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World Cup Fever is Real

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This column was written after the first round of group games in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and I suppose one has to say that it was a typical start to a World Cup, meaning the football fans have already had a taste of almost everything.

The tournament favourites have had an indifferent start; Germany has beaten by Mexico. No one apart from the Mexicans themselves would have predicted that result. Even worse than that, Argentina held to a draw by little Iceland with Messi missing a penalty. It’s a result which did not go down well with the greatest Argentine player - Diego Maradona - who has already sent a message to manager Jorge Sampaoli saying that if results don’t improve, then he may have to take up residence outside of Argentina.

Brazil also faltered with a surprising draw against the Swiss. Spain had to come from behind and eventually dropped two points by conceding a last-minute equaliser to Portugal. I have no doubt that these results will serve as a wakeup call for these countries, and I expect all four will improve and win in their next round of games. Of all the big guns that faltered, Germany would be hurting the most. They have gotten used to waltzing through the group stages and getting better as the tournament progresses to the knockout stages. I am sure many of you can recall the 4-0 trouncing of Portugal in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup.

Messi would be hurting from the inept performance of his team but I expect his game level to increase if that is at all possible. Brazil, whom I still expect to win the tournament, would have gotten a stern warning that everything will not go their way.

They won the qualifying tournament and friendly matches leading up to the World Cup too comfortably (2-0 vs Croatia and 3-0 vs Austria) so I sense some level of complacency may well be in their camp. They will be made aware that at times you need to win ugly as when it’s not your day, the ball will not go into the back of the net easily.

Spain, on the other hand, fired their manager Julen Lopetegui two days before the World Cup and one now wonders how good a move that was. Spain is by far a better unit than the Portuguese but they were made to struggle, and when a goalkeeper with the quality of David de Gea concedes 3 goals, something tells me that all is not well in their camp. I still think however they will win their group but that’s just about it.

France, Uruguay, Sweden, England, Denmark and Iran all scraped through their opening round games. France is a much better outfit than how they looked against the Aussies but the smaller countries in terms of footballing experience, are running until they drop and no longer will allow the bigger name teams to run riot over them.

Belgium played a much better second half against the Panamanians who were expectedly rough and tried not to allow the Belgians too much room, but they were undone by some great positional play by Romelu Lukaku. England played as we expected them to play - dogged and well-organised but far too much depends on Harry Kane. Denmark will not scare any of the bigger teams save and apart from Kasper Schmeichel, who brought back memories of his father Peter Schmeichel with some superb saves which secured the narrow win for the Danes.

There were impressive wins for Serbia, Croatia, Senegal, Japan and Russia, however, it is early days as teams will improve and get used to the conditions, so it will be to your peril to write off teams that have lost or drawn. It will also be foolhardy to think that because a team has won their opening game, that they will go through to the next round.

Individually, it seems you can’t keep Cristiano Ronaldo out of the news - a hat trick in his first game. It should be interesting to see how consistent he will be this tournament.

A double each from Kane and Lukaku makes the race for the golden boot very interesting as I am sure a couple other strikers will come to the party before the end of the group stages. So once again, do not write off any player.

It’s already shaping up to be a superb World Cup and as the tournament goes deeper, the quality teams will come to the fore. Already the excitement here in T&T is fever pitch with families and friends soaking in as many games as possible. After all, it is World Cup football - the greatest team event on the planet. Keep enjoying, T&T!

Colin Murray 


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