2018 FIFA World Cup: 5 Most Heartbreaking Group-Stage Exits
So it ends. The Group Stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is over and with it, the dreams of 16 different teams of lifting the trophy. The eliminated teams range from first-timers Iceland and Panama to defending champions Germany.
Some of these teams were completely inept (Panama), others fought valiantly but did not have the required talent (Iceland and Peru), while some put in great performances and barely missed out on the knockout stages. It is the latter set of teams that will be discussed.
It should be noted that Germany are missing from this list. While their elimination was indeed heartbreaking for German fans as they held out hope until the final minutes, there is nothing ‘heartbreaking’ for the neutral about the exit of a (slightly complacent) defending champion.
Instead, this list will focus on teams that won our heart with brave performances despite adversity and still did not make the knockout stages:
It is true that Morocco were eliminated even before the last round of matches and thus their elimination wasn’t as gut-wrenching as the others on this list. However, there were few eliminated teams in the tournament that played better football than the Moroccans.
In their first game vs Iran, the African team dominated the match as they had more shots (13 to 9), possession (68% to 32%), pass success (81% to 58%), dribbles (10 to 8) and corners (5-2) than their rivals. Nonetheless, the Moroccans failed to convert their chances and this cost them dearly as Iran nicked the game due to an injury-time own goal.
What was even more impressive was how Morocco recovered from their heart-breaking loss as they faced a Portugal team led by Cristiano Ronaldo. The Moroccans battled valiantly as the likes of Nordin Amrabat and Younes Belhanda caused countless problems for the Portuguese defence.
Once again, statistically the African team were superior as they had more shots, possession and corners than their much-fancied rivals. But they did not have Ronaldo and that turned out to be the difference as the Real Madrid man’s early header separated the two teams.
Those two narrow unlucky losses condemned Morocco to elimination before their third group game. Lesser teams would have wilted as they went against one of the pre-tournament favourites in Spain who needed a result to secure their place in the Round of 16. Even then, Morocco caused La Roja a multitude of problems as they twice took the lead in an exciting 2-2 draw.
Overall, Morocco was one of the few underdogs to play exciting attacking football throughout the tournament- unfortunately bad luck and a tough group meant that we did not get to see more of them.