Wed | Feb 8, 2023

FLOW Qatar Spotlight | No Ronaldo, no Neymar, no problem and the excitement of African football

Published:Monday | November 28, 2022 | 9:19 PMOrane BuchananPaul-Andre WalkerDaniel Wheeler
From left: Portugal's Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva, celebrate at the end of their World Cup group H football match against Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, this afternoon.
From left: Portugal's Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva, celebrate at the end of their World Cup group H football match against Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, this afternoon.
Ghanaian players celebrate after their World Cup group H sfootball match against South Korea at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar this afternoon.
Ghanaian players celebrate after their World Cup group H sfootball match against South Korea at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar this afternoon.
Cameroon's Nicolas Nkoulou (left) fights for the ball with Serbia's Andrija Zivkovic during their World Cup group G football match at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar this morning.
Cameroon's Nicolas Nkoulou (left) fights for the ball with Serbia's Andrija Zivkovic during their World Cup group G football match at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar this morning.
Brazil's Casemiro (centre) celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group G football match against Switzerland, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar this morning.
Brazil's Casemiro (centre) celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group G football match against Switzerland, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar this morning.
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Portugal handling the business

Portugal’s early qualification to the second round has very big implications, I believe.

I’ve long thought, that whichever Star has the best ‘others’, has the best chances. Former Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes proved today that he makes up part of a good support cast for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Two goals without Ronaldo’s input means something else. Portugal can rest the 37-year-old with a view to having him fresh and raring to go in the round of 16.

A rested Ronaldo could spell trouble even at 37 for any team he faces when the knockout phase starts. Having a point to prove CR7 could wreak havoc in Qatar. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Un-Brazil-like victories are victories nonetheless

Brazil are through to the round of 16 with a game to go. But it is interesting that the man on the scoresheet in today’s 1-0 win was central defensive midfielder Casimiro. With a galaxy of attacking stars, Switzerland put up a good defensive showing against Brazil, just as Serbia did in their first game with Neymar in tow. Maybe Brazil, with its nine forwards, has too many similar attacking options and breaking down teams could become increasingly more difficult. Is Brazil too blunt for this World Cup? Time will tell. The good thing is though, they have not conceded. On the other hand, the Swiss showed enough to suggest that Brazil’s backline isn’t water tight either. Is trouble brewing in Samba Land?

African countries bring the intrigue

The five 0’clock games must not be missed, especially if an African team is in the mix. Ghana and Cameroon are still in with shots of making it to the round of 16 after the two had games that accounted for all of 11 goals. Exciting, to say the least. Cameroon split six goals with Serbia after first going ahead and then behind, but must be kicking themselves for not having an extra two points going into their final game.

Ghana, on the other hand, came away a goal better in a contest that had five against South Korea and can now look forward to a remix of their quarterfinal shoot out with Uruguay in a winner-takes-all scenario. Uruguay, who came away without anything against a more adventurous Portugal, will have a fight on their hands. Now they must play.

Speaking of African progression, what I’m looking forward to tomorrow is the Ecuador-Senegal game to decide who goes through with Netherlands in Group A (Qatar beating Holland? No chance).

But the big game, will be USA versus Iran in group B in the afternoon. A geopolitical contest in nature, US Soccer drew the ire of Iran when they made graphic adjustments to Iran's flag in protest for equal rights for women in that country. A contentious press conference followed and now, the US team will have to back their federation by beating an Iran team that have shown they can bounce back.