Things are heating up in Russia as the dust settles on the group stages and 16 teams now begin to dream big.
Credit to Uruguay and Croatia who both coasted through to the knockout round without dropping a single point. The same goes for Belgium… although under slightly different circumstances as discussed below.
Elsewhere, Leo Messi finally got going in Argentina’s final game against Nigeria, leading his team to a tight second-place qualification. It was even tighter in Group H as Japan became the first team in World Cup history to progress on the basis of their disciplinary record.
After all the drama, here’s how the round of 16 shapes up:
By far the greatest shock so far has been the elimination of Germany. It looked for all the world that the holders would find an extra gear after their last-gasp victory over Sweden, yet they were eventually dumped out following a dismal 2-0 defeat to South Korea.
It’s the first time a German team has failed to qualify for the knockout stages since 1938. Joachim Löw’s side managed to score just two goals in their three matches, incidentally the same tally as England dynamo John Stones. We’re not one to derive pleasure from anyone’s misfortune, though it’s almost impossible not to feel a slight pang of schadenfreude for a team usually so dominant. Sorry, chaps.
Even though Panama didn’t prove to be the most testing opposition, putting six past any team in such style is a very rare sight for England fans. Harry Kane now sits proudly atop the scoring charts as a result. He also follows Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker to become the third England player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup!
It seems funny to say, but a tight 1-0 loss to Belgium was perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened. There are no easy matches from here on out, of course, but the result means England are now placed in a much more favourable side of the draw away from the likes of Brazil, France, Uruguay and Portugal.
All eyes are now fixed firmly on Colombia next Tuesday. Catch the game at 7pm on ITV.