Yesterday, the final whistles blew in the two group G games between Belgium & England, Panama & Tunisia. Although those games were two of the worst games to watch so far in the tournament, they wrapped up what has been an exhilarating group stage. We have seen everything from former WC champ Germany getting knocked out on the last kick of the game against South Korea to Leo Messi’s Argentina pulling a win out of nowhere to advance to the next round.
There were a few key points from the group stage that you could not help but notice. One being, Argentina’s lack of any real identity or structure in their line-up which could be their downfall in their round of 16 game against France.
Another standout performance from the group stage was Germany, and their lack of any performance at all. Our only flash of the German team that won the World Cup in 2014 was the last minute winner from Toni Kroos against Sweden. However, for most of this opening round they looked extremely sluggish and absent of any creativity or spark.
Belgium looked very solid, winning all 3 games in the group while putting up a goal difference of +7. For a side that usually craps the bed in the big tournament games, they look poised to make a deep run in the knockout rounds.
Almost none of the tournament favorites really impressed anybody, France squeaked by to win their group but never looked interested in any game they took the field in. Brazil had to rely on some magic from Philippe Coutinho to win their two remaining games to win their group. Other tourney favorites, Spain looked very sluggish at times, and although we got flashes of the beautiful Spanish futbol we all know and love, they also had long spells of sloppy, lifeless play.
One performance that stood out was England. A inexperienced and usually drab tournament team, the English won their first two games by a combined score of 8-2. They looked extremely confident and much more poised than the last few tournaments with “The Golden Generation”.
Although we learned a lot about some teams, perhaps the biggest takeaway from the group stage was the excitement. The final day in Group F was one of the most exciting endings of a group that we have ever seen. With three teams (Sweden, Mexico, and Germany) all flip-flopping spots in the table for about 30 minutes with finally Sweden and Mexico going through. This group stage was filled with thrilling matches. Spain and Portugal played out to a 3-3 draw that was probably the game of the tournament so far.
France vs Argentina
As two of the most talented teams in the tournament, both France and Argentina had high hopes coming in, however, one must go. Both teams had rather limp showings in the group stage games. Argentina will look to build off of the energy from their late win against Nigeria, courtesy of an 86th minute rocket from Marcos Rojo (cue a coked up Maradona flipping off the Nigerian fans).
The reaction in Buenos Aires to Marcos Rojo’s stunning winner 🇦🇷🔥 pic.twitter.com/TFcdQBh00E
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) June 26, 2018
France on the other hand have not been very impressive, even though they finished atop their group. The Frenchmen are definitely the more talented squad but will they show up? That is the ultimate question.
Uruguay vs Portugal
Although this could potentially be the most boring game in the history of The World Cup, based on the style of play from both of these teams, I have a feeling one of these two could make a deep run in the tournament. Why? It is exactly what makes them so boring, their tactics. Both Portugal and Uruguay play a long, 90 minute, wear your opponent down type of game. If anybody has shown us how effective this style of play is, it was Portugal winning the European Championship in 2016.
If this World Cup has taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected, so I can not wait to see how it plays out.