What a start to the 2018 World Cup. VAR, penalties and absolute wonder-goals – but where are the usual international titans? Objectively underwhelming performances from many of the competition’s biggest powerhouses have provided many a country with wholesome game-play, and for some, hope of a decent foray into the latter rounds of the World Cup. So far, a series of unexpected performances and results has cast doubt over the current favourites to win.
Against a lack-lustre Egypt side without their talisman, Mohammed Salah, the much-lauded attack of Uruguay was largely ineffective. While boasting an attack of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, it took them until the 89th minute to grab the winner with a Jose Maria Gimenez header. While not one of the biggest favourites in the competition, it would have been largely certain that they would top a group that contained Saudi Arabia, Russia and Egypt. However, given the convincing demolition of Saudi Arabia by Russia (5-0), and a mercurial performance by standout star Aleksandr Golovin, the door is wide open for the host nation to seize top spot in group A.
Ronaldo’s masterclass, Messi’s travails
In the match providing all the needed entertainment value, the fluid passing excellence of Spain met the Cristiano show in a wild 3-3 draw. In this colossal meeting, other competing countries will take many positives. Ronaldo will always be Ronaldo, but Portugal looked little more than that. With a penalty, a Cristiano masterclass free-kick and a De-Gea mistake, Portugal barely scraped a point against Spain as Diego Costa romped a brace and Isco pulled all the strings. Lacking any real threat other than a few flashes from PSG’s Goncalo Guedes, Portugal look like they may need to find their stride to provide a true threat in the ensuing matches. While Spain looked fluid and dangerous, they gained only a single point and are clearly susceptible to the defensive mistake given their repeated loss of a lead against their intercontinental neighbours.
In the South-American contingent, Lionel Messi’s Argentina failed to seal all three points after losing their initial lead to World Cup debutants, Iceland. None of George Sampaouli’s substitutes made a substantial impact and Croatia were left to top the group after beating Nigeria 2-0 the following day. Similarly, Brazil also only managed a 1-1 draw with underdogs, Switzerland, after Steven Zuber powered a bullet header past Alisson to level with Coutinho’s trademark stunner. Between the respective teams of Neymar and Messi, there is a clear issue where these teams of sensational attacking talent have yet to find their stride.
An opening for England and Belgium
Heading back to central Europe, where Didier Deschamp’s France couldn’t really hit full pace and ground out a relatively unentertaining 2-1 win over Australia with the help of a VAR decided penalty converted by Antoine Griezmann. Australia played a fantastic defensive game but fans could be forgiven for worrying about the lethargic look of the French team during the game.
Doubts about the inexperience of the 23-man squad will be on the mind of the manager as the front three of Dembele, Mbappe and Griezmann failed to create any tangible plays – continuing with the substitution of Liverpool target Nabil Fekir. Furthermore, a 35th minute Hirving Lozano robbed Germany of any points in their opening game. Perhaps they will not be so worried as Die Mannschaft looked relatively on pace but were simply unable to break the low block of the Mexican defence. If only they had an explosive substitute to bring on in such situations, prompting the further questions about Leroy Sane’s omission.
With England and Belgium yet to play at the time of writing, an opportunity has seemingly arisen for a team to make its mark on this World Cup. Whether it be an underdog run like Ghana in 2010 or simply like Germany’s demolition run in Brazil 2014, this year is crying out for someone to take the competition by the scruff of its neck. The usual big teams are currently misfiring and there is a small vacancy for greatness. We all know the ease in which football fans start to believe they are on the edge of greatness, but is football finally coming home?