The making of an upset
An upset stitches together thousands of individual and team moments, solid strategy and immaculate execution. Sometimes, the case may be that of a smash-and-grab. Other times, an unfancied team may dominate from start to finish. But the absolute power that governs such results is unwavering self-belief.
Of course, as has often been the case when a David meets a Goliath, you can do everything perfectly and still fall short.
That was evidenced when Canada, playing their first World Cup in 36 years, took on Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world. The Canadians attacked at will, racking up a 22 shots. The aggressors had earned an early penalty and had 17 shots from inside the box. Seven veered off target, three shots, and the penalty, were saved and the rest were blocked.
Such was the performance that Canada's fans drowned out their Belgian counterparts with chants of "this is our house".
But in the end, with one hopeful long ball over the top to Michy Batshuayi, Belgium had bulged the net and stolen the game 1-0. For an underdog, it was lesson one: execution is key.
We knew how good Germany are and that we would have to be persistent in defence and patient for opportune moments. We were well prepared. At half-time, I told them we might be behind but we need to be tough until the last minute, the last whistle. We could have conceded a few more, but in the end we scored more than them. Japan Coach Moriyasu, who was on the pitch as a player during one of Japan's most infamous results, when a 91st-minute goal had cost them three points and qualification to the 1994 World Cup. The loss has since then been known as the 'Agony of Doha'
That would also hold true in Belgium's next match, when the upset did arrive. Belgium lost 2-0, outmaneuvered completely in the midfield battle by the wiles of Morocco manager Walid Regragui and his players' unwavering dedication to the plan.
But there is no better example of execution coupled with self-belief than what was on offer during Saudi Arabia's sensational 2-1 win over Argentina to open their World Cup campaign.
Not only did manager Herve Renard keep faith in the high defensive line and pressing triggers that saw Saudi Arabia flourish in the AFC qualifiers, he did so against a team far superior to them technically.
They then doubled down, showing the audacity to continue doing so even after going ahead. Other teams may have reverted to an uber-defensive low block, but the Saudis trusted they could execute their Plan A better than an unfamiliar Plan B.
Crucially, they also made the most of the two chances that came their way as Saleh Al-Shehri delivered a clinical finish before Salem Al-Dawsari dared to score one of the best goals of the 2022 World Cup to snatch the lead.
Burgeoning self-belief was reflected as well, not least when Ali Al-Bulayhi squared up to Messi with more than half an hour left till the end of the game to deliver a simple message: "You will not win".
But as well-disciplined as the defensive line was, Argentina could have put the game to bed inside 45 minutes had their players held their runs just the slightest bit or if they had picked better passes. In this particular encounter, fortune favoured the brave.
In a scenario that was quite the opposite, luck allied itself with a besieged Japan team as they began their campaign with a 2-1 win against four-time world champions Germany.
For a long time, it had appeared destiny was not with the Blue Samurai. In the 73rd minute, down one goal, Japanese fans felt they had missed their golden opportunity when Hiroki Sakai had somehow missed from five yards out.
Germany had dominated most of the match, and that was reflected in the numbers. They took 25 shots, forcing Shuichi Gonda into eight saves in total and the Japanese backline into making 38 clearances.
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu had used all five of his substitutes to ensure energy levels would stay up and, emboldened by their chance, Japan would go on to net two goals in the next 10 minutes.
Who is to say that was not their plan all along?
"We knew how good Germany are and that we would have to be persistent in defence and patient for opportune moments. We were well prepared. At half-time, I told them we might be behind but we need to be tough until the last minute, the last whistle. We could have conceded a few more, but in the end we scored more than them," Moriyasu said.
Moriyasu was on the pitch as a player during one of Japan's most infamous results, when a 91st-minute goal had cost them three points and qualification to the 1994 World Cup. The loss has since then been known as the 'Agony of Doha'.
So it made sense when, after recording a famous win in the same city, he wanted to make a point. He stressed that the ability to execute such a risky game plan, which allowed Germany to play to a lot of their own strengths, spoke to the growing strengths of nations outside traditional powerhouses, especially those in Asia that were still learning.
"We are reaching that global standard," Moriyasu said. "We saw Saudi Arabia's surprise win and we have again shown how strong Asian football's standard is. I believe it's a historic moment, a historic victory."
"If I think about the development of Japanese football, how we have built up from modest beginnings, then yes, Germany has contributed. So many great players and coaches have contributed and helped us. Japan won today but we are going to continue to learn from Germany and the rest of the world."
If nothing else, these teams have delivered a resounding message to the rest of the world by demonstrating that dedication, belief and effort is enough to foster technical development in players and coaches.