Manfriend here again. Let’s talk the World Cup.
So the first round of the group games are over, but what have we actually learned from them?
Welcome to my roundup of what’s happened, and my predictions for each group at the end of the group stage.
Russia v. Saudi Arabia 5-0
Uruguay v. Egypt 1-0
Don’t let the 5-0 result trick you into thinking that Russia are a good side. Saudi Arabia were woeful. Absolutely diabolical. Their keeper wouldn’t be able to a catch a cold, never mind the ball. It was a dull game that didn’t deserve the number of goals it got.
The other game in the group wasn’t much better. Uruguay, one of the more fancied teams of the tournament, showed no urgency or desire to win the game. They were very slow, inconsistent and just plain boring. Only their captain, Diego Godin, who I believe is the best central defender in the world, showed any sort of world-class talent on the pitch. Egypt, on the other hand, were heroic in defeat.
I mentioned that Group D is the “Group of Death.” Well, the best way to describe this Group A so far is as the “Group of Wanting to Stick Needles in my Eyes”.
- Saudi Arabia
[Editors note: Due to both writer and editor needing sleep (time zones, they’re a b****), we weren’t able to post this until after the Egypt v. Russia match. Unfortunately, Egypt weren’t able to beat Russia in their second match, making this prediction impossible. Damn.]
Portugal v. Spain 3-3
Iran v. Morocco 1-0
What a game! Portugal and Spain played good football, showing lots of attacking intent and guile. Spain were a little unfortunate not to win the game, as they dominated the majority of it, but it was that man again, Cristiano Ronaldo. Fifty-one hat-tricks in his professional career (completing the the 51st hat-trick in the World Cup, too). Most people don’t get that many playing with friends at a park. Many people will look at Portugal as a one-man team, but they’re really not. It just happens to be that the “main man” always seems to grab the headlines. Spain will definitely do well in the tournament. They looked fantastic with the ball, and in Isco, they have a world-class player with incredible ability.
In the other game of this group, it was no surprise the match wasn’t a high scoring affair, as both these teams don’t tend to concede many goals. But the game was much more interesting than the result suggests. Morocco will be distraught with the 1-0 loss to Iran, as they created enough chances to win. But let’s get one thing straight: Neither one of these nations will be picking up another point. However, they will both still be vital to see who wins the group, as it will come down to goal difference.
France v. Australia 2-1
Denmark v. Peru 1-0
France got their campaign off to a winning start, thanks to Video Assistant Referees (VAR). The newly-devised system removes the human error part of the game, taking the pressure off the referees in the middle. Having said that, no one really knows what is happening or whether it’s being used. According to the commentators, it’s being used constantly. Soon, I’m expecting VAR to be used at home to determine who ate the last doughnut. Anyway, France got their win over Australia thanks to technology. Both of their goals would never have been given two years ago.
Denmark and Peru, as expected, were closely matched, with the prior scoring the only goal of the game after Peru missed a penalty in the first half. An absolutely huge win!
Iceland v. Argentina 1-1
Croatia v. Nigeria 2-0
As mentioned in my first World Cup post, this is the group to watch. Iceland were excellent against the Argies. Despite only having 23 percent of the possession, Iceland created the better opportunities. Yes, they’re a very direct team, which is what made this match interesting. Argentina weren’t bad but you can see how reliant they are on Messi, which baffles me. Their other players, with the likes of Sergio Agüero, Angel Di María and at least another three or four, are world class, too.
Croatia are a good side, one that will trouble any team in the competition. In Kramaric, they have a striker who will cause trouble for an opposition’s defenders. If only he could finish the chances that fall to him. Nigeria are and will always remain an enigma to me. They should be good, but in the finals, they never perform.
Brazil v. Switzerland 1-1
Serbia v. Costa Rica 1-0
This wasn’t a a good return to World Cup football for favourites Brazil, as they were held to a draw by defiant Switzerland. Neymar was kept quiet by the Swiss midfield, in particular Valon Behrami, though not always in a sportsmanlike manner, if truth be told. You may think Brazil were unlucky not to win, but the truth is that they were never really in control. Yes, they did have more chances, and some of them were clear-cut, but a lot were just wayward shots. Once they get their shooting boots on, Brazil could become unstoppable.
Serbia and Costa Rica were well matched. Both teams battled in midfield and managed to create some good-looking attacks, but the lack of quality up front was obvious. Costa Rica don’t have a quality striker, and Serbian Mitrovic couldn’t get his feet under control. In the end, a fabulous free kick from the experienced Kolarov settled the game. The lack of firepower will be a huge problem when these two teams take on their more powerful opponents.
- Costa Rica
Mexico v. Germany 1-0
Sweden v. South Korea 1-0
Since 1998, four of five World Cup holders have been eliminated at the group stage of the tournament, with the only exception being 2002 winners Brazil, who lost in the quarterfinals in 2006. After the loss against Mexico, fans all over the globe have started wondering if Germany will be the next nation on that list. If they are to make it through to the knockout stage, then they are going to have to find a way to get Toni Kroos more involved. Mexico, on the other hand, are in a great position to win the group. They were impressive both in attack and defense, carving out many chances while restricting a lackluster German team to shots from a distance. Unfortunately they are a nation that likes to self-capitulate on many an occasion. Yet, this time around, I feel the Mexican party won’t be over for a while.
The other two countries in the group, Sweden and South Korea, didn’t look like they could score a goal in 300 minutes of football, let alone 90 minutes. In the end, Sweden were awarded a penalty, thanks to VAR, and that was the goal that separated the two teams. South Korea are a bizarre team. They have a gargantuan forward who is a foot taller than everyone else, yet no crosses were being sent in his direction for him to attack. Also, despite being behind for a large chunk of the second half, they only decided to attack for the last 10 minutes. It begs the belief that they didn’t try to do more in the earlier parts of the game. Poor all around!
- South Korea
Belgium v. Panama 3-0
England v. Tunisia 2-1
These two matches ended with expected wins for Belgium and England, but in very dissimilar ways.
Belgium dominated the game against Panama, and could have scored many more than the three goals they ended with. Panama did show effort and willingness to make a game of it, but the chasm between the two sides’ abilities were very clear from the 1st to the 90th minute.
England, on the other hand, were made to sweat by the Tunisians. The movement of the Premier League’s Elite was excellent, but the same brilliance deserted them in and around the box with Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli all lacking the kind of class shown by captain – and talisman – Harry Kane, who scored twice.
Japan v. Colombia 2-1
Senegal v. Poland 2-1
The Colombian team were rocked by the first red card of the tournament three minutes into the game against Japan for handling a ball that was on its way to a goal. This proved crucial. The resulting penalty for the handball was converted expertly by Kagawa. Playing with 10 men for 87-plus minutes proved too great a task for Colombia, and Japan managed to take an unexpected three points.
The Japan win had a huge impact on the second match of the group, making a win even more vital. Senegal, Africa’s last hope for a win, are arguably the best representative of the continent, and so it proved to be. They ran out winners over Poland, who are ranked 8th in the world rankings. Now, this sounds like a huge deal, but it really isn’t. The FIFA World Rankings are a joke of a system, as evidenced in this game.
No matter what happens in the remaining games, the groups are shaping up nicely. Soon, the need to win will take over, forcing teams to play more expansive football, and leading to more games of Portugal v. Spain quality rather than Sweden v. South Korea.
Do tell, folks. What do you think will happen in the groups?
To read Manfriend’s initial piece about FIFA – and see his first thoughts on the tournament, read on.