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FIFA 2022: A World Cup where the underdogs are taking centrestage

It could be a watershed World Cup where the gulf between the teams shrank.

Morocco head coach Walid Regragui has also spoken about a “changed mindset” heading into the World Cup, “not just to almost qualify.”

Like against Germany, whom they upset in the opening World Cup game, Japan accounted for Spain after being 0-1 down. Trailing hasn’t bothered the Blue Samurai; it has only made them more resolute. The most eye-catching aspect of Japan’s twin wins has been their composure under fire. This extraordinary trait has surprised even their head coach Hajime Moriyasu. “I could feel that the times have changed. They are playing a new kind of soccer, that’s how I felt. They are not nervous as we were,” he says. Just like Japan, Senegal and Morocco, distinct World Cup non-favourites, are also giving big European behemoths a mighty run for their money.

Morocco head coach Walid Regragui has also spoken about a “changed mindset” heading into the World Cup, “not just to almost qualify.” They sent Belgium’s golden generation home, making the knockouts for the first time since 1986. Regragui had wanted to “get the results as all European or South American teams do and emulate them,” promising to be very difficult opponents. With five African coaches steering all of the continent’s teams at the World Cup, there was Wakandan pride and confidence in their performance. This time there are no excuses about Asian teams doing well in conditions suited to them or about local advantage since the giants have been beaten fair and square. Qatar 2022 could be a watershed World Cup where the gulf between the teams shrank.

Right after Senegal star Kalidou Koulibaly’s brilliant side-footed finish in the 70th minute of their game against Ecuador, the country’s president Macky Sall had tweeted, “Now go and touch the stars.” No African team has made the World Cup semifinals, but the continental champions fancy their chances now. Dakar, which venerated its 2002 one-off win over former colonisers France with a sports bar called “Seoul II”, celebrated as wildly as Nippon fans did after Japan’s upsets. Saudi Arabia after their shock win over Argentina too can hope one-offs turn into streaks next time for football’s persistent second rung.

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First published on: 03-12-2022 at 06:30 IST
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