World Cup Round 2: Big winners and losers

The match between Colombia and Poland marked the end of the Round 2 of World Cup 2018. In Round 1 we witnessed some really close matches, some upset results and some dogged display from inexperienced smaller nations. These results did set up a very interesting Round 2 with almost every team looking like they can defy the odds and are capable of qualifying from their groups despite the presence of some heavyweights. While you must have disregarded the performances from underdog nations in the first round, the second round just made you eat your words as these underdog nations grew from strength to strength and took on the bigger opponents as equals. There were some surprise winners and some big disappointments on display from the second round of matches. This article will be talking about the big winners and the big losers from the Round 2 of the World Cup 2018.

Big Winners

  • Russia

Mo Salah in action

Mo Salah in action against Russia

Russian team celebration

Russian team celebrating after a goal against Egypt

The host nation, Russia, picked up from where they left and started the second round with another bang. Their opponents, Egypt, were quite confident of their chances as their talisman, Mohammad Salah, returned to the starting line up after recovering from his shoulder injury which he got during the Champions League 2018 final against Real Madrid. But even his presence failed to inspire his national teammates as Russia ran away with a 3-1 result. The host nation has now scored one more goal than World Cup 2010 winners scored in their entire campaign. The last time a Russian or Soviet Union side won their two opening games at the World Cup was way back in 1966. They are through to the knockout stages along with Uruguay who also qualified after a 1-0 win against Saudi Arabia. The Russian team is looking in excellent form and they will be carrying this winning momentum in their knockout stages. Watch out you tournament favorites! Russia isn’t going to make it easy for you.

  • Iran

Iran defense

Iranian players trying to block David Silva’s effort

Iran won its first match against Morocco through a divine intervention late into extra time as a Moroccan defender headed the ball inside his own net handing Iran 3 vital points. Although Iran lost its second match against Spain, it put up such a dogged defending display that the nation with the most creative midfielders and attackers in this World Cup couldn’t find a way past the resolute Iranian defenders. However, they managed to break the deadlock under very fortunate circumstances as the clearance of Iranian defender bounced off Diego Costa’s leg inside Iranian goal 10 minutes after halftime. However Iran almost managed to draw level after 8 minutes of going behind, but the goal was ruled out by VAR review. This was heartbreaking for Iran but quickly put it behind them and went about defending and being immovable the remainder of the match. This result means they are 3rd in their group with 3 points and behind Portugal on 4 points with whom Iran has its last group match. If something we learned from the first two matches of Iran, it is the fact that this team is capable of beating Portugal and could go into the knockouts at Portugal’s expense. Watch out Portugal.

  • Switzerland

Granit Xhaka celebrating

Granit Xhaka celebrating his thunderous strike against Serbia

Xerdan Shaqiri celebrating

Xerdan Shaqiri celebrating his last minute winner against Serbia

With Brazil winning late against Costa Rica thanks to 2 injury time goals from Coutinho and Neymar, the match between Serbia and Switzerland was potentially the decider to guarantee a place in the knockout stages. Things didn’t start well for Switzerland as it fell behind from a goal by Aleksandar Mitrovic of Serbia within the first 5 minutes. No team had gone on to win the match after falling behind first. It was an uphill task for Switzerland and they completely passed the test with flying colours. They put on a solid display and were always searching for the winner after leveling the score at 52nd minute via a Granit Xhaka stunner. Their perseverance finally paid off as Xerdan Shaqiri ran off unmarked into the opposition half from his own half to coolly finish and give Switzerland a massive boost to go into knockouts. They look solid and can trouble any team on their day.

  • Belgium & England

Hazard Penalty

Hazard scoring his penalty against Tunisia

Kane celebrating

Harry Kane celebrates his goal against Panama

While other teams are struggling to score goals barring Russia, Belgium has been scoring them for fun. It picked up from where it left and put 5 goals past a hapless Tunisian defense who just couldn’t cope with the Belgian firepower of Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens, and Kevin De Bruyne running directly at them. Belgium is giving a fine example of how to utilize your attacking star power to the maximum effect.

Meanwhile, England struggled to break a resolute Tunisia defense and had to thank Harry Kane for his late header to get a result, the second game against Panama truly showed the kind of firepower they possess in their ranks. Harry Kane looked in ominous form as he grabbed his first World Cup hattrick while other attackers also came in good and put 3 more to make the score line 6-1. These two teams are yet to face each other in the group stage and as the path to the knockout stage is clear for these two teams, expect a mouth-watering clash on the final day of Group G.

  • Germany

Toni Kroos scoring free kick

Toni Kroos scoring from his free kick in the last kick of the match

Oh my! What a match it was against Sweden for Germany! After losing their first match to Mexico in arguably the biggest upset of World Cup 2018, Germany had to respond and respond strongly to send out a statement to other teams. The defending champions set out to their task by changing 4 players from the previous match including talismanic playmaker Mesut Ozil, who didn’t start in a major tournament for Germany for the first time since his debut in 2010. But Sweden had ideas of their own to churn out another upset against Germany. Sweden took a surprise lead against the run of play when a rare mistake by Toni Kroos gifted the Swedish players the ball and they counter-attacked immediately with veteran Swedish striker, Ola Toivonen, lobbying the ball over exasperated German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Marco Reus, playing his first World Cup for Germany after missing the previous one due to injury, drew Germany level right after halftime with a blasted strike. But Germany’s woes became worse when their defensive mainstay Jerome Boateng was shown a second yellow card and given his marching orders by the referee. The match was going for a draw which would solidify Sweden’s path to knockouts and make Germany’s life more difficult. But it was not to be as Germany showed why they are always considered favorites in a World Cup and missed the knockout stage only once in the vast history of the Football World Cup. Toni Kroos found redemption for his earlier mistake as he fired his free-kick directly into the Swedish net in virtually the last kick of the match. Germany isn’t going out that easily and they just showed us their steely mantle and their belief in themselves. Beware, everyone, the defending champions are coming!

Big Losers

  • Egypt

Egyptian players in action

Egyptian players in action against Russia

Even if this was Egypt’s first world cup appearance in 28 years, they have one of the hottest properties of Football right now, Mohammed Salah. Although he missed the first match and Egypt narrowly lost against Uruguay, they were supposed to fight back and win 3 points against host nation Russia. However, the attacker looked lost against the fast counter attacks and high pressing of Russian players. His teammates continuously failed to put him in dangerous areas and Egypt bowed out meekly to the host nation, much to the delight of thousands of home fans who started celebrating their entry into knockout stages after 1986 when it was still the Soviet Union.

  • Argentina

Lionel Messi

A dejected Lionel Messi after the loss

Croatia third goal

Argentinean players could only watch as Croatia scored their third goal

Everything that could have been wrong with a team in this World Cup has been to Argentina. They had a dreadful qualifying campaign and qualified to World Cup only due to the last match heroics of a certain Lionel Messi. Their Football Association changed 4 presidents since last World Cup, which changed 4 national team coaches during the qualifying campaign. When Jorge Sampaoli took charge of the team, it was a disorganized unit and on the brink of elimination. Somehow they qualified for World Cup and people started believing in this team; just because of the presence of Lionel Messi in it. But football is a team game and gone are the days when one man alone could change the fate of the game even if his teammates are playing worse than school kids. Jorge Sampaoli changed 13 lineups for his 13 qualifying games, failed to show up with any solid tactics to utilize his players to the maximum and didn’t have any plans whatsoever as a backup. Argentina looks like a broken team who has no confidence in itself. Their soul-crushing loss of 3-0 to a brilliant Croatian side could have been the final nail to their coffin but for the impressive 2-0 win of Nigeria over Iceland gave this Argentinean side a last chance, a glimmer of hope to pick themselves up and take the matters in their own hands with a win against Nigeria in the final group game. However one should not expect too much from this hugely under-prepared, low on confidence team of Argentina barring a repeat of last match miracle by Lionel Messi.

  • Serbia

Aleksandar Mitrovic

Aleksandar Mitrovic scores the opening goal

Swiss celebration

Swiss players celebrating their winner against Serbia

Serbia came into this World Cup on the back of a very impressive European qualifying campaign. They have a very balanced side of youth and experience which is usually the ideal recipe of World Cup success. Veterans like Kolarov and Ivanovic manned their defense while youthful players like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic formed the attacking unit with quality midfield options on Nemanja Matic. They held off Costa Rica in their first game which they won thanks to a fizzing direct free kick of Kolarov. But their second game against Switzerland was the crunch game as the winner of this match would almost guarantee their place in the knockouts along with the heavy favorites Brazil. They couldn’t have asked for a better start as they took the lead within the first 5 minutes from a Mitrovic powerful header from a cross. However, as time went on, they started losing their grip on the match and Switzerland took full advantage of it. A trait of a good World Cup team is showing mental toughness. Serbia failed to show this and is on the brink of elimination in the final round of group matches.

  • Peru

Peruvian players

Peruvian players battling for the ball

France players

France players celebrating their goal against Peru

Peru came into this World Cup on the back of a tough South American qualifying campaign and a playoff against New Zealand. Their problems worsened when their national team captain was banned by FIFA for 3 months after finding him guilty of using a banned substance to boost performance against Argentina in the World Cup Qualifying match. FIFA later had to postpone the decision after a mass public appeal and pleas from Guerrero’s lawyers that he used them unknowingly. However, these incidents marred the appearance of Peru in a World Cup after almost 30 years. Peru was never going to be favorites to win the World Cup, but they had a slight chance of going into the knockout stages as the second place looked up for grabs after France. Still, Peru didn’t manage to win or draw a single game against Denmark and France, losing both by a single goal. These two results put Peru out of the World Cup making their stay a very short one after 30 years. The Peruvian supporters probably hoped for some more but they now have to return home with a heavy heart.

  • Poland

Yerri Mina

Yerri Mina gives Colombia the lead

Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski cut a lonely figure for Poland

The Poland team had a very fruitful World Cup qualifying campaign as they finished first in their group ahead of Denmark while banging 28 goals in 10 matches on their way. Their national icon, Robert Lewandowski, was the top scorer in the European Qualifying campaign with 16 goals, 1 ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even during the international friendlies before this World Cup, Robert Lewandowski was scoring goals for fun. Things couldn’t have looked brighter for Poland who was fan favorites to go through from their group along with Colombia in the expense of Japan and Senegal, who are making their first World Cup appearance after their famous 2002 campaign. Poland’s party came crashing down as they lost their first match to a spirited Senegalese team with brilliant Sadio Mane pulling the strings for them. Poland’s next match against Colombia was the last match of Round 2 which they at least had to draw to remain in contention for the knockouts after a shock Japan win over Colombia in the first round matches. Here also Robert Lewandowski failed to show his pre-tournament form for both club and country and Poland meekly bowed out with a 3-0 loss.

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