World Cup: Analysis / Thoughts on the Tournament so far; Tonight Starring: England vs Belgium [2018]

a post by “the self-appointed Desk Cop of football”: the Crow.

Note: This post was originally intended for yesterday. Owing to certain… recent happenings, I find myself a day late with this post. But it’s well worth the wait, I’d say.

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The 2018 FIFA World Cup has now been running for exactly two weeks, and quite a lot has happened. The fun started long before the finals Tournament was underway, with European footballing superpowers — and perennial contenders — Italy and the Netherlands failing to even make the tournament.

The Corvid Review - World Cup 2018 Italy Netherlands

Despite their absence, the games kicked off with — as the King puts it — the Human Rights Derby, and what a thumping it was: with hosts Russia deconstructing Saudi Arabia by a 5-0 margin.

But not to spend too much time recapping the entirety of the tournament, play-by-play, let’s take stock of some of the most glaring features on display this sequel to Brazil: 2014.

  • The Vigilance of V.A.R.,
    • Oh, V.A.R., how strong your case has been made!
    • While breaks in play have been forced, the fact that it’s led to correct decisions finally being the norm is nothing short of welcome. You’re the hero we’ve needed for so long. The results are evident in the upswing of penalties awarded, minus the usual rambling that used to come with them.
  • The Power of Pot 2.
    • As of this writing, Colombia leads Senegal 1-0 with only a few minutes of regulation time to go, and the game looks set to shut African teams out of the Knock-out stage for the first time in 36 years (despite Japan’s result). If it ends this way, Pot 2 will have seven out of eight teams in the knockout stages.
    • Addendum: And, it’s over. Senegal are out on Fair Play rules (the first team ever eliminated by this rule). This is why you should always play nice, children.
  • The Strength of Scandinavia
    • Sweden and Denmark find themselves in the Knockout stage, with Sweden topping its group along the way. For teams that were cast into their roles from Pot 3, and handed troublesome groups, their performances have been nothing short of admirable.
  • The Bait-and-Switch of Brazil
    • Coutinho, not Neymar, leads the way for the nation, following their horrific last exit in their home stadium against Germany (a 1-7 loss). But let’s face it, that isn’t such a surprise. They’re both good players (although I can’t stand one’s antics…).

And now… with those three points out of the way, let’s address the elephant that popped by the room last evening to say hello:

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Deutschland. 

What a spectacular car-crash. One last-gasp goal by Toni Kroos brought the defending champions back into the tournament. Would they be the first defending champions to win back-to-back titles since Brazil in 1962? Would they be the terror of the tournament that they usually are?

It was not to be. The Champion’s Curse struck again. If not for a blip in the 2006 tournament, each of the winners (and sometimes, their rival finalists with them) in recent history have bowed out at the bottom of the group. And Germany was no different last night. After a close-fought 90 minutes against then-bottom-placed South Korea, two glaring errors in injury time (the second of which, I posit, shall be replayed for years to come), Germany crashed out at the bottom of their table.

Far as the champions go, the curse has struck:

  • France
    • [Champions: 1998; Eliminated in the Group Stage: 2002 | 1 pt, 4th]
  • Italy
    • [Champions: 2006; Eliminated in the Group Stage: 2010 | 2 pts, 4th]
  • Spain
    • [Champions: 2010; Eliminated in the Group Stage: 2014 | 3 pts, 3rd]
  • Germany
    • [Champions: 2014; Eliminated in the Group Stage: 2018 | 3 pts, 4th]

What a lovely day, wasn’t it, Brown-Necked Raven? Brazil must’ve kept their immunity from 2006 all to themselves.

In any case: Auf Wiedersehen, meine Liebe! Now, on to the main event of the night:

The Corvid Review World Cup 2018 Promo Flags England Belgium

ENGLAND vs BELGIUM [GROUP G]

This is how the two group tables stand at the moment:

The Corvid Review World Cup 2018 Group Tables G and H
Source: The Corvid Review‘s Football World Cup Monitoring Station

England lead on Fair Play, by a single Fair Play point (in this case: a single yellow card). Everything else is identical on the table. And that’s not the only table that is relevant when the match kicks off, an hour from now. There’s also:

The Corvid Review World Cup Top Scorers Last Group Day 2 Games to go

Harry Kane leads the charge for the Golden Boot — one goal behind last year’s top scorer and one ahead of Romelu Lukaku, who’ll be his opposite number tonight and the unstoppable Cristiano Ronaldo — thanks to a lucky dink off Reuben Loftus-Cheek‘s shot on target against Panama. That’ll be something to take into consideration if tonight brings us goals.

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Both of these men wear one of my crests (club and international), these days

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about finishing second in the group.

And why? Well, quite a few factors tie into this business. Let’s take a look at them one-by-one:

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Future Opposition

The winner of Group G will face the runner-up of Group H (Japan), and vice-versa (Colombia stands on the other side). Of those opponents, Japan would be an ideal result for both England and Belgium, on paper.

However, following the Round of 16 game vs either of those two countries, the following opponents will be:

  • Winner of Brazil vs Mexico at Samara on July 2nd for the Winner of Group G
  • Winner of Sweden vs Switzerland in St Petersburg on July 3rd for the Runner-Up of Group G

And there, we have an incentive to face Colombia, considering both Sweden and Switzerland are considered ‘weaker’ opposition. So, at least there’ll be a guarantee of an “easy” game in the quarter-finals. And to be fair, even the list of possible opponents in the semi-finals doesn’t look as heavy as the one available to the winner.

That’s point number one.

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Travel and Frequency

The winner of Group G will play their remaining games in the following stadiums on the following dates (considering they keep winning):

  • Rostov-on-Don | July 2nd
  • Kazan | July 6th
  • St Petersburg | July 10th
  • Luzhniki (Moskva) | July 15th for the Finals
    • St Petersburg | July 14th for Third Place

Whereas the runner-up of Group G will play their remaining games in the following stadiums on the following dates (considering they keep winning):

  • Otkritie (Moskva) | July 3rd
  • Samara | July 7th
  • Luzhniki (Moskva) | July 11th
  • Luzhniki (Moskva) | July 15th for the Finals
    • St Petersburg | July 14th for Third Place

As can be plainly seen, the team that finishes second in Group G stands to benefit a lot from the structure of the tournament. And to me, this is the biggest incentive either team could have to fluff tonight’s game and bow out of a win (or grab a couple of yellow cards).

And there, we have point number two.

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Point Number Three — Mentality

In the end, however, this is the World Cup. While there is the old saying that goes: “to be the best, you have to beat the best”, I’ve never been one for not taking all my options into consideration. And I can neither lie about how lucrative the Runner-Up’s path will be. It is by far the better path.

That said, I’m not going to want to lose against Belgium. I want England (which — if it’s not apparent by now — is my team) to stop being considered the Gatekeeper / Journeyman of the international footballing community. To be fair: we have been, for a long, long time, but it tires me.

I could accept a second-place finish on Fair Play, but I would rather nothing less than a scoring draw. A win would be better, but Belgium are a strong team going forward. I want the squad to keep the momentum they’ve built up during the qualifying rounds and these first two matches versus ‘lesser’ (and they were lesser, despite respect due) opposition. England have far been marginalised and Belgium are building a new chapter in their footballing history. Both teams deserve something from this game, regardless of what comes after. Anything can happen in the game of football, and like most managers say: it’s more important to think about the game at hand.

And you know what? I wouldn’t mind the harder path.

Remember: this is no longer a league. This is knockout football.

Good luck to Belgium. Good luck to England. Kick off is minutes away. Let’s have a good game.

— Crow out.

3 thoughts on “World Cup: Analysis / Thoughts on the Tournament so far; Tonight Starring: England vs Belgium [2018]”

  1. VAR has been a hit. It’s a shame that the old guard were so resistant to using it. Wonder how Football history would have been changed if it had been used in some key historical matches.

    Liked by 1 person

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