FIFA World Cup Russia 2018: Group Phase Reflections

As the final whistle blew in Kaliningrad tonight, so it signaled the end of the group phase. This stage of the tournament has seen varying levels of performance from the fancied side so far. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the group phase and picks out some high and low points.

VAR is a work in progress

We have seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to VAR in this tournament. The good has being the ability of the VAR crew to alert the match officials to key incidents; some excellent VAR decisions were made during this stage, thinking in relation to penalty calls (some) and overturning decisions which were incorrect.

However, the sheer inconsistency of the technology in some games has caused massive issues. The Portugal vs. Iran game was a low point for VAR; dubious penalty calls and then the Ronaldo elbow incident highlighted what bother with the system when the superstar was issued a yellow card. Iran felt robbed.

The lack of transparency in the VAR decisions has left people speculating on the decision making process. If the communication channels were open for all, then it would address the question on how decisions were made? The sheer inconsistency of officiating crews to clamp down on defenders man handling attackers in the box has being a low point too. Work to do with VAR but there have being positives.

Germany exit!

The scenes yesterday were incredible. As South Korea scored a second injury time goal, questions aplenty for German management and squad. All need to take some portion of blame. The squad selection raised questions before this tournament. Sane’s omission was a shock as the Manchester City player had an excellent season. The same could not be said for the likes of Draxler. A strange omission and it set the tone for the tournament.

Neuer in goal lacked game time before this tournament and it showed in the group phase. The image of Neuer being dispossessed by South Korea far out from goal is for me the summary of Germany’s problems. Lack of precision on both sides of the ball proved fatal. Yes, there was the Sweden win but defensive shape was an issue and the attacking misfires ultimately drew blanks against Mexico and South Korea.

Germany will be back but surely with a new voice at the helm. The players lacked drive. Leadership on the park was strangely muted. Management need to review clear issues in the cohesion of the side; defensive duties were at times treated with contempt by some German outfield players causing massive defensive overlap issues in the process. Given their struggles, Germany can have no excuses about their elimination.

Senegal Misery 

The most unluckiest team of the tournament was Senegal. I enjoyed their cameo in the tournament. Big and physical and their fast tempo game plan with Mane prominent caused Group G oppositions issues. Their physicality though meant that they tallied yellow cards and this proved decisive in their elimination.

Senegal will rue late lapses in their opening games. The late Poland goal concession for goal difference perspective. The late equalizer conceded to Japan in their second game was pivotal too; more than deserved a win here and it opened the door for today’s events which saw the African side play it safe only to be done by a late Colombia goal. Attacking threat came far too late. A bitter end to the tournament for Senegal.

Argentina advance (just) 

Issues aplenty for Argentina in this group phase but they managed to advance to the last sixteen. The issues defensively were hardly a surprise given their struggles to even qualify for the World Cup itself. The goalkeeping and defensive cohesion was an issue from the opening fixture. Croatia exposed this weak point ruthlessly in their second game. Nigeria should have but failed to inflict the killer blow.

Messi has arrived to the tournament with his sublime effort against Nigeria. Banega’s influence on the Nigerian game gives hope for Argentinian supporters that they could beat a France side who have flattered to deceive. Pavon’s cameo last time out also provides a good attacking threat but questions on why Dybala has not featured remain? A tough second round encounter beckons for Argentina though given the defensive and goalkeeping situation.

Underwhelming fancied teams 

Spain, France, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium have secured second round qualification but some of the performances have underwhelmed. France’s squad looks potent but no clear cohesion yet in the side. Spain have struggled defensively and their attacking goal threat has being assigned solely on Diego Costa.

Portugal looked great against Spain but have gone back to defensive first prototype in subsequent games. Brazil have grown into the tournament but still question their defense nous at the business end of the tournament along with Belgium who looked destined to face off in a quarter final.

With Croatia looking a prime tournament threat, these teams need to deliver now and deliver to the fullest performance levels. I suspect a couple of fancied teams will be on their way home come the end of the second round. No standout right now and it is now time for teams to deliver. Russia to upset Spain for me. Spain are in chaos from a managerial perspective, squad unity looks less than solid.

England Reality Check

The loss tonight is perhaps a nice reality check for England. It showed squad depth chart issues particularly in the midfield area. Dier and Delph were exposed tonight; looked ring rusty for long periods. Vardy and potentially Rashford were the standouts for England tonight but the dependency on Harry Kane and his goals was shown again tonight. The Rashford chance tonight should have being a goal, key opportunity lost from Rashford to start against Colombia.

The pleasing part for England has being the ability of the defense to come out and pass it out from the back. Pickford has being solid in goals and his distribution has being excellent. Squad players got game time but for the majority tonight, that will be the last they will feature in this tournament. The England team to face Colombia picks itself which for Gareth Southgate has to be a disappointment.

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