Group C is evenly poised after one round of fixtures

World Cup 2022: Things we learned from matchday one


After one round of fixtures in a winter World Cup, macro takeaways are close to a complete impossibility.

Yes, England hammered Iran 6-2 and Argentina were beaten 2-1 by Saudi Arabia, but results alone should not drive analysis, especially at the very early stage of a tournament.

Benching the bold takes from a small sample size makes sense at this point, and instead make measured notes on the interesting micro clues to be gleaned from the opening matches.

After all, with so many markets available in this competition, they could prove extremely useful from a punting perspective.

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Danger on the Dutch right

As expected, Ecuador's main threat came down the left side in their dominant, curtain-raising win over hosts Qatar.

Their high-quality, youthful trio of Piero Hincapié, Moisés Caicedo and Pervis Estupiñán combined excellently, so often the established starting point of Ecuador's attacking play, which could be a bad match-up for the Netherlands on Friday.

Of course, they won't be afforded the same freedom as the opener, but there's reason to believe Ecuador can have some success in that area.

Matthijs de Ligt was left exposed on many occasions as the Netherlands RCB, looking very uncomfortable against Ismaïla Sarr. He may well be replaced by Jurrien Timber after earning a yellow card, but wing-back Denzel Dumfries could be the player in danger with Ecuador's threat coming from a deeper position.

Dumfries is far more comfortable as an offensive player than a defender, and conceded three fouls versus Senegal. With a range of bookmakers offering fouls markets as well as card markets, he looks a prime candidate for that angle.

Saudi Arabia's high line

Group C is wide open after Saudi Arabia's shock victory over Argentina and Mexico's 0-0 draw with Poland, which makes the second round of fixtures very intriguing.

The Saudi high line received plenty coverage, provoking 10 Argentina offsides in total, but I'm not sure it will be of much use against a Polish side that struggle to create chances from open play.

Saudi Arabia offsides provoked
Saudi Arabia offsides provoked v Argentina (via @OptaAnalyst)

A few odds compilers set lines on offsides, and there will undoubtedly be an exaggeration following Saudi Arabia's first match -anything over a 4.5 line for Poland offsides will be too big.

Hervé Renard is well-versed in the international game, so he should surely recognise that the high defensive line is too risky for their upcoming fixture.

It was only a lack of quality and patience on Argentina's side that ensured the tactic went unpunished, and Saudi Arabia actually defended much better when forced to operate in a low block.

Argentina overreaction

Sticking with that game, the hyperbole surrounding Argentina's defeat is getting more ridiculous by the minute.

Granted, it's an embarrassing, unexpected loss. But again, results alone should not drive analysis. There was a reason they entered the tournament as one of the favourites.

Allowing two goals from three shots equating to 0.16 expected goals (xG) is something that rarely happens, making me awfully hesitant to write Argentina off.

Argentina's matches will certainly be nervy from now on, likely to be low-scoring as a consequence, but there is little worry that their defence can remain strong on Tuesday's showing. Therefore, Lionel Scaloni's side look a solid bet to keep a clean sheet against Mexico on Saturday.

Mexico will not enjoy the same dominance they were presented with by Poland. Still, they appeared fairly flat from an attacking perspective in that fixture, recording 11 shots totalling 0.80 xG.

Backing Argentina to not concede in what will be an affair fraught with anxiety is the way to go.

Are Belgium broken?

If we’re running with the theme of process over results, Belgium must be discussed.

Although Argentina were stunned by Saudi Arabia and Germany were defeated by Japan, Belgium’s performance in a 1-0 win over Canada was far worse (xG: BEL 0.98 – 2.90 CAN).

Indeed, only Qatar and Costa Rica have appeared more out of depth in this tournament thus far.

Roberto Martínez’s side simply had nothing about them, even though they were afforded the requisite space to punish an enterprising Canada team.

Plenty of individuals had extremely poor games from an attacking perspective, Belgium’s defence looked their age and there was very little on offer in terms of patterns of play.

With the short turnaround making it difficult to fix issues, they should be layed at odds-on versus Morocco – a more talented and organised team than Belgium’s opponents on Wednesday night.

Gavi to get stuck in

In Spain’s ultra-smooth 7-0 win over Costa Rica, Gavi displayed all the typical La Masia qualities we expect from a Barcelona product, a deserving recipient for player of the match.

The 18-year-old also flashed another attribute he owns in abundance, though – tenacity.

Spain's Gavi

Despite Spain having 82% possession, Gavi still managed to be involved in 11 ground duels (won six), concede a foul, and pick a fight with a centre-back almost twice his size.

For those who watch La Liga, this is no surprise whatsoever. Gavi consistently draws the referee’s attention at club level, averaging a high total of 3.7 fouls per game.

Those are often quite cynical, so with fouls markets as well as card markets available with bookmakers for the World Cup, Gavi should be noted on both fronts as the youngster will have far more defensive work to get through against Germany.

Raphinha to return to form

The Seleção cemented their position as World Cup favourites on Thursday night, performing exactly as expected against Serbia – solid at the back and fluid in attack.

A range of offensive threats makes it difficult for Brazil’s opposition to prioritise a danger. Vinícius Júnior and Neymar attracted most of Serbia’s attention, and rightly so, which afforded Raphinha some space to take advantage of.

Unfortunately for Raphinha, it just wasn’t his night.

Brazil's Raphinha

Wasteful on many occasions in this instance, it’s worth sticking with the winger and back him to record a goal involvement (assist or goal) versus Switzerland.

Swiss left-back Ricardo Rodriguez was exposed a few times by Cameroon, and support from raw winger Ruben Vargas might be sporadic in what will be a tough night for Switzerland.

Raphinha’s defensive work makes him a valuable asset for Tite’s Brazil, but he can have some success with end product next time out.

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