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The memories of South Africa 2010 must have been quaking in their boots when they saw Qatar 2022 rock up as a contender to take their title of ‘worst World Cup ever’.
But that hasn’t been the case thus far. Every group game had meaning to it and every team has had something to fight for. The football hasn’t been amazing, but the drama certainly has been.
Here are 90min’s awards for the best of the World Cup group stages.
According to my very complex algorithms, metrics and models (the group stage points tallies and goal difference), the best team across the opening three matches was…England?! Who’s been screwing with this thing?
Honourable mentions: Netherlands, Morocco
The problem with this group stage is not one single team claimed all nine points available. In terms of trying to map out contenders and forming opinions on an inner circle of would-be champions, that’s really annoying.
If we then just judge the best teams on two of their three games, then the most promising team was probably champions France, who came from behind to demolish Australia and beat Denmark for the first time in three attempts this year.
Honourable mentions: Brazil, Portugal, Argentina
Again, not one team just steamrolling their way through the groups makes this tougher to nail down.
If you close your eyes and try to imagine the most dominant player at this World Cup so far though, it’s probably Kylian Mbappe.
These last two awards make it seem like France have been some all-conquering beast, but that’s not the case – it’s just been quite an even tournament.
Honourable mentions: Cody Gakpo, Alvaro Morata, Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes
Decreed as officially the most unlikely of victories ever at a World Cup, Saudi Arabia’s opening win against tournament favourites Argentina will go down as an immortal achievement.
Herve Renard rocked up in his muscle-fit white shirt and inspired the Green Falcons to a victory thought to be verging on impossible.
Honourable mentions: Germany 1-2 Japan, Japan 2-1 Spain, Belgium 0-2 Morocco
Have you considered doing your job, Cristia- no, wait, we’ve been here before.
For the most part, the strongest sides and leading contenders got through their groups with relative ease.
Apart from you, Germany. Two group stage exits in a row. Everything OK?
Honourable mentions: Belgium, Denmark
There is a really good argument that this should be Australia, but the way Morocco took top spot in a group filled with Croatia, Belgium and Canada was seriously impressive. They were written off before a ball had been kicked.
Honourable mentions: Australia, Japan
When asked about Germany’s iconic political protest prior to their 2-1 loss to Japan, Wales boss Rob Page said: “I want my players to focus fully on playing games of football and winning games. I am sure Germany now, in hindsight, will probably have the same message.”
The Dragons swiftly exited the World Cup and were on the end of a battering inflicted by Marcus Rashford, the most political football player the United Kingdom may have ever seen.
Honourable mentions: Eden Hazard eliminated after criticising Germany, Wojciech Szczesny saves controversial Lionel Messi penalty
The ultimate case of ‘if I’m going down, you’re going down with me’.
The complete and utter disdain between Luis Suarez and the entire nation of Ghana is unparalleled. The Black Stars’ 2-0 defeat to Uruguay saw them go crashing out of the World Cup, but South Korea’s win against Portugal meant La Celeste joined them on the next flight out of Qatar.
Honourable mentions: Cristiano Ronaldo vs adidas match ball technology, Brazil fans vs Gabriel Jesus, Germany vs cameras showing different perspectives of a ball crossing a line
Oh yeah, that’s a proper Brazilian World Cup goal scored by a proper Brazilian number nine.
Richarlison opened the Selecao’s group stage with an instinctive tap-in against Serbia, but his second goal of the evening was a thing of beauty.
Receiving Vinicius Junior’s low cross just behind him, the Tottenham striker flicked the ball up to himself and produced a stunning overhead kick with his second touch.
Honourable mentions: Vincent Aboubakar vs Serbia, Luis Chavez vs Saudi Arabia, Salem Al-Dawsari vs Argentina
Alright, this is the last jibe. The CR7 fan club wasn’t happy when I kept digging out his petulant nonsense last time.
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