By Vihaan Majumdar
With the World Cup group stage wrapping up, here are some early takeaways from the action we have seen.
Saudi Arabia opened their campaign with a shock 2-1 win over world #3 and the favorites Argentina, officially the biggest upset in World Cup history (concerning FIFA rankings). That wasn’t all. Japan shocked the washed 2014 champions Germany 2-1, before promptly messing everything up by managing to lose 1-0 to Costa Rica, who were coming off a 7-0 demolition at the hands of Spain. Morocco would later go on to stun a dysfunctional Belgium side 2-0 (it certainly didn’t help that midfielder Kevin de Bruyne called the team too old to win anything).
African nations impress:
The Moroccan upset over Belgium takes the cake, but what’s even better is that they topped the group. It’s not just them. An Inaki Pena slip prevented Ghana from getting a draw versus powerhouses Portugal, but then they went on to win a topsy-turvy 3-2 game over South Korea. Tunisia showed resilience and held dark horse favorites Denmark to a draw, while Cameroon were only beaten by a goal from Cameroonian born Breel Embolo, playing for Switzerland… alhough something has to be said about the coach kicking their best player in goalkeeper Andre Onana out of the tournament.
USA and Japan emerge as dark horses:
Neither team supposedly had a breath in them. At least that was what the pundits said. However, a Christian Pulisic goal and Matt Turner man of the match performance were enough for a 1-0 victory in a politically-charged game against Iran and, after proving that the England squad is too good for their manager and forcing a 0-0 draw, seeing themselves in a matchup with the Netherlands. Japan came out as the surprising winners of the “group of death,” which included European powerhouses Spain and 2014 champions Germany, beating both, showing that they are the strongest of the Asian teams and could make an Ajax 2018-esque run for the trophy.
Big Teams still show quality:
Despite the upsets, multiple big teams have done exactly as expected. France beat the World Cup curse that they started to make it to the knockout stage, England dominated both Iran and Wales despite lackluster coaching, and Spain have done exactly what they said they would do–passing until you fall asleep from boredom, then attacking–while Argentina have proved that the Saudi Arabia game was a fluke. Ronaldo proved he can still dominate with Portugal, and the Brazilian magic has not faltered, tsurprisingly, no team left the group stage with a perfect nine points (3-0-0 record).
Let’s face it, if you fail to make the knockouts two World Cups in a row, then you are not a powerhouse (I’m looking at you, Germany). Belgium look like the Dallas Cowboys of world soccer, although the Cowboys typically manage to win a decent amount of games. Oh, and Mexico haven’t made it to the knockouts for the first time in 44 years. Stock down on these teams.