Hey everyone, guess what’s back again? That’s right, the much loved World Cup Wednesday, which is keeping that name despite going on a wander to other various days of the week, is back for a fourth edition. I think people are really loving this segment, and I’m really glad you are. So, the Final Round of the Group Stage has concluded, and we have our Round of 16, which will begin tonight (Saturday 30th June). As always, I’ll be recapping the Round, and we’ll take a look at some of the controversies, and what to expect from the Round of 16. Let’s jump right in.
Uruguay v Russia: Uruguay dominated this match, and it really showed. A free kick turned goal from Luis Suarez, an own goal from the Russian Denis Cheryshev, and a late goal from Edinson Cavani, as well as a red card for one of the Russians, saw Uruguay safely take the top of Group A, pitting them against Portugal, whilst the Russians are resigned to take on Spain in the Round of 16. 3-0.
Saudi Arabia v Egypt: Two teams that were already eliminated, this game was purely for pride, and the Saudis proved a cut above the Egyptians, despite a skilled goal from star player Mohamed Salah. The Saudis took out the game after scoring late in each half. 2-0, both teams are now out of the Cup.
Spain v Morocco: The Moroccans played so well against the Spaniards, and fully deserved to win the match. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, however Spain should consider themselves lucky, with their second goal coming late in the second half, and being seen as potentially offside at first, however, the goal was given, controversially. Morocco are out and Spain took the top of the Group.
Iran v Portugal: Iran were very unlucky not to win this one. A 1-1 draw, Portugal only just escaped really, and Cristiano Ronaldo was very lucky not to be sent off for a very unsportsmanlike foul he committed in the first half. It was somewhat of a disgrace that he wasn’t sent off after the VAR review of his foul. Portugal finish second in the Group with the Iranians once again eliminated in the Group Stage.
Denmark v France: These teams knew that a draw would see them both through, and I think they were alright with just taking a draw and progressing through in the positions they were already in. France rested a number of their high quality players, and whilst both teams took a few good shots and had a few good chances to score, the scores remained at 0-0 for the entire match, making this match probably one of the duller ones of the Round.
Australia v Peru: Australia knew they needed to win this, and whilst they started strong, they weakened, reverting to their old ways once again. It’s no surprise they lost 2-0 to a South American team considering they still don’t have any decent striking options, and every chance they take seems to just miss the goals. They never seem to learn from past mistakes, and Peru capitalised on that, however their first goal was offside, and it was surprising the VAR didn’t pick it up, but that’s just another reason why technology has no place in football. 2-0 to Peru. Hopefully the Australians make the 2022 Qatar World Cup with a better team and better tactics.
Iceland v Croatia: Iceland needed to win this to progress, however it all went wrong for them. Croatia netted two, but the Icelandic team could only put in a penalty to make the score line 2-1. Iceland are out unfortunately, Croatia progressing through to play Denmark in the Round of 16.
Nigeria v Argentina: Nigeria only needed a draw to progress. And they almost got their fairytale ending here. However, after being deadlocked for a lengthy period of time at 1-1, Argentina pulled off a miracle, with a late winner from Marcos Rojo putting Argentina through to the Round of 16 by the smallest of margins. Argentina will face France in their Round of 16 match.
Mexico v Sweden: After playing 2 great matches, the Mexicans should have really been able to take out the top of the Group. But they weren’t lucky enough to do so, and were very lucky to get through to the Round of 16 after their 3-0 demolition against Sweden. Sweden took top of the Group, and will play Switzerland, whilst the Mexicans took second and will play Brazil in the Round of 16.
South Korea v Germany: Well what can I say about this match. Honestly the only thing I can say is that this was pure gold. This was the match of the Round for sure. The Koreans almost put themselves through to the Round of 16 too, just missing out because Sweden beat Mexico. The Koreans held off the reigning World Champions for the full 90 minutes before they put one in the net from a corner in the 92nd, and then scoring again in the 96th, not even four minutes later. Germany’s keeper, Manuel Neuer, tried to be a midfielder, however it all went wrong. And Germany, for the first time in World Cup History, were knocked out of the World Cup in the Group Stage, finishing bottom of their Group. The South Koreans finished third, and went out with a bang, and I commend them for a job well done.
Switzerland v Costa Rica: This was a close one, with Switzerland opening the scoring midway in the first half, however, Costa Rica were playing much better than they previously had, and scored early in the second half to equalise. Switzerland then managed to put one in the back of the net late in the second half, but then put one in the back of their own net to draw the scores level once again at 2-2. Costa Rica are out, but they leave with at least 1 point. The Swiss progress.
Serbia v Brazil: Brazil managed to dominate this match, and pulled off a 2-0 win, with goals in the 36th and 68th allowing them to finish top of their Group and launching them into the Round of 16 to play Mexico. The Serbs were unfortunate not to progress, having needed a win to edge Switzerland into second place. They now exit the tournament whilst Brazil progress to the next Round.
Japan v Poland: This match was one of the ones that I watched intently, and Poland played a great match to take at least one win home with them, and 3 points to go with it, a fitting exit for them. However, the Japanese, after having played a somewhat strong match making every attempt they could to score, seemed to change their playing style and their tactics towards the end of the match, and their head coach Akira Nishino revealed after the match that he had alerted the players to the fact that Colombia had gone 1-0 up against Senegal, and that a 1-0 loss would see Japan through to the Round of 16 based on the Fair Play rule where the team that has a lower number of cards will progress. He therefore told the Japanese players to just pass the ball around, and lay off the attack. And so they did, and pulled of a 1-0 loss to progress with Colombia. They have been slammed for doing this, a tactic which is designed to waste time, something other players from other teams were booked for. It is something I will discuss a little later on in this article.
Senegal v Colombia: Senegal played such a great match against Colombia, and should have at least been given a 1-1 draw from this match and progressed through to the Round of 16. Senegal were denied a clear-cut penalty early in the match, and it showed again why technology has no place in football. A goal in the 74th put Colombia in front, something which the Japanese heard about 500 miles away. And that one goal ultimately put Colombia and Japan through, with Senegal unable to score despite their thorough efforts. Senegal have my respect for the effort they put into this year’s World Cup, and how well they played. I personally hope to see them again at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and I’m sure many others would agree.
England v Belgium: England took an opportunity in this match to rest 8 of their better players in order to conserve their energies for the following Round. And they didn’t really put in too much effort, losing the match 1-0 to Belgium, however probably being in a better bracket than the Belgians. England are well on their way now, and will have a slightly easier path to the Final and the Cup than Belgium. England play Colombia in the Round of 16, while Belgium play Japan.
Panama v Tunisia: This match was another that all just for pride, and Tunisia proved to be the better team in the end, taking out the match 2-1. Although Panama didn’t give up, and they did make a good attempt to edge the Tunisians. There was a fight that was broken up at one point during the match, and in actual fact, Tunisia scored all three goals, putting two in the opposition’s net and putting one in their own. Both teams are now out of the tournament. And we have our Round of 16.
Highlight Of The Round: The highlight of the Final Round of the Group Stage has to be South Korea’s 2-0 win over Germany, sending them out of the tournament in the Group Stage for the first time in World Cup History, which encompasses 80 years. It also saw the Koreans finish third in their Group, whilst the Germans finished fourth. The Koreans have so much to be proud of going out of the tournament, even though they didn’t make it further. Taking out the reigning Champions with you is an amazing thing to do. Well done to them.
Biggest Upsets: There were a few upsets this Round. Morocco held Spain to a 2-2 draw, and the Iranians did the same to the Portuguese, with a 1-1 draw. The Swedes demolished the Mexicans 3-0 to take top spot in their Group. And the biggest upset of the Round came when South Korea managed to score two late goals against reigning Champions Germany to win 2-0 and go out with a bang, taking the Germans with them. Big week of upsets for sure.
Controversy: There was a fair bit of controversy that was on display in the Final Round of the Group Stage. I’ll start with the Japanese and the Fair Play Rule. The Fair Play Rule is in place so that if two teams finish with the same points, and can’t be separated by goal difference, they will be separated by the number of cards they have picked up. Whilst this is fair enough, there is issue with this rule in that the refereeing needs to be to the same standards across the board, which is not something that can be seen in this World Cup. This therefore makes the Fair Play Rule obsolete and irrelevant, as some referees may be harsher than others, and some teams may cop more yellow or even red cards than others due to different standards of refereeing. Therefore this rule needs to be changed, and while there will be a review of the rule by FIFA after the conclusion of the World Cup, the most likely outcome is that nothing will be done tot change it. The fact the the Japanese team changed their tactics after the head coach got word to them whilst they were playing in the second half that Senegal were down 1-0 to Colombia, whilst they themselves were also down 1-0 to Poland, and told them to just pass the ball in triangles in their own half rather than attacking anymore so that they wouldn’t go down 2-0 just shows how unfair the so called Fair Play Rule is. The head coach, Akira Nishino, knew that Japan would go through based on the Fair Play Rule, and practically exploited that to its full capacity, it’s full extent, in order to pull through and take a spot in the Round of 16. It’s very much a shameful, disgraceful exploitation of a rule which is very much corrupt in its own way, and this will be a focus of an upcoming feature article I have in the works.
The other bit of controversy, in fact the controversial system that just keeps on giving, is the VAR. The VAR really is a highly insufficient system, which should be completely eradicated from football. Sure, it gets some decisions right, and it changes decisions which should be changed, but there’s a large percentage of the time that it interferes in the game, and some times when it either doesn’t pick up on certain things that should be reviewed, or it changes a decision which should not have been changed at all, and was right initially. For example, in Australia v Peru, Peru’s first goal came from an offside position, and the VAR did not even review it, and the goal really did change the game. Then there’s Senegal v Colombia, where Senegal were initially given a penalty midway through the first half, however the VAR decided it would be a good time to intervene and changed the referee’s mind, denying Senegal a clear-cut penalty, one that would have changed the game and likely sent Senegal through to the Round of 16, but which rather saw them unfairly eliminated from the tournament. It’s really a faulty system, and it must be expunged from football immediately. Technology has absolutely no place in football, and I very much hope to see a reversion to referees and linesman, without any VAR or technology. And some of those referees who are controlling the VAR should just go back to refereeing on the ground, not from a technology box.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that Cristiano Ronaldo practically got away with murder this Round thanks to his star power. After committing a really terrible foul in the first half of Portugal’s match against Iran, one they were lucky not to lose, the referee consulted the VAR, as he had not seen the foul himself despite it being quite obvious. Ronaldo practically shoved an Iranian defender to the ground, and was only given a yellow card after the referee watched the foul back on the VAR system. Ronaldo was seen to be smiling and even laughing after being given the yellow card, showing absolutely no sign of remorse. And realistically, the only reason he wasn’t given a straight red, which is what should have occurred, was due to his star power, his international fame. And the referee practically let him get away with it because of what I refer to as ‘star player bias’, which is very much in the range of corruption, something which FIFA is no stranger to.
What To Expect From The Round Of 16: So what should we expect from the Round of 16? Expect every single nation to play the highest quality football they have ever played. It’s knockouts now after all, and no one team wants to be eliminated from the tournament, so none of them will go out easily. Things will be much more interesting, and much more entertaining. Expect more controversy stemming from the VAR. And now there is the potential for extra time and penalties, so you could expect to possible see a game or two go to extra time and maybe even to a penalty shootout, something nobody wants to see happen. And whilst we don’t know anything for certain, there is one thing that is 100% certain: at the end of this World Cup, we will have a new World Cup Champion, Champions of the World.