Sports Monks

FIFA World Cup 2018: 5 things that we have learnt from the World Cup so far

The World Cup has come to an interesting stage, where the qualification of certain teams to the Round of 16 has been finalized already. However, teams like Portugal, Spain and Argentina will have to rely on their final group stage results to secure a confirmed place in the next round of the competition.

This has been an interesting event so far, with plenty of surprises coming our way with ten days into the tournament. Certain expected, and some unexpected occurrences have molded this World Cup and given it an entirely exciting dimension too.

Ahead of the commencement of third round of matches, here, I discuss 5 glaring things that we have witnessed in the tournament until now.

#5 Africa and its volatile countries

The African nations in this World Cup have been fascinating to some extent, as teams like Nigeria and Senegal have displayed some proper, high-tempo football to fancy their chances of progressing further in the tournament. Senegal dismantled Poland, and then played out an exciting draw with Japan to place them firmly in contention of further qualification.

Sadio Mane, along with Kalidou Koulibaly have paved the way for other players in the team, and they dominated their games to a huge extent. Morocco were unfortunate in some regard, failing to finish off chances despite enthralling the fans and providing somewhat of a scare to the likes of Iran and Portugal.

 However, they were battered by a single goal on both the occasions, and Morocco would certainly be disappointed for not putting chances to bed when they had the opportunities to do so. Tunisia, on the other hand, too managed to keep England at bay till the injury time in their first match this time.

A late winner from Harry Kane crushed their hopes of walking out with a point from the game. However, they struggled to hold fort against Belgium as Roberto Martinez’s team outsmarted their seemingly inferior opponents by scoring five goals in the match. Moreover, Nigeria thumped past Iceland and played some fast-paced football along the way.

Unfortunately, Egypt had to bow out after consecutive losses against the likes of Russia and Uruguay, with the team suffering due to talisman Mohammed Salah’s absence in the first game.

Though Nigeria and Senegal have impressed the fans and the pundits alike, there remains an obvious doubt over their longevity and temperament to defy the odds in the knockout stage of the competition. For now, the Africans have proven to be very interesting prospects in the world stage.

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#4 England lead the way for dark horses

England went into the tournament with minimal expectations, but an uncharacteristic positivity and drive in the squad. Gareth Southgate has managed to ere out and unleash the potential of the squad so far, as they have booked a place in the next round by defeating the likes of Tunisia and Panama.

While Tunisia made it difficult for them to snatch a victory, England cruised past Panama in incredible fashion by leading with five goals in halftime itself. Belgium, being in the same group, have also demolished the other two teams, and both England and Martinez’s men have confirmed their place in the next round.

 Whenever you talk about the most elite teams from the tournament, England and Belgium are always considered below from the bracket of countries like Brazil, Germany and Argentina. Germany were thrashed and outclassed by Mexico, whilst against Sweden, they required Toni Kroos’ last minute free kick to meekly get over the finishing line.

Mexico have been brilliant so far, with their counter-attacking style of football attracting fans and points towards them. Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez have provided the fans with some scintillating football, ensuring that they get early advantages in the games too.

After all, who would have expected Mexico to lead a group containing Germany in it? Meanwhile, Japan took advantage of Carlos Sanchez’s moment of madness as they defeated Colombia, and then drew with Senegal to sit atop of their group too.

If this ain’t the World Cup for the dark horses, then what is?

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#3 The uncanny race for the Golden Boot

While James Rodriguez had strolled away with the Golden Boot last time, scoring six goals in the process, the race for the Golden Boot was supposed to be much more mainstream this time around. Lionel Messi was coming off an incredible individual campaign and was expected to propel Argentina to further glory, something that we will talk about in the next slide.

 Neymar, too, has found it hard to showcase his flamboyance and deceptiveness completely, though he managed to steal a late goal against Costa Rica, well that’s about it for him right now. Two Premier League strikers in Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane lead the current race.

Both players have become vital cogs of their team’s setup and Kane currently has five goals compared to Lukaku’s four. Moreover, impressively, Kane managed to score a hat-trick against Panama too, which puts him a goal ahead of the likes of Lukaku and well a certain unworldly genius from Portugal.

Cristiano has been excellent for his national team, scoring all the four goals that they have scored in two matches including a tournament-defining performance against Spain. Denis Cheryshev and Diego Costa have scored three apiece, challenging for the top spot in the scorers’ list too.

While Messi and Neymar have been unable to find their groove, the flight for the Golden Boot has already taken off.

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#2 Lionel Messi and his tryst with national success

For years now, one could hardly argue that Lionel Messi has individually defied odds and played extraordinarily well for FC Barcelona on a consistent basis. The apprehensions regarding his underperformance for the national team has always been there, but never more than what it is now.

Two games into the tournament, we are yet to see him put the ball at the back of the net, and have witnessed a whole lot of frustration, despair and a sense of helplessness in his demeanor already. Messi was diligently man-marked by the Iceland players, but tell me when wasn’t he man-marked earlier?

 He tried to drop deep to affect the play, even taking long shots which is quite uncharacteristic from his perspective. He even missed a spot-kick (for the nth time ugh), which eventually overshadowed the fact that the team still managed to churn out a victory against their opponents.

However, in the game against Croatia, it was a very disgusting and forgettable performance from a man who defines the word ‘consistency’. Messi’s lethargic off-the ball movement and the inability to drop deep to influence the play saw Argentina getting battered by the Luka Modric-led team.

At one instance, Ivan Raktic showed immaculate passing sense and movement to get into the box to register his third goal, while Messi stood five yards behind him, hands on waist and hoping for a possible offside call.

If Argentina were to propel over Nigeria, the team, more importantly, Messi needs to buckle up or pack their bags for home.

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#1 Is it Cristiano Ronaldo’s time?

Portugal are never talked about as favorites in any multi-nation tournament, but Cristiano has brought them to a point where people can take them seriously in contention for the top honors. In the Iberian derby, Ronaldo single-handedly ensured that Portugal took away a point from the toughest match in the group stages.

 Cristiano was literally on fire, scoring a sumptuous, free kick in the dying embers of the game and further justifying his ‘G.O.A.T’ status. He has put ahead the team with a thumping penalty earlier, and managed to put a goal besides his name via David de Gea’s howler too. Against Morocco, he was quite reserved and even missed a glorifying to chance to score a brace.

 However, it was his diving header that put Portugal ahead in the game, and Morocco could never come back from that position. The team’s overdependence on Ronaldo is quite visible, as he has scored all the four goals that Portugal have registered in this tournament. The interesting concept is that Ronaldo has stepped up when needed the most and has done everything in his capability to take his team out from the crutches.

He has been actively involved in the build-up play, dropping deep to collect the ball and has displayed deft touches to initiate counter-attacks instantly. Crisitano has been a rock at the back while defending set-pieces, heading away the danger lobbed by the opposition into the box. He has been prolific in front of the goal too, and that confirms that Ronaldo has been wholeheartedly involved in the team’s run in the tournament so far.

However, can he do it all on his own? Bernardo Silva, Goncalo Guedes and the other players haven’t been at their best, with Guedes wasting numerous chances to set Ronaldo free on the goal. Cristiano has been let down by his team’s performance and there would come a point of time, when he would require the other players to step up too.

CR7 has been brilliant so far, but it remains to be seen whether his compatriots ably support his cause too.

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