2018 FIFA World Cup Group Stage Review

Sometimes after making predictions you look amazing, sometimes you look like an idiot and this Russian World Cup is certainly making me look pretty silly. So how have the group stages went so far and how does that change the make up of the knockouts and how the tournament could progress?

Group A

I had Uruguay and Russia going through in this group and in that order, so we’re off to an amazing start for my predictions coming true! Uruguay are one of the very few teams who managed to win all three of their group games and looked solid if not spectacular in doing so. Russia on the other hand were fantastic in their first two games before being humped by Uruguay in the third.

I have to say that I find it really hard to judge how good either of these teams are due to the fact that their opposition in the group were piss poor (both Egypt and Saudi were completely out their depth for this level and both were embarrassingly poor). Russia I about where I thought they’d be but I would say that Uruguay look much better than I was expecting. Russia go on to play Spain and Uruguay got Portugal, both teams picking up a tough tie for the last 16.

Group B

I also went 2/2 for group B, with Spain winning and Portugal coming second. The two teams shared what is probably going to be the best game of the tournament when they drew 3-3, it was great, however that can’t be said about how they played the rest of the way. Spain won the group but god knows how, they struggled to break down Iran (as did everyone to be fair, they are a dire team) and then got highly fortunate against Morocco in what can only be called a sluggish performance. Portugal also struggled against Morocco (who looked like the best African team in the tournament but were unlucky with their draw and couldn’t convert chances) and then had one of those games against Iran.

In reality Portugal should have won the group but due to an abysmal refereeing performance they only managed a draw against Iran. As much as I think VAR has been used fairly well in this tournament (not perfectly by any means) this game is an example of regardless of how much help is available, a shit referee will still be a shit referee. Missing the stone wall penalty on Ronaldo, looking at the Ronaldo yellow as if it was a red when it was never in a million years and then worst of all gifting Iran a penalty which can only be described as farcical. A complete and utter shit show.

Spain will be very happy with how the draw has fallen, they no longer have Argentina or Germany in their side of the draw and will be strong favourites to make the final. Portugal will go on and play a Uruguay team which is coming off of a strong group performance and look tough to beat. Spain looked like they lacked sharpness, however with the generosity of their draw they will have time to settle into the tournament, Portugal are where I expected them to be but don’t have that luxury.

Group C

Speaking of shit shows, here comes group C! I also got the result of this group spot on when I made my predictions (6/6!!!). France in my opinion have the best squad in the tournament, what they don’t have is the ability to turn that into good performances and that is on the manager. All the pieces are there for this team to steam roll this World Cup, yet they’re struggling to beat three sides who should be easily taken care of. France have been a real disappointment, yet have got away with it because they were in such a weak group.

Denmark also snuck through due to the weakness of the group, the difference being that this is what you’d expect from Denmark. Not that it ultimately mattered but the two qualified teams did the classic play for a draw and we’ll both be happy. Peru played some nice stuff but similarly to Morocco couldn’t put it away, felt like the moment was too big for them. Australia are just shit.

Group D

And here is where things start to go a little bit bonkers. I had Croatia and Argentina going through but the other way around but despite getting the right two teams, it was so close to being very wrong. Croatia have very much showed up to this tournament, they are one of the very few teams who actually looked really good in their group. They look strong at the back, they can dictate play and they aren’t struggling to score. Croatia have also ended up on the good side of the draw in a match with Denmark in the last 16, I think they’d be pleased with that. I thought they may push Argentina for the group, I didn’t envision them winning all three games and pumping the Argentines in the second game.

The real talking point in this group is of course Argentina who somehow managed to go through despite not being the second best team in their group. So many teams have just went out of the World Cup despite doing well, yet Argentina sneak through after being abysmal, it happens. I thought Argentina didn’t have a chance of winning the tournament and I think that has been proven correct, they’re terrible but probably worse than that is that there is chaos in the camp. Messi hasn’t shown up at all and without him they are a below average team, they can’t defend, they don’t have a good keeper, their midfield is lightweight and their strikers are misfiring, a recipe for disaster. It’s weird to watch a great footballing nation like Argentina needing a goal to get out the group and looking so incapable of doing so. Yes they got a late Rojo screamer to get them through but they didn’t deserve it and I get the feeling it will be the highlight of their tournament.

Nigeria and Iceland both blew amazing chances to make the last 16, Nigeria because they played for a draw against a terrible Argentina side and Iceland because they couldn’t beat a much changed Croatia side. Both will be looking at this tournament with regret because this was a once in a lifetime chance for the players, in particular for Iceland.

Group E

Another messy group as Brazil and Switzerland progressed (I had Brazil and Serbia). Brazil look very average so far, they got through on seven points but it really doesn’t tell the whole story. They looked lost against Switzerland and Costa Rica as they drew and got a last minute winner respectively. In the game against Serbia they looked scared of losing and were thoroughly outplayed by Serbia before going up 2-0. I say it often but if this team was not called Brazil then I don’t think people would really be tipping them. Coutinho has shown up in a big way as he fills the void which Neymar has left due to him being anonymous. Brazil are about where I expected them to be, ok but not great, still one of the better side in the tournament.

I was surprised that Switzerland got through, I really felt that Serbia would do it, however to be fair to Switzerland they did pretty well. It’s hard to judge how this game would have went if not for some questionable refereeing in the game between the two (Switzerland drew with Costa Rica in a game that they probably win if they need to) but it will be a moment of contention. Serbia were denied a stonewall penalty and then naively going for the winner with full gusto got caught on the counter and lost the game. The Xhaka-Shaqiri celebrations should really have been punished properly by FIFA as they were clearly pre-planned and were in their nature political, makes you wonder what a less popular cause would have received. Switzerland have done well and have ended up drawing Sweden, which I’m sure they’re ecstatic about.

Group F

So far in my predictions I’ve been ok, I have 7/10 qualifying positions correct and 9/10 correct for who the teams to progress would be…and then the disaster begins. It isn’t often you start a conversation about a group talking about the team who finished 4th, yet here we are…Germany… Sadly Germany were my pick for the World Cup, I felt uneasy about it due to the difficulty of retaining the title, however I brushed those doubts aside and went for it…and here we are… Even if I didn’t think Germany would win the tournament, it was inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t at the very least make the quarters, in reality I’d have been shocked if they hadn’t made the semis, for them to go out in the groups is so hard to even imagine.

I think the result against Korea is irrelevant, you can’t criticise a team for throwing attackers on to try and get the winner, however the game itself and the Mexico game are the very reason why Germany deserve tons of criticism, it was an incredibly lacklustre showing. I don’t know if it was a little bit of arrogance, whether the preparation wasn’t ideal (distraction with dictators) or if the responsibility was just too much for the players in the squad, all I know is that something clearly wasn’t right.

It’s interesting to compare the World Cup winning side to this one as it doesn’t feel like that much has changed in terms of the quality of the players. The one thing that has changed between the two squads is a drop in experience and leadership. The loss of Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose, Howedes, Mertesacker and Podolski has turned out to be critical for Germany, it has then been hurt further by the fact that players like Muller, Neuer, Ozil, Khedira and Boateng haven’t shown up at all. For so long Germany had this tradition of taking players who weren’t doing anything at club level and having them show up for the national side, this year it didn’t happen at all and it ended in absolute disaster.

Sweden were the unlikely winners of the group (which I hadn’t predicted) with Mexico coming in second (which I had predicted). Mexico looked good in their first two games and then flopped horribly in the game against Sweden. Sweden bookended good results and looked tough against Germany, they’re a strong team who will be hard to break down. Mexico are harder to judge, they beat what turned out to be an uninspired German side and a poor Korean side, however they got thumped by a Sweden side which hurt them on the counter. Both teams feel like they could cause problems for teams where they can sit deep and hit them on the counter.

Group G

I had Belgium winning this group and England taking second and that’s how it turned out. This was an incredibly weird group, the only one where both teams were through after two games and all the talk was about who could avoid winning the group. It’s a fair point, with Germany going out it opened up that side of the draw and with Colombia and Poland floundering it made it look even more so. Yet for me once Colombia won their group the argument was no longer overly valid. Playing Japan and Brazil to make the semis is just as hard as playing Colombia and Switzerland/Sweden, so the advantage in my opinion disappeared.

Belgium are one of the few teams who have looked good in this World Cup so far. They’re the competitions top scorers and have dispatched their three opponents with style. They have goals all over the place and a manager who is willing to release the shackles. The problem Belgium will find is that defensively they’re still a little weak and against better sides they will be punished. Belgium look strong though and I have to say I was impressed with their second string against England, it made me think that they do have the strength and depth to potentially go all the way.

England were going to win the World Cup after beating the titans of Tunisia and the perennial Panama. In reality we’re talking about an England team who have scored one deliberate open play goal and needed a last minute winner to beat a bad Tunisian team. When you look at England’s halves in this World Cup, they’ve really only played well for two of them (first half against Panama and Tunisia) and their poor performances are being shadowed by this. England look weak in defence and their midfield is non existent, it doesn’t matter how well Kane plays they will be found out by a better side. What is lucky for England is that they’ve fallen on a very favourable side of the draw and that could give them a passage to the semis.

Group H

Colombia won the final group (which I had) and Japan came second (I had Poland). Colombia got off to a bad start, however I don’t think you can read too much into losing to Japan after playing almost the entire match with ten men. With that in mind I think Colombia have been looking really good in this World Cup, they like all sides on this quarter will fancy their chances of making the semis with Germany going out. What will hurt Colombia is that James went off against Japan and they seem to have a mental block when it comes to success.

Japan have made it through and I don’t really think they deserve it. In my opinion Japan are the fourth best team in this group based on performances. I don’t think you can take much from them beating Colombia because if you can’t beat ten men then there’s something seriously wrong, I thought Senegal were the better side and they were lucky to draw and taking the chance of rotating players when you aren’t guaranteed to go through is plain silly. I feel sorry for Senegal because going out on yellow cards is harsh and I felt they deserved it more than Japan. Poland never showed up when it mattered.

I got 11/16 positions correct in my predictions, with 13/16 of teams to progress correct. Not too bad really, the only big shock against my predictions was Germany making an arse of it and I doubt anyone really saw that coming.

What I did think was interesting is that the quality of Asian and African teams was really poor this year, with only Japan progressing. I think what I find concerning is that they are increasing the size of the World Cup for 2026 and it is primarily going to be padded with teams from outside Europe and South America and clearly the quality outside of footballs heartland just isn’t there at all.

Last 16 Predictions

Portugal v Uruguay

Should be a really interesting game, Uruguay have been better than I thought and will be hard to break down and Portugal know how to win and are looking to hit on the counter. On paper it looks like a great game with lots of top players involved, I expect it will be a low scoring affair and highly cagey. I’m still inclined to think that Portugal will progress but I’m not as convinced as I was pre-tournament.

France v Argentina

On paper a really juicy tie, in reality it is two teams who haven’t shown up as of yet. France have by far the better side, however if they put in a performance like they’ve done in the groups so far then they’re asking for trouble. Argentina aren’t good, they really shouldn’t win but if Messi does show up and it’s a big if based on what’s been seen then you just don’t know. If both teams show up France win, if neither show up then France win, if France don’t show up and Argentina do then it’s a different story.

Brazil v Mexico

Brazil don’t look that good but they should be too good for Mexico. The positive for Mexico is that they will be able to sit deep and hit Brazil’s weak defence on the break. Brazil have looked nervous in this competition so far and Mexico could take advantage of this, despite that I still think Brazil will go through.

Belgium v Japan

Belgium should win this game fairly easily.

Russia v Spain

I don’t think this game needs much spiel, Spain will win this easily.

Croatia v Denmark

Can’t see anything but a Croatia win, I imagine Denmark will play stuffy but I think Croatia have too much class to not get the win.

Sweden v Switzerland

A pretty tight match between two teams who I didn’t have making it this far. Again I don’t see it as being a great match but I would say Sweden are more likely to edge it.

Colombia v England

A good game which should be tight but I still think Colombia are the better side. England are coming in with a lot of swagger and I feel there is a real underestimation of Colombia, who themselves are coming into good form. England defensively are weak and will be susceptible to Colombia’s pace on the counter, it should be a good match up.

Seeing as my pick for the World Cup is already out, I guess I better pick a new team…hm…Spain. I know there’s been a lot of mess with Spain but their side of the draw is a reasonable passage to the final. Only Croatia are really up to the standard on their side of the draw and I feel with Spain’s experience and control they will be too much for them. I think the other side of the draw will still be France but I think Belgium have out in a strong showing that they could cause the upset (I think they’ll beat Brazil in the quarters).

If you’re interested then why not check out my pre-tournament preview for Russia 2018.

So leave a comment about what you thought about the group stages and how you think the last 16 is going to go.

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Author: bm23reviews

I watch TV and sports then write stuff.....that's about it.

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