It was by the surprise of many to see Germany, 2014 winners of the World Cup, not even get out of the group stages. It was also surprising to see Spain get knocked out by a nation ranked 70th in the FIFA international rankings. Where did it all go wrong for the powerhouses in Europe and South America which allowed for the underdogs to flourish?
A Reliance On Star Players
These reasons will apply to some nations more than others, however countries such as Portugal over relied on 33 year old Cristiano Ronaldo in Russia. Too many of the top dogs in the World Cup this year seemed to have put their game plan as to wait until a star player performs a magical moment, with some countries this didn’t happen past the group stage.
Although this game plan can work in some games, it isn’t a sustainable method of winning an international tournament as many countries experienced this year. Another example of this is Uruguay’s remarkable defence, an over reliance on Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez was their downfall as only one of the two enjoyed a successful tournament. As a result of this, Uruguay didn’t go as far as they potentially could have in Russia.
An Ageing Core:
Every great team in the past has a downfall, and this could be the beginning of the end for a world class generation of both Spain and Germany. The cores of these two nations are no doubt ageing, Spain will most likely be without players such as Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique in 2022 and Germany could be without Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira. Spain’s squad had an average age of 28.4 years old which was the 10th oldest squad at the tournament and Germany had an average age of 27 years old which was the 27th oldest. Although for Germany this seems they have a young squad, much of their core are at the beginning of their decline and many younger players such as Joshua Kimmich who were in the squad helped this massively.
On the contrary, teams with young sides such as France and England endured success with youth on their national teams side. France ended up wining the competition with teenager Kylian Mbappe being the star of the show in Russia and England reached the semi finals in the World Cup with relatively young players such as Jordan Pickford and John Stones making a big impression on the international stage.
Complacency and Underestimating The Underdogs.
Some of the top nations seemed complacent in Russia, Germany weshocked after losing to South Korea 2-0 but also suffered defeat to Mexico. Consequently, the 2014 winners of the competition finished bottom of a winnable group for the Germans. Furthermore, Spain seemed to underestimate Russia which was their downfall as the host nation shocked the world by beating Spain in a penalty shootout. Complacency was a huge downfall for both nations.
There could even be an element of underestimation with Brazil against Belgium as the golden generation beat the Brazilians despite the 2014 hosts being favoured to win. Another example of underestimating an underdog is Belgium’s round of 16 tie with Japan as the Asian side went two goals up before Belgium managed to just about recover the game and win 3-2. If Belgium had not have gone on to win the game, the result would be the biggest example of underestimating an opponent at the 2018 World Cup!
In conclusion, it’s clear to see that the ‘big boys’ failed to perform in Russia due to a number of reasons, some which aren’t their fault, but the World Cup in Russia was the rise of the underdog. Will we see a repeat of this at Euro 2020 or in Qatar in 2022?