said.
“Lots of teams have not played together since September and that is not good. Things are entirely different but the World Cup trophy is the same and that’s the main thing.”
Follow Belgium v Canada from 6am AEDT in our live blog below!