FIFA World Cup 2018: Expect the unexpected
Written by: Waseem Zaidi
Champions' curse, minnows coming out all guns blazing and Africans disappointing miserably this tournament has had it all.
The FIFA World Cup is a stage where the top 32 teams that undergo and pass a tough qualifying process ply their trade and battle it out for the ultimate tag of world champions. In every edition, we see a minor nation in terms of experience and overall skill go up against and manage to upset the big, established and experienced national teams from Europe and South America.
There are some minnows at every World Cup who come up with passion and unmatched desire to leave a lasting impression on world football. They punch way above their weight and give the fans some memorable ‘David Vs Goliath’ clashes. Match-ups between the big favourites and the minnows who nobody backs, sometimes generate major upsets and some memorable World Cup moments along the way.
South Korea's spectacular performance eliminated Germany from the World Cup
The Italian debacle of 2010 and the Spanish slump of 2014 have been extensively talked about. Both then world champions were at the receiving end of major upsets, kicked out in the group stages itself. While Italy failed to win a single match in their 2010 title defence, Spain were outclassed by a flying Dutchmen.
Interestingly, France were also knocked out in the 2002 World Cup group stages, after winning the previous edition. The Germans were also unable to shrug off this curse, being knocked out in the group stage for the first time in history.
The 2018 edition in Russia has upheld the tradition of upsets. The first and the most shocking upset was Mexico’s 1-0 victory against Germany. Later, the Germans saved some face by defeating Sweden 2-1, thanks to Toni Kroos' sublime free-kick. However, the embarrassment for the lacklustre Die Mannschaft did not end there.
To the shock of all the fans around the world, South Korea came up with a gritty performance, won 2-0 and sent the world champions packing. This meant that, for the third consecutive time, the world champions made their exit from the group stages in their title defence.
Mexico's Lozano scoring the winner against Germany
A major upset is every writer’s dream to cover. There is nothing more symbolic than a minnow or upcoming team toppling the mighty giant by showing their mettle and giving the big hotshots a run for their money.
Teams like Iran, Iceland, Nigeria, Mexico, Morocco and Japan have shown immense hunger and desire. Japan’s victory over Colombia in their opening clash was nothing short of a symbolic victory for the whole of Asian football, as they became the first Asian nation ever to defeat South American opposition at the World Cup.
That further lead to a dramatic end to their group as Japan pipped Senegal by becoming the first team ever to go through to the knockout rounds on fair play points.
Colombia did their bit and avoided an embarrassing exit by defeating Senegal in the decider, but then were eliminated by a young and inexperienced England side on penalties. Although, there haven’t been many outright victories, Iran’s draw against European champions Portugal, and Iceland’s draw with the mighty Argentina, who were the runner-ups last time around, are a few examples of how the group stages of this World Cup were more about the smaller nations and their resolve.
The trend of upsets did not stop at the group stages with Russia eliminating Spain in a thrilling Round of 16 clash. World Champions back in 2010, La Roja, found it difficult to break down the Russians who were playing with resolve and huge support from the home crowd. Their win over the Spaniards was the perfect reward for their immense hard-work and gave us one of the most memorable moments of the World Cup.
Argentina dodged a bullet and saved themselves from making an embarrassing early exit by beating Nigeria late on in their match. They met France in the next round who were also massively underperforming. In fact, no other big team apart from England and Belgium, with Croatia as an exception, have looked convincing enough. Brazil also prevented their own early exit by defeating Serbia in their last group stage fixture, but could not defeat Belgium in the quarterfinals and bowed out. Judging by the trend in this World Cup, it can surely be said that it was full of upsets.
Teams like Poland and Egypt made an early exit from the tournament, after disappointing displays that saw them going down to teams like Senegal and Russia respectively. As mentioned earlier, this World Cup has been full of exciting and shocking results, major upsets and underperforming big teams. It remains to be seen which national side will finally find their rhythm and go all the way to be crowned as the World Cup 2018 winners.
Published: Mon Jul 16, 2018 05:22 PM IST