After 14 days of highs and lows the World Cup has reached its first rest day.
With no football to watch its time to take a look back on the group stages that have just finished.
First and foremost the 16 remaining teams are as follows:
Biggest surprise: Russia and Japan
A number of teams have been surprise packages most notably the host nation Russia. Many pundits had predicted an early exit for Russia favouring Egypt to finish second. They laid down a marker with a 5-0 opening win over Saudi Arabia and proceeded to book their place in the last 16 with a 3-1 win against Egypt.
This Russia team has run itself into the ground, what it lacks in skill and technique it makes up for with hard work and determination. They avoided joining South Africa in becoming the second host nation to fail to make the knockout stages. Having said that against Uruguay Russia were reminded of the gulf in class that separates them from the big boys.
They face a huge task if they are to make the quarter-finals with Spain their next opposition. Regardless of that result they can feel they did their nation proud against all expectations.
Japan have been another team to exceed expectations. The Blue Samurai were not given much hope heading into Group H both at home and around the world. A 2-1 win over 10-man Colombia could have been written off as lucky but Japan proved they are a serious team twice coming from behind to draw 2-2 with Senegal. A 1-0 loss to Poland meant they finished level with Senegal progressing to the last 16 thanks to a better disciplinary record.
They will face Belgium in the last 16 and having already exceeded all expectations they have nothing to lose and everything to gain next time out.
Best game: Portugal 3-3 Spain
Just two days into the World Cup and we were treated to a classic. The Iberian rivals threw caution to the wind resulting in a six goal thriller.
This one wasn’t a slow burner either the drama began right from the off with Portugal winning a penalty inside four minutes which Cristiano Ronaldo duly converted. Not to be outdone Diego Costa used his brute strength and sublime footwork to fire Spain level before David De Gea made a catastrophic blunder spilling what should have been a routine shot from Ronaldo into his net.
Spain didn’t let this hamper their style replying through Costa after the break with a well worked set-piece. They then took the lead through a contender for goal of the tournament from Nacho.
Portugal left it late but in injury time a free kick on the edge of the box allowed Ronaldo to complete his hat-trick and saw the game end in a draw.
Biggest underperformer: Germany
The curse of the defending champions is real!
Germany join France, Italy and Spain on a list of defending champions to have been knocked out in the group stage.
A shock 1-0 loss to Mexico was thought to have been a rough start that would spur the team into gear. They rode their luck against Sweden delaying their early exit thanks to a stunning Toni Kroos goal in the 94th minute.
This goal would be the catalyst for Die Mannschaft surely? Wrong. All they needed was a win against already eliminated South Korea but they slumped to a 2-0 loss. The Germans never seemed to be in a rush to take the lead until they heard Sweden had gone ahead against Mexico.
Chances were created but the end product wasn’t there. They simply weren’t good enough and shocking as it maybe they deserve to leave at the group stage for the first time since 1938.
Best team to be knocked out: Morocco
Morocco can certainly feel hard done by to be heading home at this stage of the competition. Had it not been for that 94th minute own goal against Iran Group B could have been so different. Pace, power and skill were abundant in this side and they weren’t afraid to go toe to toe with the big boys. They were unfortunate to lose 1-0 to Portugal and showed their quality in their 2-2 draw with Spain.
They feel aggrieved with the standard of officiating they received against Portugal and Spain and certainly deserved more than the one point they earned. Many journalists have declared this to be one of the finest sides to leave the World Cup at the group stage.
Honourable mentions must be given to Peru and Senegal who played good technical football with a smile on each of the players faces.
Player of the round: Philippe Coutinho
A number of players shone in the group stage but none have done so quite like Philippe Coutinho. The winger scored a stunner to give Brazil the lead against Switzerland, a game they would go on to draw, but he turned up again when the Selecao needed him the most opening the scoring against Costa Rica in the 91st minute.
Coutinho also provided the assist for Paulinho who gave Brazil the lead against Serbia. The Barcelona winger has been pulling the creative strings for Brazil and has taken the limelight away from the underperforming Neymar.
If he continues to play the way he it’s hard to see him not winning the Player of the Tournament.
Team of the group stage:
Goalkeeper – Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Guillermo Ochoa has been outstanding for Mexico once again at this World Cup. A key player in El Tri’s 1-0 win over Germany he dealt with the prolonged Germany siege of his goal with relative ease. He impressed again against South Korea and had absolutely no chance of saving Heung-min Son’s last-minute consolation goal. Couldn’t do much in Mexico’s 3-0 loss to Sweden but is one of the best keepers left in the tournament.
Left-back – Yerry Mina (Colombia)
Admittedly he doesn’t play as a left-back but he deserves his place in the team so he’ll have to adapt. Yerry Mina didn’t feature in Colombia’s opening 2-1 loss to Japan but has shown why José Pékerman rates him so highly in the two games since. Standing at 6’5″ Mina is a towering center-back who deals with long-balls with ease. His physicality makes him difficult to get around and his partnership with Davidson Sanchez appears to grow stronger with each game. He opened the scoring against Poland from a corner and headed home the winner against Senegal to book Colombia’s place in the last 16.
Centre-back – Diego Godin (Uruguay)
It is no accident that Uruguay stormed through Group A with the best defensive record of any team at the World Cup. Godin and Atletico Madrid team-mate Jose Maria Gimenez formed a formidable obstacle throughout the first round. A no-nonsense defender Godin is one of the best in the World and will pose a serious challenge for Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the last 16.
Centre-back Andreas Granqvist (Sweden)
It’s an old centre-back pairing but like Godin, Granqvist has been the leader of his side, a Sweden team that have surprised everyone by qualifying above champions Germany. Granqvist has proven himself to be as calm and organised in his box as he is in the opposition’s, calmly dispatching two penalties.
Right-back – Stephan Lichtsteiner (Switzerland)
Stephan Lichtsteiner has been exemplary for Switzerland. He shackled Neymar in their first group game keeping the Brazilian star quiet for the 90 minutes despite spending over 40 minutes of that on a yellow card. A solid defender he’s not afraid to get forward and has shown great leadership notably rallying his players when they went behind against Serbia, a game they went on to win 2-1.
Centre-midfield – Luka Modric (Croatia)
Another example of a captain leading by example. Modric has been the playmaker for Croatia orchestrating their run to the top of Group D. He was on hand to dispatch a penalty in their opening game against Nigeria and picked apart Argentina scoring a belter to secure Croatia’s place in the last 16. If he continues to perform as he has Croatia may well be dark horses for this World Cup.
Centre-midfield – Juan Quintero (Colombia)
Okay so Quintero hasn’t technically been a central midfielder but with James Rodriguez struggling for fitness he has stepped up into the role of talisman. His left foot is a wand, creating chances, with two assists, and even scoring himself. Colombia like to break quickly with pace so having someone with the calmness and passing vision of Quintero is crucial.
Centre-midfield – Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
Whilst Neymar has struggled to really get going Coutinho has taken the World Cup by storm thus far. He opened the tournament with that stunner against Switzerland and has been industrious as a central midfielder. His shuttling across the pitch, vision and ability to create something out of nothing is pivotal to Brazil’s chances. As demonstrated with his nice assist for Paulinho against Serbia.
Left wing – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Admittedly he doesn’t play as a winger but for this team he will. To put it simply, if it were not for their top scorer Portugal would most likely be packing their bags for the trip home right now. Ronaldo netted a hat-trick against Spain to earn his side a point in the game of the tournament so far, before hitting the winner against Morocco to help his team move towards the last 16. He looked off form against Iran missing a penalty before lashing out off the ball and is fortunate to not be banned for Portugal’s last 16 clash with Uruguay.
Striker – Harry Kane (England)
The Golden Boot leader. Yes Kane has rode his luck a little but no-one means more to this England team than their captain. He’s the player England are resting their hopes on and so far he is coping with that pressure without any obvious fatigue. Having sat out the Belgium game he will be raring to go in the knock-out stages.
Right wing – Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Lukaku is by no means a right-winger but he is a prolific goal scorer. He was rested against England but has still notched four times in his opening two matches. Lukaku’s finishes have been wonderful, a combination of little dinks and precise shots. He’s led the line well and brought the supporting cast into play – an excellent start to the tournament from the Manchester United forward.
Goal of the round: Toni Kroos – Germany 2-1 Sweden
This was perhaps the hardest category to decide but I’ve given the nod to Toni Kroos’ 94th minute winner for Germany. With their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread Kroos opted to go for glory instead of whipping in a cross. The result was spectacular and will be remembered long into the future despite Germany’s early exit.
The last 16 kicks off tomorrow and promises to bring more drama, goals and potentially more shocks.
Marking The Spot will bring you all the action as it happens so be sure to check the website and our social media accounts.