Tournament heavyweights Spain underlined their credentials with a 7-0 demolition over Costa Rica, while fellow favourites Germany were stunned by Japan as their remarkable protest became the talk of the World Cup.
Asian Reigning finalists Croatia, meanwhole were expected to get their tournament off on the right foot, but were instead held to a 16-year low by the group minnows.
Follow Matchday 4 including Morocco v Croatia (9pm AEDT), Germany v Japan (12am AEDT), Spain v Costa Rica (3am AEDT) and Belgium v Canada (6am AEDT) in our live blogs below!
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BELGIUM 1-0 CANADA
A thumping volley from Michy Batshuayi handed Belgium a 1-0 victory over a desperately unlucky Canada side that was also denied from the spot by Thibaut Courtois.
Against the run of play, Batshuayi bagged the only goal of the game when he latched onto a long ball perfectly floated over the top of the Canadian backline by Toby Alderweireld and smashed a left-foot volley past Milan Borjan in goals.
Yet it was Canada who dominated the vast majority of the 90 minutes against a sloppy Belgian side that struggled to find any rhythm.
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And the Canadians should have got on the scoresheet first when they earned a penalty after Belgium wing-back Yannick Carrasco was adjuged to have handled the ball in the area.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies stepped up to take the spot kick, but his effort was denied by Courtois who got down low to his right.
The rebound from Courtois’ save fell kindly for Davies yet the 19-year-old skied his effort well over the bar.
Courtois’ save also meant he is the first Belgian gloveman to keep out a penalty at the World Cup since 1966.
Canada also had another penalty shout later in the first half when Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel appeared to have fouled Richie Laryea, but the Red Devils survived the VAR check.
READ THE FULL MATCH REPORT HERE
Belgium survive Canadian onslaught | 00:50
SPAIN 7-0 COSTA RICA
Spain shredded Costa Rica 7-0 on Thursday (AEDT) in a brutal destruction in their Group E opener which launched their bid to lift a second World Cup.
Avoiding the fate of giants Argentina and group rivals Germany, who lost 2-1 to Japan earlier on, Luis Enrique’s fancied side sparkled at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, dominating possession and taking their chances mercilessly.
Ferran Torres netted twice and Marco Asensio, Dani Olmo, Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata were also on the scoresheet for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists in an emphatic romp.
READ THE FULL MATCH REPORT ON SPAIN’S DEMOLITION HERE
Saucy Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 | 01:19
JAPAN 2 -1 GERMANY
Japan stunned Germany 2-1 in their World Cup opener on Wednesday, punishing the four-time champions for not taking their chances after they dominated the first half.
The German team covered their mouths for the team photo before the match in a powerful protest against FIFA’s decision to ban rainbow-themed armbands.
Germany came to Qatar under huge pressure to avoid the disaster of 2018, when they failed to make it out of the group stage in Russia as World Cup holders.
Hansi Flick’s side took the lead through a first-half penalty from Ilkay Gundogan and should have been out of sight after creating a host of chances.
But Japan hung on and equalised through substitute Ritsu Doan in the 75th minute.
Takuma Asano then completed a remarkable turnaround eight minutes later, smashing the ball home to send the Japanese bench and their boisterous fans wild.
READ THE FULL REPORT ON JAPAN’S UPSET HERE
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To add to the storyline, both Doan and Asano play in the German Bundesliga.
“The players came together as one team, we prepared well and we stuck in there, and that’s what led to the win,” said Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“Lots of our fans have come to Doha and they were behind us pushing us on. I want us to keep a level head after this and look at what we could have done better and look to win the next match.” Germany’s World Cup future is now once again on the line, with games to come in Group E against Spain and Costa Rica.
“We made it too easy for Japan. I don’t know if an easier goal has ever been scored at a World Cup,” Gundogan told Germany’s ARD TV network.
“This must not happen to us.” Thomas Mueller told Germany’s Magenta TV it was “ludicrous that we are now standing here with a defeat.”
Japan meanwhile are eyeing a place in the knockout round after a dramatic comeback that scarcely looked possible at half-time.
Socceroos still digesting tough WC loss | 02:24
Germany’s players covered their mouths for the team photo before their World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday in protest at FIFA’s refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.
Captains of seven European teams had planned to wear the anti-discrimination armbands during the tournament in Qatar as part of a campaign for diversity.
But they backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from football’s governing body, including yellow cards.
The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Germany stage ‘One Love’ protest | 00:27
Germany’s football federation tweeted in English moments after the photo protest: “It wasn’t about making a political statement — human rights are non-negotiable.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser did wear the “OneLove” armband as she watched the game sitting next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
She said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.
MOROCCO 0-0 CROATIA
Croatia has fallen to a 16-year World Cup low, kept goalless in the tournament for the first time since 2006 by a much more dynamic Morocco side in their 0-0 draw.
The 2018 finalists were warm favourites to escape their group, which also includes Belgium and Canada, but could only earn a point after being made to look old and tired by a speedier North African outfit.
Croatia had scored a goal in 11 consecutive World Cup matches, including all of their games in Russia when they fell 4-2 to France in the final, inspired by player of the tournament Luka Modric.
Instead they could not crack the Moroccan defence, though theirs held firm as well, with each side producing just two shots on target.
Morocco hold Croatia to scoreless draw | 00:34
What appeared to be a heavily pro-Morocco crowd packed the Al Bayt Stadium with whistles raining down on the Croatians whenever they had the ball.
There were few early chances with several Morocco turnovers deep in their defence causing the only real dramas.
But the Moroccans’ speed kept the more experienced Croatians on their toes, with a Luka Modric foul just outside the box in the 19th minute handing their unfancied opponents the first true chance of the match, but Hakim Ziyech sent it into the wall.
Croatia faced a dangerous moment after the referees missed a ball clearly going out for a goal-kick, with the commentators left stunned it was missed both live and on replay. “That’s well out!” one proclaimed.
It took until right at the end of the opening half for the best chance of the game so far to emerge, with Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou forced to scramble back into position to defend a close-range attempt, just moments after rushing out to knock away a dangerous bouncing ball.
Modric then smashed one from just outside the box which flew only a metre or so over the top crossbar as the teams went into halftime at 0-0. There were just two minutes of added time, summing up how uneventful things were in the opening stanza.
Things began to get more dramatic and open up in the second half with Morocco furious after Noussair Mazraoui was left hurt just outside the playing area, which meant the referee allowed play to continue. Croatia exploited his absence for several dangerous chances, one off a corner that saw three bodies collide heavily including the keeper Bounou.
Mazraoui somehow made his way three quarters of the way down the pitch but then fell to the turf again, requiring treatment for what looked to be a heavy fall onto his hip trying for a header.
He returned to the match but did not look right and limply sat on the ground to announce he could no longer go on.
A brilliant, curling Modric free kick was nearly turned in by the Croatians but a desperate aerial kick by a Moroccan defender saved them from conceding. Two consecutive corners that followed produced nothing.
The game then limped to a scoreless draw.
“I’ve never seen Modric so spent after a game,” John Aloisi said on SBS post-match.