World Cup: Belgium and Germans lose their way in Qatar

Belgium and Germany are the big-name casualties in week two, as John Roycroft casts an eye over the best and worst of the World Cup so far.
World Cup: Belgium and Germans lose their way in Qatar

Brazil players celebrate after winning the World Cup group G soccer match against Switzerland, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar. Picture: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

WELL, those first two weeks of the World Cup passed pretty quickly.

There have been a few good games and a few mediocre ones, as the organisers will be pleased that interest has largely shifted to covering events on the field rather than the issues of human rights violations.

At a personal level, while the matches have been fine, I still cannot warm to a winter World Cup, and I hope it is a long time (if ever) before we our forced into such this situation again.

Saying that, there have been a few memorable performances and notably they have come mainly from sides unexpected to make an impact.

Best teams 

Only three teams managed to win their opening two game, and at the time of writing only two sides were in with a chance of claiming full points from their groups. Notably the two Portuguese-speaking sides of Brazil and Portugal.

That must be some sort of a record in the World Cup where most groups have at least one standout side ahead of the round of 16. That 27 of the 32 sides (as of Friday) had lost at least once indicates that this tournament is of a lower quality or that the standards across the world are levelling off. Maybe a bit of both.

The first week’s action indicated that France provided the most exciting of all the performances especially with the efforts from player of the tournament, so far, Kylian Mbappe.

But France and manager Didier Deschamps may be regretting that they put out a weakened side against Tunisia as that defeat may knock the momentum out of their defence of their World title. Yet, one suspects they will get back on track against a far from convincing Polish side on Sunday.

Portugal have got the better of two decent sides in the shape of Ghana and Uruguay but the questions over them being better or worse with Ronaldo continues to muddy their title aspirations.

Spain’s young side impressed at the start but were less effective against a desperate German side and fell apart against the Japanese on Thursday. It will be interesting to see if they can steady the ship against what will be a motivated Morocco side for their regional derby playoff on Tuesday.

So, it goes down to Brazil again. They are far from the beautiful samba side of 1982 or even the functional unbeaten side of 2002, but they have so far been very clinical in this tournament and have done well to see off two technically difficult European sides in the shape of Switzerland and Serbia.

Morocco players celebrate after the World Cup group F soccer match against Belgium, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Picture: AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Morocco players celebrate after the World Cup group F soccer match against Belgium, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Picture: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Best surprise

 

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the tournament location, but some of the better performances have come from the North African and Middle Eastern teams, with the host’s disappointing efforts being the exception.

Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina will do down as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history but sadly, for them, returned to whipping-boy form after that momentous win.

Morocco have been hugely impressive and well deserved their advance into the round of 16 but may have been helped by the fact that the two seeded sides in their group, Belgium and Croatia are definitely on the down slope from their once vaunted pinnacle.

Tunisia fully deserved their win against France and will have regrets that they didn’t do better against Australia, who to be fair, were on their own surprise epic journey to qualify second in this group.

Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar scores their side's second goal of the game against Serbia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar scores their side's second goal of the game against Serbia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Best goal 

There are few goals in the history of the World Cup that will surpass Richarlison’s second against Serbia and that it happened so early in the tournament kind of ruined it for everyone else. But the goal that will have brought the most smiles to football fans’ faces was Vincent Aboubakar audacious scooped chip for Cameroon in the frantic 3-3 draw against Serbia. That Aboubakar thought he was offside may have resulted in his almost laconic finish. It wasn’t until VAR confirmed that he was on side that he and his side erupted in brilliant celebrations. That six-goal game was probably the most enjoyable match of the tournament along with Ghana’s heartbreakingly close 3-2 defeat at the hands of a very lucky Portugal.

France's Kylian Mbappe runs with ball during the World Cup group D soccer match against Tunisia at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar. Picture: AP Photo/Christophe Ena
France's Kylian Mbappe runs with ball during the World Cup group D soccer match against Tunisia at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan , Qatar. Picture: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Best player 

There is only one answer to this question, and it has to be Kylian Mbappe. Three goals and one assist have laid the foundations for what could become his World Cup.

Other worthy performances of note include Jamal Musiala, who stood out in a mediocre German side. Pedri and Gavi are two elegant players in the Spanish midfield and bring back memories of Barcelona and Spain at their best.

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard walk off dejected following their Group F draw against Croatia that saw them exit the World Cup. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard walk off dejected following their Group F draw against Croatia that saw them exit the World Cup. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Biggest disappointment

 A lot to choose from a tournament where many sides with big reputations failed to deliver. The Germans’ exit was a shock but at the same time was coming. Without the services of a recognised striker, they have again been relying on the services of veteran Thomas Muller, who is sadly no longer up to the task. But still for me the team that really failed to deliver was Belgium. Semi-finalist four years ago, they looked a shadow of their former best and sadly move into history as one of the best sides never to really fulfil their potential.

German players look dejected after going out of the FIFA World Cup. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
German players look dejected after going out of the FIFA World Cup. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Unluckiest side

 Spare a thought for Mexico who were just two minutes away from advancing to the next round by virtue of a better disciplinary record against Poland only to concede a 95th minute goal to Saudi Arabia who were already out of the tournament.

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