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Why have top teams exited the FIFA World Cup 2018?

Lionel Messi looks dejected during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between France and Argentina at Kazan Arena on June 30, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Lionel Messi looks dejected during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between France and Argentina at Kazan Arena on June 30, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

What’s happening in Russia?

They’re calling Kazan the graveyard of the greats. It is where Germany lost to South Korea to crash out in the first round of a World Cup for the first time since 1938. Days later, Argentina fell to France in the round-of-16 at the same venue. On Friday it was Brazil’s turn, leaving us with a semi-final line-up few would have predicted at the start of the tournament. This is the first time in the history of the World Cup that neither Germany, Brazil or Argentina has made the last four. Consider Spain’s defeat to Russia in the round-of-16, and this has truly been a tournament of shocks.

What led to their ouster?

There is no common answer, no overarching theme. Each side had its own problems. Germany simply played badly, dull and ponderous in possession and lacking a focal point in attack. Some of the senior players that manager Joachim Low — perhaps wrongly — put his faith in were off colour. Midfielder Sami Khedira, defender Jerome Boateng and forward Thomas Muller disappointed. Low, it seemed, simply did not know what his best XI was. Spain was the better side over 120 minutes against Russia, but went out on penalties. The attack lacked penetration — Isco the only stand-out performer — and the defence wobbled, but the dismissal of manager Julen Lopetegui two days before the opening game did not help.

Argentina’s exit hardly came as a surprise; a poor team that had just about managed to qualify for the World Cup was no match for a hugely talented French unit. Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance has for long masked the team’s failures; this was a step too far.

Brazil’s defeat to Belgium in the quarter-final was perhaps a surprise, but it was not in the least an upset; Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are among the world’s best in their positions. Brazil’s defensive display, after having conceded only one goal before the game, was unexpected, though.

Are the coaches to blame?

Low seemed out of ideas when ‘Plan A’ did not work. Germany had failed to win five straight friendly matches before it laboured past Saudi Arabia days ahead of the World Cup, but he presumed — wrongly, carelessly — that everything would be all right in Russia. Fernando Hierro took charge of Spain in a crisis and was executing someone else’s plans. He cannot be faulted. A clueless Jorge Sampaoli had, according to reports in the Argentine media, been nudged aside by senior players who took matters into their own hands after the loss to Croatia. Tite had improved Brazil a great deal, especially at the back, but he will now face pressure to step down.

What about administrators?

The Spanish federation (RFEF) might have handled the Lopetegui episode better. That Real Madrid chose to name him as its next boss days before the World Cup was not ideal, but in the end, Spain was robbed of the services of a man who had revived the side. The Argentine FA, long seen as corrupt, is guilty of mismanagement. In the fortnight before the World Cup, Argentina had friendlies against Nicaragua and Israel cancelled; that they were scheduled in the first place is a bit of a scandal. The team eventually played only one international friendly in the two months leading up to the World Cup — against Haiti, ranked a lowly 104. There are concerns in Argentina over what is perceived to be a steady evaporation of the talent pool.

The current squad is old and still reliant on players who were part of the nation’s U-20 World Cup triumphs over a decade ago.

What next?

The DFB has confirmed that Low will stay on as Germany’s head coach. There is no need to panic, for Germany’s depth in talent is immense. Spain will bounce back, as will Brazil. Argentina, though, might take a while.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 10:23:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/why-have-top-teams-exited-the-fifa-world-cup-2018/article24361036.ece

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