What I have learned so far is that my bracket is busted and we’re only through half of the group stage.
Like millions around the world, I picked my winners and losers. I did mine in a little bit of a rush, with no knowledge of what the rosters looked like.
I used history as my marker and went with my guts. The World Cup really is one of the few times you can do such a thing. So let’s see how I am doing thus far.
Russia has been a revelation thus far. Sure they scored five goals against Saudi Arabia, but coming into the World Cup they were a little shop of horror. With all their top defenders out through injury, Russia had to call up 38 year old defender Sergei Ignashevich to play. Mind you, he retired from the national team seven years ago!
Not only that, but with several injuries coming into the World Cup, many expected Russia to not progress from the group stages. I pegged them to finish third. Eight goals in their opening two games has people and myself thinking otherwise.
Iran were expected to finish last in Group B behind Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. Team Melli got a late winner against Morocco through an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz in the second minute of stoppage time, but a loss to Spain in the next game sees Iran lie third behind the heavy hitters from the Iberian Peninsula.
While Iran still may finish last, they have done a great service to themselves (and us all), by making it interesting with fun play (apart from maybe the first half against Spain)!
As the commentator said after their match against Argentina: “Iceland won 1-1.”
A hard fought draw, and a little luck when Leonel Messi missed a penalty. Iceland has pulled out a result many thought would be Messi’s statement game after what Cristiano Ronaldo did against Spain. I slotted them as last place and they might make me eat my own words.
Speaking of Ronaldo… A wonderful showcase of football between his Portuguese side and the mighty Spanish national team. Whatever Spain threw at Ronaldo, he gave it back like the showman he is. It culminated with his sensational free kick to give him the hat trick and 3-3 draw as the teams shared the spoils.
Though many have just been talking about Ronaldo’s performance, both teams made it a showcase for the neutral. I called a draw, by the way.
Serbia impressed me in their opening match. While I did select them to finish third, I thought the they played quite well and were buoyed by an outstanding Alexsandr Kolarov free kick. Ask Roma fans how much they enjoy that each week!
Certainly the biggest surprise for me, was the way Mexico came out and put on a masterclass against Germany. I had Mexico finishing second in the group. If Mexico continue this play, they will go deep into the tournament. We’ll see how the rest of their group matches go against teams that will sit back. But I am loving what I am seeing so far from Mexico.
Also, if you’re mad I’m praising Mexico as an American, don’t be. Nothing wrong with cheering for any country. As I have grown older, those nonsensical rivalry hatred talk has dissipated and I now just enjoy the game for what it is in all its glory.
This team was kicked in the mouth when Tunisia scored, but when it looked like England were again unable to live up to expectations, Harry Kane stepped up and gave the Three Lions a much needed three points. Bravo.
Japan and Senegal I picked to finish 3rd and 4th in their respective groups. Both came to play and I am happy I was wrong about both.
When you think Senegal, you think Sadio Mane, but they have so much talent. A back line with one of the best defenders on the planet, Kalidou Koulibaly, and a young phenom in Salif Sane.
Senegal are entertaining us like they did in 2002. Japan have given us the fight and spirit we are used to from them, though it had been missing leading up to the World Cup.
With Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda leading the way, they will certainly make it hard for any opponent.
Morocco were every bit the disappointment. A talented team such as Morocco has the skills to give every team in their group nightmares, but were outworked and outclassed by Iran, and perhaps out-lucked by the Portuguese. Perhaps Morocco overlooked Team Melli in their first game, which has proven to be the wrong decision.
I had Peru escaping Group C, and while they certainly entertained against Denmark, their finishing was poor. Their 1-0 defeat against France means they are one of the teams whose World Cup has ended early.
Nigeria were a disappointment in their first game for me as well. I had them finishing second in the group to Argentina.
The Nigeria squad seemed like they didn’t know how to control the strong Croatian outfit they came against, but they won’t be alone in this respect.
The question now is, can they figure out how to beat Iceland and Argentina, before they are sent packing?
Die Mannschaft, yes Germany. Coming into this tournament, you were one of the favourites to win it all.
Germany may still lift the cup, but if their performance against Mexico is any indicator, then their stay may be a little shorter than in 2014.
Germany had good spells of possession, however, but did absolutely nothing to stop the beautiful counters from El Tri, and their defending was shambolic.
Germany will need to do better once the knockout rounds come, because the big teams in the tournament will surely make them pay.
Lastly, Poland. In my opinion their plan was for Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik to score their way into the knockout rounds.
They looked completely surprised by the direct skill of Senegal. Probably more surprised than me.
Clearly neither I nor Poland did our scouting report on them, much less looked at their squad.
Poland will have a lot of work to do to keep pace with Senegal. The only saving grace is Colombia lost as well, meaning when they face-off, the loser is going home. Unfortunately.
They Are Who We Thought They Were
Uruguay won ugly. Unless you have been living under a rock, this is what Uruguay do. Good defence and opportunistic attack.
Look for them to make a deep run with the best defender in the world, Diego Godin, and best attack in the shape of Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez, despite them not yet fully firing.
Spain and Portugal drew; we knew that would happen, at least I did. Did I think it would be 3-3 with a Ronaldo hat trick — no. I am sure Cristiano did.
Both teams need to improve if their Cup aspirations are to come to fruition, and Spain especially have shown signs that they can.
France need to gel, but they have all the talent in the world… literally. They’ve got the results they needed, and it will buy them some time before the big boys come calling.
Argentina struggled, nay limped, into the World Cup. They had the arduous task of facing a spirited Iceland squad. This was always going to be tough for the Albiceleste.
No way was Messi going to match Ronaldo in performance. Iceland shut you down. Ask Cristiano.
Also the decision for Messi to take a penalty was a mistake. He’s been poor from the spot during his career, and especially in recent form.
I knew he would miss and that he did. They’ll need him to start converting them once the knockouts arrive and penalty kicks become a factor.
That’s if they even survive their group after the crushing from Croatia which felt like a World Cup exit but isn’t. Form says they won’t qualify, but what do Messi and company say?
The Swiss are a tough team for me and will be a tough out in this tournament. I have them finishing second in their group behind Brazil and nothing has swayed me… okay, maybe Serbia have!
Though England may not be elite, Belgium certainly are. Only France and Germany may have a more talented squad than the Red Devils.
Belgium were classy, clinical and just a joy in their opener against Panama. Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens, and Eden Hazard were magical while Romelu Lukaku got into the scoring groove.
Belgium cruised passed Panama and will go deep in this tournament. They won’t win it all because there is something about Roberto Martinez that I don’t like.
The other teams I did not mention, the jury is still out.
Some played poorly, some well, so the rest I am going to wait and see. What I do know, is this is a strange tournament thus far, and that is fantastic as a neutral.
I look forward to the rest of the group games and wonder what other twists and turns will develop.