World Cup 2018: 6 Reasons why England and Belgium finally look like Contenders
France, Brazil, Argentina and Spain may have qualified for the round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup but hardly any of them have performed up to expectations. Apart from Germany, who’ve been struck by the curse of the defending champions, the usual suspects are through to the knockouts. But it’s hardly been easy.
France’s victories (2-1 vs Australia and 1-0 vs Peru) were hardly enterprising and made them look disjointed. Their tepid draw against Denmark showed a remarkable lack of cutting edge despite the presence of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele and Nabil Fekir in the side among others.
Spain have looked leaky in defence, conceding five goals in three matches and winning just 1-0 against Iran. Gone are the days of absolute control over the ball and their preparations have suffered from the drama of the sacking of ex-manager Julen Lopetegui.
Brazil have Neymar trying to do everything on his own and have relied on individual magic (like from Philippe Coutinho) over collective samba.
Argentina barely made it: a draw against Iceland and thumping loss to Croatia not boding well for them against stronger sides.
Which leaves us with the very loveable Mexico and Colombia, and perennial dark horses England and Belgium. Two teams which are young, refreshing and unpredictable. And probably contenders this year as well. Because there’s something different about them in 2018.
Performances so far
England beat Tunisia 2-1 and Panama 6-1 while Belgium beat the same opponents 5-2 and 3-0 respectively. Going into their final group game, which Belgium won 1-0, both teams were equal in all their tiebreakers.
Strikers Harry Kane (England) and Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) have been on fire, scoring a collective nine goals in two matches (neither played the final group game). The draw has been more reasonable to Belgium, who will face Japan in the last 16, while England will take on the more tricky Colombia.
But both teams have shown their strong points in 270 minutes of football - pace, direct attacking football, and incisive finishing up front.
The match between the two suffered from a slight lack of motivation and the fact that most of the regular starters were benched, but it was still better than France’s 0-0 draw with Denmark and had some promising moments - most of which came from Belgium.