Whilst the 2022 World Cup group stages may have produced more than their fair share of upsets and upsets, now the competition has moved into the knock-out stages, the established order in world football is beginning to assert itself.
Al, four games that have been played so far have been won by the favourites, comfortably so, even if that was not always reflected in the score-line.
And not once has a game gone to extra time, or the dreaded penalties.
There is still time for change, with four games yet to be played, but romantics should not be holding their breath.
The quarter finals are likely to be composed of some very familiar names.
And it also means that the long wait for a side from outside Europe or South America to lift the trophy is set to continue. Although Morocco and Japan are still in the competition, they must be considered underdogs to make the last eight.
Among the four teams who have already booked their passage, the Netherlands are the only side never to have previously won it, although they have been beaten finalists on three occasions.
Too often in their past their progress in major tournaments has been hindered by squad disharmony, but there appears none of that under manager Louis van Gaal, who insists that his team need to be taken seriously as potential winners.
Certainly they were too strong for a USA team who lacked nothing in terms of heart and energy but lacked the necessary quality in offensive positions. Cody Gakpo, who emerged as one of the budding stars of the tournament with three goals in the qualifying competition did not find the net this time, but the fact that the goals came from three different players would have heartened van Gaal.
They may yet be the dark horses among the teams left in the competition,
When Argentina lost their opening group game to Saudi Arabia, it caused seismic shock waves, but they have since rebounded, and, whilst they have Lionel Messi, they will always have hope.
This will probably be his last World Cup at the age of 35, but he remains evergreen, and in their match with Australia, he showed why he remains one of the best players in the world. He crafted and scored a fine opening goal and set up countless attacks, dribbling past three or four players at a time, with his head up, looking for the right pass.
Only wayward finishing by some of his colleagues prevented Argentina adding to the two goals that they did score. Australia were second best for much of the game, and it took a wicked deflection to give them a route back into it.
However, Argentina may have concerns about how the Aussies were pressing for an equaliser at the end, something that the Dutch will have noted with interest. That suggests that there are vulnerabilities in the South Americans defence which can be exploited.
Whilst Messi’s performance against Australia was sensational, Kylian Mbappé’s throughout the tournament so far have been top drawer, and he is leading the race for the Golden Boot (awarded to the top goalscorer in the tournament. He is threatening to lead a one man French defence of the title that they won in Russia four years ago.
It was fellow striker Olivier Giroud who made the headlines at half-time in their knock-out game against Poland, scoring the goal that not only gave his side the lead, but which took him one clear of Thierry Henry’s all-time goalscoring record for France.
But by full-time, his accomplishment had been eclipsed by the two goals that Mbappé had scored. The first was a fierce drive from the edge of the box that swerved and flashed past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in the blink of an eye.
His second, scored in the last minute, was arguably even better, with Mbappé collecting the ball inside the penalty box and arrowing his shot into the top corner. Szczesny did get his fingertips to it, but he could only help it ion its way.
Poland were outclassed, but they did get on the score sheet, with Robert Lewandowski’s twice taken penalty. It was merely a consolation goal, and, in sporting terms, an irrelevance.
England came to Qatar off the back of a poor run in form, but, so far, are the top scorers in the competition, with eight different scorers, belying manager Gareth Southgate’s reputation, even among his country’s supporters for conservatism.
They might have been expecting a tough test against Senegal – although injury had robbed the African champions of their captain and main goal threat Sadio Mané on the eve of the tournament – and it was the West Africans who had the better of the early chances.
But with teenager Jude Bellingham riving them on from midfield, England grew into the game, and a driving run and cross from the Borussia Dortmund player saw Jordan Henderson side foot home.
Bellingham was heavily involved in the second goal as well, slaloming through the midfield before finding Phil Foden who first time ball found Harry Kane to open his account at the World Cup.
The match was as good as over by then, but England put the result beyond doubt 12 minutes after half-time when Foden got to the by-line and his cross found Bukayo Sake who beat both the goalkeeper and defender to the ball and dinked it into the net.
That afforded England the opportunity to rest players, and give some of the starters a rest ahead of the quarter final with France. Senegal were a well-beaten side in the end, despite the encouragement of their dancing fans in the stand.
Southgate now has a few days to prepare and work out how he intends to deal with the threat posed by Mbappé, knowing that could decide the outcome of the match. Meanwhile those clubs across Europe interested in buying Bellingham from the Bundesliga side, will know that his price tag has just gone up.
Meanwhile those clubs across Europe interested in buying Bellingham from the Bundesliga side, will know that his price tag has just gone up.
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