Five things we’ve learnt from the group stages in Brazil
1. Predictions of Belgium’s brilliance have been way off the mark
We fell into the trap of thinking that with the players available to them this was going to be an exciting team. But though on paper they’ve got great individuals, the end product hasn’t been pleasant to watch – they are the Movie 43 of this tournament.
Yes, they won all three games in their group, but they’ve struggled in large parts of their games against quite mediocre opposition. Lukaku hasn’t impressed, they’ve really missed a presence up front like Benteke, which will only become more apparent as they face tougher opposition. Don’t expect this team to stay around much longer.
2. CONCACAF on fire
Nobody could have predicted that the performances of Mexico, Costa Rica and the USA would have been quite this good (we certainly didn’t). Costa Rica ended up topping a group they were everyone’s favourites to prop up, while Klinsmann has guided the US through one of the toughest groups. You could see both teams progressing to the quarter finals if they play as well as they have done so far.
As for Mexico, they came here after a year of instability and some poor recent form, yet have been surprisingly entertaining to watch. We want to see them take the lead against The Netherlands just to see another crazy Miguel Herrera celebration, one of the tournament’s highlights so far.
3. The refereeing has been erratic – and still needs help
We’ve had the comical-but-effective vanishing spray introduction, the generally-positive goal-line technology, but we’ve also seen some fairly terrible refereeing on some of the key moments in the group matches. This started badly in the Brazil-Croatia opener with an extremely generous penalty awarded to the hosts, continued with Giovani dos Santos being denied two perfectly good goals against Cameroon and has continued in unconvincing fashion all the way to the Italy-Uruguay game. While many have speculated what the effects of the heat have been on individual players, perhaps it’s also had an impact on the officials.
The speed at which the new innovations have settled in this tournament highlights that football shouldn’t be as conservative as it is. ‘Suarezgate III: A Shoulder To Bite On’ highlighted that officials can’t be expected to see everything – perhaps it’s time for video replays to be introduced more widely.
4. It’s not just England that has problems
There’s no hiding the dismal failure that was England’s World Cup campaign. And that’s a failure in spite of diminished expectations. A minority were predicting England would top the group, but most were at the very least expecting to finish ahead of Costa Rica and Uruguay.
England’s a nation in crisis apparently. Bring in B teams to the Football League, screams Greg Dyke and his review panel. It’s remarkable to think that Spain have exited at the same stage, despite a team full of World Cup winners – and despite the all-crucial B teams in their leagues. You suspect that Spain will not be looking over at the Chile footballing pyramid for inspiration any time soon. Italy, Russia Portugal, and Croatia also all came with high hopes for this tournament – they are all heading home early. Misery loves company.
5. Columbia or Chile could feasibly win it
Both Columbia and Chile have perhaps been the most entertaining teams to watch so far. With Brazil and Argentina not quite dominating as predicted, showing slight signs of weakness in their groups, could one of the other South American sides actually go all the way? It seemed before the tournament that Brazil-Argentina was the most likely final – the group stages have muddied the waters somewhat.
No European team has ever won a World Cup hosted on South American soil. France, Germany and The Netherlands have all shown signs in the groups that they could offer a challenge to that rule. But the smart money’s on a South American team – and based on what we’ve seen of them all so far, why not Columbia or Chile?