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Top 10 Surprises of the 2018 World Cup Group Stage

Script written by Dave MacIntyre

The world’s biggest footballing stage is never short on shocking moments. From top groups, to big mess-ups, to historical eliminations, these surprises are… well… surprising. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Surprises of the 2018 World Cup Group Stage.


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Script written by Dave MacIntyre

Top 10 Surprises of the 2018 World Cup Group Stage

The world’s biggest footballing stage is never short on shocking moments. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 surprises of the 2018 World Cup group stage.

For this list, we will be ranking the most unexpected moments and biggest upsets so far in this year’s FIFA World Cup as the group stage of the competition is winding down, from individual players to team performances.

#10: Russia’s Hot Start

Being 70th in the FIFA rankings right before the tournament started, you’d be forgiven for wondering how Russia would handle this group despite being the host nation. Luckily for their fans – and for Vladimir Putin watching in the stands in the tournament opener – they’ve answered their critics quite convincingly. Starting their campaign with a 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia (including one of the goals of the tournament so far from Denis Cheryshev), the Sbornaya followed that up with a 3-1 win over Egypt to punch their ticket to the last 16. Although they lost 3-0 in their final group game to Uruguay and have to face Spain next, one thing’s for sure: never underestimate home field advantage.

#9: Sweden Top Group F

While it was a massive accomplishment for Sweden to stun four-time World Cup champions Italy in the play-off round of European qualifying to make it to Russia, their group with Germany, Mexico and South Korea was still no small task for a team no longer boasting Zlatan Ibrahimović as its best player. And yet, they still got the job done. After starting with a 1-0 victory over South Korea, Sweden would lose in dramatic fashion to a late Toni Kroos free kick as Germany defeated them 2-1. However, they’d later cruise to a 3-0 victory over Mexico to top Group F on goal difference and set up a last 16 clash against Switzerland.

#8: Poland’s Early Exit

Group H was arguably the most highly competitive group in this year’s tournament, with Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan each standing a decent chance at advancing. While Japan would pull off an upset win against a Colombian team they’d lost to 4-1 in Brazil four years earlier, the biggest shock of this group came via Poland. After a blistering qualifying campaign where they lost only once in 10 games, and with striking powerhouse Robert Lewandowski racking up 16 goals in that campaign, Poland could’ve made serious noise in this group. Instead, they lost their first two games 2-1 to Senegal and 3-0 to Colombia, sending them on the plane home early. To make matters worse, Lewandowski’s goal tally is a goose egg.

#7: Brazil Tie With Switzerland

Boasting a squad including the world’s most expensive footballer Neymar alongside other attacking talent like Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, Brazil are deservingly among the favourites to win it all this year. However, their campaign got off to a shaky start with a 1-1 draw against the less-fancied Switzerland. The Seleção drew first blood thanks to Coutinho’s screamer of a goal in the 20th minute, only to be cancelled out by Swiss winger Steven Zuber early in the second half. Though Brazil would top the group with wins over Costa Rica and Serbia, this is the first time they’ve failed to win the opening game of their World Cup finals campaign since 1978.

#6: No Fairy Tale for Iceland This Time

The Icelandic national football team were the darlings of Euro 2016, as the country with a population of 350,000 witnessed a historic campaign that saw them make a run to the quarterfinals. Placed in Group D with Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria, it was certainly possible for them to try making magic once again. They started their tournament with a shock 1-1 draw against Lionel Messi and company, but couldn’t build on it, as they went on to lose 2-0 to Nigeria and 2-1 to Croatia and bow out of Russia early. We were really hoping to hear some more of those thunderclaps in the round of 16.

#5: Egypt Crash Out Early

The season Mohamed Salah had at Liverpool this year was nothing short of dominant, as the 25-year-old Egyptian winger became the highest-scoring player within one season in Premier League history. Because of his brilliant form, Egypt were seen by some as a dark horse pick for this year’s World Cup. However, he suffered a shoulder injury in the Champions League final in May, leaving doubts as to his fitness for the tournament. Egypt began their campaign without him in a 1-0 opening loss to Uruguay, though he’d return for their next two losses to Russia and Saudi Arabia as the Pharaohs were eliminated early despite Salah scoring in each of their last two games.

#4: Messi Blows a Penalty

At 31 years of age, Lionel Messi remains one of the best – if not THE best – footballers on the planet. In the first game of what could be his last attempt to win international football’s biggest prize, Messi had a delicious opportunity to get his country’s campaign off to a great start against Iceland. With the game tied 1-1 in the 64th minute, Argentina were awarded a penalty after Maximiliano Meza got fouled in the box by Iceland’s Hörður Magnússon. The five-time Ballon D’Or winner Messi stepped up to the spot, only to have it saved by goalkeeper Hannes Halldórsson. He’d eventually score against Nigeria, but if he wants to keep pace with Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal tally, time is running out.

#3: Harry Kane Leading the Golden Boot Race

England striker and captain Harry Kane has become one of the most dominant goalscorers in world football, having won the Premier League Golden Boot in 2016 and 2017. However, he still needed to prove himself as a true force for his country in major tournaments after less-than-stellar performances at Euro 2016. So far, he’s doing exactly that. Kane currently leads the World Cup goalscoring chart with five goals thanks to a brace in England’s opener against Tunisia, followed by a hat trick – including two penalties – in their 6-1 thrashing of Panama. Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku trail him with four goals apiece, but Kane’s dangerous presence up front means he could add plenty more to his tally.

#2: The Influence of VAR

The 2018 FIFA World Cup marks the first time VAR – or Video Assistant Referee – has been used in the tournament, where four referees watch the games from a room while keeping contact via radio with the referees on the pitch. While VAR has done its job in correcting a number of missed calls with penalties, cards and goals, it’s far from perfect. Moments like Harry Kane being brought down in the box against Tunisia, and Gerard Piqué not getting sent off against Morocco are only a couple examples of how VAR has fallen short of the mark. It’s an addition to the game that is long overdue, but it’s surprising how frequently we’ve already seen it being used – and not always with positive results.

#1: Germany’s Embarrassing Campaign

The champion’s curse is real – just ask France’s 2002 World Cup team, Italy’s 2010 team, and Spain’s 2014 team. Despite recent trends not being kind to defending champions, Germany were still a heavy favourite to at least make a deep run in Russia, if not win back-to-back World Cups for the first time since Brazil did it in 1962. Instead, they broke a different record: their first group stage exit since 1938. A 1-0 opening loss to Mexico was a blow they’d never truly recover from, getting a last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden before getting knocked out in a 2-0 loss to South Korea – a game they would’ve advanced through had they won. Maybe they should’ve brought Leroy Sané on the plane after all.


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