The gap at the top is diminishing

Most of the games at the World Cup were very interesting because so many games were hard fought. For a nation like ours, it was a good one because we saw the smaller teams hurt the bigger ones.

Crashing out: Germany's Mesut Ozil (left) and Mats Hummels after their defeat to South Korea at Kazan on June 27.   -  AFP

This World Cup was a special one in many different ways, but the fact that many of the so-called smaller teams did so well is right up there. It was a shock to see teams like Italy and Holland not making it to the tournament. If you see the pedigree both these teams have, the names in the squad and their history at the competition, you’d have expected them to be there for sure.

It shows us how football is evolving and how the gap between the so-called bigger teams and the smaller ones is diminishing. If you see the matches that Italy and Holland have played, you wouldn’t call them unlucky because every game they played in qualifying was against tough opposition and teams that wanted to prove a point. It makes for very interesting contests and this World Cup was an amazing one for a neutral fan.

Coming to the tournament, the first big upset that comes to my mind is Germany. I would never have expected it to bow out of a group that had Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. These teams had prepared well to face Germany and made sure not to give much space. Germany had a lot of possession in all these games, but it failed to convert its chances. The same was the case with Spain, which came up against some very narrow and compact sides. A lot of credit goes to the coaches of these teams because it isn’t easy to defend against the likes of Spain or Germany.

Japan's Takashi Inui, center, celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan.   -  AP

  I think a lack of pace also hurt them, because that’s important against teams that are okay to sit back, defend and attack on the counter. In the game against South Korea, we saw Mats Hummels at the end of a few crosses, but those should have fallen even in the absence of your defender going forward, and I thought there was a general lack of crosses falling to the striker in open play. If I were to pick my favourite games, it would be Mexico and South Korea against Germany and Russia against Spain. It showed how the coaches read the so-called bigger teams really well and made sure that they had enough on the drawing board to get them past the finish line. It also showed a lot of courage and desire from these teams. As an Asian, I was really proud of the way Japan, South Korea and Iran played. They showed a lot of character in their games and left us with something to cherish.

Most of the games at the World Cup were very interesting because so many games were hard fought. For a nation like ours, it was a good one because we saw the smaller teams hurt the bigger ones. We may not be as skilful or as fancied, but if the coaching staff understands the quality and chalks out a plan, then any of the teams can fight and churn out a result. It’s not been one or two games, so it’s a great learning experience. I hope everyone in the country, especially the players, watched this World Cup and learnt a lot, as I have.

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