mOrocco’s capital, Rabat, is more than 7,000 km from Doha, but that hasn’t stopped the Atlas Lions from settling. “We feel we are at home,” said their coach, Walid Regragui, after their battle point against Croatia. “And I am happy to be in Qatar. The Moroccan and Arab fans in the stands supported us and gave us strength when we were tired.”
It was a similar story 24 hours earlier after Tunisia also managed a 0-0 draw in their opening game against Denmark in front of a packed crowd dominated by their supporters. “The fan factor was very positive for us,” said their coach, Jalel Kadri. “It gave us a great boost mentally and we look forward to seeing the fans continue to do that for us.”
Saudi Arabia, of course, had taken the lead in a historic victory against Argentina, greeted with jubilation in the stands and beyond. “The number of fans was big, but I hope it will get even bigger,” said Hervé Renard ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Poland.
Of all the trends in the first round of the 2022 World Cup, the excellent start of the Arab countries – Qatar aside – was the most striking. Cheered on by passionate supporters and in conditions many of the players are more accustomed to, there is a marked improvement in results compared to previous World Cups, especially Russia 2018. Saudi Arabia’s 5-0 thrashing of the hosts in the opening game there set the tone, with Tunisia and Morocco losing to England and Iran respectively before failing to make the group stage.
While Renard may be certain to match Saudi Arabia’s best World Cup performance, reaching the last 16 in 1994, the Regragui and Kadri sides have it all to do after their stalemate – two of a record four 0-0 draw in the first game. round matches.
At this rate, Qatar 2022 is on course to surpass the all-time high of seven, which has already happened four times before: 1982, 2006, 2010 and 2014. By contrast, none of the first 16 matches at Russia 2018 produced a goalless draw . , with only one during the tournament.
That doesn’t mean it’s been a boring World Cup – 41 goals were scored in the first round at an average of 2.56 per game compared to 38 four years ago. Twenty-five of Qatar’s goals have come in four matches.
Deciphering trends at a World Cup can be confusing. How did the first 16 games in Qatar not produce own goals when, for example, four came at the same stage in 2018? Russia’s record of nine own goals does not seem to be beaten.
The absence of red cards in the first round of group matches in Qatar was the first time since 1986 that no player was dismissed, perhaps surprising given the introduction of VAR. Unfortunately for Wayne Hennessey, that zero didn’t last long. Meanwhile, there must be an explanation why there were no goals from direct free kicks during the first round.
It’s fair to say that some trends are more predictable, such as Uruguay’s formidable defensive record at the World Cup. They have gone 465 minutes without conceding a goal in the group stage since Wayne Rooney’s equalizer for England 15 minutes from time in São Paulo in 2014. Uruguay’s opening match against South Korea saw one shot on target, the lowest since 1986, when Denmark and Scotland registered. one shot in the match.
Elsewhere, André Ayew’s goal for Ghana against Portugal finally ended Africa’s long wait for a first round goal and Japan bucked a trend by recording their first comeback win at the World Cup, against Germany on the ninth attempt , with the winning goalscorer. , Takuma Asano, who said they were inspired by Saudi Arabia’s success. “We watched the Saudi game and thought we could do it – then we just did it today,” he said.