So there we have it and facing the first day without football to watch for two weeks, it seems like a good time to reflect on the World Cup Group Stages which concluded last night with Belgium’s reserves proving marginally better than England’s second string.
There were some unexpected and surprising performances and results but other than our friends from Germany (hahahahaha!) the teams progressing from each group have for the most part been as expected.
Group A- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Uruguay 2) Russia- Spot on!
The hosts secured qualification thanks to big victories over relatively weak opposition in the form of Saudi Arabia and Egypt; whereas Uruguay won all three of their matches despite not looking completely convincing. While Luis Suárez kicked into form with goals in each of the games against Saudi Arabia and Russia, his strike partner Edinson Cavani finally managed his first goal in the last minute of the final group game against Russia. .
Group B- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Spain 2) Portugal- Spot on!
The game between the eventual top two in the group was a thriller and utterly captivating, Spain didn’t really impress in their other two games and walked a bit of a tight rope before an added time equalizer against Morocco and an even later penalty for Iran against Portugal saw them seal top spot. Portugal looked thrilling on the break against Spain at times but reverted to being resilient in their other two games.
Group C- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) France 2) Denmark- Spot on!
France have hardly set the tournament alight with displays of scintillating football, they will however point to an unbeaten record, top spot and only one goal conceded. Denmark have looked a little toothless up front but will feel they have done what they needed to do.
Group D- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Argentina 2) Croatia- Near miss! -right teams wrong order.
It was oh so close to being a shock exit for arguably the world’s greatest player, Leo Messi, the draw with the minnows of Iceland was followed by a pummelling at the hands of the surprisingly good Croatia and it was only a very late winner from defender Marcos Rojo that saved Argentina’s blushes. Slaven Bilic said before the tournament that this was Croatia’s greatest generation of players, and he should know; the team boasting a midfield of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić look like they may deliver on the promise of the former national team manager.
Group E- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Brazil 2) Switzerland- Spot on!
Brazil haven’t really clicked yet, the team looks imbalanced and Neymar seems intent on playing his own game and not playing a disciplined role on behalf of the team. It is however hard to write off any team that boasts the skills of the little magician, Philippe Coutinho, and if Tite can get the tactical balance right (ie get Neymar to do what he needs to do rather than what he wants to do), this could be the team that goes all the way. Switzerland sealed their progression with the come from behind win against Serbia and draws in their other games. They are performing slightly under the radar but look like a pretty decent outfit.
Group F- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Germany 2) Sweden- Oops! We’re blaming Joachim Löw… or Mezut Özil as everyone else seems to be!
To the joy of the rest of the world, holders Germany were beyond underwhelming throughout the tournament; the team were strangely open to counter attacks and looked short of a proper striker. As much as it was a shock, Die Mannschaft got exactly what they deserved. Germany’s woeful performances opened the door to the knockout rounds for Mexico and Sweden and while neither side look like potential winners they are both there on merit.
Group G- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Belgium 2) England- Spot on!
Despite thumping victories for both, it is difficult to judge the merits of England or Belgium as the only time they have faced decent opposition was when they played each other, a game in which they both opted for their second choice sides.
Group H- Football Nerd Prediction: 1) Poland 2) Colombia- Half right, what was wrong with Poland?
Despite losing to Japan, thanks in no small part to a very early red card, Colombia seemed to steady the ship as the group progressed. Senegal can count themselves very unfortunate that they were eliminated only on the number of yellow cards picked upwhich allowed Japan to unexpectedly sneak through into the knockout phase.
Round of 16 Preview
Looking ahead to the second round we have some very interesting matches to keep us entertained through the weekend and into early next week:
France v Argentina
Difficulty to call, as neither side has played anywhere near their best, unless there is a major improvement in either side this could come down to whether Antoine Griezmann or Leo Messi can provide the decisive moment.
France to sneak through with an extra time goal.
Uruguay v Portugal
Can Ronaldo drag his team through another big game or will Suárez and Cavani start to look like the deadly duo we expect them to be? A case can be made either way in what looks like being a war of attrition rather than a free-flowing, end-to-end encounter.
Uruguay on penalties.
Spain v Russia
Surely the former champions will have too much for the host nation, although Nigeria highlighted Spain’s vulnerabilities at the back and how to interrupt their possession game.
Croatia v Denmark
Croatia have been one of the most impressive sides so far and should sweep Denmark aside.
Brazil v Mexico
Even though the team hasn’t clicked properly yet, Brazil have looked better and better in each game, it looks like being yet another second round exit for Mexico.
Belgium v Japan
With a rested first choice side this could be another resounding victory for Belgium who look like they are gelling as a side.
Sweden v Switzerland
The Swiss carry more of a threat than was expected but Sweden have proven a tough nut to crack so far, a close one but Switzerland probably have the firepower.
Switzerland to win in extra time.
Colombia v England
Gareth Southgate took a big gamble playing his second choice side and placing everything on England winning their first competitive knockout game since 2006. The press are unlikely to be kind if this one goes wrong. It is difficult to know how good England are and Colombia really carry a threat with James, if fit, and Falcao, but succumbing to the growing optimism in the country and the fact we have got Harry Kane, we are plumping from a nervy England win.
England to just do enough in extra time.