Wow! That about sums up the group stage of the 2018 World Cup. So much happened that we barely know where to begin. But here it goes…
The Great Argentine Escape
Argentina and star player Lionel Messi were just a few minutes from being knocked out in the group stage. It would have been arguably the country’s biggest disappointment ever, soccer or otherwise. However, the Argentinians got a late goal against Nigeria to advance to the knockout stage. But things won’t get any easier, as they will play France in the Round of 16.
One world power that did get knocked out in the group stage was Germany, the reigning champions. The Germans scored an unbelievable goal late in their game against Sweden to put them in a good position to advance. However, they couldn’t do the same against South Korea, ultimately losing on a pair of late goals and finishing last in their group. It’s the fourth time in the last five World Cups the defending champ has failed to reach the knockout stage.
No team had worse luck in this tournament than Senegal. The Lions of Teranga finished tied in points, goal differential, and goals scored with Japan, a team they tied head-to-head. When the two teams finished tied for second in Group H, Japan went through based on the “Fair Play” tie-breaker on account of having fewer yellow cards than Senegal. It was a tough break for a Senegal team that looked dangerous early in the tournament.
Not surprisingly, Portugal has been a bit of a one-man team led by Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star has scored four of Portugal’s five goals, including a hat-trick during the team’s draw with Spain in what was one of the best games of the tournament. Without Ronaldo, Portugal could have easily been bounced in the group stage. However, it remains to be seen how much further he can carry the reigning European champions.
You can’t talk about this World Cup without talking about the use of video assistant referees. For the most part, VAR has been utilized without a ton of controversy. After all, it’s tough for players to continue to argue calls when the ref takes a longer look at things. Of course, there have been a few byproducts of VAR. For starters, there is usually more stoppage time at the end of games. This World Cup has also set a new record for penalty kicks, and we still have 16 more games to go. VAR has helped to take away a few penalties, but it’s also confirm ones that were not initially called.
photo via @FIFA