World Cup 2018: 5 things we learned from the first round of matches

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
The Mexicans have exemplified the fighting spirit at Russia 2018

It has been an amazing World Cup so far and promises to get even better as the pressure increases.

While there were a lot of doubts about Russia's capacity to host the World Cup successfully and other envisaged off-field issues, it has been one that has gone superbly with little in the way of unpleasant off-field incidents.

The football on show has been pleasantly good with the so-called smaller teams refusing to roll over and die. The favoured nations: Brazil, Argentina, defending champions Germany France, among others, now know that they are not going to have it all their way.

There have been some very interesting tactical variations, formations, and displays as well with coaches being bold enough to try different things.

Here are 5 things that have been learned about the World Cup so far:

#5 The smaller teams are showing zero fear

It has been a fantastic tournament so far and a lot of this has been down to the so-called smaller teams showing no fear.

Mexico's win over Germany highlighted this most effectively as Carlos Osorio's all-out, gegenpressing style suffocated a lethargic DieMannschaft and made the defending champions look very ordinary. Switzerland produced a very disciplined display against the Canarinho of Brazil with Valon Behrami doing a majestic job of man-marking Neymar.

One of the most interesting features of these so-called "smaller teams" performances has been the tactical discipline in defending and not allowing the big name teams/stars to get opportunities.

Against Argentina, Iceland had a "box-defence" system that saw at least two players shadowing every move made by Lionel Messi forcing the G.O.A.T to drop deep into midfield where he became less effective. Australia's zonal defensive formation frustrated a very poor Les Bleus side ( it took an own-goal for the French to triumph).

The second round of games promises to follow the same pattern as the bravery and savvy exploits of the Mundial's lesser-lights are expected to continue

Also Read: The unfancied teams that could cause a shock at Russia 2018

#4 The top teams are not going to have it easy

The big teams are really struggling

Nobody could have foreseen the way in which the first round of games went. Pundits and fans were expecting the big teams (with the exception of Portugal and Spain which played against each other) to use the first round of matches to set the tone for their campaigns.

It turned out to be different as these big boys struggled mightily. Of the previous World Cup winners: only England, France, and Uruguay got wins and all of them were scrappy affairs which were won by very late goals or in the case of France, an own goal.

Brazil and Argentina also struggled mightily against Switzerland and Iceland respectively as the European teams' resilience, organization, and defensive solidity coupled with the effective man-marking of the star number 10s (Neymar and Messi) stopped the South Americans dead in their tracks.

Defending champions Germany were the biggest casualties as a disjointed and slow-witted team were outpaced, outfoxed and outplayed by an effervescent ElTri side and will need to show marked improvement if they are to have any hope of retaining their title.

Also Read: Germany will need major improvement if it wishes to retain the World Cup

#3 The battle for the Golden Boot will be fierce

Portugal v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Costa looks to be primed for action at the World Cup

Diego Costa, Artem Dyzuba, Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku are some of the top marksmen that are already shown their quality.

Not since Miroslav Klose (Germany) at the 2006 World Cup hosted by his home team has an out-and-out striker won the Golden Boot. 2010 saw 4 players share the golden boot with 5 goals each (David Villa was the only one that could be described as a striker), while the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 saw Colombia's James Rodriguez win the award.

The top strikers in world football are all at the World Cup and will want to show that their reputations are no fluke. Of all the strikers, Spain's Costa, Lukaku (Belgium) and Kane (England) look like they will have the best chance to establish a good rate at the group stage as they will be coming up against some opponents who may be defensively generous.

The goalscoring non-strikers can never be ruled out though; Cristiano Ronaldo already has 3 goals, same as Dennis Cheryshev for Russia and surely players like Messi, Neymar and others would have to step up at a point and fill their boots.

Some top strikers like Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Timo Werner (Germany) and others playing in quality teams cannot be ruled out at this early stage as well. Whatever happens, it promises to be a fascinating tournament for the goleadors.

Also Read: Issues Argentina will need to fix if they wish to win the World Cup

#2 The centre-backs are looking formidable

Poland v Senegal: Group H - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Koulibaly gave a standout performance against Poland

While the quality of the competition has been great with lots of goals: bangers, penalties, last minute goals, freekicks, own goals and the likes, the quality of defending has been of a high standard.

The men in the centre of the defence have led by example and have been involved in a lot of Russia 2018's talking points from a defensive (and sometimes offensive) perspective. The quality of organization of defences (especially among the lesser lights) has been very impressive with strikers having to give extra to get the desired goals.

Senegal's Kalidou Koulibaly was one of the most highly rated centre-backs going into the World Cup and he was absolutely majestic in the Teranga Lions' victory over the highly-rated Polish team. He alongside partner; Salif Sane kept Poland's top marksmen: Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik quiet all through the game.

Despite the 3-3 draw against Portugal, Spain's captain Sergio Ramos was immense for La Furia Roja and Diego Godin was his usual majestic self against Egypt for Uruguay. While there have been wobbles (Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels for Germany and Nigeria' William Troost-Ekong's brain fart against Croatia come to mind), the men in the middle have been brilliant and will be expected to continue to be so.

Also Read: Classy centre-backs expected at the World Cup

#1 Mixed fortunes for the leading lights

Portugal v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
CR7 has lit up the tournament

The conversation going into the World Cup was about the star men and how they would perform with Messi and Ronaldo inevitably at the centre of these discussions.

As has become his usual style, the Portuguese captain responded with a majestic performance against Iberian neighbours, Spain getting a hattrick and following it up with a goal against Moro

Messi, on the other hand, was very disappointing against Iceland with his missed penalty the biggest highlight of a game that saw him playing a lot of wayward shots and being unable to affect the game. Both players will have to be at their very best in subsequent matches if their teams are to go deep into the tournament.

Neymar has been another star who had a disappointing first encounter as his excessive showboating did not add value to Brazil in its draw against Switzerland. With reports that he might miss out on the next game against Costa Rica due to injury, his teammates may have to step up in their talisman's absence.

Others like Kane (England), Eden Hazard (Belgium) among others have been impressive as well and the competition for the Golden Ball (for the tournament's best player) promises to be a closely-fought one.

Also Read: The Number 10s who may shine at the World Cup

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Edited by Shambhu Ajith
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