By: Jibrab Zeb
BS 4th Semester, University of Swat
The game was near its end. It was South Korea 1, Germany 0. All the German players (including the goalkeeper) were on attack and desperate to score a goal. Suddenly South Korea’s counterattack shattered all their hopes, if they had any, and the defending champions were kicked out of the World Cup in the group stage! Germany fans were crying in dejection, while Mexico fans were celebrating South Korea’s win.
FIFA World Cup 2018 group stage is over and it had it all for the fans: excitement, thrill, disappointment, tears, celebrations. — everything. 16 teams eliminated in the first round and 16 teams advanced to the knockout stage. Some of the big teams haven’t impressed their fans and some have got a second chance to prove themselves.
In the opening match, Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0. It was a delight for the Russia fans and a boost to the Russia team. Such a performance wasn’t expected of Russia, but their opponents were slow and languid.
Some of the big teams disappointed their fans in their first matches. The defending champions Germany lost their first match to Mexico, courtesy of the outstanding performance of Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Argentina drew their first match with Iceland, while Spain drew with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Some players impressed their fans, while others crashed. Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo scored four goals with a hat trick in the first match, Harry Kane of England scored five goals, and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium scored four goals.
On the other hand, the star striker Lionel Messi has scored only one goal and that too in his team’s last group match. Fans were also unimpressed by Sergio Ramos of Spain, Bernardo Silva of Portugal, Robert Lewandowski of Poland, and Timo Werner and Mesut Özil of Germany.
Argentina, the last World Cup finalists, struggled in the group stage. They drew their first match with Iceland — in which Messi missed a penalty — and lost their second match to Croatia. Their third match against Nigeria had some happy moments and thrill.
Messi scored his first goal of the tournament in that match and only Marcos Rojo’s volley sent Argentina through to the next round. To their luck, Croatia defeated Iceland, and it made it easier for them. Argentina legend Diego Maradona was overjoyed to see his country win and was in news for his manic celebrations.
The defending champions Germany crashed out of the tournament in the group stage. They lost two of the three matches; they defeated only Sweden. They lost their first match to Mexico, which was a despair for both the team and their fans. Their last group match against South Korea resulted in dispiritedness and despondency for the Germany fans. South Korea defeated Germany 2-0 and all the Germany fans were dejected and downcast.
On the other side of the world in Mexico, however, the fans were celebrating South Korea’s win against Germany. In a video circulating online, the fans chant “Korean, brother, now you’re Mexican” and lift a South Korean diplomat on shoulder. With Germany’s exit, FIFA 2018 World Cup becomes the third consecutive World Cup in which the holders are eliminated in the first round.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has led to a record number of penalties in the group stage of the tournament. The group stage of this World Cup has had more penalties than the entire 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The fair play rule has been active for the first time in the World Cup 2018 and Senegal was the first team to be eliminated through this rule. Senegal and Japan were tied in points, goal difference, goals scored, and head-to-head; therefore, the new fair play rule had to be activated.
Japan had four yellow cards and Senegal had six, so Japan advanced to the next round. Moreover, the Japan vs Poland game was played at walking pace for the last 10 minutes to avoid being awarded any yellow card and for that the crowd booed at them.
The group stage of the World Cup 2018 was filled with plenty of almost everything and more is anticipated in the upcoming round – more goals, more penalties, more fun, more drama, and more emotions.
We are two day into the knockout stage and the drama continues. Sides of two stars — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — have been eliminated in the first two matches of the knockout stage, shattering fans’ dream of a “Messi-vs-Ronaldo”.