All the things hogging the conversation after the latest day of action in Russia 2018
World Cup talking points, Day 14: the winner loses it all, guess who’s back and decisions, decisions
The winner loses it all
There’s a new curse stalking the World Cup, as Germany became the fourth trophy winner in the past five tournaments to go out in the group stages of the subsequent tournament. The 2-0 defeat by South Korea, courtesy of a pair of injury-time goals, means that the Germans join France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014) in following up the greatest triumph with the ultimate indignity, reinforced by them finishing last in Group F. Many theories are swirling around as to why this curious pattern has developed – only the French in 2002 had qualified automatically as champions and had spent the two years before the tournament playing no competitive football, so that theory doesn’t hold water. The prevailing wisdom is that by the stage a team has won the World Cup, the generation of players who have achieved that success has essentially realised its greatest aim, and the intensity drops off, alongside key players retiring once they have hit that height in their career.
Guess who’s back?
Brazil effortlessly swept past a limited Serbian side in Group E, winning by two goals and playing some scintillating football. Neymar finally showed an ominous return to his best form, toying with the Serbian defence and playing his teammates into wonderful attacking positions. However, the darker side of his game was also on show, via his extravagant reaction to a tackle by Adem Ljajic, which drew a somersault and several rolls from the Brazilian. Even fellow countrymen are noticing his antics – a bar in Rio de Janeiro is offering free drinks every time that the striker hits the ground, which is currently happening every nine minutes.
The English and Belgian managements have both claimed that they will be sending their teams out to win the Group G decider in Kaliningrad on Thursday night – the winner of the clash between the group leaders will also top the table. However, today’s results in Groups E and F have revealed who the likely quarter-final opponents are for either team, should they win their round-of-16 game first. The team who goes through in first place will end up taking on either Brazil or Mexico, while the runner-up will face European opposition, in the form of Switzerland or Sweden.
Belgian manager Roberto Martinez has indicated that he will field a much-changed side from the one that beat Tunisia 5-2, while Gareth Southgate is still expected to stick with his talismanic striker Harry Kane. While attempting to secure a seemingly easier draw further down the line may be tempting, the damage that a bad defeat could do to team morale also has to be factored in.
Oh! What a lovely VAR
Potentially the most important decision that the VAR team had to make took place during the German game, when the first South Korean goal was initially turned down by the on-field officials for being offside. VAR quickly established that the last touch before the ball came through to scorer Kim Young-gwon was from a German player, thus playing him onside. The world held its breath as the referee consulted the VAR screen, but it was an absolute cut-and-dried decision.