If clothes maketh the man, then, just like a pair of trusty slacks, you can rely on the Three Lions to get the job done. But let’s stop shouting about Phil Foden so we can enjoy the knockouts as much as the groups, writes Laura Lawrence.Embed from Getty Images
Goodbye group stage. Fair thee well. It started with a shrug and a ‘so what?’ and ended with Luis Suarez in tears. I think it’s fair to say we’ve enjoyed the group stage as it’s progressed.
Watching Ghana live out their generational trauma against Uruguay was exhausting and let’s face it, most viewers had nothing invested in the match. Yet there was a collective pursuit of revenge aimed at Uruguay and especially Suarez, thanks to the memory of his blatant handball in the quarter-finals of the South Africa World Cup in 2010. When Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and the former Liverpool star announced that he had, “made the save of the tournament”, after the match, it set up an unlikely rivalry that has endured.
Ghana were awarded another penalty this tournament and from Andre Ayew’s hesitant run-up, it was inevitable that he would miss, and history would repeat itself. But justice was served, just not by Ghana. It must be possible for the people of the Korean Republic to claim Ghanian citizenship now. In Suarez’s final World Cup, it was hard to sympathise with his disappointment.
For me, Japan have been the surprise package of the tournament, so far. They have entertained, given us shock moments and, at times, left us shouting, ‘What are you doing?’ at the tellybox. From a 2-1 win over Spain that had every kitchen physicist filming a ball sitting on the line of their carpet trim to the inexplicable performance and loss against Costa Rica. Japan have been the team to watch.
Their 1-2 win over Germany was hailed as a shock but it’s time we re-evaluate our surprise. Germany failed to make it out of the group stage at Russia 2018. Jose Mourinho had his say about the Japan team and their progress, pointing out that their players play European football and are used to the fast pace of the game.
The interesting point he made about European football was, there is a “big focus on individuals” and “on egos.” Those fraught few minutes when Costa Rica were leading the Germans 2-1, and it looked like both Spain and Germany were leaving the competition, showed that nothing can be taken for granted this tournament.
While Germany haven’t replaced their ‘Golden Generation’, despite Thomas Muller still lingering ineffectually around the squad, the Belgians have yet again failed to capitalise on the talent they have in theirs. Taking on what seems to be the Dutch mentality of being able to fall out with each other at 40 paces, it’s evident that as nice a man as Roberto Martinez is, he is not and has not been the man to make Belgium a tournament team. Their second-place world ranking flatters to deceive.Embed from Getty Images
So, we move on to the knockout stages with some surprise teams in the draw and a genuine question mark over who might take the GOAT by the horns. Messi’s Argentina have looked below par, even losing to Saudi Arabia — a result that seemed less likely than Qatar winning the World Cup bidding process. But they secured their place in the quarter-finals after beating plucky Australia 2-1 yesterday.
No team has stood out as a clear favourite so far but quietly England are progressing. Doing a job, not being controversial and getting results. We’re the fleece-lined walking trousers of the tournament. Nothing fancy but useful, which could explain the clothing deal with M&S.
When we all stop yelling at each other about Phil Foden, then I reckon we could well be in with a chance.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR