1. Messi/Ronaldo’s Early Exit
The two greatest player of their generation entered this year’s World Cup with one big omission in their trophy cabinet: the World Cup. Messi seeks redemption for Argentina’s 2014 loss in the finals while Ronaldo is coming off Portugal’s Euro 2016 championship run. Both superstars aimed high and attempted to carry their teams deep into the elimination stage.
Messi turned his season around with a few decent performances and Ronaldo carried the scoring burden for Portugal for most of the tournament. However, both actually missed a crucial penalty in the Group stage and contributed 0 goals in the Round of 16, eventually falling short and bowing out of the 1st Round. (Argentina losing 3-4 to France; Portugal 1-2 to Uruguay)
The two greats are on the better side of 30s now but in the next tournament, they will be in the mid to late 30s. This could possibly be their last decent chance at the cup and both have been mum about their possible exit from international football.
2. Just Everything About Japan.
Japan’s head scratcher move in the last qualifying match (throwing their game away) against Poland in a loss left many amused and confused. But what was not confusing was their play beyond that match. With a solid win against Colombia and a 2-2 draw against Senegal, they entered the elimination stages representing the hopes of Southeast Asian countries against Belgium.
Many counted them out against heavyweight Belgium but Japan proved everyone wrong. Seizing a 2-0 lead early in the second half with goals from Haraguchi and Inui they were in position to seize the game from the Belgians and advance into the next round. However, Belgium countered with goals from Vertonghen at the 69th minute and bushy hair Fellaini minutes later.
The game was tied 2-2 looking like it will go into Extra Time, when a quick counter attack goal by Belgium (finished off by Chadli) in the final minute of injury time saw Japan lose in the final seconds of the game.
Although Japan was devastated by the loss, both the team and the fans showed extreme class by cleaning up the locker room and the stadium respectively, with the Japan national team leaving a ‘Thank You’ note in Russian as well.
Salute for representing SEA above and beyond.
3. Iceland - the Cinderella
Iceland’s football national team qualified for their first World Cup ever this time round. If you think that’s a big enough storyline, think again. The team is made up of a bunch of interesting profiles and a strong fanbase. All these from a nation with only 330,000 residences. A part-time dentist for a coach, a film maker for goalie and guitarist at forward, this team barely has a full-time football squad. They relied heavily on great tactics from their dental coach and passion for the sport, with the whole nation (and more) behind them.
In just their World Cup debut, they stunned heavyweight Argentina with solid defence and showed out throughout the tournament. Although they were winless and failed to make it to the Round of 16, they more than proved they belong in the world’s biggest football stage and gave themselves a chance to qualify to the next round.
This was indeed a storyline of fairytales. (without the happy ending)
4. Germany’s Exit - Conspiracy
Perhaps Singapore’s anti-gambling ad in 2014 should have run this year instead, because Andy’s dad would have indeed lost all their savings. Jokes aside, Germany’s early exit was a big surprise. We covered it pretty extensively in the previous article but it definitely deserved a placing in this list. Look at their squad, even their second team could have made the first team for most of other country’s squad and beaten the teams they lost to in the qualifiers. But as the saying goes, the ball is round, you don’t get a pass into the qualifiers just because you are the defending champs.
Their 1-0 loss to Mexico? Barely acceptable. Their 2-1 win over Sweden? Kept their season alive but scary. Their 2-0 loss against South Korea? Outrageous.
For a team with credentials like theirs, it is a disgrace. They continued the curse of defending champions early exit in the World Cup. Italy, Spain, France and now Germany. Maybe it is conspiracy, maybe it is coincidence, maybe it is fate. But it will be something to look out for in the next World Cup.
5. South Korea’s Goal stopper Cho Hyun Woo
South Korea’s Son is undoubtedly their best outfield player. But in this World Cup 2018, it can be argued that he was not their best player on the field. That title might actually belong to the goalie standout Cho Hyun Woo. His rise to stardom was nothing short of spectacular and he has more than earned his nickname as South Korea’s De Gea (although some may argue he actually did much better than the actual De Gea).
He managed a 80% saving rate in this tournament and kept defending champions Germany scoreless, leading to their eventual exit. This has drawn attention from many big European clubs such as Liverpool, and rightfully so. It would be interesting to watch where he lands after World Cup 2018 has ended.
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