The 2018 World Cup is teeming with shock and intrigue, and we’re not even in the knockout rounds yet.
Here, theScore reels off the greatest disappointments of the tournament so far. It begins, somewhat reluctantly, with a player that won many supporters with his beguiling skills and breakneck speed in the 2017-18 club season.
5. Mohamed Salah
Two goals from two outings is a commendable haul for Salah – especially considering his race back to match availability following a much-publicised Champions League final collision with Sergio Ramos – but it’s a shame that the Egyptian wasn’t able to carve out a longer run in the tournament. We didn’t see the player that tormented defenders for Liverpool over the prior 10 months.
He would’ve been especially valuable in the first game when he remained on the bench. If there’s a clear vulnerability in Uruguay’s rearguard, it is with Martin Caceres, but the veteran left-back wasn’t sufficiently exploited by the erratic work of Egypt’s undisciplined backup wideman Amr Warda.
4. Enrique Caceres
Enrique Caceres completed a bottle job in Iran and Portugal’s Group B showdown on Monday. The first time he shied away from a big call is when, after consulting the pitchside camera, he decided to show Cristiano Ronaldo just a yellow card for an elbow. “It is clearly an elbow,” Iran boss Carlos Queiroz complained post-match. “What is the rule about Ronaldo? It’s a half-elbow?”
Then, despite there being no clear footage of the incident, he awarded a penalty when he decided Cedric Soares handled in the area in added time. He’d lost control again, and would’ve played a key part in Iran dumping Portugal from the competition if Mehdi Taremi converted his huge opportunity in the dying moments.
3. Florentino Perez
Nothing is bigger than Real Madrid – not even the country it resides in.
At least that’s what club president Florentino Perez seemed to think when he disrupted Spain’s national team camp just days prior the tournament kicking off to tempt manager Julen Lopetegui to the Santiago Bernabeu. His plan worked, and Lopetegui was subsequently absolved of his responsibilities for the tournament and replaced by federation sporting director Fernando Hierro on the eve of the World Cup.
Lopetegui is due some blame – like all managers in Russia, he had stressed the main focus should be solely on the World Cup, but then allowed himself to be wooed by Los Blancos – but the arrogance and disregard of Perez and his clan was, quite frankly, odorous.
2. Jorge Sampaoli
Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance at the end of World Cup qualification obscured the fact that Sampaoli had resolved little in the Argentina setup. His team selections and systems have been catastrophic in Russia, and there are now doubts over whether he has a significant say on what the Albiceleste lineup is.
Judging from Javier Mascherano’s comedic display and the deployment of a third-choice goalkeeper in Tuesday’s tournament-saving win over Nigeria, Argentina is plugging leaks on a sinking ship with chewing gum. The South Americans look like they will be found out by France in the round of 16. It is a shameful situation for Sampaoli, who was previously lauded for his tactically innovative, attacking football.
While Argentina’s players celebrated the continuation of their World Cup bid with victory over Nigeria, their boss – if he can be called that – immediately marched down the tunnel and away from view.
1. Joachim Low
Germany finished bottom of Group F. Germany finished under Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea. Germany, the reigning World Cup champion, is out.
Low will, quite rightly, be slammed for his selections, and lack of action when Die Mannschaft entered the tournament off the back of some worrisome form. It is tempting to point a finger of blame at the omission of Leroy Sane, who won the PFA Young Player of the Award after a superb campaign with Manchester City, but the decision to re-deploy Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira in the final twist of the knife against South Korea was mindless. The issue of having an AWOL midfield from Germany’s group-opening defeat to Mexico returned to the fore.
The German Football Association shouldn’t require a severe shake-up after the national team’s 2018 embarrassment, but Low may be in the dole queue after a failure featuring heavy douses of misguided loyalty and tactical naivety.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)