The 2018 World Cup is well and truly underway, with the first round of fixtures for each group nearly complete. In a tournament that will so far be remembered for controversy around VAR and the subsequent proliferation of penalties awarded, there has been some shocks. International heavyweights Germany, Brazil and Spain all failed to win their opening games, with the Germans losing their opener. This article will look at how the four favourites to win the tournament (Spain, France, Germany and Brazil) have fared so far.
Spain kicked off their World Cup campaign against Euro 2016 winners Portugal, which was undoubtedly the most entertaining game of the World Cup so far. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick denied newly appointed boss Fernando Hierro a victory in his first game in charge of the 2010 World Cup champions.
Despite the failure to secure three points in their first game, it can be said that Spain were very impressive. Their attacking combinations were almost frightening at times, with Isco, Iniesta and David Silva linking up to great effect. This coupled with the fact that Diego Costa looks in great form, netting twice in the 3-3 draw, makes Spain a potentially deadly attacking force.
However, although Hierro’s team’s were brilliant going forward, it cannot be ignored that they made defensive mistakes that led to them conceding goals. Questions will be asked of right-back Nacho, who despite his wonderful goal, clumsily brought down Ronaldo for Portugal’s penalty. Nacho may find himself out of the starting line-up for Spain’s next game against Iran, with Dani Carvajal nearing a return to fitness. Hierro will also have to make a decision regarding goalkeeper David De Gea, who made an uncharacteristic mistake for Ronaldo’s second goal. Despite a few defensive worries, Spain still look to be a formidable force with their attacking talent, who probably impressed the most in forward areas out of all the favourites to win Russia 2018.
If you just look at the results of the four main contenders for World Cup glory, it may be said that France had the strongest start to Russia 2018. Didier Deschamps’ side ran out 2-1 winners against a spirited Australia team on Saturday, courtesy of a penalty awarded by VAR which was converted by Antoine Griezmann and a freakish own goal from Aziz Behich of Australia.
Les Bleus were far from convincing, however. In an attacking sense, there was a lack of cohesion within the team. A front three of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé failed to link-up as Deschamps would have hoped. Although this trio clearly have bundles of talent, it may aid France going forward if they include Olivier Giroud in the team at the expense of Mbappé or Dembélé, especially against sides like Australia who are likely to defend deep.
Less of a worry for Deschamps will be how his side fared defensively. Barring a freak handball by Samuel Umtiti which led to the penalty awarded to Australia, France looked relatively assured at the back. However, they will clearly be tested more defensively when they come up against better opposition. It will be interesting to see how France’s inexperienced backline fares against a lively Peru side in their next group game.
Germany had an opening game to forget on Sunday. The 2014 World Cup winners fell victim to an energetic and pacy Mexico side, losing 1-0 in Moscow. It is the only time since East and West Germany reunited to compete in the 1994 World Cup, that Germany have failed to win their first game.
For a team that scored a staggering 18 goals in the 2014 World Cup, Germany were unable to fashion many clear goalscoring opportunities against Mexico. The predictability of Germany in an attacking sense makes it even more staggering that Leroy Sané was omitted from the 23 man squad. Despite their lack of creativity and ideas on Sunday, Germany still have the tools to unlock any defence on their day, even without Sané. It would not be a shock if the likes of Thomas Müller and Timo Werner end up firing Germany into the knockout stages.
More worrying for Joachim Löw will be that the 1-0 scoreline somewhat flattered Germany. Mexico were able to counter attack the Germans on numerous occasions, and on another day, they could have won 3 or 4-0. Full-backs Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt were too often caught too high up the pitch when Mexico gained possession from Germany, leaving Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng exposed to a dangerous Mexico frontline. If Germany are to go on to win this tournament, you feel a change in shape may be required.
Like Spain and Germany, Brazil also failed to win their first game of this tournament. The 2014 hosts could only manage a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don. A terrific strike by Philippe Coutinho was cancelled out by a Steven Zuber header.
For the first 25 minutes or so, Brazil were living up to their pre-tournament tag of favourites to lift the trophy. There looked to be a good understanding between Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar and Coutinho. However, the five times winners allowed Switzerland back into the game. It will be a worry for Brazil manager Tite how Casemiro and Paulinho failed to control the game once Brazil had gone 1-0 up. It will also be a worry the way in which Neymar was effectively bullied out of the game by Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami, as it may be a tactic that Serbia and Costa Rica may employ in the Brazil’s next two games.
However, the biggest worry that Tite will have is the goal they conceded. Zuber was allowed to find space in Brazil’s six yard box and head home from a Xherdan Shaqiri corner. The goal showed a lack of concentration from the Brazilian defence, as well as an inability to effectively deal with set pieces. If Brazil are to win a sixth World Cup, they will need to defend set-pieces more effectively.
How do you think Spain, France, Germany and Brazil performed in their first games? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @AllOutFootball_ with the hashtag #AOF!