Group stage review: Of Germany's exit, VAR and organisational success

The first half of the World Cup saw the abject subjugation of the defending champion Germany while Argentina's Jorge Sampaoli is still struggling to put together a plan to get the best out of his group and Lionel Messi.

Germany vs South Korea

German players reflect on their group stage exit in Kazan.   -  Getty Images

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 on a heartbreaking fashion, on the last day of the group games.

The team, the only one in the World Cup 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.

Joachim's Germany hits a new low

While 10 of the 14 qualified European teams have made it to the knockout stage, the abject subjugation of defending champion Germany, which lost two of its group games to finish last, has provided the tournament with its biggest upset. The football nobility of the world has found it tough with the group games evidently showing the narrowing of the gap between them and the rest of the world. “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 his team’s 1-0 win over England.

Croatia humbled Argentina 3-0 in the Group D fixture - Getty Images

The manager along with his English counterpart Gareth Southgate, however, were summarily criticised for fielding weakened sides in an apparent bid to find an easier way to the later stages. The hallowed generation of Belgium – boasting players liked Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku – 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 quarterfinal stage. “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.

Brazil, which faces the slayer of Germany – 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 performance. The pragmatism of Oscar Tabarez has served Uruguay as the two-time winner moved to the knockout rounds with a hundred percent record along with Croatia and Belgium. The attacking quality and the togetherness of the Croats have taken all of us by surprise with Luka Modric and the rest handing Argentina a lesson in a 3-0 drubbing, which almost pushed the Latin side out of the competition.

Spain vs Morocco

The usage of VAR created confusion and anger in some of the group stage matches   -  Getty Images

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 more of the attacking mantle leaving the 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’s 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 Sampaoli, 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 benefitted in the match against Morocco from the correct implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which has had a mixed debut so far. 

Samara, Volga and a Russian Maradona

The referral, here, rightly allowed Iago Aspas’ equaliser in the 90th minute, but horribly got it 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 has been an organisational success so far - GETTY IMAGES

 

The tournament, however, has already been an organisational success with the Russian public opening their hearts and homes – joining the stellar efforts of its government, transport and law enforcement authorities – for the strong contingent of foreign fans.

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