It will not have failed to escape anyone’s attention that the supposed giants of the World Cup, by which I mean those that usually are favourites for the title, have not made it through to the semi-finals. Those are Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Portugal and Spain. There are still some left in the draw that could be considered giants, such as France, Belgium and perhaps even England, but for the purposes of this post they are not included. So what did these teams do wrong and why are they not in the semi-finals of this year’s tournament?
First to Germany. I think they came in with one of the strongest overall squads, but they made the wrong tactical decisions. I have commented on this in the past, but Timo Werner starting in the striker role was not a good idea, because he doesn’t have the experience of this stage yet, although he is a very highly-rated striker. Defensively, the full-backs were advancing too far and, certainly against Mexico in their opening game, they left gaps that were severely exploited.
Brazil. Their way of playing meant that the draw was always going to catch up with them at some stage. They never looked like a team that were in excellent form, and realistically they got lucky with some of the results. Otherwise, aside from the odd top quality goal here and there, they haven’t created much and haven’t looked like a team that can win the tournament. Neymar hasn’t looked like a player that can light up the world stage much, occasionally getting a glimmer but otherwise getting headlines for the wrong reasons and being a simply average player at times. They just had a knack of winning but it was never going to last.
Argentina had a shaky qualification process and it carried into their group games. For Messi it was a shame because I don’t think he’ll be at Qatar in four years time to be honest. The Argentinians just never looked tactically comfortable on the pitch and again it caught up with them eventually. Defensively they were pretty poor and almost embarrassing at times as well.
Uruguay come next and they surprised me, because they have one of the strongest defences in the tournament. Upfront as well they looked good with Suarez and Cavani running the show. But what showed was that if you changed either of these through injury or rotation of the squad, then the team’s mentality changed, and this is what caught them out.
Colombia simply looked a shadow of the side that did so well in 2014. Without James Rodriguez, they don’t have the creativity to feed their attacking players, and they were lucky in progressing from the group stages but after that they didn’t show anything that looked like a team that could challenge for the cup.
European champions Portugal are a team that had players who had shone at Euro 2016, but since then their form for their clubs has gone downhill and that showed at the World Cup. What also showed is that this team relies entirely and perhaps understandably on Cristiano Ronaldo, but if you take Ronaldo out, the team collapses and has no identity. They will have to find a way of playing without Ronaldo, because, like Messi, I don’t think he’ll be in Qatar.
Finally, Spain. The best place to look is their game against Russia. The Russians sat back and played for a draw and for penalties, and allowed Spain to have possession. But the Spaniards didn’t have the quality to take the chances they created, and for that reason they didn’t get past the hosts. I think that sacking their manager just as the World Cup was beginning was a serious misjudgement and potentially things would have been different if they had kept Julen Lopetegui, but we will never know if that would have been the case or not.
So why did these teams crumble? Pressure probably had a lot to do with it. It is fine if you are a team that is coming into the tournament with little hope of reaching the final, in which case you are there to play and to just perform as well as you know you can do. But if you are a team that are highly-ranked and highly-rated, and are a team that a lot of people are expecting to do well, such as the seven teams listed above, then immediately if something goes against you, you start getting a lot of doubters, which may not help your cause much. Certainly that is what was expected of the teams above, and they crumbled perhaps because of this. Individually, in the cases of Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, and others, where they are the team’s talisman, then that is even more pressure on their shoulders, and will not help them. Unfortunately, I think it is maybe the last time we will see Messi and Ronaldo at the World Cup, but Neymar will have potentially another chance to get his hands on the famous trophy in the future.