The World Cup is only at the halfway point, and already there are many talking points. As the tournament transitions from the mostly dull group stages to the ruthless knockout rounds, now is a perfect time to discuss the main topics of Russia 2018. With contributions from Dublin University Association Football Club’s (DUAFC) Devin Connolly, have a look at the winners and losers of the competition thus far.
Argentina: It is possible to get carried away in praise of Argentina. Many saw them as favourites to top Group D, and believed they would reach the final again like in 2014, maybe going that step further this time. Perhaps nostalgia muddied the waters. Just like in qualifying, they left it late to break out of their group, just nabbing the runner-up spot behind Croatia. Devin Connolly points the finger at their supposed stars, such as Angel Di Maria and of course, Lionel Messi, whose lowlights included, “a poor penalty saved by an Icelandic part-time film director.” After their defeat to France, the two-time world cup champions leave Russia as a sorrowful spectacle.
Poland: So much was expected of this Polish outfit. Placed in one of the more manageable groups, many anticipated a thrilling dogfight between them and Colombia for top spot. However, to perform so poorly on the World stage was surprising from a team who lost just once in qualifying. As Connolly identifies, the absence of key players such as, “regular starting centre-back Kamil Glik, a big and powerful presence, was painfully obvious.” Robert Lewandowski, their attacking talisman, “clocked a grand total of 0 goals and was, for the most part, absent.” It is such a pity to see this from a side which was predicted to do great things at the big time. An urgent review of their set-up will be required before they return to competitive football in September in the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
Germany: Die Mannschaft have succumbed to what is known as the Champions’ Curse. Like France in 2002 or Spain in 2014, the defending champions have fallen at the first hurdle, going out of the competition at the group stages. A collection of theories have emerged regarding their underwhelming performance in the first round, from unrest and mistrust within the squad to the inclusion of a certain Jerome Boateng. Speculation will be rife but it would be better to assess how the squad can bounce back from this embarrassment. Joachim Löw’s future is uncertain as Germany’s coach, with some suggesting the time has come for him to step aside.
France: Going in the tournament, France were expected to cruise through their group with 3 wins from 3. While they were by no means convincing in the first round, they got through their group undefeated, with Connolly certain that Les Bleus will step it up a gear in the business end of the competition. After the group stages Connolly believes that Didier Deschamps’ men, “should be capable of approaching the game with heightened vigour, and with Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud, in front of goal they will always stand a chance.” After defeating Argentina, France show no signs of slowing down. Keep an eye out for Kylian Mbappe, who, “looks ripe to light up the knockout stages.”
Russia: From the outset, very few pundits gave the hosts much of a chance of escaping their group. The lowest ranked side at their own World Cup, Eamon Dunphy branded them the worst Russian side he had ever seen. In other words, they could only impress, and so they did. Connolly agrees, citing the opening game as a highlight, where they, “kick-started the tournament in style with a 5-0 pounding, showing that the loss of middle-man Alan Dzagoev was no major issue.” Other key players like Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin, “stepped up to run the show,” and a second round game with Spain awaits them on Sunday.
England: After a, “shaky start,” to their World Cup journey, “with Harry Kane offering a late winner to pip Tunisia at the death,” Connolly believes that Gareth Southgate’s squad, “are in a good position going forward.” Now positioned on the easier side of the draw, England won’t meet juggernauts like Brazil, France or Portugal until the final. With the English press heralding their team as the new favourites to take the crown, the rest of us remain firmly on the fence, with the only complete performance coming against a woeful Panama side. If England are the world-beaters that pundits claim they are, they should then have no trouble in sweeping aside teams like Colombia, Sweden and Switzerland before a potential semi-final with a rejuvenated Spain side.