The 2018 World Cup is heading into its knockout stages, having already served up quite a spectacle in the opening fortnight. We have already witnessed a few challengers fall by the wayside, while not a lot of the pre-tournament favourites looked convincing in the group stage.
World Cup football is filled with unpredictability, evidenced by champions Germany exiting the tournament in the first round and quite a few stars proving to be big disappointments.
Here we look at few of the top stars who couldn’t live up to their billing in the group stage.
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Lots of good things were expected from the Morocco team but while they entertained no end, the Atlas Lions lacked that finishing touch in front of goal. Their squad was a mix of talented stars plying their trades in Europe’s top leagues, but Ajax playmaker Hakim Ziyech was undoubtedly the biggest draw.
Ziyech came into this World Cup having been involved in more shots (308) than any player in Europe’s top five leagues last season and was expected to produce similar numbers at the World Cup. Naturally, the 25-year-old disappointed, hitting only two of his paltry eight shots on target, and none coming from inside the box. Morocco scored only two goals at this World Cup, a pointer to the collective failings of the team as well as starman Ziyech.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Poland went out of the 2018 World Cup with a whimper. Despite their best efforts to save face with a 1-0 win over Japan in the final group game, the Poles were abject in their opening two games at the end of which they were knocked out. Captain Robert Lewandowski failed to live up to expectations and carry his team through, but in all honesty, the Bayern Munich star could only have done so much with the lack of service.
That said, Lewandowski had just three shots on goal in Poland’s first two games, a far cry from his shot monster avatar at Bayern. He ended with only three attempts on target in the group stage, with no goals to his name. The 29-year-old has had better tournaments than this World Cup.
Thomas Muller (Germany)
Muller came into this tournament as the player with the most number of World Cup goals among those involved, but he barely did anything to enhance his reputation as the man for the biggest stage. The 28-year-old never had a proper sniff of goal as Germany crashed out and was symbolic of the issues Die Nationalmannschaft had — slow, wasteful and lacking edge and dynamism.
Coming into the tournament without a goalscorer of the highest pedigree, Muller was expected to carry most of the scoring burden for his side having netted 10 times in his last two World Cups. His failure to get on the end of chances was one reason Germany scored just two goals, and midfielder Toni Kroos’ team-highest 15 shots highlighted where the team’s problems were.
David De Gea (Spain)
Spain endured a nervy passage into the knockouts and much of that nerviness could be attributed to the error-prone De Gea in goal. In his first World Cup as the number one custodian, De Gea has barely managed to put his foot right and Spain’s prowess at the other end of the pitch have saved his blushes so far. The 27-year-old has conceded goals from five of the six shots faced, a terrible save ratio of 16 percent that doesn’t bode well for La Roja.
His mistake against Portugal when he let a tame Cristiano Ronaldo shot squirm through his hands put the spotlight on the Manchester United star but he hasn’t yet shown signs of significant improvement. Spain need him to quickly get his form back to have any chance of emulating their feats of 2010.
Fyodor Smolov (Russia)
Having been touted as Russia’s biggest hope before the World Cup, Smolov has cut a frustrated figure so far, involved in only 120 minutes of action and his place in the starting XI taken by Artem Dzyuba. Smolov’s ineffectiveness in the hosts’ opening day humbling of Saudi Arabia proved to be his undoing, so much so that the number 10 doesn’t even get a look-in when both Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin are not in the team.
Dzagoev’s injury-induced void has been filled by Denis Cheryshev, while Dzyuba and Golovin are now the first choices to fill the rest of the front-three positions, leaving Smolov on the bench to come on for a few minutes. He hasn’t had a shot so far in this World Cup, a pointer to the fact that Russia are doing quite well without their influential number 10.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 14:23:39 IST