World Cup 2018: Winners and Losers of the World Cup so far

With each of the 32 teams having played one game, it is time to analyze the biggest storylines so far and evaluate a couple of the biggest winners and losers. 

Winner: Juan Carlos Osorio aka The Mad Genius: 48 games with 48 different starting lineups, Osorio is one of the most controversial figures in Mexican Football. Despite having won 32 of his games as the head coach of the Mexican National Team, he is constantly under fire from the Mexican press and fans of the El Tri. To make matters worse for him, the run up to Russia has been marred with chaos and controversy. His captain, Andrés Guardado, underwent surgery on his ankles just weeks prior to the start of the tournament and was described as a "surgical scrub and decompression of the entrapped peroneal nerve". He was able to recover and find his fitness in time to captain his side. To make things worse for Osorio, many of his players were caught in a scandal by Mexican Paparazzi when they were pictured at a party with women who weren't their partners. While this is a recurring theme with the El Tri, it create and unnecessary distraction that players and Osorio would prefer to not have to deal with.   

His first World Cup test was to face defending champions Germany. Mexico have a history of playing their hearts out against elite national teams but have ultimately come short. The style of play employed my teams like Mexico is dictated by the opponents they face - dominated and possession based against lesser teams while they are defensive and rely on counter attacking football against the top tier teams. Osorio changed this mantra against Germany. He forced Germany to react according to his style of play. Accompanying a high press, his decision to stretch Germany's midfield was pivotal in creating space for the like of Carlos Vela and Hirving Lozano to dominate and generate offense. Having Chicharito play with his back to the goal and focus on hold up play compelled Germany's centre backs to play with a highline that Vela and Lozano maximized on to get behind them. Hector Herrera and Guardado efforts in the middle third closed off passing lanes and generated turnovers. For the first 70 minutes of the Mexico were on the front foot and played like an elite international team. And when the time came for Mexico to sit back and absorb pressure, Osorio employed the services of veteran Rafa Marquez to sure up their defensive shape. Having a 39 year old who barely has his legs under him is normally a recipe for disaster though Osorio used it to galvanize his younger players to seal their victory. 

Mad Scientists are ahead of their time and are often hated and not understood by their contemporaries. Osorio has had plenty of doubters who have now changed their opinions on the Colombian. His staunchest cynics are now beginning to turn around and rally behind Osorio and his tactics. He did not just beat Joachim Loew, he completely overshadowed him in every facet of the game.

Loser: Neymar Jr. - Give this guy an Oscar already:  The concecus best player in the world after Messi and Ronaldo, Neymar and Brazil came into the World Cup as the favorites to win it all. However, a lacklustre performance against an inferior team in Switzerland has certainly put a dent on their campaign. Neymar was outplayed by the likes of Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus. When is he going to realize that teams that cannot match Brazil or his club side for talent will try to physically beat him down. Not to say that he was not fouled time and again against Switzerland, being on the half way line and trying to take the mickey out of those in front of him invites fouls and physical play. Getting the ball from this centre backs and then trying to dribble past ten men does not benefit himself or his team.  His skills are best put to use when he gets the ball in the final third where he can create goal scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Also, his ability to draw fouls will be maximized as he is Brazil's number one option for taking free kicks and penalties.

Not to outdo his antics against Switzerland, videos and pictures have now emerged that show that Neymar was limping during a training session with Brazil. Isn't the world tired of his antics? When will be stop behaving like a petulant side and act like a mature adult? Limping will never garner the sympathy of the referees or his opponents. In fact, it gives people insight into the character of Neymar Jr shows his insecurities. Nobody defender can do toe to toe with Neymar. His is simply too good. They have to resort to being physical with him. It's just how sports work. His physical frame and recent injury are exploitable. Questions were raised about Neymar's fitness coming into the World Cup and Switzerland took advantage of it as have other teams before hand. Nobody is insinuating that there are teams and players out there that are intentionally trying to injure Neymar but teams will be physical with him in order to hinder his abilities and minimize his impact on the game. His theatrics against Switzerland and now on the training field are proof that being physical with him has slowly gotten to him mentally. Teams know that now they can have both a mental and physical edge on him. 

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo - 33 is the new 23. The Real Madrid forward had 12/1 odds of winning the Golden Ball. After his outstanding hattrick - the 51st of his career - those odds were slashed to 7/4. After scoring his fourth for the tournament and the sole goal against Morocco, I cannot imagine what the odds for him are now. There are many who regret not having placed their money on the Portuguese Talisman. Despite winning the Euros two years ago, Portugal are not favoured to progress deep in Russia. Portugal did not win a single Group game and only qualified for the knockout stages by being one of the best 3rd placed teams. Their only win in 90 mins came in a convincing win against Wales in the Semi Final. Luck played a huge part in them winning Euro 2016. Ronaldo came into this tournament after having a poor end to his Real Madrid season. He was a shadow of himself in the Champions League final. That combined with his age which has hindered his ability to create opportunities for himself. Ronaldo is no longer an active winger, but a probing and lethal striker. His hattrick against Spain epitomizes his scoring prowess. A penalty, a shot from distance, one of the more memorable free kicks in recent history, and a header off a set piece against Morocco; these and more are their in Ronaldo's arsenal. Normally, the frontrunner to win the Golden Boot is reserved from a player from one of the elite teams who is likely to take his teams' freekicks and penalties. Ronaldo does not quite fit that mold - by virtue of playing for Portugal - and regardless of how deep his side goes, he has established himself as one of the favourites to win the Golden Boot.

Loser: Germany - How did we miss the warning signs? The defending champions have only won 1 of their last 6 friendlies coming in to the World Cup. Their sole win came against a drab Saudi Arabia side. For the average fan, friendlies are nothing but a tumultuous time where players get injured. On the other hand, friendlies are pivotal for players and coaches to lock in tactics and lineups. This is not the first time Germany has had a rough patch of friendlies in the past and have still performed when the games count the most. This time around, Loew and Germany got everything wrong. When healthy, Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world is ranked amongst the greatest of all time. He is coming off a season where me missed all but 3 league games. Routine and consistency between the sticks are key for goalkeepers and this is simply not present in Neuer. 

Germany also have Boateng and Hummels as their centre back pairing. Four years ago, this was the centre back pairing that teams envied and the Nationalelf cherished. Since then, both players have aged considerably and have been hampered with injuries. They were never the quickest players on the field but they used their physical presence and football IQ to position themselves perfectly. Against Mexico, they were forced to play a high line and were simply unable to recover. The same can be said for Germany's midfield couple of Kroos and Khedira. A lack of mobility and pure athleticism has plagued the European side since the dawn of time but has always been overshadowed by their ability to be greater than the sum of their parts. In this edition of the German national time their collective immobility is an epidemic and one without an obvious cure. Osorio and Mexico layed out a comprehensive blueprint of how to not only beat, but to dominate the World Champions. Their squad is limited in players who have the athletic abilities that are abundant in other teams. If Germany cannot create goal scoring opportunities from their system, this side is going to struggle to make it far in this tournament. The only feasible solution is to solution is to play with a midfield that can act as first line of defensive for their centre backs and as fulcrum for their forwards.

There is in a winner in this situation, and probably a smug one at that, Leroy Sane. While is there is evidence to suggest that Sane has openly displayed his frustrations at not being in Russia, he sure as hell is loving the fact that he is the player Germany desperately need. His 14 goals and 19 assists across all competitions for Manchester City is confirmation of his abilities. His space and skill allow for him to get behind wing backs and his cuts into the box are lethal. He has not been able to replicate this same form with the national team and missed the Confederations Cup last year. He is not the player that Germany deserve, but the one it despertately needs.      

Winner: England - It's football, I'm coming home. Cautiously optimistic. The phrase that best encapsulates the feelings currently inside English fans. The Three Lions have always fielded talented squads, be it Bobby Moore and his '66 winning side or the squads of the 2000's that squeezed in Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes into a midfield 4. Yet, there is aura about this 2018 World Cup squad that is distinct and unique. A budding atmosphere of raw energy and the promise of greatness. Lead by the fledgling talents of Harry Kane and Gareth Southgate, this squad plays a style of football that is full of energy and urgency that separates them from the lethargic nature of its previous iterations. 

Their youth and relative international experience came in their way as they failed to wipe the floor against Tunisia. Barring this notion, England were sublime as they came racing out of the gates creating an array of chances. Their relentless foray was a result of off ball runs from the likes of Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard coupled with forward passes that contrasts the sideways passes that headlined the mediocrity of previous squads. England has favoured a formation with four defenders and Southgate has changed this to a back three that press higher and squeeze opposing defenders into careless possession in compromising positions. Time will tell if this side lead by Gareth Southgate can truly contend for the titles. A change in culture and style of play were the main goals coming in to Russia and his group has delivered on that. Consistency is key. England's tenacity slowed down during the second half. Should England make it through the group stages, they can challenge the best sides as long as they are able to replicate their best for 90 minutes, game after game.

 

World Cup 2018: Germany survives, England Thrive and more as we recap the past weekend of World Cup Football

World Cup 2018: England Vs. Tunisia - Stoppage time drama