FIFA World Cup 2018 up for grabs after dramatic group stage

30 June 2018, 10:07 AM
FIFA World Cup 2018 up for grabs after dramatic group stage (Photo: Twitter)
FIFA World Cup 2018 up for grabs after dramatic group stage (Photo: Twitter)

In the last 50 years of FIFA World Cup history, only six countries have lifted the World Cup. But following a thrilling group stage in Russia, the chances of a fresh name at least making it to the final have increased.

The group stage only featured one goalless draw and a record number of penalties. But Germany’s shocking exit, their earliest in 80 years, stole all the spotlight.

So after the group stage drama, who is expected to go all the way in the knockout rounds?

Among the half-dozen winners of FIFA’s flagship event since 1970, Germany have been already knocked out, while Italy didn’t qualify, and France-Argentina face each other next in the round of 16, so only one will make the quarter-finals.

That leaves Spain and Brazil, with the latter fresh from topping their group at a 10th consecutive World Cup even if they have been slow-burners so far.

“This team created high expectations because of what we did in qualifying and in friendlies. But now we are at a World Cup, it’s a new cycle, a new format,” said coach Tite in an attempt to keep feet on the ground.

Brazil’s star man Neymar has not looked in his best of forms, but the five-time world cup winners have plenty of match-winners at their helm, and Philippe Coutinho is the best example of that. Even the Brazilian back-line have looked solid.

The major focus in the last-16 tie on paper is France against Argentina, two teams who have laboured through the group stage – in Argentina’s case they pounced on their luck to advance to the knockouts.

“We didn’t start in the best way. We got ourselves into a real mess,” admitted Javier Mascherano, while France coach Didier Deschamps still seems incapable of getting the very best out of his talented squad.

Argentinians might be happier than anyone at Germany’s elimination, having been knocked out by them at each of the last three World Cups.

But they could find themselves on a collision course with Brazil in the semi-finals, as they lie on a side of the draw that features countries totalling 10 World Cup wins between them.

European champions Portugal are lurking in too, and if Cristiano Ronaldo-led side defeat Uruguay, then he might find himself against his long-time rival Lionel Messi and Argentina in the quarterfinals.

But Uruguay are the only team not to have conceded a single goal and recent World Cup match-ups show that the side with better defence snatch the win most of the time, with Spain letting in just two goals in their memorable 2010 campaign.

Along with England, Spain are the only past winners in the other side of the pool and they face Russia in Moscow on Sunday, with question marks on their back line, and the form of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.

“Obviously we can improve. Five goals in three matches is not the way forward,” said coach Fernando Hierro of their defensive record, as it remains to be seen if Spain were right to sack Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.

Croatia are possible quarter-final opponents for Spain. They won all three group games, and a run to the semis like in 1998 is not beyond them, although coach Zlatko Dalic had a warning for his team before facing Denmark.

“It’s all great for the history books in Croatia but if we don’t win against Denmark, when someone asks you what you did, what can you say? Nothing,” Dalic said.

Meanwhile, England might feel a route to the semis is easily possible, thanks to Thursday's defeat in the hands of Belgium.

But Three Lions' opponents Colombia are not to be taken for granted in what manager Gareth Southgate has called England's 'biggest match in a decade'. 

And there are Sweden, who have been responsible for ending the World Cup hopes of Netherlands, Italy and now Germany from this FIFA World Cup.

In all, there are 10 European teams in the last 16, and only one of the 10 past European World Cups have been lifted by a side from another continent. That was Brazil, in 1958.

First Published: Friday, June 29, 2018 05:46 PM
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