Before the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar in late November, several teams looked good on paper and had high expectations of progressing deep into the quadrennial competition.
Brazil, Argentina, and France were the bookies’ favourites, but before the opening match, Belgium was the number one-ranked men’s football team in the world and possessed a strong squad. But with anything in life, there are upsets and Qatar served some amazing examples that curtailed the likes of Germany, Belgium, and Uruguay into first-round exits. We take a look at five teams that
1. Germany (Group Stage Exit)
Hansi Flick’s men had one job: progress from their group, something they failed to do in Russia four years ago. But it all went wrong for the Germans as they suffered a shock defeat to Japan. Despite boasting players like Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Leeroy Sane the four-time winners could only muster a draw against Spain. A 4-2 win over Costa Rica was only enough to secure the third spot in the group and end another disappointing campaign.
2. Belgium (Group Stage Exit)
The Red Devils went into the World Cup as the world’s number-two-ranked team and were favourites to progress from Group F with Croatia. The country’s golden generation lacked the impetus across the park with an unstable back three, unimaginative midfield, and lacklustre forward line. Romelu Lukaku’s dismal finishing in the final group game against Croatia summed up Belgium’s tournament and manager Roberto Martinez vacated his position after his team’s exit.
3. Uruguay (Group Stage Exit)
The South Americans boasted a star-studded squad that included Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, and Darwin Núñez with midfielders like Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur. But that firepower and quality in the midfield never gelled in Qatar as they failed to score in their opening two matches. A 2-0 win over Ghana wasn’t enough to see them qualify and they crashed out on goals scored.
4. Mexico (Group Stage Exit)
The North Americans would’ve fancied making it out of Group C alongside Argentina. But things didn’t go as planned for Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s men. They drew their opening match against Poland and lost to the eventual winners. The only standout player was goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who made some terrific saves in the tournament. A 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia wasn’t enough for Martino’s team and he will rue his decision to omit players like Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Santiago Giménez, and Diego Lainez at crucial moments.
5. Wales (Group Stage Exit)
The Welsh made it to Qatar via a play-off against Ukraine and were buoyed by the good form of talisman Gareth Bale. The European nation suffered a shock loss to Iran in their second game, after a 1-1 stalemate with the USA. A 3-0 loss to England cemented their fate, but it was always going to be hard for Bale and co after losing to Iran. Players like Daniel James and Aaron Ramsey failed to leave their mark on the World Cup and the energetic Welsh fans were left to depart the Arab state early.