World Cup 2018 – Groups E-H – Final Verdicts
Russia 2018 has reached its halfway stage, with the group stages drawing to a close.
How has each nation performed when put up against pre-tournament expectations?
We’ve given each nation a grade for their group stage efforts…
1st – Brazil
Verdict: It didn’t look plain sailing at times for Tite’s team but they finally look as if they have gone up a gear in this competition after comfortably seeing off Serbia in their final group game. With several other big nations stuttering, Brazil have successfully weathered the opening battle of any World Cup.
2nd – Switzerland
Verdict: The Swiss have proven a tough nut to crack in this group and deserve their place in the last 16 after refusing to roll over against a hotly-tipped Brazil side. With a mercurial talent like Xherdan Shaqiri in their side, they will always have the ability to conjure something out of nothing and will certainly fancy their chances of edging out Sweden to seal an unanticipated Quarter Final berth.
3rd – Serbia
Verdict: It all looked so promising for the Serbs after a deserved 1-0 victory against Costa Rica but in the end, it was profligacy in front of goal that would cost them. Tipped by many for an outside tilt at the knockout stages, Mladen Krstajić’s side failed to take their chances when they were on top in games and ultimately ran out of steam.
4th – Costa Rica
Verdict: It’s perhaps unfair to jump back to 2014 when making a judgement on Costa Rica’s progress on the world stage, but after lighting up Brazil with their fearless attitude to taking on more illustrious opponents, this generation has taken one step back. They never really looked like adding to the shock factor seen elsewhere at this World Cup.
1st – Sweden
Verdict: Deserve a high grade purely on strength of character alone after picking themselves off the floor following their last gasp 2-1 loss to Germany. Few saw them escaping, never mind topping, this group pre-tournament, and they now have a great chance to reach the last eight for the first time since 1994.
2nd – Mexico
Verdict: Should have scored higher, but after a final group game choke against Sweden, real question marks have now opened up as to whether Mexico can be considered a genuine leftfield threat. Having provided some of the most entertaining football so far in Russia, neutrals will be hoping they can rediscover their swagger in time for Brazil.
3rd – South Korea
Verdict: Showed great fighting spirit in not letting up against Germany despite the hopelessness of their own situation. A win against the reigning world champions doesn’t disguise the fact this is a side with serious limitations.
Verdict: Wow. It’s still taking time to process – Germany, the team you can never write off, waving goodbye to a World Cup . It’s been a disaster for the holders from start to finish, with Toni Kroos’ stoppage-time free-kick against Sweden offering ‘Die Mannschaft’ false hope that things were all rosy in the German garden. The inquest will now begin – and Joachim Löw may well have blown his chances of landing an elite club job.
1st – Belgium
Verdict: Could this finally be the golden generation’s time to shine? Taking maximum points from any World Cup group is not to be sniffed at, and Roberto Martinez’s side look as if they have the perfect blend to have a genuine shot at glory. A mouth-watering potential Quarter Final with Brazil already looks likely to be the game of the knockout stages.
Verdict: Simply escaping the group stage feels like real progress after a horrendous couple of years for the English national side. Gareth Southgate has brought the feelgood factor to England, and with a young, hungry team who clearly relish playing together, he now has a real opportunity to take his charges deep into a tournament for the first time in over a decade. The Belgium defeat takes some of the shine off, however.
3rd – Tunisia
Verdict: A team deeply lacking in any real firepower, but one that at least showed signs of being competitive in both their games against England and Belgium. May well have stood a better chance had the fixtures fallen a little more kindly for them in this group.
4th – Panama
Verdict: Everyone loves a World Cup underdog, but the Panamanians won’t be remembered with much affection at this tournament after evidently getting their dates mixed up and sending an Olympic wrestling team to compete in Russia. Still, it’s always nice to tick a new name off the list, but a new World Cup party trick might be needed if Panama are going to be seen again any time soon on the world’s biggest stage.
1st – Colombia
Verdict: It’s never easy for any World Cup side to recover from an opening group game loss, so José Pékerman’s side showed bags of character in brushing that defeat to one side and qualify as comfortably the best team in this group. The likely absence of James against England is a huge blow, however.
2nd – Japan
Verdict: Perhaps the weakest side to escape the group stages, Japan nevertheless deserve credit for battling their way through a very open group, with few expecting them to make much of an impression on this tournament. With Belgium on the horizon, their stay of execution may well be quite short-lived.
3rd – Senegal
Verdict: Desperately unlucky to be catching the flight home after being snookered by the fair play rule, Senegal provided plenty of entertaining moments at this tournament. Arguably the best side not to make the cut, they could have made life tricky for any side in the knockout stages.
4th – Poland
Verdict: Restored some much-needed pride with a resolute 1-0 victory over Japan in the group game, but Poland must go down as one of the major disappointments of the tournament – particularly with a talent such as Lewandowski in their ranks.
All image sources from PA Images.