The World Cup in Qatar has certainly had its controversies with some football fans boycotting the tournament over the nations human rights issues, but just simply on footballing terms they are missing out. We have witnessed many group games in recent major tournaments having a feeling of lethargy about them with some lesser equipped teams playing negatively and trying to defend for a point. But in Qatar there has been a shift and what it has meant is that the last group games have been exciting to the point where they are not dead rubbers and everything has been riding on the outcomes. In effect we have seen a few knock out games already before the round of 16 kicks off on Saturday. And scalps have fallen.
Germany the four time winners of the World Cup and the most successful team in the history of the competition behind Brazil are out. Effectively losing to Japan sealed Hansi Flick's sides campaign and they only seemed to wake up against Costa Rica, a side that they were light years technically superior against in the last ten minutes. Worryingly Flick has looked at the progression of both Spain and England and hinted that Germany must follow suit. Now Spain and England are very good sides but at the same time Germany has a history of greatness in the World Cup because they never looked outside at what other nations were doing, it always came from within. The 2014 champions going out at the group stage is a real shocker and it is odd not to see Germany in the knock out stages.
Argentina could have gone out too had they dropped points against Poland in the end both nations went through but Poland face an uphill task against the champions France and Argentina will be the odds on favourites to beat Australia. As for Argentina all eyes as always are on Lionel Messi one of the absolute great players of the past 15 years and yet Messi has failed to make a real impact at the World Cup, that is until now. Messi has been quite terrific for his team, showing hunger and fight almost at the level of his Barcelona days, if all goes to plan Messi could well have a date with Brazil in the semi-finals….
Another team to fall at the groups was Belgium, the multi talented Belgium who looked pretty toothless throughout their group campaign. Kevin De Bruyne who said last week to the media that he didn't think being paid £350,000 a week was too much (face palm anyone?) looked invisible and yet is perhaps Manchester City's most important player. At least he was honest in his teams assessment though, constantly critical and admitted that their 1-0 victory over Canada was not deserved. The manager Roberto Martinez was at odds with De Bruyne throughout the competition. He has managed not to win a trophy over the past four years with perhaps the best Belgian side they have ever had, and unsurprisingly he has now left his role as Belgium manager.
As for England, take out the 0-0 draw with USA and the side look fresh and deadly in attack. Manager Gareth Southgate has a wealth of choices up front and recently Marcus Rashford is showing why so many people still believe in him. One has to wonder though if Southgate's Achilles heel will be sticking to his trusty and yet tired method of picking his favourite players when the matches really count? Harry Kane has assisted in 3 goals and remains a danger but is yet to score and can go quiet in games. Is it time to trust Rashford as a starter? Phil Foden is obviously one of the most talented youngsters in Europe but usually starts games from the bench for the national side, is it the right time to start him against Senegal in the last 16? All will be answered at the weekend.
There have been sorry excuses for team performances namely the hosts Qatar who did not win a single game. This is more down to FIFA awarding the tournament to a lower ranked nation who wouldn't have qualified otherwise. Wales can raise their hands up too, three pathetic performances underlined by an invisible 'game' against England where star player Gareth Bale touched the ball less than six times! But there has been surprise teams too in Japan who topped a group featuring Spain and Germany, Morocco won their group ahead of 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia and the talented Belgians. And not to forget Australia who came 2nd in their group with the same points as France. So there is all to play for as we now head into the knock out stages and no second chances.