The FIFA World Cup group stage has come and gone, and it was full of unexpected surprises and shocking twists. Germany suffered a shocking exit from a winnable Group F while not looking like the team that won the tournament just 4 years earlier. Argentina needed help to advance out of Group D on the final day and struggled to get Lionel Messi involved throughout it. As a result, Croatia topped the group after narrowly qualifying for the World Cup in the months leading up to it. In past World Cups, the host nation has (for the most part) played well. The Russians did not disappoint as they comfortably advanced to the knockout round with victories against Saudi Arabia (5-0) and injury-riddled Egypt (3-1).
Cristiano Ronaldo dazzled the world with his opening night hat trick for Portugal against Spain in one of the most entertaining games of the group stage. The pressure of the biggest stage in soccer didn’t faze the majority of the attackers competing in the tournament. The tone was set with high-scoring showdowns. Only one game ended scoreless, which hints that the knockouts will be just as entertaining.
With the stakes now higher than they were in the group stage, the intensity and atmosphere will only improve. Some nations are looking for redemption from past attempts, while others try to cement their names in the history books.
In the end, there is only one champion. Time will tell who it will be.