The 2018 FIFA World Cup

The Biggest Myths Busted During the Group Stage of the World Cup

After a thrilling two weeks, we've learned that a bunch of early-tournament narratives have turned out to be false as we head into the knockout stage.

by Daniel Squizzato
Jun 28 2018, 9:00pm

Photos by Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports, EFE/Sipa USA via USA TODAY Sports

After two weeks and 48 mostly thrilling matches during the group stage at the FIFA World Cup, we've learned that you can't always rely on the early-tournament narratives, as many of the myths about Russia 2018 have gone on to be thoroughly busted during the group stage.

Let's take a look at six of them:

Myth: Certain teams "didn't belong"

Early on, some complained that teams like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Morocco were supposedly dragging things down. A week later, Morocco nearly beat Spain, Iran nearly beat Portugal, and Saudi Arabia beat an Egyptian team featuring one of the world's best players in Mohamed Salah.

Panama lost all three games, but Felipe Baloy brought incalculable joy by scoring his country's first-ever World Cup goal. Peru and South Korea, though they failed to advance, both notched memorable and cathartic victories.

Teams needn't be title contenders to provide millions of people with indelible moments of excitement—and that's just how the World Cup should be.

Myth: Video review was going to destroy the game

To the surprise of some, the sky didn't fall and the sport of soccer didn't die thanks to the introduction of video review at the World Cup. There have still been debatable decisions, but these will remain for as long as the game has human beings interpreting its subjective rules.

Referees have had a chance to review some of the tournament's most critical moments, without ruining the sport's flow. While the video review system will undoubtedly undergo evaluation and refinement, its impact in its World Cup debut has been a net positive.

Myth: No drama at the group stage

We've seen two quasi-symbiotic World Cup records set in Russia—the most penalty kicks awarded at a World Cup (24 so far, with 16 games left to go), and the longest time taken to record a 0-0 draw (France vs. Denmark, the tournament's 37th game, which turned out to be the only scoreless result of the group stage).

We've also seen a remarkable 15 goals scored in the 80th minute or later that decided the final outcome of a game. That pace may not continue in the more tactical, winner-take-all knockout games… but hey, who could have predicted we'd see something like this to begin with?

Myth: The Ronaldo/Messi GOAT debate is over

Who is soccer's greatest player of all time: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? Though that debate has raged for a decade, the first week of Russia 2018 settled it in the minds of some after Ronaldo bagged a remarkable hat trick for Portugal against Spain, while Messi failed to convert a penalty kick as Argentina settled for a draw against Iceland.

But in Week 2, we saw a sublime Messi goal that helped lift Argentina into the Round of 16, while Ronaldo missed a penalty of his own and was extremely lucky not to be sent off for a trademark bit of petulance against Iran.

One or both could still have moments of genius awaiting in the knockout round—but we can do away with the idea that this debate is over. (Spoiler: It never will be.)

Myth: One game tells the whole story

Mexico looked terrific in a win over Germany in their first game, then slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Sweden in their third game. As for Germany, they seemed ascendant after a dramatic, last-minute win over Sweden—then suffered an all-time World Cup upset in a 2-0 loss to South Korea.

Forget everything you've seen so far. Fortunes and momentum can swing overnight in a big tournament.

Myth: There's a clear-cut favourite

Germany's elimination at the group stage showed no team is invincible. And some of the other heavy-hitters (Brazil, Argentina, and Spain) have looked vulnerable at various points in the competition.

France were among the favourites from the start, but face a difficult route to the final. England's youngsters have looked good, but their group-stage finale was hardly convincing (or compelling).

Belgium, Mexico, and Portugal have impressed—then again, so did the Netherlands in the 1970s, yet it couldn't quite get them to the top of the mountain. Croatia and Uruguay won all three group-stage games, but do they have the pedigree to keep that momentum going?

The knockout stage will be, like the group stage was, utterly unpredictable—and full of myths just waiting to be busted.

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