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October 16 2018
Half-time — a shock exit, great escapes and heartbreaks
30 June 2018

Narrowing of gap between pedigree teams and wannabes a key talking point of group stage.

We are halfway through the 21st edition of the World Cup and the tournament has already lost its five African participants with Senegal going out in heartbreaking fashion.

The team, the only one coached by an African manager, was knocked out from Group G on fair-play points. Senegal, locked with Japan on points and goal difference, missed out because of a few extra yellow cards, with FIFA picking disciplinary records to interpret the tiebreaker.

While 10 of the 14 European teams made it to the knockouts, the abject subjugation of defending champion Germany, which lost two of its group games to finish last, provided the tournament its biggest upset.

“This World Cup is very unpredictable. We have already seen Germany get knocked out and Argentina also came close. The big teams should learn from it and shouldn’t dare to take any team lightly,” Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said after its win over England.

The manager along with his English counterpart Gareth Southgate, however, were summarily criticised for fielding weakened sides in an apparent bid to find a easier way to the later stages.

The hallowed generation of Belgium faces Japan, the only Asian team left in the competition, in the round-of-16. A win against the Blue Samurais can pitch Martinez’s men in a battle of attrition against the five-champion Brazil in the quarterfinals.

“We cannot be looking at paths right now. The results have proven that there are no easy games and our focus is only on Japan now,” Martinez said.

 

Half-time — a shock exit, great escapes and heartbreaks
 

Brazil, which face Germany’s slayer — Mexico — next, is one of four (out of five) South American teams in the last 16 and the Selecao produced a game dazzled with individual brilliance and collective drive to beat Serbia after some insipid early performances.

Oscar Tabarez’s pragmatism has served Uruguay well as the two-time winner moved to the knockouts with a hundred percent record along with Croatia and Belgium.

The attacking quality and the togetherness of the Croats has taken all of us by surprise.

Argentina needed a moment of brilliance from Lionel Messi and an opportunistic goal from Marcos Rojo in the dying minutes to ensure a clash with the French, which has quietly topped Group C with percentage football.

The presence of N’Golo Kante has unshelled Paul Pogba, who has taken a more attacking mantle leaving defensive duties to the Chelsea man.

Argentina, which has fielded three completely different teams and formations, is yet to find an identity and the task on Messi to single-handedly win games might be too difficult to bear against an organised Didier Deschamp side.

“Leo is the best player in the world and the others players need to get him more involved, so that they can benefit from his game,” Jorge Samoili, the Argentina manager, said, betraying a lack of planning on his part.

Spain, rocked by the sacking of its manager Julen Lopetegui a day before the tournament, has already played an exciting six-goal thriller with Portugal, and also benefited in the match against Morocco from the correct implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which has had a mixed debut so far.

The referral, here, rightly allowed Iago Aspas’ equaliser in the 90th minute, but horribly got in wrong in the game between Portugal and Iran, handing two incorrect decisions, including a reprieve to Cristiano Ronaldo for a swinging elbow, which could have ruled out the second highest goal-scorer (four goals along with Lukaku, with England’s Harry Kane leading with five strikes) for the match against Uruguay.

The tournament, however, has already been an organisational success with the Russian public opening their hearts and homes for the strong contingent of foreign fans.

 

 

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