You’ll read plenty of top 10 lists during this World Cup but how about a top 64?
The Athletic is going to be ranking every game in the competition and updating this piece each day. With eight games gone, there is not plenty to choose from, but it will not be long before that’s 12, 16, 20… you get the idea.
Think of it as a live ranking of the games. After each matchday, new games will be added and they will be weighed up against the ones in the past. As games accumulate, the rankings will change.
A game that is at top spot after matchday 3 might be No 5 on matchday 6. On the other hand, a game that is bottom on matchday 1 can get out of the relegation zone by the end of the group stages.
Crucially, this is supposed to be fun.
Here we go…
One of the biggest upsets in World Cup history? Probably.
One of the biggest results in Saudi Arabia’s history? Definitely.
Argentina found the high line and defensive organisation of their opponents difficult to handle before Saudi Arabia’s second-half intensity secured them a famous victory.
What did their manager Herve Renard tell the Saudi players at half-time?
“Stuff that made us want to eat the grass,” said midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki.
How Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina: Direct play and high line, crowd sow panic, microscope on Messi
Group E, Germany 1 Japan 2
Okay, so as upsets go it wasn’t quite as big as Saudi Arabia’s shock victory over Argentina the day before. But Japan looked completely out of the game in the opening half against Germany, with the European side’s 3-2-4-1 on the ball causing them multiple issues.
But Japan’s switch to 5-4-1 changed the entire game.
Japan’s players were tactically flexible and all of their substitutes executed their roles perfectly. Ritsu Doan levelled the score and another sub, Takuma Asano, rifled in a thumping strike from an acute angle to win a brilliant match.
Germany 1 – 2 Japan: Reputation counts for nothing at a World Cup and the tactical change that won the game
A game that exploded into life in the second half.
Portugal’s pressing in the opening half was solid, but they struggled to make many positive runs in behind Ghana’s defence and their attack subsequently looked in danger of flatlining.
But, after the break, they showed that their offensive transitions are still threatening. Ghana fought valiantly, however, and Inaki Williams almost wrote himself into World Cup folklore, only to slip at the most inopportune moment possible and scuff his late, late opportunity to equalise.
Portugal 3-2 Ghana: Ronaldo’s tears and cheers, Ghana’s caution and a moment of madness
Group F, Belgium 1 Canada 0
What a performance from Canada, who somehow lost this match despite dominating the midfield battle and remaining exceptionally organised off the ball, while playing brave, risk-taking football.
But Michy Batshuayi hit them on the break and, despite making a series of positive changes, Canada just couldn’t find the final ball they needed to score a leveller. Nevertheless, this was an intriguing, exciting game.
Group D, Australia 1 France 4
Elite football is food for the soul.
With the late switch to 4-2-3-1 for this tournament, France endured a tough first 25 minutes. After that, their possession game clicked.
They looked to find Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele in one-vs-one situations or use wing-play combinations to unlock Australia. France had a variety of options in wide areas and found it easy to carve out opportunities in the final third.
And a quick shout-out to Aurelien Tchouameni, the base of France’s midfield that supports everything they do going forward.
The opening 45 minutes were something of a struggle. Serbia’s organisation off the ball completely limited Brazil’s rich array of attacking talent. And, for that opening half at least, their rugged back three completely halted Neymar and co.
But after the break Brazil upped the tempo and their quality made the difference. First Richarlison scuffed home a shot to break the deadlock. And then he scored a goal of the tournament contender, lashing home an innovative, acrobatic volley.
Meet Richarlison – Brazil’s new World Cup star
Group B, USMNT 1 Wales 1
There only appeared to be one winner at half-time as the USMNT had dominated and were deservedly in front thanks to Tim Weah’s goal.
They had clear ideas on the ball and their work off the ball, with captain Tyler Adams at the centre of it, was just as impressive but Wales manager Rob Page’s decision to introduce striker Kieffer Moore from the bench changed things. He gave Wales an attacking outlet to bypass the pressing and bring Wales back into the game.
Gareth Bale’s penalty drew them level and Wales deserved their draw.
Too easy for Spain but this cleansed the eyes from the goalless draws. The regular Spanish game of dominating possession, winning the ball back quickly, fluid movement from front three and midfield.
Gavi and Pedri showing that even at their age, they can be two of the best midfielders in the world. Both offer two faces to the same coin, the difference in their profiles makes them a perfect fit. Pedri’s game revolves more around controlling the game through passes as Gavi’s intensity offers solutions in terms of pressing and off ball runs.
As for Costa Rica, they are the only side in World Cup history since 1966 that recorded zero shots in a game. Two games actually, this one and another against Brazil in 1990.
Was the quality of the opponent a factor? Yes, but this was a good display from England in possession. Starting with Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount in a 4-3-3 allowed for better passing combinations in the wide areas and off-ball movement inside Iran’s defensive block. They were good value for their 3-0 half-time lead.
Then, in the second half, Bellingham’s distribution from a deeper position showed that he can be used differently by Gareth Southgate.
When it comes to set pieces, England are still one of the top teams in the world.
A raucous Tunisia crowd upped the ante in this scoreless draw, and let’s be honest, it was needed.
The north African side were the better team in the first half as they targeted balls in behind the Denmark defence and Aissa Laidouni dominated the midfield.
Before they switched to 4-3-3, Denmark’s lack of threat from open play was alarming. Their corners were the only good thing going for them.
As goalless draws go, there was a good intensity to this game. South Korea focused on the wide areas, while Uruguay repeatedly attempted long diagonals towards Facundo Pellistri and Mathias Olivera.
But neither side was able to break the deadlock.
One very enjoyable part of this game was the performance of Rodrigo Bentancur, who maintained the outstanding form he has shown recently for Tottenham Hotspur by dominating the midfield.
Not the greatest of 0-0 from an entertainment perspective but Morocco’s organization off the ball was tactically interesting. Croatia could not progress the ball easily and Luka Modric constantly had to drop in to a right-back role to play balls in behind the defence.
Sofyan Amrabat’s performance caught the eye as he screened the Morocco midfield, dropped into defence and moved out to press. Brilliant off the ball.
Croatia’s only solution in possession came from Modric’s delivery in open play and on set plays.
Both teams need to improve in possession.
If it was not for Ecuador, this game would have been bottom. On day one, Jhegson Mendez dominated the midfield battle alongside Moises Caicedo as well as helping with Ecuador’s build-up.
Former West Ham United and Everton forward Enner Valencia scored twice while Angelo Preciado stood out at right-back.
The hosts were never a threat, unlike Ecuador at every set piece — one of their main strengths.
If you missed this game, well done.
Senegal’s midfield trio of Idrissa Gueye, Nampalys Mendy and Cheikhou Kouyate made it tough for Louis van Gaal’s side, as did his decision to pick Vincent Janssen as his starting forward.
Late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen alleviated the boredom. The nine minutes signalled for stoppage time should have been greeted by sighs.
There was precious little quality on display.
Cameroon’s runners off the ball in the opening half were far more threatening than Switzerland’s, but they found it impossible to open their opponents up after they fell a goal behind.
That goal, scored by Breel Embolo against the country of his birth, came from a cross from wide — which was Switzerland’s primary strategy and something they attempted repeatedly.
Guillermo Ochoa’s penalty save from Robert Lewandowski aside, this game had very little going for it.
If you took Hirving Lozano out of it, I wouldn’t watch it back even if you paid me.
Mexico tried to make things happen out wide but that was about it. And where was Poland’s possession game? Did they leave it in Warsaw?
(Design: John Bradford for The Athletic. Photos: Getty Images)