The group stages have been completed and we know the teams which will battle it out in the last 16 for the chance of playing in a World Cup quarter finals. The group stages can often be a drab affair but this time, in what is being called one of the most exciting World Cup’s ever that was not the case. It isn’t often that someone will applaud FIFA for something but you are about to see it happen, I applaud FIFA for changing the group decider from head to head to goal difference, this allowed for more meaningful games and forced teams to come out of their shell knowing that goals were the aim of the game. Well done FIFA! Now just fix the mess that is the 2022 World Cup and everyone will be pleased.
Anyway on to the group stage review, this will be split into each group A-H. I don’t think I need to run down positions but will rather talk about how each team did.
On paper this group was a walk in the park for Brazil, and it turned out to be pretty much that. Brazil in my opinion didn’t look very impressive at all, they sort of spluttered through their games, not looking great in attack and looking even worse in defence. If not for Neymar and some favourable decisions you wonder if they would even have qualified from the group. If this was any other team than Brazil playing in Brazil you wouldn’t give them a chance of making it far in this tournament, yet they are still the favourites…go figure.
I thought Mexico would go through the group despite their poor qualifying campaign. They showed a lot of character in their three matches (against Cameroon in particular) but I can’t see them being good enough to trouble the Dutch. They are too weak at set pieces and the Dutch employ three centre backs, it is the recipe for a disaster.
You have to feel sorry for Croatia, they were done by shocking officiating in the Brazil game but to be honest they weren’t really good enough to go through in my opinion. Yes they were very impressive against Cameroon but Cameroon were very poor and played most of the game with ten men. They have talented players; they have to learn how to put that together into a winning formula.
Cameroon were the worst team in the competition and were an embarrassment to football. If you’re wondering why African teams don’t seem to have progressed over the last twenty years, then just look at this Cameroon.
Holland were the outstanding team of the group stage, not only did they win all their games but they looked impressive in doing so. I had Holland going through second to Spain, so I was incredibly surprised when Holland dismantled Spain with ease. Holland look great going forward and both RVP and Robben look like they are on lightning form, the problem with them is that they look very leaky defensively. Luckily for Holland they meet Mexico in the last 16 and then the winner of Costa Rica and Greece in the quarters. Holland are almost certainly going to make the semis, and once you’re there who knows what will happen, but if Robben and RVP can keep their good form up then there is no reason why Holland can’t go all the way.
Chile have looked pretty impressive so far in the tournament, they play with high intensity and high speed which gives teams a lot of problems. I have two issues with Chile going deep in the tournament; firstly that I think to keep up the high intensity performances deep into the tournament would be a big ask and they have Brazil in the last 16. For me the game against Brazil is a toss-up, I could see either team winning it, personally I would give the edge to Chile because I have been more impressed with them so far in the tournament but by no means is it a given.
What can you say about Spain? I think they had at worst the second best squad in this World Cup but went out at the earliest possible stage. A very disappointing World Cup where they put in two very lacklustre displays when it really mattered. Pitiful.
Although Australia didn’t get any points I felt that they actually did quite well, they were unlucky against Chile and gave Holland a really good game. Australia can be proud of the effort they put into this tournament. They are a great example of how smaller nations should just give it a go and going out with dignity.
Colombia have been very impressive so far, to the extent that I would say that they look the best South American team. They look fast, not too bad in defence and deadly in front of goal, the perfect formula to go deep in the tournament. I think they will best the Suarezless Uruguay to make the quarters, beyond there it becomes harder to predict because you would imagine that both Chile and Brazil will give them a tough game in the quarters. A semi-final berth is available if they take their chances.
Greece managed to make the knockout stages despite the fact that they are dross. The worst thing (or best if you’re Greek) is that they play the equally unfancied Costa Rica. I’m sure Greece will try and play for 0-0’s the rest of the tournament in the hope that they can just go through on penalties, if there’s one team which can do it then it’s the Greeks.
The Ivory Coast golden generation managed to make it to three World Cup’s and despite having a good team, each time managed to not make it any further. This was their best chance and after a mediocre display against Japan and Colombia and then being outplayed by the Greeks they only needed to play out stoppage time to make it through. They bottled it under the pressure and once again find themselves going home early, so good for a golden generation…
Japan were very poor in this World Cup, they didn’t look settled at all. Japan played well in the first half of the Ivory Coast game but it was downhill from there on. I was surprised with how poor they were because they do have a number of good players, but these things happen.
I can’t believe that I am writing that Costa Rica won a group which included Italy, England and Uruguay; it is an incredible feat for such a small and unfancied nation. The best thing about Costa Rica winning Group D is that they deservedly won it; they went out and beat the big nations in a convincing manner. Their reward for winning the group is a last 16 tie against Greece, meaning that there is a great chance for a quarter final appearance, I doubt they’ll go further but then again I didn’t think they’d make it out of the groups…so…Costa Rica for the World Cup!
Oh Uruguay, oh Uruguay, oh Uruguay…They were the bad guys of the last World Cup as they robbed Ghana of a semi-final appearance and now they are the bad guys again as Luis Suarez got to biting again (once, twice, three times a biter…). Nobody is going to remember what Uruguay do in this World Cup now, and that is rather sad. It is a shame for the other players because their preparation for the match against Colombia has been atrocious; I doubt they’ll get through.
I’m surprised with how poor Italy were in this World Cup, I thought that they had a really good chance of going far, instead they went out at the first hurdle. After a good result against England it was as if Italy just assumed that they were going through and took their foot off the pedal; an unexpected defeat to Costa Rica and a controversial one to Uruguay and their tournament was over. With the record the Italian’s have in the World Cup, I’m sure they will be really disappointed with how things went.
England were very poor in this World Cup going out at the earliest possible stage. This has not been a good generation of English players and although I expected them to go out at the group stage I hadn’t expected them to finish bottom and be quite pleased with a draw against the so called whipping boys Costa Rica, how things change…
I thought France had a good squad for the World Cup and expected them to win the group but I was surprised at how dominant they looked in doing so. They look deadly going forward and pretty solid defensively, the perfect mixture to go far in the tournament. France have Nigeria in the last 16 which based on their performances so far should be a fairly easy victory. The next question is whether or not they will be able to go beyond the quarters where they are likely to face Germany, it will be a tough ask.
I wasn’t impressed with Swtizerland, after all they are meant to be the 6th best team in the World. They got taken to school by the French and looked poor against Ecuador, I don’t see them getting past Argentina.
Ecuador were the only South American team to not make the last 16 and that should come as no shock because they aren’t very good. They are a physically built team but they don’t have very much technical ability, you wonder how they even made it to the finals.
Honduras were a bit of an embarrassment, totally out of their depth they just went about kicking people.
I thought Argentina would have been better than what I’ve seen so far, you look at the attacking talent they have yet so far haven’t been that good going forward. Argentina also have an over reliance on Messi who so far has dragged them through three games. We all knew they wouldn’t be good defensively; the question is can Messi keep his form up to an adequate level to get them through each stage. Unluckily for Argentina it looks like Aguero may miss a large chunk of the tournament after once again injuring himself, which is a big blow because he’s a good player. Luckily for Argentina though is that they play the Swiss in the last 16 and probably Belgium in the quarters, both of whom they should beat.
I had Nigeria finishing 2nd in this group and so they did. They look pretty good defensively and have pace and power going forward, they looked good against Argentina and Bosnia (less so against Iran) and I could see them giving France problems, but I don’t see them going through.
Bosnia competed in their first World Cup and you could tell based on how naïve their first two performances were. I thought they did fairly well but will be disappointed with not making it through such a weak group. It is good experience for the nation and they likely won’t be so star struck the next major tournament they play in.
Iran can be summed up simply by one game, and that is the game against Bosnia. They need to win this game to get through to the next round, yet they still managed to defend like a 0-0 draw was the result they required. Iran were totally out of their depth and for the good of the tournament they won’t be playing any more games.
Germany won their group at a canter and look good in doing so. The only wrinkle of doubt you could have about Germany is that they are playing four centre backs along their defensive line, this could come back to haunt them in games which they play teams with lots of pace (just look at how Ghana played against them). Germany look like a competent team who could go very far in this World Cup, they paly Algeria in the last 16 and I doubt they will go out. The question is then whether or not they can beat (likely to be) France in the quarters, which will be a tough match for my pre-tournament pick.
You have to applaud the USA; they qualified from a group which pre-tournament they were considered to be the worst of. There are no big names in the American but they play greater than the sum of their parts. They have a last 16 tie against Belgium which I think they will struggle with, but to making through the groups is a major achievement for the USA.
You have to feel sorry for Cristiano Ronaldo, not only was he not fully fit for this World Cup he also has a bunch of mediocre teammates. He isn’t helped by Pepe being an idiot and getting himself sent off against Germany, pretty much making their last game meaningless. A fully fit Ronaldo and Portugal probably make it through but that’s not what happened.
If one African team embarrassing themselves with a bonus scandal wasn’t bad enough here’s another African team with a bonus scandal. Ghana took the role of France this year as they sent two players home earlier (the rest of the team soon followed) after the Ghanaian government had to send a plane with shit loads of cash so as the players would play the last game. This is the World Cup, this isn’t about money, these kinds of things are why nobody takes the African teams seriously and until they realise that they will never truly challenge for the title.
Belgium won all three of their games but in doing so didn’t look particularly convincing. Belgium were in a very easy group and still needed late goals in all three games to win them. This is a young talented squad which will be hard to beat and are capable of beating any team in the competition but I think it will be a big ask. I think they will beat the USA and make the quarters where they will likely play Argentina which will be a big ask.
Incredibly Algeria are the team which finished second in this group. To be fair to them they did really well and deserved to go through, I just can’t see them going any further because better teams will take them to the cleaners and it just happens the German’s love doing the washing.
I came across a fact that Russia as a country (not USSR) had never made it through the World Cup group stages, I found this astounding but it looks like that is being extended. Russia were awful, they looked totally out of their depth and couldn’t even manage to beat South Korea or Algeria, two teams which they should’ve been able to beat easily. Very poor performance from the Russians.
I didn’t expect much from South Korea and we didn’t get much either, so there you go. The performance against Algeria was particularly poor, back to the drawing board.
Here’s how I expect the quarter finals to line up:
Chile v Colombia
France v Germany
Holland v Greece
Argentina v Belgium
The best game of the last 16 is undoubtedly Brazil v Chile which I think should be an absolute belter. I also think that Colombia v Uruguay should be a good contest as well.
As far as my predictions go I was 10/16 for which teams would finish 1st and 2nd. Naturally the biggest shocks of the group stage were Spain going out, Costa Rica winning their group and Luis Suarez biting Chiellini…oh wait that wasn’t a shock, more like a regular occurrence…
Anyway what have you thought of the World Cup so far? Do I really need to ask? It’s been awesome hasn’t it, so many goals and teams actually trying to play attacking football, if only every tournament was played in this style.