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World Cup Live: Croatia Struggled Against Morocco; Germany vs. Japan Ahead


Nov. 23, 2022, 4:23 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2022, 4:23 a.m. ET

Slowly, quietly, Argentina’s players made their way back to their training camp in Doha, away from Lusail, away from a spot they are going to never wish to see again but where they are going to hope, greater than anything, to return.

No person on that journey desired to talk. The one voice was that of Lionel Messi, urging his devastated teammates to stay united, reminding them that even after defeat against Saudi Arabia, their fate remains to be of their hands. Once they reached the hotel, Lionel Scaloni and his coaching staff told the players that, for once, their postgame meal was optional. In the event that they didn’t feel like talking, they might stay of their rooms, to contemplate, to grieve.

Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia may, in time, come to be seen because the worst within the country’s history, beyond even the embarrassment of Cameroon in 1990. It’s scant solace, however it mustn’t go down as the best shock within the World Cup’s history: It isn’t of the order of the USA beating England in 1950 and North Korea overcoming Italy in 1966.

It’s, though, a stark warning to the three European heavyweights who enter the competition today that nothing could be taken with no consideration. None of Spain, Germany and Belgium got here into this tournament with expectations quite as high as Argentina, admittedly.

Spain, with only the apparently immortal Sergio Busquets remaining from the team that won the World Cup in 2010, is young and energetic, but inexperienced; Belgium’s age is seen as its weakness, the sense being that its moment has come and gone. Germany has the air of a team in transition.

Their opponents, too, may have been heartened by Saudi Arabia’s achievements. Costa Rica made the quarterfinals eight years ago; why should it fear Spain? Canada has not been here since 1986 but has two genuinely exciting stars to unsettle the Belgians’ creaking defense. Japan has a squad with loads of experience in Europe. All of them, in reality, have benefits that Saudi Arabia didn’t. If the Saudis could cause a shock, what’s to stop anybody else?

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