Euro 2020 Special

Big Teams Hanging by a Thread in the World Cup

The first week of the World Cup has produced more than its fair share of upsets.

The reasons advanced for this are various, including goals between the competing nations getting smaller, and the lack of preparation sides have had for the tournament because it is being held in the middle of domestic seasons.

However, the bottom line is that some teams that were expected to go deep into the tournament now see their chances of qualification even for the knock-out stages hanging by a thread.

It means that their last group games will carry a high degree of jeopardy with them.



Before the tournament started, Belgium were the number two ranked team in the world according to FIFA.

This was seen as the last chance for the so-called ‘Golden Generation” – players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne and Dries Mertens – to make their mark at a major international tournament.

But, even before arriving in Qatar, there was a fear that they may have been past their sell-by date. They have one of the oldest squads in the World Cup this year, and that lack of young legs in the team has proved to be an Achilles’ heel.

In their opening group game against a Canadian side ranked 51 places below them in the world, they were second-best for much of the game, and had Canada been more clinical in front of goal – they missed a penalty – may well have lost. In the event one goal won it for them – but the XG (Expected Goals) at the end told its own story – 0.52 for Belgium, compared to 2.15 for Canada.

Against Morocco, the 22nd-ranked team in the world, the chickens came home to roost. They were simply out-ran and out-fought by the North Africans who should have been ahead by half-time but for a VAR offside call that was marginal at best.

However, the concession of a needless free kick by Belgium on the edge of the box was punished when Abdelhamid Salibi scored directly from it, and a second goal scored in injury time was no more than the Moroccans deserved.

What they need to do

That result leaves them third in Group C behind Croatia and Morocco who both have four points.

Morocco play an already eliminated Canada in their final match, whilst Belgium must now face Croatia, knowing that even a draw may not be good enough for them, given goal difference in the group.

It looks like the golden generation may have turned to rust.



On the face of it, Germany’s plight looks even worse, because they have just one point from their two games so far.

However, in fact, they may now be off the hook, and, ironically, it was the team who upset them in their first match, Japan, who handed them an unexpected lifeline.

Had Japan beaten Costa Rica, the side that had been thrashed 7 – 0 by Spain in their opening game, then they would have been on the brink of qualification, and that meant that German y would have had to beat Spain when the pair met on Sunday night.

What they need to do

In the event, a draw means that qualification remains in their own hands.  If they can beat Costa Rica by a healthy margin in their final game, that will leave Japan needing to produce another upset against Spain. It is hard to envisage lightning striking twice.



When Argentina suffered what is arguably one of the greatest World Cup shocks of all time, losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening group game, then it looked like the tournament for one of the favourites to win the World Cup may not last beyond the group stage.

However, they redeemed themselves by beating Mexico, and their fate is now very much in their own hands.

What they need to do

Argentina play Poland in their final match and should be aiming to win that, because a draw may not be enough if Saudi Arabia can beat Mexico in the other match. If they were to lose that game both the Saudis and the Mexicans could still pip them for the second qualification place, depending on the outcome of their game.




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