Messi dominates heavyweight contest but Lewandowski keeps his head | World Cup 2022

Lionel Messi headed one way, put the brakes on and with a turn of the ankle and a dip of the shoulder set off in the other direction, defender desperately chasing. Robert Lewandowski was the man there, following him and then fouling him. The Argentinian didn’t look pleased; the Pole didn’t either, but there was no way he was going to complain; doing so could cost his country a place in the World Cup, he knew.

It was the 94th minute and it was the first time Lewandowski had got anywhere near Messi, and this wasn’t the way he had imagined it. In every other way, he had been miles off.

So much for that. The big clash was no contest. Lewandowski and Messi have 1,449 goals between them, but there were none here.

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Instead, they were scored by Julián Álvarez, and the son of a former footballer who played with Diego Maradona and ended up in parliament, eventually forming part of Macri’s government. Alexis Mac Allister is his name – the hair is red, the roots Scottish and Irish – and he got his first international goal to finally rid Argentina of any nerves they might have had. Instead there was a missed penalty from Messi and then … well, this.

Whatever this was. Poland, and their captain, were in a very strange place now, the tension tearing at them, doubts creeping into every move, every second. Lewandowski had not mustered a shot and had barely seen the ball all night. If this had been a head-to-head, he had lost it. Just not enough to actually get knocked out, not yet. So now he was defending with the rest of them. But how do you defend for your lives while trying not to make a tackle? How do you waste time if you can’t foul and dive and start fights? That was the doubt Poland had to address now.

They knew they were beaten, but they were weren’t out. Somehow, they were still standing and on the flimsiest of platforms. At this stage they were two goals down but two yellow cards up, going through on fair play, which was a funny name for a rule that as the final minutes slipped away here felt anything but fair.

Poland’s fate was in the balance and in many hands, most of them not their own. Mexico were winning 2-0 at Lusail, they were losing 2-0 at the 974 Stadium and just about anything could nudge them into the abyss. A goal here, a goal there, or two more yellow cards.

There must be better ways than this. A shootout somewhere between the two teams perhaps, high noon for a place in the last 16. It would be great viewing. Instead, they just tried to get to the end without getting themselves into a mess. The problem was that Argentina had started to enjoy this for the first time, and kept coming at them, if a little less insistently now. And when Lautaro Martínez had a clear chance headed off the line in the last minute, it almost fell apart.

Then Danny Makkelie – what power to shape destinies he had in those last 15 minutes – blew the final whistle. Poland were through now, but had to wait in case something happened in the other game. Remarkably, it did.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi shrugs off the challenge of Poland’s Robert Lewandowski.
Messi impressed during victory with Argentina hinting they could yet go the distance in Qatar. Photograph: Jose Breton/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

But, like so much else on a night when they had been taken to pieces, it fell their way. Messi and Lewandowski were embracing, the Argentinian whispering something in the Pole’s ear, when the news came through that Saudi Arabia had scored. Maybe Messi was the one that told him; unlikely but it’s nice to imagine it.

Ultimately, both ended the night celebrating. Argentina’s fans were still there singing way after the whistle. The Poles had gone, slipping away silently. Which felt right somehow.

For Argentina, this had been a test more of the mind than anything else.

When Messi had been given a penalty late in the first half and see it saved, Wojciech Szczesny shooting up a strong arm, it might have been different.

Messi has been here before, never more so than in the shootout at the end of the 2016 Copa America final, completing a run of three finals in three years: none of them lost in 90 minutes, but all of them lost. That day, he walked away, depressed, the towel thrown in.

Now, he’s back, a Copa America winner in 2021 and chasing his last chance at the World Cup. “The feeling was ‘we’re never going to win anything, we won’t win, we won’t win, we won’t win’, and what we said was: ‘The sun will come up tomorrow, win or lose,’” Scaloni had said.

Lionel Messi

Here, that was tested, the fault lines risking opening, the mind wavering. But ultimately they stood strong. The second goal had come early enough, and Poland had slipped into protection mode early enough that it played out without nerves, just a bit of a pantomime.

Or maybe it was more simple: maybe they were just much too good, a feeling returning that said: maybe Argentina can do something at this World Cup after all.

The draw has been kind and this was more like it: this was good, and so was Messi. When it came to the battle of the talismen, it ran thus: 0 shots to 7, 18 passes to 70; Argentina’s 23 shots to Poland’s four told the story, but the foul count became the stat that mattered.

Aymeric Laporte: ‘I’m not a football addict. I don’t like watching matches’ | Spain

Aymeric Laporte is having a terrible World Cup, but he doesn’t care. He also has a convenient excuse, or so he claims: there is someone else to blame. At the Spain camp, where the players set off for training pitch No 3 by scooter each morning, they have organised a predictions league for the tournament. On the eve of the selección’s third game – and, no, no one went for 7-0 against Costa Rica – leading the way is Fernando Giner, the team delegate. Top of the players is Gavi. The Manchester City defender is down at the bottom.

“Not great,” he says, then quick as a flash he adds: “But the thing is, I’m not doing it myself. Someone’s doing it for me.” Who? “I can’t say.” Laporte cracks up. Betting is not really his thing, he says, and nor it turns out is football. He loves playing, but this is different. In the TV room, five or six players gather for every game; he isn’t often one of them. “I’m not a football addict. Honestly, I don’t like watching matches,” he admits. He’s seen enough, though, to know one thing: there isn’t a team better than Spain.

At the start of the tournament, before anyone had played, Laporte was asked why Spain would win the World Cup. His response was three words long: “And why not?” Two weeks and one day since the national team touched down in Doha, 34 games into the competition, including the night they scored seven and the 1-1 draw with Germany, has he come up with any reasons why not yet? This time, perched on a stool in a side room at the training base, the response is even shorter: “Nope.”

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There is a short pause, a smile, and he adds: “Reasons why [we will].” And they are? “They’re there for everyone to see. Our play is an example for lots of national teams. We play very well, we have spectacular footballers, we move the ball. Against Germany, one of the best teams in the world, we showed we can play. The ability to manage the ball, to dominate possession, to find passing lines. Frankly, I think we have been very good.”

Have you seen anyone better? “In terms of play: sincerely, no. Individually, there are lots of teams with really great players but in terms of the football, the play, very few [like us].”

The Germany game reinforced that even if it also left a feeling of missed opportunity. Qualification could have been all but secured and a potential contender left close to elimination; instead, Spain may still need something from their final game against Japan to progress and Germany could go through with them. “We feel like we dropped two points along the way,” Laporte concedes. “But to be 1-0 up in the 83rd minute against Germany you have to do a lot of good things, especially when they had more need than us. We’re a bit frustrated but happy.

“We lost a stupid ball, there’s a rebound, they get it, and … football is small details and letting in that goal was a small detail. Small things decide games, here, there or anywhere; especially when it’s even like with Germany. I don’t know if it’s a moment’s inattention or good fortune for them, but that was the difference.”

Spain’s Aymeric Laporte passes the ball against Germany
Aymeric Laporte says Spain were ‘frustrated but happy’ after the 1-1 draw with Germany. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

If that opportunity was lost, others present themselves. After the game, Antonio Rüdiger sneaked up to his clubmate Dani Carvajal and whispered in his ear, asking him to ensure Spain beat Japan. Much has been made of the possibility that they could choose not to as a way of pushing Germany towards the exit, and there have even been suggestions Spain would be better off engineering a second place to avoid Brazil.

Too much, Laporte insists. It doesn’t even make sense, Spain are not in a position to run risks. “Nothing’s clear: no one has anything assured,” he says. As for the pathway, he insists: “I haven’t even looked.” He grins but it’s believable. “I haven’t looked, haven’t done the predictions, haven’t done anything.” Do you even know which group yours crosses with? Spoiler: it’s F. “No idea.” You could tell him anything. England next. Laporte laughs. “Honestly, when I play for City, I don’t even know what time kick-off is. My family call and say: hey, what time tomorrow? ‘I don’t know.’”

Have you ever been late, then? The punchline, unlike him, is delivered with perfect timing. “Yes, yesterday.”

Laporte continues: “We had the Japan team talk this morning and what we’re going to try to do is win, like we always do. We didn’t come here to speculate, we came to win. We want to show we’re the same national team as ever.”

It is a national team that perhaps more than any other has a clearly defined identity, built throughout the system. Of the squad, only three players have not been youth internationals for Spain. Two are the substitute goalkeepers, the other is Laporte, who initially played for France, the country of his birth. It is, though, a style he believes in and there are obvious parallels with his club. Which is not to say Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola are the same.

Gavi and and Aymeric Laporte celebrate during the 7-0 rout of Costa Rica
Gavi and Aymeric Laporte celebrate during the 7-0 rout of Costa Rica. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

“They are very different, despite having the same idea of keeping the ball,” Laporte says. “Both want the ball to manage the game but it’s true that with Guardiola you try to unbalance your opponents a bit more, taking even more risks than here. Here maybe they are risks that are more necessary. With Spain, it’s exactly the same ambition, same principles, same idea now as we’ve followed from the first moment I joined.”

Alongside him is another City player, although that too is different. Rodri Hernández has played at centre-back for City but as a solution in place of Laporte; they have never played together at club level. Here, they have been partners for the opening two games. It’s going well, too.

“Rodri’s intelligent, he knows how to adapt,” Laporte says. “It’s different for him. He seeks advice, asks a lot of questions; it’s all very natural. We’ve only let in one and we hope there aren’t any more. Basically, I answer the questions he asks. Do I step out? When do we drop? Do I have to go with the striker when he runs into the space? Do I hold? Do I follow? Do I step out with the ball? He asks lots of questions: being firm, decision-making, with the ball, without it. And I try to help as best I can.”

We’ve had a false 9, could this be the start of a false 4? Actually, there’s a thought: does the word “false” annoy you? “Not me,” Laporte grins. “I don’t play as a false anything.”

Other things do annoy him, though. He has reflected on the world he inhabits before. And in fact, some of the reaction, the way his words were interpreted, pretty much proved him right. “I love playing football, really love it, but it’s everything that goes around it,” he says. Asked what is it he doesn’t like, there’s a pause.

Oh. Is it us? “That too,” he says, smiling. “It’s a bit of everything. I don’t know. I’ve always played football because I’ve always loved it; it’s my passion. But what matters on the pitch isn’t always reflected away from football. And that could annoy me. It doesn’t reach the point where it annoys me because I don’t even look, I don’t read. The less I watch the better.”

As a kid Laporte watched football, collected stickers, the whole thing, he says. So when did the disenchantment start? Another punchline, perfectly delivered. “When I started playing, basically,” he says, and cracks up again.

“There’s so much talk, so many opinions. An example: after a game, one says: ‘He was terrible.’ Another says: ‘He was the best.’ It doesn’t bother me because I don’t even see it. What annoys footballers isn’t direct criticism; we’re used to it. It’s the family, the friends. So many people who haven’t played talk and they’re more influential than the players themselves. And you see [former] footballers who say things that if other players had done it [about them] they would get annoyed. Lots of people getting involved, talking, you know?”

Laporte would rather just play football. Or other sports. He dashes off, not to the TV room but in the direction of the pool. The table tennis table awaits too. “Right-handed,” the left-footer says. Asked whether he is one of the better players, the yes and the glint in his eye suggest he might be very good. “Si, si” he says again, grinning. But didn’t Luis Enrique say Pedri was the best? “Because he hasn’t seen me play,” Laporte shoots back. Predictions might not be his thing but give him a ping‑pong bat or better still put him on the pitch and this World Cup gets a whole lot better.

‘Now these guys are heroes’: Socceroos bound into last-16 date with Argentina | World Cup 2022

The Melbourne sky was red with the flares of Federation Square, a heaving party of thousands in the dead of night on a Thursday that exploded in euphoria with the swing of Mathew Leckie’s left boot. In Sydney’s CBD, patrons in a handful of packed pubs spilled out on to George Street as the forward raced off in celebration and then “got slapped in the head about 100 times” by teammates.

For Australia, that goal is immediate sporting folklore. It is the goal that sank Denmark. It is the one that captured those three precious points, the one to seal back-to-back World Cup wins for the first time in the nation’s history, and the one to confirm a place in the round of 16 not achieved in 16 years.

At full-time the Socceroos bench emptied on to the pitch, drowning out the Danish despair around them, leaping into wild hugs and burying the head coach, Graham Arnold, so far inside the clutch of bodies that Kasper Hjulmand could not immediately locate his counterpart to congratulate him. The winger Martin Boyle, kept in camp despite being ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, waved his crutches like a maniac.

“Everyone was buzzing, screaming a lot of nonsense,” Leckie said. “So much emotion. But we want to dream big, and when we came to this tournament we always said we want to get out of the group. The first thing Arnie said was: ‘Let’s go one more.’”

Men at Work’s Down Under, and Waltzing Matilda, rang out through Doha. “Give us a public holiday,” read one of the banners in the crowd at Al Janoub Stadium, where thousands of diehards had made what had seemed, before the tournament, a thankless pilgrimage to Qatar to watch an unheralded team do unheralded things.

Australia, ranked 38 by Fifa, had barely squeaked into the draw, qualifying second-last of the 32 teams via a penalty shootout in a playoff against Peru. Some three months before, Arnold had been publicly pilloried and almost sacked. Next to nobody in their own country gave them a chance. Not many back home knew any of their names.

The Socceroos have long languished in the shadow of the 2006 “golden generation”, the class of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer. They were the last team to make the knockout stages of a World Cup, when Arnold was assistant to Guus Hiddink.

Mathew Leckie scores Australia’s winning goal against Denmark
Mathew Leckie scores Australia’s winning goal against Denmark. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

The holy grail has since eluded the country. It is a modest objective by international standards. It had certainly been for the 10th-ranked Denmark. But football sits on the fifth rung of popularity in Australia’s sporting landscape. Its grassroots participation does not convert to professionalism, and there is no money to speak of.

But this group, half of whom have 10 caps or fewer, have been preaching team unity from the start. They come from heritages including South Sudanese, Bosnian, Croatian, Turkish-Cypriot and South African. The Scottish influence is the strongest. They represent modern Australia in the truest sense, and may yet be the catalyst for a long-awaited overhaul of the country’s stunted development pathways.

“We started this journey four and a half years ago,” said Rene Muelensteen, the assistant coach who met Arnold years before that when the latter spent a week at Manchester United while completing his pro licence.

“A lot of credit to Arnie, when we first got together he said: ‘I want to create the greatest Socceroos team ever.’ That message has been the motivation to carry us through that four and a half years, with all the hindrances that we had [qualifying through Asia]. Never mind the distances we have to travel, and only playing four games in Australia. But it has created enormous strength from within.

“We knew from the word go we were going to do something special. We never got carried away by the 4-1 loss to France. Maybe a lot of people dropped their expectations. We knew there was no expectation from outside except from ourselves. Now these guys are heroes.”

Kewell, who is now the commentary box, tweeted: “Over the moon! What an achievement.”

Mark Bosnich, one of Arnold’s biggest critics, posted his “massive congratulations”. He tweeted: “Minor miracle being there, proper miracle now. Superb achievement.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, hailed the “magnificent win”. He will be under pressure to announce that public holiday.

“As a young boy you dream big,” Leckie said. “Watching the Socceroos play World Cups could have, in the back of my head, been the reason I wanted to be a footballer. It’s moments like this that build the game and potentially give young kids inspiration to want to do the same.”

Mexico miss out on last 16 on goal difference despite beating Saudi Arabia | World Cup 2022

What a manic and heartbreaking evening for Mexico who finally came alive at a vibrant Lusail Stadium yet narrowly failed to pull off a Houdini act of escapology into the last 16.

Going into added time their higher yellow card count of seven to Poland’s five had them going out and though Salem al-Dawsari then scored, one more Mexico strike would still have put them through.

Gerardo Martino’s team had previously scored no goals at this World Cup yet 52 minutes in were 2-0 up and with the seconds ticking away had one last chance: Luis Chávez swept a free-kick into Saudi Arabia’s area and César Montes met it but no third goal followed and that was game over and time up on Mexico’s valiant effort.

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Towards the end Edson Álvarez had also crashed a shot towards Mohammed al-Owais’s goal but it hit a Saudi back. A 20-yard dart by the lively Hirving Lozano claimed a free-kick on the edge of Saudi Arabia’s area but Chávez belted it into the wall. Then, Uriel Antuna did find the Saudi net but this was ruled offside and Poland staggered through.

Mexico had begun with Alexis Vega racing on to a through-pass and only the frame of Owais stopped an opener when the No 10 pulled the trigger.

The save from the Saudi keeper drew an ear-splitting cheer from the reported 60,000 Green Falcons fans inside and they soon sighed in collective relief. Jesús Gallardo’s cross from the left caused a mix-up as Owais flapped and Henry Martin – who scored Mexico’s first – went down when Hassan al-Tambakti challenged him.

If Michael Oliver was not interested in a penalty Mexico were bombarding those in white so raucous cheers greeted any offering of positive Saudi play. Those who had flooded in from the neighbouring nation to be at the match or in its vicinity – the count was around 150,000 – did this when Saud Abdulhamid raced through before being scythed down near Mexico’s D. Dawsari stood over the dead ball but Mohamed Kanno took charge and blazed high.

This was a precious chance wasted because from here Mexico pummelled the Saudis, who found the life squeezed out of them continually in their defensive third.

Mexico’s next threat came from a diving Orbelín Pineda header – he seemed to have slipped the ball beyond Owais but this proved an illusion and Saudi Arabia had escaped.

The pertinent question was how long they could keep Mexico out. Via Lozano on the right or Gallardo on the left, El Tri were in constant ready-to-receive mode from Héctor Moreno or Chávez and the Saudis’ only answer was to chase and scramble or spoil – Saleh al-Shehri and Ali al-Hassan each having their name written in Oliver’s book for fouls.

Henry Martin (centre) scores Mexico’s first goal against Saudi Arabia.
Henry Martin (centre) scores Mexico’s first goal but it was not enough to take them into the last 16. Photograph: Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico’s fair impersonation of a potent team made the observer wonder why they had been so poor in their previous two outings in which they managed a solitary point.

A further opening arrived when Gallardo was allowed a free volley from a corner. He hoofed it over but the Mexican wave kept crashing over Saudi Arabia, Pineda seeing a deflection take his effort out for another corner.

The possession percentage count of 70-30 in Mexico’s favour illustrated their near-total dominance but a Firas al-Buraikan dash that sprung their defence, followed by a flying Hassan header, reminded them to remain watchful.

Where this Mexico had previously been was a mystery, though after five halves of play they still remained goalless and the unpopular Martino was, surely, 45 minutes from his unhappy tenure being ended.

“Tata’s” standing was evidenced in the boos that greeted his name going up on the big screens before kick-off. The coach’s crime was to oversee a toothless proposition that still seemed to be certainly heading for failure to reach the last 16.

A Chávez curving attempt beaten away by Owais at the start of the second half, though, suggested no let-up and, at last, Mexico struck. Their first goal of these championships was simple: Chávez this time directed a corner in from the left, Montes flicked on and Martín finished.

With Argentina beating Poland in the other game, goal difference was still stacked against Mexico progressing. But, next, Chávez thumbed a nose at the odds by sweeping home the sweetest free-kick from 30 yards that beat Owais to his left, the ball always bending away.

This had the Mexico replacements joining the celebrations and drew their team closer to the seemingly impossible. In a madcap passage Lozano scored what would have been their third and the one that would take them above Poland on goals scored but offside ruled it out.

When Argentina went 2-0 up against Poland this meant the Mexicans and Poles were tied on all criteria but fair play put the Europeans through.

Mexico continued to pepper Saudi Arabia but could not get over the line and claim a memorable victory. In the final analysis Martino has to answer why this performance only came this evening. He might also pay for it with his job.

Marcus Rashford rediscovers the joy of football after tough times | World Cup 2022

At half-time on Tuesday night, England had a problem. They were in control of their World Cup Group B fixture against Wales but had not scored. For momentum, for the fans, for keeping critics in the media and online at bay, something needed to change. And so, five minutes after the restart, Marcus Rashford stepped up and smashed a free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards.

The Manchester United forward followed up with the final goal in the 3-0 victory. Taking a long pass on the run, he chopped inside the Welsh left-back Connor Roberts, beat him definitively with a stepover, then drove the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper Danny Ward. It was an exhilarating, exuberant moment and, as he turned towards the crowd and his teammates, Rashford flashed his famous smile. England now face Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.

Rashford is a problem solver, just ask Boris Johnson. But he has had more to work out over the past year than at any time in his meteoric career. In the summer of 2021 and struggling with injury, he put off dealing with a shoulder problem so he could take part in the European Championship. That tournament was a great success for the country, but intensely challenging for Rashford. Used exclusively as a substitute, he failed to make an impact on the field and when he was brought on during the final against Italy for the express purposes of taking a penalty, he missed and England lost.

What followed was a shameful moment for the country. Rashford, and fellow England internationals Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, became the targets of racist abuse. A mural of Rashford in Withington, Greater Manchester, was defaced. Some more coded criticism also came his way: the suggestion that Rashford should concentrate on football and forget social justice and his campaigning for free school meals and childhood literacy.

No one knows the toll that period took on Rashford the person, and it was not the first time he had had to deal with racist abuse, but the worst season of his career as a player then followed. At club level for Manchester United he struggled. Taking time to recover from that shoulder injury he also languished in the shadow of the legend and legendary ego, Cristiano Ronaldo. Six months ago Rashford was dropped from the England squad. At the time, Gareth Southgate described the decision as “straightforward”.

Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring in England’s 3-0 victory against Wales.
Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring in England’s 3-0 victory against Wales. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Today, fans need only use the evidence of their eyes to see how much has changed. Rashford has no doubt benefited from a change of coach at Old Trafford, the Dutchman Eric ten Hag having assured the player of his belief in him and his ability. Goals have returned to Rashford’s game, 10 so far in all competitions this season, but, crucially, so has the flair. On top of all his myriad personal qualities, Rashford is an exceptionally gifted footballer and has the ability to do things with the ball, at pace, that few others can, even in the Premier League.

This has been manifest in Qatar, where Rashford has three goals, up there with Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi in the battle for the Golden Boot. His first goal in the tournament, against Iran, came just 49 seconds after he had come on as a substitute – he sent a defender to the floor with a clever feint before passing under the keeper.

After the Wales match Southgate spoke frankly about the recovery of a player he has always supported, even when choosing to leave him out of his team. “It’s been a challenge for him,” Southgate said. “I went and saw him in the summer, had a long chat with him, and he had some clear ideas he felt he needed to think about and do.

“You can see with his club there has been happiness in his performances this year, and that has shown itself on the training ground with us. We have a different version completely to the player we had in the Euros last summer. It’s great for him, and because it’s great for him it’s great for us.”

Rashford dedicated his free-kick goal to the memory of his friend, Garfield Hayward, who had died just days before. “He’s had quite a long battle with cancer, so I’m pleased I managed to score for him”, he said. “He’s always been a big supporter of mine. He was just a great person and I’m pleased he came into my life, really.”

The way Rashford articulated publicly news he had kept private from the England squad was another reminder of his ability to confront positively the difficult moments in his life. From growing up in Wythenshawe on free school meals, the child of a single mother with three jobs, to confronting the UK government and, now, rediscovering the joy of playing the game that has transformed his life in ways he might not always have asked for, Rashford has always been faced by problems. But he has also remained dedicated to working out the answers.

Idrissa Gana Gueye believes Senegal can progress despite facing England | Senegal football team

Idrissa Gana Gueye has said there are no limits for Senegal in Qatar and the African champions’ ambitions must stretch beyond reaching the last 16 of the World Cup.

Senegal face England at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday having qualified for the World Cup knockout stage for the second time in their history via their win against Ecuador on Tuesday.

Senegal’s best performance at a World Cup came in 2002, when they reached the quarter-finals with a team featuring their current manager, Aliou Cissé. In a year when the Lions of Teranga have won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, Gueye says Senegal can again reach the last eight.

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Before England were confirmed as Senegal’s next opponents Gueye said: “The last 16 is not the objective. We see beyond that. We have no limits. We have to keep our feet on the ground, not get carried away, and stay focused from the start to the end. We have a squad to go far. We’re not going to fix any limits because if we play like we did against Ecuador we can do something really interesting in this competition.”

Gueye is suspended for the England game after two bookings in the group stage, preventing – or postponing – his 100th cap for Senegal. “I’m really disappointed but I’m happy for the team,” he said. “I’m just hoping they can do the job and I can play in the quarter-finals. We keep saying that we need the whole squad and we can only do this all together.

“We have a big experience in the Afcon and, in that sort of competition, you need everybody, not just 11 or 12. It is 26 players and everybody has to be committed.”

Kalidou Koulibaly

Senegal’s captain, Kalidou Koulibaly, whose first international goal ensured his country pipped Ecuador to second place in Group A, said they fear no one at the World Cup. “This is only the beginning,” the Chelsea defender said. “Don’t party, don’t be happy.

“We did something good but it’s only the beginning. We are Senegal, we fear no one. Senegal are better when they have their backs against the wall. There are a lot of teams that don’t want to play against us.”

Rashford’s resurgence enhances England’s attack for Senegal tie | England

Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford had never started a tournament match together before England’s 3-0 win against Wales on Tuesday. Is this surprising? Maybe not. When Rashford burst on to the scene before Euro 2016 his hopes of playing as a central striker were blocked by Kane. Since then he has had his development stifled by Manchester United’s managerial strife, struggled with injuries and continued to have his chances of playing as a central striker blocked by Kane. Conclusion: not surprising.

Nonetheless, that we are still waiting for a Kane‑Rashford partnership to burst into life is a bit of a waste. Functioning properly, it has the potential to make England far more dangerous as they head into their last-16 match with Senegal on Sunday.

The thinking is not that this would be akin to Teddy Sheringham’s and Alan Shearer’s combination at Euro 96, where one player drops into the hole to feed a central striker. Few sides play with a front two now. The only way for England to do it would be by switching from four at the back to three and even then the likelihood is there would be two wide forwards flitting around Kane.

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The options are varied. Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling were on the flanks for England’s first two World Cup games. James Maddison and Jack Grealish are in reserve. Mason Mount had a good game against Iran and a disappointing one against the USA. Phil Foden started and scored against Wales. Kane will no doubt be fuming after going through the group stage without edging closer to Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 England goals.

This Kane drought is not the drama it was when he endured similar frustration in his first three games of Euro 2020. Crucially, although he is not getting many chances, the 29-year-old’s all-round game is good. The concern over his sore right foot has not completely disappeared, but he looks sharp and was in full Kane the creator mode against Wales, setting up Foden’s far-post tap-in with the type of fizzing low cross you usually see from Kevin De Bruyne.

It is a positive for England given they have previously been so reliant on Kane and Sterling for goals. Rashford’s resurgence is a huge boost. Last summer, there were gripes about Kane’s inclination to drop deep. He had to play further forward. He had to score some goals; nothing else mattered.

Harry Kane in action for England
Harry Kane is still waiting for his first goal at this World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

It was a misreading of Kane’s game. He is dangerous when he steps back and plays those clever passes. But that ploy works only when there is pace around Kane. At club level he benefits from his understanding with Son Heung‑min. You know how it goes: Kane turns, Son makes the out‑to‑in run from the left, the pass comes, Tottenham celebrate another goal.

Something for England to mimic? If so, Rashford, who usually looks most effective as a left-sided forward, is the obvious candidate for the Son role. A lot of the focus has been on his goalscoring cameo against Iran and his two against Wales, but the most intriguing element of his performance on Tuesday came early on. It was the Spurs move: Kane threading a pass through to Rashford, who is more capable than any of England’s other forwards at making that diagonal run inside from the left flank.

However, the finish was missing. Son probably would have scored; Rashford hesitated and clipped his shot against Danny Ward. After that his belief seemed to shrink. He lacked rhythm. He looked reluctant to drive at a mediocre defence.

The shift in the second half was put down to Foden and Rashford swapping flanks. The counter to Gareth Southgate’s tactical masterstroke narrative is that England’s opener was partly down to questionable footwork from Ward on Rashford’s swerving free-kick.

Wales made it easy for England. In a sense Rashford did nothing special when he made it 3-0; it was perfectly natural to see him torment Connor Roberts, a Championship defender who was out of position at left-back, before taking advantage of another error from Ward.

Marcus Rashford

In isolation that does not mean Rashford should start on the right against Senegal. It is not his favourite position and there will be a temptation to bring back Sterling and Saka. Sterling was poor against USA and has not been playing well for Chelsea, but he scored against Iran and has excelled for England in big knockout games. Rashford and Foden, by contrast, have it all to prove in pressure situations. Ultimately, for all the accusations of favouritism thrown at Southgate, it was Sterling who scored the breakthrough goal when England knocked Germany out of the Euros.

What’s next for England after the group stage? – video explainer

There is a reason managers have tried and trusted players. Yes, Foden had a bright second half against Wales. At the same time Southgate has seen Saka thrive in key matches at the Euros, so do not be surprised if the Arsenal winger returns.

Then again, it would be hard to drop Rashford. It is worth keeping in mind that when England went on a goal spree in 2018 and 2019 it was with a front three of Rashford, Kane and Sterling. Is Sunday the time for a reunion? If so it could keep Kane’s creative juices flowing and that is never a bad thing as far as England are concerned.

Mat Leckie strike stuns Denmark and sends Australia into World Cup last 16 | World Cup 2022

Sometimes football is not beautiful. Sometimes doing just enough, for just long enough, can lay the foundation, open the door. So it was that a counter-attack ended Australia’s agony and Denmark’s World Cup campaign. It took 60 minutes for Mat Leckie to score, an endless hour of mostly last-ditch defending and some positive moments, and a goal from Tunisia against France that meant the Socceroos would have to win or be out themselves.

In the end it was Denmark’s second-half impotence that ended their tournament prematurely, their early brightness dissipating in the face of a Socceroos side which left it late but rallied when it had to and once again displayed a level of quality belying their inexperience.

And hands were held to mouths inside Al Janoub Stadium right up until the final whistle, as Christian Eriksen whipped in two dangerous corners and Harry Souttar made one, two, three vital interventions to send Graham Arnold’s side into the round of 16 for the first time since 2006. On Saturday they will play one of Argentina, Poland or Saudi Arabia depending on Wednesday night’s results, in a continuation of a World Cup brimming with upsets and implosions.

The latter is Denmark’s lot. Coach Kasper Hjulmand needed three points to stay in calculations, and even then would have been undone by Tunisia’s defeat of a second-string France side resting sore bodies for the knockout stages in the knowledge they had already qualified. The scenes of jubilation and heartbreak were already well under way when Antoine Griezmann seemingly equalised for France off the bench, meaning a draw would have sufficed, only to have it chalked off.

The question had always been which Denmark would show up: the lethargic one who drew with Tunisia or the courageous version who lost to France only through the quality of Kylian Mbappé. Mbappé was among nine changes named by Didier Deschamps over at Education City Stadium, sending a wave of consternation across town – a Tunisia win was no good for either side here.

And as Tunisia set about bossing the B team, Eriksen started the match free and on the move through the middle, only thwarted by Milos Degenek. In the very next moment Riley McGree had gone for a long-range shot, grinning after it ricocheted off Joakim Mæhle.

That set the tone and the following 20 minutes unfolded as thus: Aaron Mooy turned the ball over cheaply inside Australia’s half. Mæhle nutmegged Degenek as Leckie chased in vein. In the end the task fell to Mat Ryan. Again and again he contorted his limbs into a kind of doorstopper, his goal line welcoming no man. Leaping high at his near post to deny Jensen, slamming down a foot to stop a rolling ball, racing off his line to stop Martin Braithwaite before he was even played in.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Mitchell Duke found McGree’s chest and the shot fizzed straight to Kasper Schmeichel. Souttar’s head was closer to the sky than the rest. Tunisia scored; it was ruled offside.

Referee Mustapha Ghorbal was throwing himself about too. Aziz Behich had a yellow card within three minutes for a cynical tug of Skov Olsen. Jesper Lindstrøm was penalised for a push on Degenek. Leckie was harshly pulled up for a tangle with Christensen, earning the ire of the green-and-gold corner. Olsen was somehow not booked for sliding straight through the back of Duke.

Denmark were slick and smooth on the ball. They pinned their opponents down with precise passing, considered and effective, a picture of economy to Australia’s toil. Eriksen was free and floating at leisure, the outside of his left boot a tourist in a new neighbourhood. The whole thing was lovely to watch.

They were livelier at the start, too. The fear for Australia was that the Socceroos had already played their final against Tunisia. It was hard to tell if it was fatigue or the enormity of the occasion, but Lindstrøm was having a field day down the left flank, nutmegging Souttar to Maehle who was thwarted by Aaron Mooy.

Australia’s brightest moment arrived in first-half stoppage-time when Duke teed up Craig Goodwin who, hurtling towards the left corner flag, skimmed a low cross nobody was there to convert.

Half-time can change games. We saw it last week when Hervé Renard blew a rocket up his Saudi Arabia and they came back to beat Argentina. We do not know what transpired in the Australian dressing room at the break but they emerged revitalised. Territory was reclaimed, then ceded once again. Rowles was smacked clean in the chest by Olsen and doubled over. Lindstrøm cut infield and readied to shoot.

Tunisia scored. Arnold had a word with his dugout. An Eriksen corner sailed agonisingly close to goal. Australia intercepted and McGree passed to Leckie. He ran into acres of space at the halfway line, dribbled around Maehle and curved a terrific finish which whistled across Schmeichel and snuck into the bottom-right corner.

Denmark lost their marbles then – and a penalty. Eriksen swung in a high free-kick and Ghorbal blew for a penalty as Souttar downed Dolberg in the box. No sooner had he done it, the offside flag went up on Dolberg.

Keanu Baccus, off the bench, drew a foul and yellow card from Robert Skov. Arnold made more substitutions and brought on Jamie MacLaren for Duke, and then defender Bailey Wright, who replaced McGree to help keep Denmark’s late flurry at bay for six minutes of stoppage-time as Souttar produced moments of grit which will once again earn plaudits.

When the full-time whistle blew Australia’s bench stormed the pitch, and the coach was so buried within the bodies that Hjulmand had to fish him out to shake his hand.

Tunisia shock much-changed France thanks to Wahbi Khazri but still go out | World Cup 2022

This was cruellest yet most honourable of exits for Tunisia, who outplayed a second-string France team and were fine value for the win secured by Wahbi Khazri’s solo strike midway through the second half. They will wonder how, having defeated the holders and drawn with Denmark, they have not broken their knockout stage duck. Had they taken a point against Australia, ostensibly a simpler task, they would have qualified; for a few minutes here they had the last 16 in their sights but Mathew Leckie’s shock winner against the Danes sent the Socceroos through.

France win the group regardless even if this was a no-show prior to the introductions of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé. It is unlikely Didier Deschamps will regret resting most of his favoured starters but the inadequacy of their stand-ins will be noted by their rivals for the trophy.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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Deschamps was ultimately punished for his nine changes. Only Raphaël Varane and Aurélien Tchouaméni remained from the team that beat Denmark and six of those deployed had not yet featured in Qatar. It was a curious team full of square pegs in round holes, cobbled together in an effort to give players minutes: Eduardo Camavinga was asked to stand in at left-back with Matteo Guendouzi in front of him while Axel Disasi, a central defender, was deployed on the right. The effect was lop-sided and it smacked of opportunity for Tunisia, who could only have felt encouraged.

They warmed to the task and so did their support, who were noticeably quieter at the outset than at previous games. Perhaps the defeat to Australia had sapped their belief; either way it was a surprise given the history behind this match, which was the first time France had faced any of their former north African colonies since visiting Tunisia in 2010. When the sides met in Paris two years previously, the away fans had created such a hostile environment that the then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, requested no such fixture was repeated on French soil.

Camavinga began uncomfortably, giving possession away and then being nutmegged by Aïssa Laïdouni. It was no surprise that Tunisia, six of whose XI were born in France, looked the more coherent despite making half a dozen changes themselves. They briefly thought their early pressure had paid off in the eighth minute when Nader Ghandri diverted a devilish Khazri free-kick past Steve Mandanda, only for an offside flag to correctly curtail any celebrations.

Taking advantage of France’s evident weakness at full-back, Tunisia utilised the flanks and swung in a steam of teasing deliveries throughout the opening period. Anis Ben Slimane saw a header deflected through to Mandanda, a survivor from that game back in 2008, and the keeper was required to parry Khazri’s vicious half-volley from 25 yards. The attacks kept coming, even if clear openings did not, and Guendouzi’s badly misplaced pass in the vague direction of Camavinga spoke of Les Bleus’ discomfort.

Wahbi Khazri

In fairness, Camavinga had earlier produced a laudable piece of defending to deny Ghandri another sniff. That was the only moment of encouragement for France before half-time, beyond a swift counter that saw Kingsley Coman slice horribly wide when well placed.

The fear at that point for Tunisia was that they would not find a way through before Deschamps afforded his big guns a runout. They sought a penalty when Tchouaméni dived riskily on in Khazri but the Real Madrid player had taken the ball. Then Youssouf Fofana pulled up and allowed Khazri, receiving an opportunity he had not earned, to blaze over. It was a good chance; a relieved Fofana stayed down but was cleared to play on.

They need not have worried. Khazri had been everywhere and nowhere, frequently fluffing the simple and executing the near impossible. He was given a chance to run at the France defence after Ellyes Skhiri robbed a labouring Fofana, who stood still in expectation of a foul. Laïdouni worked the ball forward and Khazri, slaloming towards the 18-yard line, found the composure to slot coolly past Mandanda.

Now the Tunisian faithful went berserk; Khazri was replaced to a rapturous reception and it felt cruel that, moments later, Leckie’s goal meant a victory might not complete the job. Deschamps finally tasked Mbappé with denying Tunisia even that but their talisman could not rescue a muddled performance on his own. Within a few minutes he had badly overcooked a cross for Guendouzi and failed to find his fellow replacement Adrien Rabiot; between those aberrations, Griezmann joined him.

Wahbi Khazri gives Tunisia the lead.
Wahbi Khazri gives Tunisia the lead. Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters

Next came Dembélé and it was inevitable Tunisia would now be required to hang on. He forced Aymen Dahmen into a rare, if comfortable, save from range. Mbappé worked Dahmen more exactingly and Dembélé fired wide. Remarkably, Griezmann seemed to have equalised at the death with a flashing volley that was overturned by VAR for offside after the final whistle had blown. Tunisia’s celebrations were bittersweet.

World Cup 2022: Qatar 2022 World Cup balls are so hi-tech that they need to be charged before games

As year goes by, technology is more present each time in sports, specially in the biggest sporting events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup.

Why are the Qatar 2022 World Cup footballs being charged?

For Qatar 2022, a new technological advancement was presented with the idea of making the sport better and have even more fair decisions on the field, that’s why FIFA and Adidas, the official ball sponsor, presented a hi-tech football called Al Rihla, that has a 14-gram sensor inside that allows it to be tracked in real time and pin point its exact location at any given moment of the game.

This allows the ball’s location to be as exact as possible when judging goals, offsides and many other plays, proving to be a helpful tool to add to the Video Assistant Referee or VAR.

Fans started questioning why World Cup balls were being charged before the match, and this is due to the sensor inside only being powered by a small battery that lasts around 6 hours of active use.

The sensor weighs 14 grams, it was developed and manufactured by KINEXON, and their co-founder Maximilian Schmidt has explained how it works, even saying that any time the ball is impacted the system picks it up at a rate of 50 frames per second.

“Data is sent in real time from sensors to a local positioning system (LPS), which involves a setup of network antennas installed around the playing field that take in and store the data for immediate use. When a ball flies out of bounds during the course of play, and a new ball is thrown or kicked in to replace it, KINEXON’s backend system automatically switches to the new ball’s data input without the need for human intervention.” Schmidt shared.