Four years ago, Joachim Low’s Germany were hailed as the next all conquering side of world football. The gold generation Spanish squad of the late 2000’s were always a hard act to follow, playing sublime football with the trophies to back it up.
When Die Mannschaft’s selection was released for this summer, jaws dropped. Not only at the sheer depth within the 23, but at the missing name of Premier League Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane. They swept to victory in the Confederations Cup with Sane integral, leaving the winger out was a risk which proved costly.
On the 27th June, South Korea were the final straw to break Germany’s fragile back-line, Heun Min-Son inflicting the devastating last blow on the bewildered and humbled, former world champions. A damming stat that might condemn Low to the sack, is they led for a minute and half in their three group games, only due to a stunning winner from Toni Kroos at the death against Sweden. No cutting edge, no domineering defending and lack of leaders, Sane certainly would’ve helped cut open Korea.
If this World Cup has done anything, it has proven once and for all that football isn’t won on paper. Germany bottom in a group of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea is unthinkable, unfathomable, unbelievable, and yet.
Sweden defying logic to silence their former talisman, Zlatan is quiet now. Mexico were brave and bold and apart from a last game collapse to the Swedes, their counter-attacking approach took down Germany. Whilst South Korea had the last laugh with Son enhancing his own highlight reel.
They were the biggest fish to be caught, but if you’ve watched many games from this tournament, the superpower nations have often scratched and clawed their way through games.
Uruguay, built as a dark-horse of the tournament, just doing enough to beat Saudi Arabia. Spain and Portugal were lucky against Iran and Morocco, they brought the atmosphere and were courageous but missed that ruthless striker. France didn’t showcase their array of stars well when facing Peru or Australia. Argentina were shown up by all they faced, particularly Croatia who look impressive. Whilst Brazil have been the only juggernaut to look like themselves, but only really by the final group game with Serbia.
But rather than just falter the favourites, the underdogs have been tactically astute, brave and strong in defence and with VAR, have had help with big decisions too. The new system has been smoothly efficient, of course with the occasional hiccup but with percentage of correct decisions going up to 99.3%, you have to call it a success.
Now, the knock-out stages will separate the good from the best. There is a guarantee that one of England, Switzerland Sweden or Colombia will make a World Cup semi-final, by that stage it’s anyone’s game really. The momentum and lack of fear they will be carrying, you’d be delusional to rule out one more baffling upset. The other side of the draw is stacked with colossal encounters, France vs Argentina and Uruguay vs Portugal both tomorrow.
Mexico and Croatia are intriguing outsiders on separate draws, as well as the hosts who will be buoyed to spring a shock against Spain.
This summer has caused enough shockwaves before the end of June, but this summer can still be the most unpredictable and best World Cup for many a year.