Hey, it’s me again, your favorite once-a-term Lawrence Sports Writer here to produce another article! Last spring, I wrote an article previewing the 2022 FIFA World Cup: outlining the most exciting games, players, and groups to pay attention to in November. That was about 245 days ago at the time of writing this, and since then, the group stages of the World Cup have been wrapped up and the Round of 16 matches has concluded. With that being said, in an attempt to inflate my ego to levels previously unimaginable, I will go back and review my World Cup preview article from April 5 and see if I managed to steer you all in the right direction when it came to what to look for in the group stages.
The Champions Curse?
I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I got this one very, very wrong. Going back to 2002, four of the reigning champions exited the tournament in the group stage, with three of those exits coming in a row in 2010, 2014, and 2018. As you might be able to infer from the given information, I warned French fans to be wary of the same fate. I even went as far as to say “If you are reading this and happen to be of French descent, you might want to prepare for a premature exit” (No I’m not citing something that I wrote).
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
To be fair to the good old Champion’s curse, it tried its damned hardest to get France up and out of here as early as possible. Karim Benzema, the reigning Ballon D’or winner, Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe, Paul Pogba, and N’Golo Kante were all listed as out for the tournament with injuries before it even began, with Pogba and Kante especially being big losses as they were pivotal to the 2018 triumph. In addition, Lucas Hernandez, another integral part of the team, went down with an ACL injury just 13 minutes into their opener against Australia. So how did France respond?
To put it simply, they went nuclear.
France hasn’t missed a beat, and aside from a loss in a meaningless group game against Tunisia where they benched their starters, have been as close to perfect as possible this tournament. Kylian Mbappe has been playing well and is looking like the clear Golden Ball front-runner; France appears to be the best team at the tournament by far. With that being said, they haven’t won yet, and they still have to go through England in the Quarters before even thinking about going back-to-back. We’ll see how they go from here.
(Respectfully, they’re probably gonna win it.)
Prediction: A, Reality: A
I got this one right so that’s five imaginary back pats for me. None of these groups were exactly easy, but out of all the chaos that has transpired throughout the tournament so far, this is the group that had the least of that. As expected, the Netherlands topped the group with Senegal going through second. With that being said, Ecuador made the group a much more interesting one than expected by drawing against the Netherlands, meaning that if they had beaten Senegal in their last encounter in the group stage match they could have made it through. But this was probably my safest prediction out of the whole preview, especially with Qatar being as bad as advertised.
Biggest WTF Group
Predictions: G and F, Reality: Literally All Of Them (Probably E tho)
Ok, I know this one is technically wrong, but you've got to cut me some slack here. This is one of the craziest group stages we’ve ever had at a World Cup (27 of the 32 teams still had a chance at qualification going into matchday 3) and at least half of the groups could have been the craziest one. When I predicted Group G way back when, my main argument was that the battle for 2nd between Cameroon, Switzerland, and Serbia would be an absolute dogfight and to be fair, on matchday three, Serbia and Switzerland literally tried to fight each other with a total of 11 yellow cards brandished in their final match with Switzerland ultimately prevailing and moving onto the knockout stage with Brazil. I’ll give myself half a pat on the back for putting Group F as an honorable mention, because Belgium, the #2 overall-ranked team, didn’t even make it out of the group. They finished third behind Morocco and Croatia, with a heartbreaking 0-0 with the latter on the last matchday where Belgian striker (honestly, he might be Croatian with how he played in that game) Romelu Lukaku missed four separate chances to send Belgium through, each one harder to miss than the last. But that was far from the craziest upset in the group, because Lionel Messi and Argentina lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their first game. There were serious questions about whether or not the game’s greatest-ever player would make it out of the group stage at his last-ever World Cup. Not to mention Mexico and Poland battling for the second place spot, with the two teams at one point being tied on wins, losses, ties, goals scored, and goals let in; meaning the tiebreaker to decide who would go through was going to be which team had gotten less yellow cards, that is until Mexico let in a last-second goal dumping them out. But all of that, all of that, pales in comparison to the absolute madness that transpired in Group E. On the first matchday, Spain stuck seven goals past Costa Rica, while Japan upset Germany to win 2-1, only to then lose to aforementioned Costa Rica. This, along with a Spain and Germany draw, meant going into the final a day, a win from Germany and Spain would put both teams through, but Japan pulled off another shocker and beat Spain 2-1 as well in order to punch their ticket to the knockout stage. Spain did so as well, and although Germany did end up convincingly handling business, there was a point during the game where they were down 2-1, meaning for seven glorious minutes Japan and Costa Rica were set to make it out of the group stage, and while that outcome didn’t end up happening, it added to the absolute chaos that took place in this group.
Biggest Grudge Match
This was less of a prediction and more of a match to be aware of. The Ghana-Uruguay matchup was set to be a big one given all the history behind it, specifically Uruguay knocking Ghana out of the World Cup in 2010 on penalties after some… morally ambiguous Luis Suarez antics. Not only was Ghana looking for revenge, but this game took place on matchday three, with Ghana only needing to draw in order to confirm their passage to the next round, while Uruguay needed to win and hope other results went their way. The ghosts of 2010 came back to haunt the Ghanaians, as they were unable to avenge 12 years of pain in a 2-0 defeat, but their loss had a silver lining for the west Africans, as Korea’s shock victory over Portugal meant that they snuck past Uruguay on goal differential (Goals scored - Goals let in), meaning that even in their failure, the Ghanians were able to drag Uruguay down with them.
Bonus Predictions Because I’m A Nice Person (Allegedly)
With the Group Stage and the Round of 16 having wrapped up, there’s only one question on everyone’s minds: Who does Bryan Boanoh think is going to win the World Cup? Well, since I am so good at predictions as evidenced by the article above, here’s how I think the rest of the bracket will play out:
Brazil 3 - 1 Croatia
Argentina 1-0 Netherlands
England 0 - 2 France
Morocco 0 - 0 Portugal (Morocco go through on penalties again)
Brazil 2 - 1 Argentina
France 3 - 0 Morocco
France 3 - 2 Brazil
These are going to age so badly.