They say that a good game is one where the result cannot be predicted until the final whistle. Going by what is happening in the current edition of one of the most popular sporting tournaments, i.e. the FIFA World Cup; we aren’t far from the truth.
This World Cup, currently being hosted by Russia, shall soon go down in history as one of the best editions ever, chiefly for the reason that the tournament is not being dominated by the usual stalwarts, but the underdogs that football fans hardly gave any attention to.
The World Cup kicked off with hosts Russia, who came out as the lowest ranked team among the 32 teams that had managed to make the cut for the FIFA World Cup. Besides, they were facing Saudi Arabia, who were ranked higher than them, and looked promising, even if only on paper.
However, with the first whistle of the match, everything changed. Yury Gazinsky deftly struck a header into the Saudi Arabian goalpost only 12 minutes into the game. Nothing remained the same after that. Gazinsky’s goal gave not only the much needed morale to the Russian team, they literally steamrolled the Saudi challenge, demolishing them by 5-0, a record for any opening match of the FIFA World Cup.
Hardly had a day passed, when the next upset jolted some football fans out of their sweet slumber. Contrary to expectations, the hard working Iceland football team, who had just made its official debut with this FIFA World Cup, surprised the runners up from the previous edition, Argentina, with an impressive draw. Equalizing the score in the 23rd minute, the entire team of Iceland stood solid like a rock, refusing to allow Argentina the much needed space to penetrate the Icelandic defences. The best however, was yet to come.
The spectators were eagerly waiting for one of the most coveted matches of the group stage, as defending world champions Germany would be facing Mexico. Though this team had never progressed beyond the quarterfinals in any World Cup, Mexico gave Germany a run for their money, and also defeated them by a solitary goal, surprising experts and audiences alike. Contrary to expectations, it is Mexico who made it to the knockout stages before Germany.
Group H, which people thought was relatively easy, turned out to be the most shocking of all. Comprising teams like Colombia and Poland, apart with Japan and Senegal, no football fan expected the latter of the four to completely turn the tables. While Poland stands eliminated, having lost to both Senegal and Colombia, Colombia is struggling to make the cut for the knockouts, which might be unlikely, given that their last match is against the seemingly formidable Senegal.
Surprisingly, of all the Asian teams in this tournament, it is Team Japan who has impressed the most. Not only did they shock a much higher ranked Colombia with a 2-1 victory, they also fought heroically against Senegal, managing to equalize the game with a 2-2 draw. Even the legendary draw between Portugal and Spain didn’t grab as many eyeballs and accolades as the match between Japan and Senegal did.
Another surprise in this edition has been the Croatian side. Touted to be the dark horse of every FIFA World Cup, Croatia had once clinched the bronze medal in the 1998 edition. However since then, it has hardly qualified past the group stages. But this time, not only did they start their campaign in style with a 2-0 win over Nigeria, they also shocked Argentina, crushing their challenge by a comprehensive 3-0 victory. Argentina was in for a world of pain had they not beaten Nigeria last night. Their last ditch goal by Rojo guaranteed that they narrowly qualify for the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup.
Even the likes of Brazil found it hard to keep teams like Switzerland at bay, barely managing to eke out a draw against them. The last time top teams like Brazil, Argentina, and Germany etc. found it so hard to even progress beyond the group stage was way back in the 2002 edition of the competition.
It is always exciting to see weaker teams perform well in the highest stage of the game, especially for Indians since we are neutral spectators. Irrespective of which team gets to lift the World Cup this time round, it is clear that this edition of the World Cup will be fondly remembered by football fans across the globe.