a post by “the self-appointed Desk Cop of football“: the Crow.
Note: Due to technical difficulties, this post has been cut short. An expanded version will be posted soon.
We are now half-way through the first knockout round of the FIFA World Cup 2018; and has it ever brought us many a surprise already.
Portugal — heavily favoured in the lead-up to the tournament — and Denmark find themselves joining former champions Argentina and Spain on their way out of Russia. And in their place: Croatia, hosts Russia, and former champions Uruguay and France advance to the Quarter-Finals.
And — I repeat — that’s after only half of the Round of 16 games have been played.
With that said, let’s take a quick look at the former winners of the tournament, and how many of them still remain in contention (the teams no longer involved have been faded):
As we can see: the amount of trophies accumulated by teams either not qualified or eliminated from the tournament outweighs the number of trophies shared between those still in play by two.
And that makes things rather exciting; especially when one takes into account that one of the leading favourites, Portgual, has also been taken out of the running.
The fact that Belgium, Brazil, France, Japan, Mexico, and Uruguay find themselves on one side of the bracket leading up to the final, it means that one of Colombia, Croatia, England, Russia, Sweden, or Switzerland have an equal chance of reaching the final. And these latter six teams have only one former champion amongst them: England.
And within the next 48 hours, the number of teams involved on that latter side of that divide will go down by two, as will the former.
As a native supporter, I’m hoping England finds a way past Colombia. But, if asked for the names of the other countries I would like to go through to the Quarter-Finals, I would prefer:
- Belgium: They’re building their history as we speak, with a golden generation, and I would like for them to progress a bit further in the tournament.
- Mexico: Do we really need the only real heavyweight left in the tournament to go far, again?
- Switzerland: Sweden have a better recent record against England given our last meetings, so — just based on that one sliver of a thought — I’d like them erased from the tournament ASAP.
Now, all I can do is but wait and see if my ‘predictions’ come true by the time the dust settles on Thursday evening.
AKINFEEV vs DE GEA
At this juncture, let’s discuss the shootout between Russia and Spain.
In the first game of the 2018 World Cup to go to Extra Time; and thereafter, a Penalty Shootout, we were treated to a rather lacklustre display of football between the hosts (heavily out-favoured) and Spain, who must still be recovering from their disgraceful exit at the hands of the Champion’s Curse in 2014, as well as the shenanigans surrounding their staff on the day before the start of the tournament.
Russia seemed afraid leading up to the kick-off — shaping up in a 5-3-2 formation against Spain’s variation of the more-standard 4-4-2 (the variant featuring a man “in the hole”, resembling a two-fronted 4-3-3 when attacking; a very versatile formation, if used correctly). But despite this highly-conservative approach to the game on paper, Russia managed to play a mix of counter-attacking and “pressure-absorbing” (for lack of better terminology) football against Spain’s typical movement from triangle passing, drawing runs from Spain’s free — and forward-venturing — wing-backs, and breaking upon quick changes in possession.
And then, the dreaded ghost-attacker Own Goal blessed La Furia Roja with a beautiful scorpion kick (after possessing Sergei Ignashevich) to make it 0-1 against the hosts — only for the advantage to be rendered useless via a moment of reckless stupidity by Gerard Piqué, resulting in a spot-kick that Artem Dzyuba buried without breaking so much as a sweat.
Now, to skip to the most entertaining part of the match (ignoring Spain and Russia’s last-gasp attempts at trying to edge their noses in front).
I’ve, for a long time, admired Igor Akinfeev. He’s long-been a top-tier goalkeeper for club and country, but I’ve rarely had the chance to watch him as much as I’d like. And I find him quite underappreciated, considering most people only watch the major European leagues (the English Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Serie A).
And I’ve admired David de Gea since I first heard of his impending arrival at Manchester United. He is — without question — the best shot-stopper in the world (albeit, horribly out-of-form at the moment).
And there they were: facing down the others’ team, with all the weight of their country’s expectations on their shoulders.
And it was Igor Akinfeev who came away with “the W”. To be honest: I’d expected Spain’s superior striking ability (an assumption) to buy them a way out.
Perhaps it was a combination of fatigue and accumulated stress over the long game, but Spain’s attempts at converting from the spot were underwhelming. But in the end, it was a spectacular save by Akinfeev to erase the need for Russia to even convert their final penalty before the game went to “sudden death” — a true “Captain’s Contribution”.
SCHMEICHEL vs SUBAŠIĆ
And now, we get to the shootout between Croatia and Denmark.
To be honest: I didn’t watch the bulk of the match. I only caught the tail-end of Extra Time — by which point I had already started writing out this post — and the Penalty Shootout.
Without much to say about the game, I’ll point out that what I did see seemed quite tame. It wasn’t thrilling stuff, but it was somewhat a valiant effort by Denmark, given their superior — on paper — opposition.
Luka Modrić missed a penalty during regulation time (following an exquisite pass which no professional-tier defender should ever allow past them), which might have given the Danish some hope, leading into the Penalty Shootout, but it was no foreshadowing for the shootout itself.
There were a few decent saves, but mostly some tame shots, and in the end, it was Croatia who came away with “the W”, following Ivan Rakitić‘s slotting away Croatia’s fifth penalty, on the brink of “sudden death”.
All-in-all, I must say: today was a day for goalkeepers.
THE RACE FOR THE BOOT AND ENGLAND vs BELGIUM
Harry Kane still leads the charge for the Golden Boot — still one goal behind last year’s top scorer and one ahead of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo (who closed his account last night) as far as the humans go. However, head and shoulders above the competition stands the almighty Own Goal with ten goals to his ghostly name.
And before I forget:
To address the final section from my last post: what a sad, pathetic showing the match was for all parties involved. The King illustrated the match to a tee in his last video for Eurosport. I have no words to describe the game apart from the fact I’m happy it’s done and over with. That’s all.
Now that it’s finished, and all the noise about finishing first or second is over, I’d rather everyone supporting England has Colombia on their minds.
Good luck to all the teams involved in the next four games of this stage of the tournament, and we’ll be back with another World Cup post summing up the Round of 16 once it’s over.
See you later.
— Crow out.
2nd July, 2018
- Brazil vs Mexico | Samara, 1500 GMT
- Belgium vs Japan | Rostov-on-Don, 1900 GMT
3rd July, 2018
- Sweden vs Switzerland | St Petersburg, 1500 GMT
- England vs Colombia | Otkritiye, 1900 GMT