World Cup 2018: Five lessons learned from the group stage | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 28.06.2018
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World Cup 2018: Five lessons learned from the group stage

From shocking upsets to unfathomable goals, the 2018 World Cup has had football fans around the world on the edge of their seats during the group stage. But what have we learned so far?

The big teams aren't invincible

Germany got knocked out at the group stage for the first time in a World Cup as their title defense went up in smoke, but they weren’t the only major nation to look lackluster so far. 

Read more: Germany pay price for their complacency

Argentina, World Cup finalists four years ago, needed a late winner from defender Marcos Rojo to get out of Group D. Spain topped their group despite drawing with Portugal and Morocco. France, finalists at the 2016 European Championship, did just enough to beat Australia and Peru before drawing with Denmark.

These international titans may return to their normal selves in the knockout stages, but their opponents may not be quaking in their boots.

Brazil are (still) really good

Many grouped five-time champions Brazil with the other underperforming giants after they drew 1-1 with Switzerland. The Selecao seemed to have turned the corner though, thanks not to superstar Neymar, but the masterful Philippe Coutinho.

Fußball WM 2018 Gruppe E Brasilien - Schweiz Coutinho (Reuters/J. Cairnduff)

Philippe Coutinho netted twice as Brazil topped Group E to set up a tie with Mexico.

The two sides they beat, Costa Rica and Serbia, sat deep in their own halves for most of the games. But the Brazilians were nonetheless able to find the back of the net with Coutinho pulling the strings.

Brazil’s frontline is enough to give opponents nightmares. More importantly, head coach Tite seems to have a team that is buying into his ideas.

If they keep trending upwards, it may soon be time to start using two hands to count their World Cup titles.

Plenty of dark horses

Even after the group stage, odds makers still aren’t favoring Uruguay, Croatia or Colombia to win the World Cup. However, all three of those teams won their groups and, unlike some of the bookies' favorites, impressed in the group stages.

Croatia was one of only three sides to win all of their group games, dismantling Argentina along the way. Their stars – Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic – are in top form. 

Uruguay squeaked out wins against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but handed hosts Russia a 3-0 shellacking. Their defensive pair, Atletico Madrid teammates Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, have been magnanimous, even if Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez haven’t hit top gear yet.

Colombia may have the best chances of all of them after winning Group H. They face an unheralded England side in the last 16 and possibly either Sweden or Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Could they can go one better than in 2014?

England profit from Kane's Golden Boot chase

Cristiano Ronaldo set the benchmark for goal scoring in the opening round of fixtures when he netted a hat trick in the 3-3 draw with Spain. However, come the end of the group stage, it is Harry Kane leading the way in goal scoring, despite having featured in only two of England’s three group games.

Russland WM 2018 England gegen Panama (Reuters/M. Childs)

An Englishman scoring from the penalty spot? Surely not! Harry Kane can do it all.

A brace against Tunisia preceded a hat trick against Panama, meaning that Kane now has as many goals to his name as Miroslav Klose and Thomas Müller needed to win the Golden Boot in 2006 and 2010 respectively.  

It took James Rodriguez six strikes to claim the award in Brazil and, in the round of 16, Kane has a chance to make his case against the titleholder when Colombia meet England in Moscow.

VAR's debut leaves a lot to be desired

VAR was a big talking point coming into the World Cup and, following its use in the group stage, the debate raging on about it is fiercer than ever.

We've seen how VAR can be implemented in a positive way with goals like that of Iago Aspas whose late equalizer, which stood after an offside call was correctly overruled, sent Spain top of Group B.

However, more often than not the decisions have led to confusion and derision from fans and pundits in equal measure. VAR's debut has added to the exciting nature of this World Cup, but it's debut hasn't quite gone according to plan yet.

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