June 24th to 28th
The World Cup group stage has concluded almost as quickly as it began- and what a ride it was. We’ve had shocks, we’ve had permutations and, just this once, the Germans don’t always win.
With the match-ups now set for the last 16, Alasdair Hooper takes a look back at some of the key games from the last five days at the 2018 World Cup.
England 6-1 Panama: The Three Lions racked up their biggest ever World Cup win against Panama sending fans into delirious chants of “it’s coming home.”Embed from Getty Images
England 0-1 Belgium: Fan enthusiasm diminished slightly as England and Belgium B teams battled it out to finish top of the group (or maybe they wanted to finish second…)
Senegal 0-1 Colombia: In a World Cup first, Senegal became the first team to be eliminated on fair play after amassing more yellow cards than Japan. The Japanese team – knowing this – spent the final 15 minutes passing it around the back to avoid any confrontation with Poland. What is fair play anyway?
Iran 1-1 Portugal: VAR is the love?
For most of Monday evening Portugal were going through to the last 16 as winners of Group B.
However, once the full time whistle blew, the outlook had completely changed with Portugal in second and 2010 winners Spain topping the table.
Almost immediately fingers in TV punditry studios pointed towards the marmite acronym of the tournament – VAR.Embed from Getty Images
Iran’s 93rd-minute equaliser came from the penalty spot after referee Enrique Cáceres initially turned down appeals for a Portuguese handball. But, after trotting over to watch it on video he awarded the spot kick with most viewers at home wondering why it had been given.
VAR was also used to award Cristiano Ronaldo a penalty of his own and a chance to make it 2-0, an opportunity that he missed. The Real Madrid man was also subject to a red card review for an elbow, but was eventually just handed a yellow card.
The Trivela King
Ricardo Quaresma has been around for so long people couldn’t believe it when they discovered that this was his first World Cup start for Portugal.Embed from Getty Images
However, the gasps didn’t quite match the stunned reaction when he curled a beautiful effort in with the outside of his foot to give Portugal the lead just before halftime.
The trivela – a play Quaresma has become known for – was executed perfectly and the Besiktas winger became the oldest player to score on his first World Cup start since Iran’s Yahya Golmohammadi in 2006 against Mexico.
His career may be full of highs and lows, but Quaresma has enough ability to help share some of the burden Cristiano Ronaldo has to take on as Portugal’s talisman.
Nigeria 1-2 Argentina: Rojo and out
Nigeria’s young squad performed impressively in their final group game against Argentina and looked to be on course for a place in the last 16 – until Marcos Rojo popped up.
The Manchester United defender arrived in the box in the 86th minute to slam home a stunning winner to send his nation – and a certain Diego Maradona – wild.Embed from Getty Images
The dramatic ending knocked the Nigerians out of the tournament and handed Argentina a reprieve after a less than disappointing start to their 2018 tournament.
With talks of infighting and a rift with manager Jorge Sampaoli, there is still a lot of improvement needed in this Argentinian side.
What a Messi
Lionel Messi announced his arrival at this World Cup after grabbing a beautiful goal to open the scoring. However, considering the attacking talent that Argentina have in their ranks, their failure to create all that much is still woefully embarrassing.
Much of the criticism lying at the feet of Sampaoli relates to his constant chopping and changing, but also his inability to fid a cohesive system to bring the best out of the stars he possesses.Embed from Getty Images
South Korea 2-0 Germany: VAR is the Löw?
This may be a desperate bid to use the same pun twice in the same article, but it is also relevant as VAR played a crucial role in seeing reigning champions Germany dumped out of the World Cup.
South Korea shocked the pre-tournament favourites as Kim Young-gwon fired in a 92nd-minute goal, which was awarded after a VAR review.
With the Germans pushing for an equaliser, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lost possession halfway up the pitch after he decided to become a midfielder.Embed from Getty Images
Ju Se-jong launched it forward and Tottenham’s Son Heung-min was there to tap into an empty net to score the second.
Then, the reality of the situation set in, Germany failed to get out of the group for the first time since 1938.
So what actually went wrong for Germany?
People may turn to the decision to omit the likes of Leroy Sane from the squad, but the fact of the matter is that the tactics, the selection and the players were not up to scratch.
Joachim Löw will face a number of questions after making as many changes as he did for each group game. However, the German’s play was insipid, lacked direction and they missed far too many chances throughout the group stage to warrant going through.Embed from Getty Images
Additionally, the defensive side of the game was nowhere near good enough, with Jerome Boateng looking like an attacking midfielder at times before he was shown a red card against Sweden.
There are many issues that need addressing but, for Germany, they do still possess an abundance of talent – that’s half the battle won on the road to recovery.
You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992