2018 FIFA World Cup: The Most Surprising Year So Far
The FIFA World Cup is now on full blast, and the different competing teams are giving out their best shot to see who wins this year’s title. However, this year’s tournament is a bit different as the World Cup started out differently.
Everything that happened in its first week was surprising. The Brazilians failed to defeat the underdog Switzerland as they finished with a 1-1 draw. Mexico also surprised the reigning champion, Germany, after giving it a 0-1 shocker. No one saw these things coming, but that’s not the end of it.
Germany, having learned their lesson from the Euro 2000 disappointment, knew how to deal with things this time around. Joachim Low administered a couple of changes. Just like how multi-cultural their society has become, so too did their approach in the game.
Gone are the plays which focused on flair, as they now prioritize discipline and slow-paced attacks. This made them an unpredictable force in Russia. It might be a bit unorthodox, but at least they changed their game and made sure that their style won’t be read by their opponents.
Good thing that their new approach proved right as they dominated the Confederations Cup, and in the process, qualified for the World Cup. It was a huge sigh of relief for the Germans as it boosted their confidence.
As what most would say, Die Mannschaft is the LeBron James of football. Unfortunately, King James was thrashed in the NBA Finals this season, and that’s just what happened when Germany faced off Mexico during their first game.
The German squad was no match to Mexico's stamina, speed, technique, and focus. They concentrated on all aspects of the game, which, unfortunately, Germany didn't do. The Mexicans drew the Germans weakness from the midfield and further leveled them deep into the forward positions.
Sami Khedira was surprisingly slow during the entirety of the game. Even his mates at the midfield, Mesut Ozil, and Tony Kroos were struggling from behind. Their tackles were everywhere, and they just can't seem to find their rhythm.
Joshua Kimmich, who’s known to be a strong supporter of creating out balls and throwing it into a fast winger, also got his strategy figured out as the Mexicans surrounding his expected pathways.
He was stunned minute after minute, and he can't do anything about it but just ponder on how they're going to lessen the disappointment that they're sure to bring in the final minutes.
Their matchup just showed that modern football had changed a lot. It's not anymore about having the most number of possessions, but it's all about penetrating enemy lines. Once you go deep into enemy territory, then there's no doubt that you'd be in for a good ride.
That’s what happened with Mexico. They focused on breaking into attacks and surrounding key players with a barrage of defenders. The result? 1-0 victory over the reigning champs.
The Mexican squad is a team worthy of serious attention. They defeated Brazil in the 2012 Olympics and won gold, snatching Neymar any hopes of reigning supreme in Rio. They have also won the World U-17 two times.
Germany also had a disappointing time in the friendlies. Yes, they won 2-1 against Saudi Arabia, but that isn’t enough of a score knowing that they’re the world champs and Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest underdogs in the competition.
Nonetheless, they’ve learned from that, as well as with their matchup with Mexico.
Meanwhile, Brazil's draw with Switzerland is a sign that they need not to feel over-confident. They're jam-packed with stars, after all. Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, and Gabriel Jesus, who are some of the biggest stars in the football world, all adhere to Tite’s calls.
But that isn’t enough to bring them big wins in the competition. Take for example Steven Zuber’s saving goal kick at the 50th minute. No one knew or expected that the Swiss would be capable of acing the final minutes of the game.
It was a disaster for the hopeful Brazilians, perhaps because they got loads of talent on their squad.
The Swiss team also knew that Brazil would highly depend on Neymar’s skills. And so, what they did was they flocked him with aggressive defenders. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Valon Behrami showed how menacing they could be when they’re directed to swarm high-profile enemies.
But then again, this doesn’t mean that the Germans won’t survive the group stage. After all, they’re the reigning champs, right? They’ve also got Manuel Neuer who knows the ins and outs of goalkeeping very well.
Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, and Tony Kroos are also going to take care of the attacks and midfield roles and make sure that Mario Gomez does what Joachim Low wants. Once the group stage is through, and Germany rises above its former group members, then that would be the time that we can expect a Germany versus Brazil pre-quarterfinal.
Forecasts went wrong
Forecasts are supposed to be accurate and precise predictions of how the games will turn out. However, that isn’t the case with what happened during the first week of the World Cup. Who would expect Germany, Brazil, Spain, and Argentina not to win their first games?
Of course, everyone would expect that these superpower clubs will dominate the early stages of the tournament, especially that they’re going against much weaker teams.
But then again, this isn’t surprising because this is the same thing that happened during the 2010 World Cup when Spain lost their opening game against Switzerland. However, they dominated the group and even won the title.
Then four years later, England lost against Italy, only to finish the group stage on top, leaving Italy to wish their luck next time around. In fact, the Italians failed to get a spot for this year’s World Cup, which is their first time over the past 50 years. It sure is a disappointing campaign for them.
The lesson here is to not jump to conclusions. The World Cup is a long tournament, and there is lots of room to make up for losses. The contest will run from June 14 to July 15, which is a lot of time for the teams to change techniques and further strategize.
However, Germany’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Mexicans showed that there’s still a bit of complacency present in their team, which they said over and over again that they’re going to avoid.
Their team that is jam-packed with talent proved no match for Mexico’s aggressive dynamism and flair. Mexico just exploited the open spaces left by Joshua Kimmich. The 23-year-old right-back didn’t focus on his position.
Instead, what he did was he kept moving back and forth between the right back and central midfield positions. This resulted in a broken defense, which ultimately gave space for their opponents to grab any chance of breaking into their core.
Leroy Sane was supposed to be Joachim Low’s go-to midfielder winger, but for some reason, he was left out of the final Germany squad. If only he played for the team, then the game might have turned the other way around.
Toni Kroos seemed to be lost in sync with his fellow midfielders Julian Draxler, Sami Khedira, and Ilkay Gundogan.
Meanwhile, Argentina’s overconfidence on their star player, Messi, cost them a lot as they failed to thrash the Icelandic force. The game ended in a draw 1-1, which is a hint that there’s something lacking in their squad.
Perhaps a little bit more teamwork will do? Well, that isn’t hard to analyze as that had been their issue over the past World Cups.
Argentina needs to strengthen its defense and shift some of its attacking force into its midfield line. They might be strong offensively, but their defense has some serious drawbacks. Messi is more of an offensive attacker.
He lacks a defensive play.
Though Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero are there to support him, Messi still needs to change his game a bit, probably into becoming more of an all-rounder, just like what his rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, has become.
Then there’s the Spanish team which was surprised after knowing that Julien Lopetegui wasn’t anymore their manager a day before the World Cup started. Good thing Fernando Hierro adapted into the team’s environment and survived their brawl with the Portuguese.
They showed that they’ve got what it takes to take this year’s trophy, until Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, tying the game 3-3.
The Spaniards had a great time passing. What made it even better was that their passes were on point. Accuracy and precision was the name of the game for Spain, but as to whether that will continue, we still don’t know.
Diego Costa is also comfortable being Spain’s go-to striker. He doesn’t mind the pressure, and that’s what’s nice about him. For sure, the veteran, Andres Iniesta, is going to have a great time playing with him together in the field.
The other way around
Brazil went through a serious issue during their faceoff with Switzerland. Stephen Zuber’s push on Miranda appeared to be blatant. What made it even worse was that there was nothing doing about it.
But then again, that wasn’t much of a big deal as the outcome of the game. A 1-1 draw against the Swiss team shows how fragile the Brazilians had become. Specifically speaking, their defense had weakened, and their competitiveness levels dropped to an all-time low, well, at least for that single game.
The star player of the team, Neymar, is also in the process of finding back his rhythm after being dormant for four months due to the injury he sustained in the French Ligue One. But based on the looks of it, one can expect that Neymar will be back on full blast in a few days or at most a week.
The less-popular teams in Russia are also expected to surprise everyone if one was to look at their previous performances over the past week.
The French squad looked flimsy, but look at how their game against Australia went. They defeated the Socceroo 2-1. Antoine Griezmann’s charisma and Aziz Behich’s agility late in the game bore fruit as they each made a goal.
Australia’s Mile Jedinak might have also scored one in the 62nd minute, but it didn’t do anything to uplift his teammate’s desire to win the game. Then there’s the aspiring Serbians who won by a small margin against Costa Rica.
Their game ended 0-1, thanks to Aleksandar Kolarov’s 56th-minute goal. However, he's not the only one worth highlighting during that game, as Sergei Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio, also did a lot to help the Serbians win.
His strong flicks and witty passes proved too much to handle for the disappointed Costa Ricans.
Some even consider him as the next Zinedine Zidane. Well, that makes sense, but it should be taken with a grain of salt as he still has a lot to learn, especially when it comes to tackling and creating midfield spaces.
It just turns out that their style and pace are similar to each other. And it's possible for Milinkovic-Savic to move to Real Madrid, knowing that he’s a huge fan of the Spanish club.
The biggest shocker of this year’s World Cup was with the host country. Who would have thought that the lowest-ranked team in the tournament is capable of dominating its group. Their opening game against Saudi Arabia was one of the team’s most joyous occasions as they finished it with a 5-0 score.
It was a complete annihilation of the Saudi Arabian team. Muwallad, Al Sahlawi, and Hawsawi’s aggressiveness didn’t bear any fruit as Danis Cheryshev, Yury Gazinsky, Artem Dzuyba and Aleksandr Golovin all had their fair share of goal kicking.
Three of those goals were scored in ordinary time, while the remaining two were made in injury time.
It was a huge victory for them as it signaled the start of a game-changer kind of season for the hosts. Nonetheless, the matchup wasn't that challenging for the Russians as the Saudi Arabian team is known for its slow-paced gameplay.
Indeed, their opener gave them a solid boost.
The Mexicans knew that they were up for greater things this season as they started the World Cup with a huge shocker. No one expected the reigning champs, Germany, to get defeated in their opening first game.
But still, luck stood by their side, or should we say skills. Everyone knew how inconsistent the Mexicans were, but this time, it went the other way around as the German squad was literally in ruins throughout the game.
Juan Carlos Osorio surely had set his team right as they knew who to attack at precise intervals. Hirving Lozano scored a goal in the 35th minute. The crowd knew that it was only a starter’s luck, but then, the Mexicans defense got well sorted out.
The Germans did their best to break into their lines, but they can't. Osorio's men continued their solid lines as they matched it with constant attacks. This resulted in an exhausted Die Mannschaft.
They had a barrage of attempts, 26 shots to be specific, but surprisingly, none of those went through. Kudos to Guillermo Ochoa for that.