The biggest tournament in football is in sight. Will France become the first back-to-back champions in 60 years? Can England continue their hot run at tournaments? Or will it all come crashing down against the USMNT as Gregg Berhalter’s side begin a remarkable march to glory?
The inter-confederation playoffs are low on attacking quality no great surprise when Costa Rica’s obdurate defense got them this far. It does the trick against New Zealand too Keylor Navas making key saves at one end before Joel Campbell scrambles home at the other. Senegal get the World Cup off to a bang turning back the clock by 20 years to their shock win over France to open proceedings in Japan and South Korea.
The only difference this time is that their victory over the Dutch comes as no great surprise setting them on course for top spot in Group A. The Dutch rally to finish second just ahead of an Ecuador side who give them an almighty scare in the second round of group games Moises Caicedo starring for a team who seem destined for big things in 2026. Qatar meanwhile fail to show much sign of a host’s bounce.
England coast to top spot in their opening two games a convincing win over the United States on Black Friday bringing buoyancy to the streets of London. Even a repeat of the underwhelming display against a Home Nation John Stones striking late to save them from defeat to Wales can’t quite quell the national mood in that part of the United Kingdom. It is however a hammer blow to Welsh hopes. In truth it was their inability to break down Iran that costs them as a Christian Pulisic goal in the final round of games takes the USMNT into the last 16. As for Lionel Scaloni’s side solid at the back with options up top they look like champions in waiting.
A group of high drama as France wobble in defeat to Denmark the dark horses who are starting this tournament at a canter but do the business against the two relative minnows. Peru belie that label particularly in their final match as they throw the kitchen sink at the Euro 2020 semifinalists in pursuit of an unlikely escape route from Group D. As is their wont Spain start slowly and allow a hatful of chances to pass them by in their opening draw with Costa Rica. They duly make amends with an impressive victory over Germany who aside from that loss look to be a serious force in this tournament the likes of Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry looking more simpatico with every game. These two always seemed destined to top Group E; Spain will be all the happier for having avoided Belgium in the knockouts.
Here’s the group that lives for the drama. Heading into the final round of games every team is in the mix as the Europeans flatter to deceive. An iconic clash for the not-at-all-overselling-itself Lusail Iconic Stadium as France and Brazil take lumps out of each other across two hours of high quality fare in which Paris Saint-Germain teammates Mbappe and Neymar score in the first half. For a time it looks like Olivier Giroud might have won it for the holders but Marquinhos rises in the 83rd minute to propel the two teams to a tense tactical half hour in which both Hugo Lloris and Alisson make vital interventions. The latter keeps that form going into the shootout denying Antoine Griezmann at the death.
The second semi may lack quite the same quality but the tension is no less absorbing. Raheem Sterling strikes early for the Three Lions who cannot help but sit back and attempt to preserve their lead as they did against Italy in Euro 2020. This time it just barely pays off thanks to heroics from Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire. After 56 years of hurt could it really be coming home?
Third-place playoff pick
As is so often the way at major tournaments the games on the way to the final act prove to be more compelling than the conclusion. With a day’s less rest England look drained from their rearguard action against Germany. sources by