Qatar 2022 - 5 lessons from 1st round

By Chris Adetayo

What an unpredictable set of results we witnessed in the first round of the World Cup. It was like the gods were keen to tell us to pocket our predictions and allow the games to play out. It made for a lot of excitement. 

So what are the 5 things we learned from the group stage?

1. The gap between football’s old super powers and the fledgling nations is now very small. When you put results of 2018 with what we have seen so far, you can’t but reach this conclusion. For instance, only three teams (Netherlands, England and Morocco) avoided defeat in the group matches. None is on the list of teams expected to win. Germany and Belgium did not even make it out of their respective groups. Africa and Asia had a combined 10 teams in the group games; half of them made it to the second Round. Evidence that the world’s game is truly global.

2. After the first set of matches, I had Brazil, France and Spain as favourites. They all scaled through. But all three look increasingly vulnerable with each match thereafter. Brazil look less magical without Neymar and we may not see him again in this WC. France is clearly too dependent on Mbappe, while Spain’s game is now somewhat predictable. As it is, they will avoid each other before the semi-finals (a potential France vs Spain) so I still have all three making the semi final. 

3. Unlike the three teams in 2 above, Argentina got their bad game out early (losing to Saudi Arabia), then quickly regrouped to beat Mexico and Poland. With Messi increasingly influential, they look good to go all the way, with a potential heavyweight clash against Netherlands in the quarter final. That will bring back memories of their clash in France 98!

4. Africa’s teams did commendably well after a poor start. 2 of them made it to the knockout stage, with Morocco topping its group. Those that didn’t (Tunisia, Ghana and Cameroon) barely missed out. All won at least one game. Morocco are unlucky to be playing Spain next but may still spring a surprise. Senegal has an even better chance of doing so against England. If both of them get to the quarter final, this will definitively be Africa’s best outing ever. 

5. Any breakout stars? Anyone we have never heard before that’s caught the eye? Well, not really. The game is now global and it’s hard for a new face to show up at the World Cup. In addition, the priority all around seems to be team rather than stars. So we must give a nod instead to teams like USA, Australia, Japan, Morocco and South Korea. They all proved to be much more than the sum of their individual parts, and contributed hugely to the excitement of the first round. 

Predictions for the Knockout: I’ve stuck to my original thinking. I still fancy Brazil, Argentina, France and Spain to make it to the semi final. Portugal, Netherlands and England could each prove me wrong. If Brazil get Neymar back to a decent level, they will remain my favourites. We shall see!
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