The final group games in the 2022 Qatar World Cup were played, and, as on the previous evenings, produced more than their fair share of drama and controversy.
Although Portugal had already qualified, any one of South Korea, Uruguay and Ghana could have joined them in the round of 16.
Portugal took an early lead against South Korea, but the Asian side equalised, and the match remained deadlocked deep into the second half.
The other game, a rematch of the controversial quarter-final from 2010, saw Ghana given a big chance to take the lead in the 21st minute, when Sergio Rochet in the Uruguay goal conceded a penalty. However, he turned from villain to hero when he saved Andre Ayew’s weak spot kick.
Uruguay took full advantage of their reprieve when Giorgian de Arrascaeta headed in from point blank range, and when he added a second soon afterwards his side were in complete control.
Midway through the second half Uruguay thought they should have had a penalty of their own when Darwin Núñez was felled in the box, but, after consulting his pitch-side monitor, the referee decided not to award it.
And the significance of that became apparent when South Korea mounted one last attack and Heung-min Son played in Hwang Hee-Chan to slide the ball past the goalkeeper.
That meant that South Korea and Uruguay had finished level on points but South Korea advanced having scored more goals.
Furious Uruguay players tried to confront the referee at the end of their game, believing that had the penalty been awarded, they would still be in the World Cup. One of them, Edinson Cavani, pushed the VAR monitor over in disgust.
Brazil lost in the World Cup finals to an African side for the first time in their history, when they were beaten by a late goal by Cameroon in their final group match. It also ended a run of 17 games without defeat stretching back to their loss in the Copa América final to Argentina in 2021.
There was mitigation. Already qualified, they chose the opportunity to rest most of their automatic starters and, on another night, might have won easily, based on the number of chances they created.
Cameroon, who needed to win and hope the result in the other match went their way, offered little in attack until deep into injury time when a pinpoint cross found the head of Vincent Aboubakar who steered it into the net.
He took off his shirt in celebration and was booked, before, almost apologetically the referee showed him a red card, because he had already been cautioned earlier in the game.
In the event, that result proved irrelevant because of what happened in the other game between Serbia and Switzerland. The back story to this match was the nationalist tensions between the Serbian fans and several of the Swiss players who have family roots in Albania and Kosovo, traditional enemies of Serbia.
One of them, Xherdan Shaqiri was booed by the Serbian fans before the match, and it was ironic that it was he who gave the Swiss the lead with a deflected shot. He celebrated by running towards the fans that had jeered him before turning round and pointing to the name on his back.
Serbia, though, levelled when Dusan Tadić crossed for Aleksandar Mitrović to head home, than then took the lead, Tadić again the supplier, Dusan Vlahović this time with the finish.
There was still time for one more goal before half-time, Breel Embolo poking home from close range to make the match all-square again.
Serbia began the second half looking for the goal they needed to ensure their passage, but, instead it was the Swiss who scored again, Breel Embolo finishing off a fine team move by setting up Remo Freuler to thump home a half-volley.
There were no further goals, with the Swiss showing excellent game management to keep their opponents at bay.
What happens next
Brazil will play South Korea in the round of 16 on Monday, whilst the following day Portugal will face Switzerland. They will join the other 12 teams already qualified from Groups A – F in the knock-out stages of the competition.
Group stages final thought
The group stages concluded with no team having won all their matches. This has happened on three previous occasions – in 1958, 1962, and 1994. All three of those times, Brazil went on to win the World Cup. An omen?
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