WC big guns fail to fire as lesser lights shine | 2018-06-20 | daily-sun.com

WC big guns fail to fire as lesser lights shine

    20 June, 2018 12:00 AM printer

Traditionally the stage on which the biggest teams parade their talents, this year’s World Cup has seen the Goliaths of international football stumble when faced with industrious opponents of a lesser stature, reports Reuters.

Brazil, Germany and Argentina have lifted 11 World Cups between them, but all failed to win their opening games in Russia, prompting questions about whether this was a temporary blip or indicative of a major shift in the balance of power.

Add in 2010 champions Spain failing to beat Portugal and France’s struggle to overcome one of the supposedly weakest Australia sides in recent years and a pattern emerges.

Germany’s 1-0 defeat by Mexico was not unprecedented, but was still statistically remarkable.

The holders have lost their opening game before with Joachim Loew’s side joining Spain (2014), France (2002), Argentina (1990 and 1982) and Italy (1950) in suffering that ignominy.

Yet this was Germany’s first opening-game defeat since 1982 and the only time in World Cup history that they, Brazil and Argentina had all failed to win their first matches.

Not everyone is convinced a competition that has only had eight winners in its 88-year history has suddenly witnessed a levelling of the playing field — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is firmly in the blip camp.

Argentina, who were held to a 1-1 draw by tiny Iceland, and Brazil, who shared the spoils with Switzerland, both came up against teams happy to sacrifice attacking intent in favour of rigid defensive organisation and Herculean levels of industry.

Mexico took it one stage further, combining a defensive wall with a rapid-fire counter-attack that left Germany’s ageing rearguard outgunned.

Manning the barricades is not a new idea for smaller countries hoping to upset the odds.

Breaking down a heavily-manned defence is of course harder when your star turn does not join the party and Brazil and Argentina will want to see more from their talismanic talents.

Lionel Messi, the game’s master magician who is yet to lift a senior international trophy, looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders as he missed a penalty against Iceland.

Brazil’s Neymar, the most expensive soccer player on the planet, fared no better as he made his competitive return after a lengthy injury absence against Switzerland.