During qualification, there were signs that this might not be a typical World Cup. Italy and the Netherlands, two nations that have brought so much to the beautiful game, both failed to qualify for the tournament. In the latter stages of the competition, nations such as Croatia, Russia, and Sweden managed to stick around longer than anyone expected. In contrast, nations such as Germany, Spain, and Argentina massively underperformed.
World Cup Performances For The Football Giants
In truth, there was plenty to admire about this Brazil side. They played with the swagger and flair of traditional Brazilian sides against Costa Rica, Serbia, and Mexico. Their goals came from players spinning around opposition defenders in the penalty area, strikes from distance, and sensational crosses.
Ultimately, Brazil suffered a narrow loss to Belgium in the quarter-finals. For a nation with five World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals can only be seen as a massive disappointment.
The curse of the champions is a strange phenomenon. Italy lifted the World Cup in 2006 and failed to qualify for the knockout rounds in 2010. Spain followed the same pattern in 2010 and 2014, respectively. The Germans became the most recent side to keep the trend going.
Four years ago, Germany played football at a fast tempo and passed the ball with purpose. In this tournament, against Mexico, Germany sent far too many players forward and got burnt on the counter-attack. Toni Kroos bailed his team out against Sweden with a dazzling free-kick, but South Korea would later defeat Germany. While nobody should forget the success that manager Joachim Low brought Germany, perhaps the players need to hear a new voice.
Argentina’s campaign must be described as catastrophic given that they only reached the Round of 16. Manager Jorge Sampaoli consistently left out some of the deadliest players in the world such as Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero.
However, if the manager’s player selection was poor, the tactics were worse. Against Croatia, there was no connection between the Argentinian defence and attack. As a result, midfielders like Luka Modric enjoyed space in the centre of the pitch. Even Lionel Messi couldn’t be expected to carry Argentina with these fundamental issues in place.
In the group matches, France found a way to win without playing beautiful football. However, the team rose magnificently to the challenges of Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium.
The midfielders played triangles with one another and sprung forward at a devastating speed. They seemed to click at the perfect time in the tournament. In the final, the French players weathered the storms that the Croatian midfielders conjured. France deserved to lift the greatest prize in football.
Until the Round of 16, Uruguay looked solid from back to front. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez were the leaders at the back while Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani led at the front. The quarter-finals saw goalkeeper Fernando Muslera make a horrendous error to gift France their second goal. Perhaps Uruguay deserved a kinder ending to their campaign.
At their best, Spain play a beautiful possession game and use sublime passing to unlock opposition defences. However, Spain fired manager Julen Lopetegui one day before the World Cup. Surely this created uncertainty in the dressing room.
Spain never seemed in control of a match. Spectators enjoyed a 3-3 thriller against Portugal, a 2-2 draw with Morocco, and a dramatic loss to Russia on penalties in the Round of 16. It’s difficult to say how this team will fare in two years at the European Championships under the new manager Luis Enrique.
England reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. Gareth Southgate found a formation and believed in it. He found his starting 11 and believed in it. In turn, a nation obsessed with football believed that glory was attainable.
Perhaps England didn’t always play silky and expansive football, but the team found a way to win by playing for set-pieces. Despite losing to a resilient Croatian side, England should feel proud of their efforts.
Belgium played some extraordinary football at this World Cup. Kevin De Bruyne stamped his authority on the midfield of almost every match he played in. Eden Hazard glided past players for fun.
Despite defeating the mighty Brazil, Belgium couldn’t unlock a stubborn French defence in the semi-finals. It must be said that manager Roberto Martinez hindered his side’s chances in the match by relying on Marouane Fellaini. While far from a disaster, the campaign will be seen as a disappointing one from Belgium’s ‘golden generation’.
In the group matches, Cristiano Ronaldo wreaked havoc. He scored a hat-trick against Spain and forced a bullet header past Moroccan keeper Khalid Boutaib. Unfortunately, players like he and Bernardo Silva couldn’t push Portugal past Uruguay in the Round of 16.
The Uruguayan strikers, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, looked razor sharp when passing and finishing. Still, the reigning European champions will feel that they missed an opportunity to at least reach the quarter-finals. As fans know, football can be both euphoric and unforgiving.