World cup group stage review

A look back at the German disaster and a look ahead to the last 16

The group stage is now over. The big story is of course Germany.

“Never write off the Germans” was the buzz phrase from every one of the pundits and commentators. No one saw it coming, but if we are being honest about their performances, they were atrocious and they deserved to go home.

Right from the first minute of game one vs Mexico, something seemed off with this version of the world champions. Tactically, they were a shambles and were far too open when they had the ball and their full-backs were too high. It was inventible that Lozano would get all the joy in the world to fire Mexico’s winner and that lackadaisical attitude continued throughout the group until Son slid the ball over the line to confirm the German’s exit.

We could blame the tactical set-up from Low until we are blue in the face, however, he got his changes spot on in the second game bringing on Gomez, which changed the game in their favour. Ultimately, Low’s players have to take their share of the blame too.

They should never have been going out at the first hurdle, especially with the group they had. Of course, much was made of Leroy Sane’s exclusion. In hindsight, he more than earned his place with his form for Man City this season and he would have given them a more direct option, especially as Goretzka was chosen in the final game on the right hand side when he normally plays centrally for his club. That decision seems weirder and weirder as time goes on.

There were many players who failed to replicate their form from four years ago in Brazil, big players as well. Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller looked a shadow of themselves and looked miles off the pace.

Mesut Ozil always seems like he wishes he was somewhere else rather than playing football and Jerome Boateng even Mats Hummels, to a lesser extent, looked like they were on their summer holidays. Not only these guys, but also Draxler, Werner and the others were very poor too – perhaps the pressure took it’s toll on Werner and it may have been a bit early for him to lead the German line despite his great season at RB Leipzig. It says a lot about where the team is and was at the tournament when they had to rely on Mario Gomez, who is in his mid-30s.

To be honest, Toni Kroos was the only one who could hold his head high. He won’t of course, but he was the man who tried to drag his failing teammates over the line. He wasn’t missing his usual mesmeric grace and passing ability.. and let’s not forget the free-kick vs. Sweden.. It was one of the goals of the tournament, so I do feel bad for him that he couldn’t quite get the job done.

The Twitter stat was that four of the last five world champions have been eliminated at the group stage. It was a fragmented tournament from Low’s charges, seemingly on and off the park. Unfortunately for him, the players and the German fans that travelled to Russia they became the newest victims of this seemingly poisoned chalice. You have to wonder what is around the comer for them. I don’t think they need radical reform like they did when they crashed out in Euro 2000, but they certainly need to re-discover their footballing identity, which was sadly lacking from this group.

Moving on to the last-16 times, the ones that catch my eye are the obvious ones: Uruguay vs Portugal – the battle of the Suarez and Ronaldo and Pepe vs Godin at the heart of the defences. Both teams play in a conservative fashion but it could end up being a cracker.

Next up is the game between the two teams who possibly have impressed me least. Argentina vs France: this will be a cracker. Two coaches who have no idea of their best system or preferred starting XI, both under massive pressure. It won’t be goalless and despite how abject both teams have been thus far, this one has the potential to eclipse the Spain 3-3 Portugal game.

Last up has to be England against Colombia. This has the potential to be another great match; both of them can be electric going forward, and downright diabolical at the back.

Kane vs Falcao – Sterling vs James – fitness permitting. It could go either way and it will be a fascinating watch. Also, whoever comes out on top will fancy themselves strongly to do some damage and get to the semis at least.

For England it will be one of two things: football will be coming home or their squad will be going home.

Jamie Currie