Spain, Argentina and Portugal are out. This World Cup is Brazil’s to lose now
Argentina have Lionel Messi, they will somehow beat the odds and go past underachievers France. Cristiano Ronaldo has been in too good a form to be kept quiet by Uruguay. Russia have had a dream run in the World Cup so far, but this is where their dream ends and they wake up into reality. Croatians are finally showing their talent and their results finally align with the talent in their squads. Thus, Denmark will be relative pushovers and Croatia will stroll through to the next round.
Well, Well, Well. The World Cup always, always, always delivers!
France were immense against Argentina. Though they conceded three goals, they did enough to show their superiority, display their talent and skills to the world and their oppositions, and move into the quarterfinals with a big win. Lionel Messi was kept quiet for the whole match by a combination of N’Golo Kante brilliance and Blaise Matuidi’s muscle. It would have almost been cruel to see Messi score, such was their performance.
In the end, from the ashes of Argentina, emerged a new rising star who is taking the World Cup by storm and has done what James Rodriguez did four years ago. He is the man who led AS Monaco to an unlikely title triumph, the man who made a big money switch to PSG and justified the investment with an exceptional first season. He is none other than Kylian Mbappe. The French forward dazzled with his pace, cracking the brittle Argentine defense with his quick feet and blistering pace. He really was Fast and the Furious in real life.
Later that night though, some Suarez sorcery and Godin + Gimenez solidity put the dream combination of experience and talented youth through to the quarterfinals. It was a night on which Lucas Torreira announced himself to the world and Edinson Cavani moved out of Suarez’s shadows in an Uruguayan jersey and established himself as a legend for his country. If Cavani’s first goal and combination with Suarez was lethal, his second goal, a first time side-footed finish, on the run, from the edge of the D, which curled past the diving Patricio, was a thing a beauty.
Cavani was all running and no antics, while Suarez, with his theatrics, forced Pepe into a mistake which started off the sequence for the second goal. Bentancur sucked three defenders towards him by holding the ball a touch longer, which resulted in Cavani being free on the other side of the D. The rest, as they say, became an Uruguayan history. For a country with just 3.3M people, Uruguay are punching way above their weight, and Oscar Tabarez has shown the world that hard-work and diligence are the only path to success, there are no short-cuts.
After the thrills of day 1, day 2 began with one of the most boring game of the World Cup. Spain were terrible for the whole of 120 minutes, passing the ball around aimlessly trying to use the childish tactic of forcing Russia into a mistake. They kept making the safe passes, hoping that Russia break their shape, press like madmen, or just budge. But Russia did not give a sh*t!
They kept their shape, got the goal they were looking for from a penalty, and then just bunkered. After that, it was just a game of confidence and ability between Igor Akinfeev and David de Gea. In the end, de Gea was so out of confidence that he dived in the same direction for every Russian penalty, while Akinfeev mixed it up and showed his much acclaimed counter-part how it is done. Frankly, the less we talk about Spain vs Russia, the better. but, credit where it is due, Stanislav Cherchesov deserves the credit to revert back to his tried and tested back 3, after getting mauled by Uruguay, and drilling his team into a defensive shape which they maintained for the whole of 120 minutes.
The second game of day 2 had the same outcome with a different script. Denmark took the lead in the second minute of the game, Croatia equalised in the fourth minute of the game, and after such a frantic start, both teams absolutely decided to not take any risks to repeat the first four minutes again. This resulted in a pedestrian game for the rest 116 minutes, with Luka Modric missing an extra time penalty to force a penalty shootout.
Just like the previous penalties, an interesting pattern emerged. Kasper Schmeichel, the Denmark goalkeeper, decided to not do anything fancy for the penalties, as he followed Danijel Subasic’s lead, diving in exactly the same direction as his counterpart. In the end, in a game which should have been known for Kasper Schmeichel making his name for saving an extra-time penalty, it ended in an anti-climatic way, with Subasic encasing his reputation and list of suitors.
The games on Sunday, in the end, where anti-climatic to the exciting and entertaining games on Saturday, which had set-up Sunday beautifully for more drama and more action. While the penalties are nerve-wracking, the 120 minutes before that were anything but. The big news coming out of the weekend though was, one of Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, Russia, Colombia, England and Croatia could reach the World Cup finals. So, this World Cup truly is Brazil’s to lose.