There is one game left of the group stage so here are my overachieving and underachieving nations so far in Russia. Starting with the overachieving:
Going into the World cup as the lowest ranked nation, Russia’s 5-0 thrashing against the Saudi Arabians was on nobody’s predictor sheet. It was an uncharacteristic complete performance by the hosts, who prior to this game hadn’t won in seven matches. Denis Cheryshev stole the headlines with his delightful double but the notoriously old defence, with an average age of 31.4 years, managed to extinguish the feeble Saudi Arabia attacks. Putin watched on, contented. They then went on and proved that it wasn’t a one match wonder by securing their place in the round of 16 with a professional performance. They knew the Egyptians were rattled after the Uruguay game so they started fast and fiery, applying heaps of pressure on the Egyptians so they couldn’t regain their confidence. Their hard work paid off when Ahmed Fathi scored an own goal in the 47th minute. By the 62nd minute Russia had successfully sealed their place in the round of 16, after a touch of class from Artem Dzyuba.
Group H used to be all about 3 teams. Until Japan arrived and stunned the group favourites, Colombia, 2-1 and sent a shockwave throughout the group. However this was no fluke victory as they had 62% possession,
more shots on target and had the brightest chances. Honda distributed well while Kagawa provided the calmness to get the job done. It has been a long time since we have seen a Japan team with an abundance of flair. Tails up, they headed into the Senegal game fearless. A silky finish from Inui helped the Japanese to a deserved 2-2 draw. If they fail to qualify now, they can go home with their heads held high, knowing that they have done their country proud.
When Hirving Lozano scored in the 35th minute against Germany, a minor tremor was recorded in Mexico City. This is what it means to them. After failing to exceed the round of 16 for the past 6 tournaments, the Mexican fans knew at that very moment that this talented Mexico team have the ability to go further than ever before. Germany were complacant, unfocused and failed to capitalise on their chances.
The Aztecs have produced an array of talent over the years with the likes of Marquez and Hernandez, but the star of this Mexican side is Hector Herrera. The Porto captain showed true leadership skills, his work rate and determination subdued Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, and his distribution was second to none. Another striking factor about this Mexico side is their lethal counter attacks. Matts Humels and Jerome Boating, two of the most renowned centre backs in world football, were a liability and Mexico made short work of them on the attack. They maintained their momentum by beating South Korea and have almost secured their place in the round of 16. (Note: I haven’t included England as i am too afraid of getting my hopes up and then being let down)
Having not qualified for the past 6 world cups- you may wonder how it would even be possible for Egypt to “underperform’ at this world cup. However, after a scintillating season for Mo Salah at Liverpool and Elneny’s breakthrough at Arsenal- many predicted that the Pharaohs would qualify from a dire group with only Uruguay clearly exceeding them on paper. How wrong they were. As a result of his shoulder injury, Salah could only sit and watch forlornly as his country were unfairly subjected to a 89th minute goal from Gimenez of Uruguay. With the steam blown out of them but Salah back in the team, there were mixed emotions going into the Russia match. Although a poor performance let the in-form hosts dismantle them and just like that their dreams were crushed.
In an open, contestable group H, it was a case of which team could grasp it by the scruff of its neck and dominate. When Japan stunned Colombia by nicking a 2-1 victory, it added extra importance to the Senegal vs Poland game as whoever won would likely qualify. Galvanised after failing to qualify in Brazil, and Lewandoski looking to make his mark in national football, it was a shock to see Poland’s lack of desire and concentration against the Senegalese Robert Lewandoski failed to make a mark and a woeful misjudgement by Szczesny and Krychowiak sealed the victory for the Senegalians and put Poland in a precarious position for the Colombia match. On came a furious Colombia, ardent to prove that the Japan match was an anomaly and regain their powerful status. Poland were, once again, unable to match their oppositions’ hunger and drive as they were torn apart and embarrassed by the impressive Colombians. Cuadrado’s final goal put the cherry on the icing on the cake for a nightmarish return to the World Cup for Poland.
Hand over head gesturing pain, Lionel Messi was finally crumbling under the heavy burden of his country’s impossible expectations. 90 minutes gone. 3-0 to Croatia. A long road back for Argentina..
After a lack of ruthlessness and indecisiveness all round in the Iceland match, Jorge Sampaoli’s men headed into the game unsure on formation and tactics. Their anxieties were exposed by a talented Croatian side with Modric and Rakatic starring especially.
You would not expect to see such naivity from the 2014 finalists, but they must learn that you can never go into a World Cup game without a credible plan. If they fail to qualify now, which is mostly likely, to say it would be a disappointing end to a talented nation would be a huge understatement. A disgrace to the nation fits better. Also, a disgrace to the icon- Maradona , who watched on despondantly and ended Thursday in tears.