The majority of the World Cup matches are now in the books and the final 16 nations are moving into the knock out round. Only four games each stand between every nation and lifting the iconic 5 kilogram, 18 karat gold trophy. The World Cup is a lot like your favorite holiday. You anticipate it for months to come, and then once it’s here you just want it to slow down a little so you can savor the moment.
Without further adieu, we are breaking down our big winners, losers, and individual standouts from the group stage. As well as what lies ahead in the knockout rounds.
Uruguay, Croatia, and Belgium are our big winners from the group stage and each one could easily make it to the final on Sunday, July 15th. All three teams crushed their respective groups by taking all 9 possible points from their matches. They all did it with a combination of dynamic offenses and stellar defense.
Despite Uruguay’s dynamic offensive duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the real story is the fact that they have yet to concede a single goal. They shut out the host nation Russia, Mo Salah and his Egyptian contingent, and Saudi Arabia. Defenses win championships and Uruguay’s clean sheet speaks for itself.
While Uruguay boasted the stingiest defense, Belgium leaves the group stage with the most prolific offense. They have scored more goals than any other nation thus far, bagging a whopping 9 goals in only 3 matches. Any time you are averaging 3 goals a game people are going to notice. The Belgium contingent is very deep with talent at all positions, from Eden Hazard to Vincent Kompany to Romelu Lukaku to Kevin De Bruyne and the list goes on. These guys were once considered dark horses but now they have to be considered real contenders.
Belgium scored early and often in their match against Tunisia.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 23, 2018
Checkout the full highlights in our 90' in 90" ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/xGA3VerA59
Croatia, powered by a very skilled midfield of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitić was able to grab all 9 of their points despite coming through a group that many argued was the group of death. Defeating 2014 World Cup runner’s up Argentina, breakout fan favorites Iceland, and the always competitive Super Eagles of Nigeria. Don’t count them out.
Strange things are afoot in the World Cup. Four of the last five World Cup winners have gone on to lose in the group stage of the following tournament. This year was no exception to that with Germany crashing out of World Cup 2018 by finishing dead last in their group. It was a destruction of epic proportion. They bagged a measly 2 goals and were 15 seconds away from going winless had it not been for a wonder strike from Toni Kroos in the dying embers of their game against Sweden.
Poland has a history of underperforming at World Cups, but we thought this year could be different. They came into this tournament with some very talented players in Robert Lewandowski, Kamil Glik, Łukasz Piszczek, and Wojciech Szczęsny. Couple that with a relatively lesser group compared to others in Colombia, Japan and Senegal, we expected more.
Peru came slugging through Conmebol and into the tournament and we thought they had a real chance of making a splash. With the late addition of Paolo Guerrero who’s suspension was lifted by FIFA we thought Peru’s fighting spirit would carry them past Denmark and Australia and join France atop group C. Unfortunately Peru sputtered throughout their first game, outplaying Denmark for large swathes but never able to find the back to the net. They ended up losing by narrow margins of 1-0 to both Denmark and France before picking up a consolation 2-0 win over Australia.
World Cups are where legends are born, and where transfer fees can go up up up. In 2014, James Rodriguez bursted on to the scene and captured the imagination of millions before earning himself millions on a transfer to Real Madrid. This year is no different. There have been some high flying performances by some household names, as well as some less recognizable players.
Cristiano Ronaldo got the party started in the second day of matches when he bagged a hat trick against a worthy opponent in Spain. It was one of the most electrifying matches of the group stage and had it not been for some individual brilliance from Ronaldo, Spain should have won that game handily. You can never count Portugal completely out when they have arguably the world’s best player on the field. He stands behind only Harry Kane of Englang in the Golden Boot race. Apologies on the Robbie Williams music, this was the best cut of his three goals I could find.
Ronaldo’s Hat Trick vs Spain ft Robbie Williams pic.twitter.com/3WBOV4BbC9— Diego (@ronaldocomps) June 16, 2018
Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico has been sensational at times for El Tri in net. Time and time again against Germany, Sweden and South Korea he came up with critical saves at critical moments. He now leads the tournament with 17 saves with 9 against Germany alone. Mexico will need some more brilliance from him if they are going to get past Brazil in the round of 16.
Felipe Baloy may not have been able to get Panama out of the group stage, but his goal against England will forever be recorded in the annuls of Panamanian history. It was the first ever World Cup goal for his small nation and neither he nor his countrymen cared what the scoreline was. It is moments like these that truly make the World Cup special when you can see how much it means to people around the world to be represented, to have something to believe and hope for.
HISTORY! Panama get their first ever FIFA World Cup goal! What a moment. pic.twitter.com/JX66Maevej— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) June 24, 2018
How did each confederation fair?
UEFA (Europe) sent 14 nations to the World Cup, 10 are advancing on.
CONMEBOL (South America) sent 5 nations to the World Cup, 4 are advancing on.
AFC (Asia) sent 5 nations to the World Cup, 1 is advancing on.
CONCACAF (North America) sent 3 nations to the World Cup, 1 is advancing on.
CAF (Africa) sent 5 nations to the World Cup, none are advancing on.
The Knockout Rounds
The pathway to glory is a bloodbath for anyone that happens to find themselves on the left side of the knockout stage bracket. There are 10 total World Cup trophies amongst all teams on this side of the bracket. As a fan you can’t help but drool at the prospect of Suarez v Ronaldo, Griezmann v Messi, or Neymar v Ochoa. Given the difficulty of this half of the bracket it is hard to say who will ultimately triumph. However, if we had to put money on it today, we are going with Belgium, Mexico, France and Portugal to advance to quarterfinals.
On the other side of the bracket it is good to be Spain and England as they are the only two teams with a World Cup trophy each to their name. They will be heavy favorites to advance forward, along with Croatia and Sweden in our humble opinion.