Tuesday, February 7, 2023

World Cup round-up: Ben White returns home, Szczesny’s super stop …

From an Arsenal perspective, the first thing to talk about this morning is the fact that Ben White has left Qatar and returned early from the World Cup.

In a statement, The FA said:

Ben White has left England’s training base in Al Wakrah and returned home for personal reasons.

The Arsenal defender is not expected to return to the squad for the remainder of the tournament.

We ask that the player’s privacy is respected at this moment in time.

Arsenal’s reporting of the news came with a ‘We’re all with you, Ben’, so it sounds like something has happened. All we can do is wish him the best, whatever it is.

On the pitch, there was real drama as Australia beat Denmark to go through to the knock-out rounds. Mat Leckie’s goal was extremely good, certainly good enough to deserve to win a game, but at 1-0 the potential is there for a single moment to ruin the fun. However, Denmark were just nowhere near the level I thought they would be in this tournament.

They had more possession, they had more shots, but lacked the quality in the final third to cause Australia any real problems. A few corners, another game where Christian Eriksen made a lot of crosses which saw him live up to the billing as the thinking man’s Cedric, but after what they did at the Euros, it must have been difficult for Danish fans to see the drop off. I doubt they would have envisaged finishing bottom of that group before the World Cup began.

I didn’t see much of France v Tunisia. I turned it on to see if William Saliba was playing and saw Matteo Guendouzi gamboling around midfield like a hyperactive lamb, so I turned off. Big Willy got on late in the game though to make his World Cup debut, and although France lost 1-0, they still topped the group.

They will face Poland in the first knock-out round. I watched their game against Argentina last night, and their performance was pretty bad. I did enjoy the Wojciech Szczesny penalty save after the ludicrous award of the spot kick in the first place. To say that was a generous decision for Argentina would be downplaying it, but there was some justice when the former Arsenal keeper made a fantastic stop to deny Lionel Messi whose antics after being brushed by a glove were, frankly, pathetic. I love Messi, but that was rubbish.

Argentina broke the deadlock in the second half through Alexis McAllister, and given some of the goals the Brighton man has scored this season, it was quite funny to see him kick one off his own leg and for it to dribble beyond the despairing dive of Szczesny and into the net. The second goal from Man City’s Julian Alvarez was really very nice, and then we had a weird situation where Poland knew they would qualify as long as the goal difference didn’t swing too much between them and Mexico who were playing Saudi Arabia.

The Mexicans then went 2-0 up, meaning the teams were tied on goal difference and goals scored, which meant the next deciding factor was fair play and yellow cards. Mexico had 7 to Poland’s 4, so it was quite funny to hear Danny Murphy on the BBC suggesting the Polish players needed to get stuck in and get booked. Had they drawn level on yellow cards, FIFA would have drawn lots to decide who went through, which would have been a bit mad. As it turned out, Saudi Arabia scored an injury time goal which gave Poland some breathing room and they went through.

I don’t know how much they have to offer though. I get that the circumstances were a bit odd, but they offered so little last night it’s hard to know what they could do against France. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a striker as isolated as Robert Lewandowski was last night. When they did get the ball to him, he never had a teammate near him, and if they play that way against France, I think they’ll be beaten fairly easily. It was also interesting to see former Arsenal man Krystian Bielik in midfield for Poland. The game looked just half a yard too quick for him.

Today, the real fun – with all due respect to fans of Croatia, Belgium, and Morocco – is in the evening when Group E will be decided. Germany could beat Costa Rica and still go out, depending on what happens between Japan and Spain. Hopefully Takehiro Tomiyasu will be fit to play, and we get some drama and excitement before the final group stage games tomorrow.

Join us over on Patreon a little later this morning for our World Cup round-up podcast. More here tomorrow, including a brand new Arsecast with an interview I think you’ll all enjoy.

Until then, have a good one.

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