The first two rounds of the World Cup are over and we’re now getting a clearer picture of the knockout stages. Seven teams have booked their place in the playoffs, putting them closer to lifting the trophy. On the other hand, nine teams have lost both their games with only South Korea among those with a faint chance of still qualifying.
That being said, ranking the 32 teams based on their records would make this list look completely different and wouldn’t be enough. Context is important, performance and prior expectations of a team matters as well as their projected outlook in the knockout stages. For example, everyone expected Panama to struggle as debutants of the World Cup, no one expected Messi and co. to lead Argentina to a grand total of one point and sitting at last place in their group.
Without further ado, here are our five inspiring and five disappointing teams of the World Cup so far.
The Spaniards should be on top of their group if not for a couple of blunders from David De Gea against Portugal in their first game. Those gaffes, one being an embarrassing save attempt that went between his legs, led to two goals for Cristiano Ronaldo that resulted in a draw between the Iberians.
De Gea’s mistakes and Ronaldo’s hat trick may have taken most of the headlines but people forget that Spain was dangerous and fluid on the attack in that game with their creative midfielders creating chances for the in-form Diego Costa. In the match against Iran, De Gea kept a clean sheet and Spain broke down the notoriously-hard-to-score-against Iranian team.
Spain's goalkeeper, De Gea, has the track record to suggest that his game against Portugal was an anomaly. He is an experienced defender, a creator in midfield, and a clinical striker. Spain could go all the way and win their second world cup.
Could this be the year that Belgium’s golden generation delivers the goods? A hipster pick by a lot of people for a long time now to go deep in a major tournament, the Belgians have so far run rampant on the attack in this year’s world cup. Even if they have gone up against two weak teams in Panama and Tunisia, they still had to beat them, which they did so empathically.
With a solid defense, a steel and silk midfield duo in Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne, and an in-form attack consisting of Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku (the latter two looking like they score for fun), the Belgians seem like they are primed to reach their full potential this tournament.
Blessed with a deep, talented team with few weaknesses Belgian fans have to feel giddy about their team’s chances in this World Cup.
England are joint leaders in their group with Belgium and they face each other in the last game of the group stage. Both have 8 goals and conceded 2 so far so it looks to be a close affair.
This English team feels like one of the more cohesive teams the nation has produced in recent memory and they feel like the breath of hope that the English have been waiting for since the time their team has been headed by the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney among others.
This team plays for each other even with relatively inexperienced members. Playing against Tunisia and Panama, expectations are slowly rising for this group who certainly have the talent, and a talisman in Harry Kane, to go on a deep run in this tournament.
The Mexicans beat Germany, the defending champions, with rugged defending and quick counter-attacks. They then beat South Korea with clinical possession football. This only shows that they can adjust their game plan for any team they may face and that they can do everything well.
Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado boss the midfield, while their defenders rarely make mistakes and, even if they do, they have a great goalkeeper to protect them. Add to these cat quick attackers like Chicharito, which make them a handful for any team.
With their adaptability and a squad containing experienced players in every part of the pitch, the men from Mexico look primed to make life difficult for anyone they face.
The Croatians have scored 5 goals and conceded none so far this tournament. Though they have kept clean sheets in each game, there have been tense moments in defense so be careful in labeling their impenetrable. Feel free however to call their offense the real deal.
They beat Nigeria 2-0 then they dominated Argentina, who we’ll get to shortly, 3-0. They won both those games in convincing fashions with the same formula.
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are pulling all the right strings in midfield while Mario Mandzukic has been physically bullying every defender against him. Those three are the lifeblood and they will carry the flawed team as far as they can.
What worked in Croatia's favor was the fact that those three are among the best at what they do, especially the duo in midfield who play for rivals Barcelona (Rakitic) and Real Madrid (Modric). Quality.
The defending champions lost their first game against Mexico 1-0 in a game that could have ended 3-0 or even worse. They were that bad. Their midfield duo of Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos was overrun by the extremely athletic Mexican pairing of Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado, and their defense was opened up again and again by the Mexican attackers.
In their next game, the Germans looked unconvincing against Sweden and needed a wonder strike from Toni Kroos in stoppage time to win the game at the last gasp. The Germans look to be lacking the clinical edge and intensity that they possessed in the last world cup and that will surely trouble them in the knockout stages if they go through.
Costa Rica admittedly don’t strike fear in enemies’ hearts nor are a team that many think are a threat to win it all. They are, however, a team that many saw as a tough out in their group and they were quarter finalists in the last world cup. They play solidly and with cohesion, and they have a great goalie in Real Madrid stopper Keylor Navas.
Too bad they forgot to score.
They aren’t the only team to not find that back of the net this tournament but they were seen as a team that could trouble even the most talented teams. Alas, they are on 0 points and are eliminated.
They may be on top of their group but Brazil has looked un-Brazil like so far. Save for a few moments, they lack the fluidity and rhythm in attack associated with a Selecao team.
A team swamped with talent in front with a top 3 player in the world, Neymar shouldn’t struggle to open up a game like they have so far. This Brazil squad looks like they’re still trying to find comfort with each other as their passing game has often looked unspectacular.
The good news is that they look like they’re going to qualify for the knockouts, the bad news is that if they continue to play like they have, their time in the playoffs might be short-lived. That’s bad news for a team that was expected to always make a deep run. Such is the curse in playing for the only nation that has played in every world cup and won the most tournaments ever with five.
In a group with Senegal, Japan, Colombia, the Polish were considered to at least finish second. Instead, they are fourth and eliminated with one game left. Football is funny, isn’t it?
The Poles are led by a top striker in Robert Lewandowski and were seen to be a team filled with talent. So much for pundits thinking they were a dark horse because every player, even Lewandowski, has underperformed and as a whole, the Poles look lost.
They lost 2-1 to Senegal then they were completely manhandled by Colombia. They deserved to lose both and as such, they deserve to go home.
The biggest disappointment so far has to be Argentina. They drew their match against debutants Iceland, who has a goalie whose main job is a film director, then they lost 3-0 to Croatia in a game where they looked like they just gave up midway.
Lionel Messi looks deflated, the midfield lacks creativity, Javier Mascherano looks old, and the defense looks like they haven’t played together ever and as a whole, Argentina looks weak.
It’s entirely possible that Messi catches fire and everything clicks but that is asking too much, even from him. The team needs to play together and their manager needs to adjust, both in tactics and personnel, for them to succeed and turn things around.