Some of the biggest shocks in World Cup history have occurred in groups E & F. Japan topped their group containing Germany and Spain while Morocco qualified first in their group, knocking out Belgium.
1. Japan – 6 Points (GD: +1)Embed from Getty Images
Japan shocked the world by finishing top of a group containing Spain and Germany, coming back from losing positions to beat both of the European superpowers in the process.
It all started in the first game for Japan, when they were 1-0 down against a German side that was seemingly controlling the affair. Japan scored two quickfire goals after substitutions were made, turning the game on its head to win the game and placing Germany in a precarious predicament in the group.
Heartbreak followed in their second game, as Japan was expected to qualify past a Costa Rica side that had just suffered seven goals against Spain. But Costa Rica was not to be denied, as a weakened Japan team cost them dearly when Keysher Fuller profited from Shuichi Gonda being off his line.
After a loss against Costa Rica, Japan needed a win to take fate into their own hands. Alvaro Morata put Japan’s hopes of victory in doubt, as he fired Spain one goal to the good, and almost identically to the Germany game, Japan did it again. Too quickfire goals that were scored three minutes apart, won Japan the game and secured the first position in the group.
Next up for Japan in the round of 16 is Croatia, where yet again their resilience, creativity, and organisation will be tested against a Croatian side that has only conceded one goal in the tournament so far.
2. Spain – 4 Points (GD: +6)Embed from Getty Images
Spain went into this World Cup as a squad that had the capabilities and quality to be outside challengers for the entire tournament itself.
Eyebrows were raised after their dominant performance over Costa Rica, as they thrashed their opponents 7-0 with six different players getting on the scoresheet.
The second game for this side was against a German side that had a point to prove after suffering a loss in their opening game, where the Spanish would see more of a test in the quality of opposition than their first outing. And a test Germany proved as Spain struggled in the latter parts of the game, being unable to control the match after scoring, with the Germans looking the more likely to win the game after equalising.
In the final game, Spain was in a comfortable position to qualify due to their goal difference and points tally. Taking the lead in a comfortable first half for Spain, it was difficult to see Japan coming back in this tie. But Japan struck through Spanish hearts by scoring two goals, seeing Spain rely on goal difference to qualify for the next round of the competition.
Due to finishing second in the group, Spain faces up against a Moroccan side that is unbeaten in their last eight fixture. A game where Spain will have to be more prolific for all the possession that they keep, due to Morocco being no strangers to holding a strong defensive shape and keeping clean sheets.
3. Germany – 4 Points (GD: +1)Embed from Getty Images
Germany has yet again been knocked out of a World Cup finals in the group stage for the second tournament in a row, after a series of underwhelming performances.
Their first group encounter was against Japan, a side with quality, but a side that the Germans should be beating if they had aspirations to challenge for the trophy. With a 1-0 lead and a dominant performance for the majority of the game, it looked as if a second German goal was imminent. But Japan had other ideas, as they turned the game on the head, making Germany’s navigation through a tough group, even trickier.
Next up against Spain, it was imperative that the Germans acquired a minimum of a point in this fixture to keep their World Cup dreams afloat. A result that they managed to grasp, despite finding themselves behind in the 62nd minute and after equalising late on and looking the more likely to steal a win, the game ended all square.
Germany’s job in their final game was simple, beat Costa Rica and do it well. With Spain’s goal difference being far greater and with Japan having a two-point cushion, Germany needed to win well against Costa Rica and rely on Spain to do their job against Japan. Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 after trailing 2-1 in the 70th minute, however, Japan was able to conquer the Spanish, subduing the Germans to an agonising fate.
4. Costa Rica – 3 Points (GD: -8)Embed from Getty Images
In a group containing Germany, Spain, and Japan, it always going to be an ask for the Costa Ricans to qualify through the group.
Their first outing against Spain was a bleak reading, as they were poorly picked apart by the Spaniard’s quick ball movement and possession. Seven goals conceded saw any hope of qualification dampened, with many fearing the worst for Costa Rica in their remaining two games.
Japan came into this encounter in high spirits after their shock victory over Germany, however, the Costa Ricans kept compact in a tight defensive shape, not allowing the Japanese to penetrate their defensive line with ease. A tactic that proved effective, as they kept a clean sheet and defeated Japan on a day to remember for Costa Rican football.
The last involvement in this World Cup for Costa Rica came in an encounter against Germany where they found themselves 2-1 up through Manuel Neuer’s own goal. However, three late goals for Germany saw Costa Rica’s lead diminished into a slightly less favourable scoreline, ending the road for Costa Rica in this World Cup.
1. Morocco – 7 Points (GD: +3)Embed from Getty Images
Morocco has topped their group after a display of performances that leave the side undefeated in the tournament against some of the toughest opponents in Europe.
The last tournament finalists were Morocco’s first assignment, as they held the Croatians to a 0-0 draw, securing a point in an even contest where the Moroccans displayed their defensive qualities.
However, it was against Belgium where Morocco proved that they are a handful for any side they face in the competition. Again Morocco was set up in a compact shape, not allowing Belgium to have joy in attacking areas and living off moments in counterattacks. A system that served them well as they defeated Belgium 2-0.
Defensive performances against Croatia and Belgium were expected due to the quality that both sides possess in attacking areas, however against a Canadian side that is ranked 41st in the FIFA rankings, it was a surprise for Morocco to yet again allow the opposition possession. But again, it proved successful, as they finished victorious, capturing the first position in the group.
Morocco’s style of play will suit a Spanish team that relishes retaining possession, however, Morocco will look to keep Spain out of dangerous areas and punish them with quick and incisive counterattacks. Morocco will thrive in the challenge of slaying another footballing giant after defeating Belgium already in this tournament.
2. Croatia – 5 Points (GD: +3)Embed from Getty Images
After making it all the way to the World Cup final in 2018, Croatia has made a name for themselves as a dangerous side for any team to play and has qualified through Group F unbeaten.
However, things did not seem as glamorous for Croatia after their opening game against Morocco, where they were held to a 0-0 draw in a rather uneventful affair.
Trailing in the 2nd minute through an Alphonso Davies goal for Canada, saw Croatia potentially staring the down the barrel of an early World Cup exit. But in the 36th minute, the tide began to change for Croatia, as Andrej Kramaric fired in the first of the four that the Croatians would eventually go on to score, providing them with three vital points.
With one point separating Belgium and Croatia, only a draw would have served Croatia with enough points to progress through the group and a point is what they secured. A goalless draw saw Belgium crash out of the World Cup as Croatia advanced into the next stage.
Japan will be the side to face Croatia in the next round, a game that Croatia can not take lightly after Japan’s comeback performances in the tournament so far.
3. Belgium – 4 Points (GD: -1)Embed from Getty Images
A tournament to forget for a generation of players that seem to be past their best and struggled for team unity throughout, Belgium is eliminated in the group stages after a string of underwhelming performances.
Their first game against Canada spelt warning signs as they were unable to deal with the relentless pressure that the Canadians were forcing on them. Despite a woeful performance and a missed penalty from Canada, somehow Belgium came out of this game with three points, through a thunderous strike from Michy Batshuayi.
However, Belgium was found out against Morocco, as their performance yet again rang alarm bells that the Moroccans answered. A late second goal for Morroco sealed Belgium’s fate, as they were in desperate need to amass more points to secure qualification.
The performance did improve for Belgium in their final game against Croatia, but a series of dreadful misses from the returning Romelu Lukaku saw them unable to score the goal that would have provided them a spot in the next round.
4. Canada – 0 Points (GD: -5)Embed from Getty Images
Despite finishing bottom of their group, Canada made history in this World Cup, with Alphonso Davies scoring their first-ever goal in a World Cup finals for the nation.
Canada put on a positive and energetic performance in their game against Belgium, with Alphonso Davies missing from the spot against the giant figure of Thibaut Courtois. A bitter loss to take, as they were the side dictating the flow of the game and created far greater chances than their opposing counterpart.
A devastating loss was to follow after a moment of ecstasy for the Canadians, as they scored the first goal in the competition. However, Croatia was the far dominant force in this matchup, easing to a 4-1 victory, with little resistance from Canada.
In their final game, they faced a Morocco side in good form, making life difficult for themselves by conceding twice in the opening 23 minutes of the game. Canada was able to close the gap by getting one back, however, still await to achieve their first point in a World Cup ever.