Along with every World Cup competition, there are always a few surprises that occur. Seemingly every time there are some teams that fail to live up to expectations while others exceed them. The 2018 World Cup was no exception with the top two favourites, Brazil and Germany, being eliminated early from the competition. Germany within the opening rounds and Brazil in the quarter final. On the other hand, there were many teams that did well in the competition, improving significantly and leaving them with a chance to build on it next time round. Some of the performances were easier to predict than others, but let’s take a look at some of the surprise packages and how they did it.
Another team that was full of surprises in Russia was the Iceland national team. After all it was Iceland that neutralized Argentina led by Lionel Messi. So disgusted was Messi at the conclusion of the match, he angrily tore off his captain’s armband tossing it to the ground.
Iceland have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup with 2018 being their first event. Iceland played a hard fought game and treated the 1-1 draw as if it were a victory. For a team that’s never qualified and has only 100 professional footballers in their country from which to make up a team roster, 29th place really is an improvement.
Russia were discounted from the beginning as being a serious player in the World Cup. All the numbers suggested they wouldn’t amount to much. After all, they had a 70th ranking in the world and were given a spot at the World Cup simply because their country was hosting the competition.
When the World Cup opened, their odds of winning were 50/1. Given their home team status, this no doubt gave them more favourable odds than they should have based on their skill. However, early in the tournament, Russia surprised many with their early victories. They shut out Saudi Arabia with a stunning 5-0 victory followed up by a win against Egypt 3-1. Perhaps their greatest upset was against Spain. Spain dominated in the match in terms of possession of the ball but this really means nothing if you can’t do anything with it. This was the case with Spain who dominated the ball for 80% of the game. Russia eventually won with the help of penalties.
Entering the quarterfinals with Croatia, many wondered when Russia’s luck would run out. It did. Croatia came out on top with a win on penalties. When compared to previous World Cups, this was their best finish since 1982 when they came in 7th. The lesson learned here is to never write-off the home team.
When comparing Japan’s results to their finish in 2014, the squad definitely improved. Unfortunately, they didn’t go past the Round of 16 as Belgium handed them their ticket home. While Japan were always underdogs, they didn’t look like it initially. They were able to keep the Belgians from scoring in the first half. It wasn’t until the second half that the deadlock was broken. Japan went two goals up while Belgium remained scoreless. Unfortunately, the Belgians fought back and claimed a dramatic victory, through a late goal from Nacer Chadli.