Belfast Telegraph

Jackie Fullerton: World Cup underdogs showing bite and lighting up glittering show

Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil

By Jackie Fullerton

Maybe it's the Northern Ireland supporter's DNA in me, but I have enjoyed this World Cup all the more for the exploits of the smaller footballing nations.

We love to see teams punching above their weight and putting one over on the big boys in the way we've done repeatedly down the years.

I think we've all been entertained by the performances of Iceland, Japan and Senegal in gaining unexpected results against Argentina, Colombia and Poland, respectively. And Costa Rica made it hard for Brazil yesterday.

You've got to especially admire Iceland, the smallest nation ever to play at World Cup, with a population of just over 334,000 - even smaller than Our Wee Country.

Yet they achieved what the best defenders in Spain's La Liga have not been able to do over the last 10 years by keeping Lionel Messi quiet in their 1-1 draw with Argentina.

And, speaking of Argentina, the surprise factor has added another dimension to the excitement levels at this World Cup.

Who could have foreseen  the fancied big guns, like Germany, Brazil and particularly Argentina struggling in their opening matches?

The unpredictability has been good for the tournament in these early group stages, so often a phoney war before the real action begins in the knockout stages with the top sides routinely rattling off wins against the cannon fodder.

Not this time. When we sit down to watch games in this World Cup, we never know what we are going to get and that's been the real beauty of Russia 2018.

None of the front line nations can take anything for granted any more and I think we will see that in their approach to the remainder of the group games.

A fan of Russia prior to the round of 16 match between Spain and Russia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
A fan of Russia prior to the round of 16 match between Spain and Russia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
France's fans cheer as they arrive prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Alexander NEMENOV / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Dogs bearing the colors of the French national flag are pictured prior to the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia, in Marseille, southern France on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVATBORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
France's fans cheer as they arrive prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Alexander NEMENOV / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Dogs bearing the colors of the French national flag are pictured prior to the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia, in Marseille, southern France on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVATBORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
A supporter arrives ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
A France's and Croatia's supporter pose ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
A Croatia's supporter poses ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
A Croatia's supporter poses ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
France's supporters pose ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
A France's supporter poses ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
A France's supporter waves his national flag ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
A man wearing a tee-shirt with Croatian national colours arranges paprika at a market in downtown Zagreb on July 15, 2018, ahead of the 2018 Russia World Cup final football match between Croatia and France, the first final World Cup match ever in the history of Croatia. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVICANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images
A Croatia fan in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 11: England fans wearing Rodney and Dell Boy masks pose in Red Square ahead of tonight's World Cup semi-final game between England and Croatia on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
England fans pose for a picture with a replica World Cup trophy in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
Croatia fans in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
England fans in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
A Croatia fan poses for a picture in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
England fans in Red Square ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Semi Final match at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 11, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Croatia. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
TOPSHOT - (COMBO) This combination of photos created on July 9, 2018 shows Croatia and England's fans supporting their team during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. Croatia and England will face each other on July 11, 2018 in Moscow for the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 11: England fans pose with a Russian fan in Red Square ahead of tonight's World Cup semi-final game between England and Croatia on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 11: England fans gather in Red Square ahead of tonight's World Cup semi-final game between England and Croatia on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
French supporters celebrate after watching the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium in Jette district, center of Brussels Brussels, on July 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Belga / NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / Belgium OUTNICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP/Getty Images
People celebrate France's victory on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 10, 2018, after the final whistle of the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium. / AFP PHOTO / Lucas BARIOULETLUCAS BARIOULET/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - People celebrate France's victory in central Paris on July 10, 2018 after the final whistle of the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium. / AFP PHOTO / Thomas SAMSONTHOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Belgium supporters look on at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. France reached the World Cup final on Tuesday after a second-half header from Samuel Umtiti gave them a 1-0 win against Belgium. / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
Garreth Southgate, alias lookalike Neil Rowe, causes a stir as football fans, TV crews and tourists, mistake him for the real England manager as Neil tours Red Square ahead of the World Cup semi-final. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Football fans arrive at the Saint Petersburg Stadium prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018.Pic: Getty Images
France fans arrive at the Saint Petersburg Stadium prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images
France fans pose before the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Belgium fans watch a 2018 World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium on a giant screen in Jette, Belgium, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
Football fans arrive at the Saint Petersburg Stadium prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images
Belgium fans react as they watch a 2018 World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Belgium on a giant screen in Jette, Belgium, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
France's fans celebrate their team's victory at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Belgium at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
ANTWERPEN, BELGIUM - JULY 10: Belgian football fans react as they watch the World Cup Semi Final match between France and Belgium at a fan village on July 10, 2018 in Antwerpen, Belgium. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 10: Belgium fans look dejected following their's team defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Semi Final match between Belgium and France at Saint Petersburg Stadium on July 10, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 10: Belgium fans look dejected following their's team defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Semi Final match between Belgium and France at Saint Petersburg Stadium on July 10, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Russian football fan at the Samara FIFA fanfest reacts as they watch a giant TV screen during the penalty shoot out against Croatia on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. Russia lost the the quarter final game against Croatia in a penlty shoot. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Russian football fans at the Samara FIFA fanfest react as they watch a giant TV screen during the penalty shoot out against Croatia on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. Russia lost the the quarter final game against Croatia in a penlty shoot. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Russian football fan at the Samara FIFA fanfest reacts as they watch a giant TV screen during the penalty shoot out against Croatia on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. Russia lost the the quarter final game against Croatia in a penlty shoot. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Russian football fans at the Samara FIFA fanfest react as they watch a giant TV screen during the penalty shoot out against Croatia on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. Russia lost the the quarter final game against Croatia in a penlty shoot. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Croatia's fans react as they watch on a giant screen in the Croatian capital Zagreb's main square, the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 8 match between Russia and Croatia on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
Russian fans look on prior the quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium, in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, July 7, 2018.(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Fans gather in the fan fest of Moscow to watch the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Maxim ZMEYEVMAXIM ZMEYEV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian fans watch the quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia on a giant screen at the Fan Fest in Saint Petersburg on July 7, 2018 during the Russia 2018 football World Cup tournament. / AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVAOLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images
Russia fans cheer during the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images
Russian fans react as they follow the quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia on a giant screen at the Fifa Fans Fest in Saint Petersburg on July 7, 2018 during the Russia 2018 football World Cup tournament. / AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVAOLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images
Russian fans watch the quarter-final football match between Russia and Croatia on a giant screen at the Fan Fest in Saint Petersburg on July 7, 2018 during the Russia 2018 football World Cup tournament. / AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVAOLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Sweden fans look dejected following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Sweden and England at Samara Arena on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
England's fans pose before the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Sweden fans look dejected following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Sweden and England at Samara Arena on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Sweden fans react at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Manan VATSYAYANA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Sweden fans look dejected following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Sweden and England at Samara Arena on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Sweden fans react at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Manan VATSYAYANA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
Sweden fans react at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Manan VATSYAYANA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
Two England fans rise a replica of the World Cup trophy before the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Sweden and England at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 07: Sweden fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Quarter Final match between Sweden and England at Samara Arena on July 7, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Fans before the FIFA World Cup, Quarter Final match at the Samara Stadium. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 7, 2018. See PA story WORLDCUP Sweden. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
Brazil Fans cheer as they await his team arrival at Mirage Hotel in Kazan on July 5, 2018, for their Russia 2018 World Cup round of 8 football match against Belgium. Pic / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Brazil Fans cheer as they await his team arrival at Mirage Hotel in Kazan on July 5, 2018, for their Russia 2018 World Cup round of 8 football match against Belgium. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A Russian woman watches football fans from Sweden play volley ball in the River Volga on July 6, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Uruguay's fans pose with national flags before the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Uruguay and France at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on July 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - France's fans pose past a national flag before the Russia 2018 World Cup quarter-final football match between Uruguay and France at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on July 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEVKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - (COMBO) This combination of photos created on July 6, 2018 shows Sweden and England fans supporting their team during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. Sweden will face England during their World Cup quater-final football match in Samara on July 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
A Uruguay, right, and French fans wait for the start of the quarterfinal match between Uruguay and France at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Fans of Uruguay attend the broadcasting of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup football match Uruguay against France on a big screen at City Hall explanade in Montevideo, on July 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PABLO PORCIUNCULAPABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images
The beautiful game: World Cup fans - A Colombia's fan cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Colombia and England at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on July 3, 2018.
Detail of a Colombia fans dyed hair ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018, round of 16 match at the Spartak Stadium, Moscow.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 03: A fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Colombia and England at Spartak Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Fans wait for the start of the round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Rostov Arena, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A Colombia's fan reacts at the end of to the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Colombia and England at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on July 3, 2018.
A Colombia fan shows her support in the stands prior to the FIFA World Cup 2018, round of 16 match at the Spartak Stadium, Moscow.
A Colombia fan waits for the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Colombia and England at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on July 3, 2018.
A Colombia's fan cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Colombia and England at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on July 3, 2018.
Swedish fans react as they watch the round of 16 World Cup 2018 football match between Sweden and Switzerland during a public viewing at Norra Bantorget in Stockholm, Sweden on July 3, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TT News Agency / Erik SIMANDER / Sweden OUTERIK SIMANDER/AFP/Getty Images
Sweden fans wait for the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Sweden and Switzerland at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on July 3, 2018.
England fans react in horror to Colombia's equaliser at the end of extra time as they watch the FIFA 2018 World Cup Finals match between Colombia and England at Boxpark on July 3, 2018 in London, England. World Cup fever is building among England fans after reaching the Round of 16 in Russia. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
Fans of Brazil celebrates Brazil's victory over Mexico after watching the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico on a big screen set on Alzira Brandao street in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 2, 2018. Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 to qualify for World Cup quarter-finals. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PimentelMAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images
Portugal's fan after the round of 16 match between Uruguay and Portugal at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, June 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
A Russia's fan waits for the start of the round of 16 match between Spain and Russia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
A Belgium and an England fan ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group G match at Kaliningrad Stadium.
A Japan's fan reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Belgium and Japan at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on July 2, 2018. Belgium won 3-2.
A football fan poses before the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Belgium and Japan at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on July 2, 2018.
A Russian woman poses for a photo with a foreign fan on Nikolskaya street in Moscow, on July 2, 2018. A petition has been launched demanding an apology from the tabloid newspaper that published a controversial article, describing Russian women as whores for flirting with foreign fans during the World Cup. / AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Brazil's fan watch the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018.
A Mexico fan waits for the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018.
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JULY 02: A Japan fan looks dejected following their sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Brazil's fans pose as they cheer prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018.
A Brazil fan poses before the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSEMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
A Brazil's fans cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Brazil and Mexico at the Samara Arena in Samara on July 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSMANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Fans of Swiss player Roger Federer poses as they queue for tickets outside The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 2, 2018, on the first day of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEOLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 02: Mexico fans look dejected following their sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at Samara Arena on July 2, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JULY 02: A Japan fan looks dejected following their sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JULY 02: A fan has their face painted prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 02: A Brazil fan celebrates victory following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at Samara Arena on July 2, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
SAMARA, RUSSIA - JULY 02: A Brazil fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico at Samara Arena on July 2, 2018 in Samara, Russia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Brazil's fans cheer before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
An England fan in Nizhny Novgorod ahead of their match against Panama in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
A Germany's fan reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between South Korea and Germany at the Kazan Arena in Kazan on June 27, 2018
YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: A Mexico fan enjoys the pre match prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Mexico and Sweden at Ekaterinburg Arena on June 27, 2018 in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: A Korea Republic fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: A Germany fan looks dejected following his sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JUNE 27: Fans of Germany are disappointed after watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at the FIFA Fan Fest Heiligengeistfeld on June 27, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JUNE 27: Fans of Germany support their Team while watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at the FIFA Fan Fest Heiligengeistfeld on June 27, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)
A football fan looks on before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JUNE 27: Fans of Germany are disappointed after watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at the FIFA Fan Fest Heiligengeistfeld on June 27, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: A Brazil fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Serbia and Brazil at Spartak Stadium on June 27, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
A fan sends a kiss before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
A fan takes a selfie before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
A Sweden fan after the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Mexico and Sweden at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Ekaterinburg on June 27, 2018.
A fan smiles before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Serbia and Brazil at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 27, 2018.
A Uruguay soccer fan smiles ahead of the group A match between Uruguay and Russia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Samara Arena in Samara, Russia, Monday, June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
An Iran's fan reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
Argentina fans in the stands before the FIFA World Cup Group D match at Saint Petersburg Stadium.
TOPSHOT - Croatia fans cheer before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Iceland and Croatia at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 26, 2018. /
An Iceland fan supports his team on the stands prior to the start of the group D match between Iceland and Croatia, at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Croatian fans cheer prior to the group D match between Iceland and Croatia, at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A fan with half his face painted with the Icelandic flag and the other half with the Croatian one poses with another fan before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Iceland and Croatia at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 26, 2018.
A fan with the French and Danish flags painted on the cheeks smile during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
France's fans look on as they wait before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
A France's fan smiles before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
A France's fan cheers her team during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
TOPSHOT - Denmark fans await the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
Denmark fans await the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018.
Iran's fans react at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
An Iran's fan reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 26: A fan looks on prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Iceland and Croatia at Rostov Arena on June 26, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 26: Fans of Iceland enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Iceland and Croatia at Rostov Arena on June 26, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 26: A Denmark fan takes pictures during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group C match between Denmark and France at Luzhniki Stadium on June 26, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 26: A France fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group C match between Denmark and France at Luzhniki Stadium on June 26, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 26: Fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group C match between Denmark and France at Luzhniki Stadium on June 26, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
SARANSK, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: Iran fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Portugal at Mordovia Arena on June 25, 2018 in Saransk, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
A Russia fan waves a Russian flag before the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Uruguay and Russia at the Samara Arena in Samara on June 25, 2018.
A woman reacts on the defeat of Russia against Uruguay while watching a live broadcast at the Fan Zone in Kazan on June 25, 2018 during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. / AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHANSAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
SARANSK, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: Iran fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Portugal at Mordovia Arena on June 25, 2018 in Saransk, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Egypt fans pose for a photo before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Saudi Arabia and Egypt at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd on June 25, 2018.
SARANSK, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: An Iran fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Portugal at Mordovia Arena on June 25, 2018 in Saransk, Russia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
VOLGOGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: An Egypt fan looks dejected following his sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group A match between Saudia Arabia and Egypt at Volgograd Arena on June 25, 2018 in Volgograd, Russia. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Spain's fans pose before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Spain and Morocco at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 25, 2018.
SARANSK, RUSSIA - JUNE 25: A Portugal fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Portugal at Mordovia Arena on June 25, 2018 in Saransk, Russia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An Iranian fan poses outside the Mordovia Arena prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal in Saransk on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
An Egypt fan waits for the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Saudi Arabia and Egypt at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd on June 25, 2018.
An Iran fan cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
A Russia's fan reacts while watching on a giant screen in the Fans Zone of Ekaterinburg, the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Uruguay and Russia on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Anne-Christine POUJOULATANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
A Russia's fan watches on giant screen at the Fans Zone of Ekaterinburg, the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Uruguay and Russia on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Anne-Christine POUJOULATANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A Russia supporter watches the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Uruguay and Russia on a giant screen at the FIFA Fan Fest in Nizhny Novgorod on June 25, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
An Iran fan cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
An Iran fan reacts after the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and Portugal at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 25, 2018.
An England fan in Nizhny Novgorod ahead of their match against Panama in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Brazil fans show their support ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group E match at Saint Petersburg Stadium, Russia.
Brazil fans in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group E match at Saint Petersburg Stadium, Russia.
Panama fans show their support prior to the FIFA World Cup Group G match at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Fans of Mexico celebrate at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City after Mexico beat South Korea 2-1 in their World Cup group match, on June 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro PARDOPEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images
Fans of Mexico celebrate at Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City after Mexico beat South Korea 2-1 in their World Cup group match, on June 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ULISES RUIZULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images
*** BESTPIX *** TIJUANA, MEXICO - JUNE 23: Mexico fans celebrate after their 2-1 victory over South Korea during the World Cup on June 23, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Belgium fans pose as they await the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Tunisia at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: A Uruguay fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group A match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia at Rostov Arena on June 20, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
A young Uruguay fan cheers in the crowd before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 20, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Khaled DESOUKI / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSKHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian soccer fan cheers as she waits for the group B match between Iran and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: An Iran fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere outside the stadium prior during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Spain at Kazan Arena on June 20, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: An Spain fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere outside the stadium prior during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Spain at Kazan Arena on June 20, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
A Russian fan smiles during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Egypt, at the Fan Zone in Kaliningrad on June 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ozan KOSEOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: An Iran fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere outside the stadium prior during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Spain at Kazan Arena on June 20, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: A Spain fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Iran and Spain at Kazan Arena on June 20, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: A Uruguay fan enjoys the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group A match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia at Rostov Arena on June 20, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Russian fan reacts as she watches a screening of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Egypt, at the Fan Zone in Nizhny Novgorod on June 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
A woman with a Russian national flag painted on her cheek looks on before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Egypt, at the Fan Zone in Kaliningrad on June 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ozan KOSEOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
A woman with a Russian national flag painted on her cheek looks on before the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Egypt, at the Fan Zone in Kaliningrad on June 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ozan KOSEOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
A Russia fan waves flags prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Egypt at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 19, 2018.
A Russian fan poses in Ekaterinburg on June 19, 2018 during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A Poland's fan poses as she cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group H football match between Poland and Senegal at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 19, 2018.
Poland's fans cheer prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group H football match between Poland and Senegal at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 19, 2018.
An England fan outside the Volgograd Arena prior to the FIFA World Cup Group G match at The Volgograd Arena, Volgograd.
TOPSHOT - A fan with the face painted half like the Panama's flag and the other half like the Belgian flag cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson Almeida / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSNELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
A fan sporting Tunisia and England flags painted on her face awaits the start of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Tunisia and England at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd on June 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Philippe DESMAZES / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSPHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
A Panama's fan cheers prior to the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson Almeida / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADSNELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images

Germany, Brazil and Argentina would have been most people's picks to progress at least to semi-finals and all of hem short odds to lift the famous trophy on July 15 in Moscow.

But something is not quite right with each of them.

Germany, the reigning world champions, don't look the relentless force of four years ago. There have been hints in the German media of splits in the camp and of cliques forming.

That same media, unused to seeing their team lose a World Cup group game, as they did to Mexico, have been uncharacteristically critical of manager Joachim Low and some of his players, notable Khedira and Ozil.

One German commentator described Ozil of having the body language of a dead frog in the Mexico game - and he was dead right. 

But the thing about the ultra-efficient Germans is they always find a way to overcome obstacles and I would back a World Cup winner like Low, a very clever operator, to quickly work out what has been going wrong and to put it right.

Argentina, I am not so sure about and I fear Lionel Messi's dream of ending his international career with the ultimate high of a World Cup win will be over by Tuesday.

There have been huge question marks over Messi in their two games so far. There is no doubting his footballing genius but he has not looked mentally dialled in, especially in Thursday's 3-0 defeat by Croatia.

As someone close to the Argentinian camp observed: "He is absent even when he is stood in front of you.”

Messi is said to have retreated to his room and remained there alone after his penalty miss against Iceland, even when the other players and their families were enjoying a barbecue. The understandable reaction of a disappointed player? Or does it run deeper than that? He appeared distant, too, in that Croatia match so has a chasm opened up between Messi and his team-mates and manager Jorge Sampaoli. If so, his and his nation's World Cup hopes are about to tumble into it.

Brazil are an enigma. Like Argentina, with Messi, and Portugal, with Ronaldo, they appear to rely too much on one player, in their case Neymar.

Like many of my generation, I fell in love with Brazilian football, watching them on a grainy black and white television set at home in Ballymena as they won the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

The football romantic in me would love to see them win it again.

But they are having to contend with more than just rivals emboldened by the sense that these supposed footballing gods possess an Achilles heel.

Neymar is clearly being targeted. Switzerland subjected him to more fouls than any World Cup player in a single game in 20 years in their opening 1-1 draw and that can't go on.

Which brings me to VAR. If the game's rule makers are going to employ video replays, they need to make sure it is used to enforce the rules right across the board. Too much is being missed.

The wresting that goes on in penalty areas is a real source of irritation for me. It was especially prevalent in the England-Tunisia game. Harry Kane must have felt he was in the ring with my old pal Giant Haystacks yet nothing was awarded.

I have mixed feelings about England. Their football in the first half against Tunisia was scintillating, apart from those missed chances.

They are too young and inexperienced to be even considered successors to the 1966 World Cup winner but hasn't stopped their media and commentators going into overdrive, hyping up the expectation, and if they defeat Panama tomorrow, as they should, cancel the papers and turn off the TV and radio if you want to avoid an outbreak of unbridled jingoism.

Gareth Southgate, I believe, is wise enough to keep his players grounded. This England team is a work in progress and if they can build on their steady improvement under Southgate, they can start to think about making an impact at the 2020 Euros or the next World Cup.

Russia, the hosts, have exceeded their own and their media's expectations in their charge to the knockout stages. Full of running and energy and with the home crowds behind them, they are now being talked about as dark horses. Spain or Portugal lie in wait in the last 16 so let's see how they handle that step up in class.

Spain 3 Portugal 3 has been the best game I've watched. On that evidence, either of them could realistically harbour hopes of going all the way.

Portugal, as I've stated, rely too much on Ronaldo for that to happen, in my opinion.

And although Spain were less impressive in their next game against Iran but they tick all me boxes for me. Some people might have felt their pre-tournament managerial upheaval would have affected them adversely. Not so. This is a team that manages itself. They have big game experience of World Cups, Euros and Champions League and in Diego Costa they have a bull of a centre forward.

They can also change their tactics and tempo as situations demand as they showed against Iran with their patience after the cavalier approach against Portugal.

So while my heart will always favour Brazil, on this second Saturday of a hugely entertaining World Cup, my head is telling me Spain.   

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