The World Cup is off and running and there already some key points to take note of. Some teams stuck out as teams to watch out for while others didn’t exactly meet the bar set out for them. To be fair, these teams had to deal with the nerves of landing in Russia to play soccer on the world’s biggest stage, but the World Cup is where teams step up to establish themselves as the best on the planet.
Russia kicked off the tournament with a resounding 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia. The host nation has performed well in other competitions, but the home-field advantage seems to be suiting them well. Saudi Arabia may not be the strongest team in this competition, but Russia’s goal-scoring abilities are nothing to write off. Uruguay and Iran both secured victories in their opening fixtures, though the first exciting game of the tournament was Spain vs. Portugal. The teams played an enthralling 3-3 draw that saw a hat-trick from prolific scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.
France bested Australia to get their WC campaign off to a positive start. Meanwhile, Argentina drew against Iceland in a disappointing turn of events. Argentina is being heralded as a tournament favorite by oddsmakers but was unable to beat the smallest nation in their opening fixture. Lionel Messi was unable to convert a PK to give the team their first victory, giving Argentina fans flashbacks to the last Copa America final.
It was a tough time for most South American teams in the opening matches. Aside from Argentina’s draw, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia all lost their matches. The only South American team to win was Mexico. Their victory was particularly interesting because it was against Germany, one of the best teams in the competition and the defending champions. Brazil tied against Switzerland, which is surprising given they are the South American team with the best odds of winning the World Cup.
Standout teams were Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, and Senegal. Belgium dominated Panama in a 3-0 win that will surely help them confidently progress through the next round. Croatia bested Nigeria 2-0 thanks in part to Luka Modric’s command of the midfield. Serbia came out on top over Costa Rica and Senegal was the only African nation to get a win in the first set of games. Out of this batch, we expect Belgium and Croatia to outlast the competition.
England is another team that won their first game. Harry Kane scored a brace to save the team against Tunisia. England supporters will take any victory they can get, even if it is against a lesser team like Tunisia. If England wants to make it to the knockout stages, they’ll need to perform more consistently all the way through, not just rely on Kane.
The World Cup is full of surprises—these opening group stage matches confirmed that. Things to watch out for are whether Russia continues its dominance, South American teams can bounce back, whether Germany finds its rhythm and if European teams like England, France and Belgium can get out of their groups.