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Best of the Greatest Show on Earth: The 2018 World Cup so far

Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric (L) celebrates scoring a penalty with his teammate forward Ante Rebic during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Croatia and Nigeria at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 16, 2018. (PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
20th June, 2018

We have now had a look at all 32 teams at the World Cup, as the Group Stage completes its first round of matches. It is a good time to catch our breath, if not catch up on the lost sleep just yet.

We fell short on watching all group fixtures live thus far (by just four fixtures, not including the ones spent praying for the Optus App to work), but watched all the others on replay.

A lot of football has been watched so this handy bite-sized review of the best of the World Cup can be delivered.

As ever, it has been a fascinating first round of games, with a lot of surprises. A lot of the big names are off to a slow start, and the host nation defied local hopes and form to thrash Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game.

Below then, is The Best of the Greatest Show on Earth: Part 1. Read on for details of the latest Greatest Show on Earth World Cup podcast, which discusses the below and so much more.

Plenty has been written on each game and group, but those time poor, less attentive fans, here is an attempt to go through each group as quickly as possible.

Group A

If anyone saw 5-0 Russia coming then they are either lying, a better tipster than my dog or Paul the Octopus, or have Trump like connections to the Russian team.


In saying that, there were some cracking goals in the first match of the tournament, which was a relief as it had rubbish bore-fest written all over pre-game with the two worst ranked sides at the World Cup. So, it was a delightul surprise.

The name we mentioned in our preview podcast to keep an eye on, Aleksandr Golovin, produced one of the better performances of the first round of games. So at least we got one thing right.

Saudi Arabia were clearly the worst side of the first round.

Less beautiful was Egypt vs Uruguay, which went Mo-less as Salah was rested, awaiting easier prey in Russia and Saudi Arabia. That plan sort of backfired now, with Russia in the best position due to their mammoth goal difference.

Saudi Arabia won’t be offering up such treats again surely.

Group B

Had easily the best game of the World Cup so far in Spain vs Portugal. End to end action, cracking goals, tension, superstars in action. The opposite to so many big head-to-head clashes in the group stages.

Ronaldo confirms his greatness with his three goals, and the pressure cooker free kick at the end. If he delivers World Cup glory for Portugal, or at least continues in his current fashion, does he edge Messi as the game’s greatest player?


Morocco vs Iran looked the most likely 0-0 in World cup history and, were it not for the one of the sweetest headers you’ll see at this World Cup in the dying stages of the game, it would have been.

Pity for Morocco that the header was from its own player into their own net.

Group C

France may have won the match but they were far from impressive. That said, unlike a lot of the big name teams, they did actually win.

Australia earned respect with their performance, and really did deserve the point. Probably have Mat Ryan to thank for his myriad of early saves that stopped France going for the throat if an early 1-0 or 2-0 lead was established.

Peru actually looked like one of the better teams at the world Cup so far; their energy and style was impressive, a pity the result was not. Could have been helped if Cuerva, who was brilliant otherwise, didn’t balloon the penalty attempt over the goal.

But as Denmark proved, you just need a moment of quality and that came in the form of their goal, assisted by Christian Eriksen.

They are Australia’s next opponent and methinks the Socceroos may get a group stage saving result. Before they get torn apart by Peru that is.


Group D

The Viking clap returns and Iceland do it again, opening up with a draw against a favourite for the tournament. Worked out okay for Portugal last time at the Euros, however.

Messi’s missed penalty is hard to believe, and underlines the comparable contributions from him against Ronaldo’s.

Croatia remain a dark horse after their win over Nigeria. They could even find themselves topping the group if they win again.

Funny story about Nikola Kalinic being sent home for not coming off the bench when asked in the first game.

Group E

No holes in the Swiss as they hold on for a draw against Brazil.

Their tactic of kicking Neymar all night certainly worked, but should have been stopped.


Brazil were brilliant in the first half though, and a full 90-minute repeat will have a lot of teams worried. They wasted way too many chances in the second half taking long shots from outside the box.

Super free kick from Aleksandar Kolarov for Serbia. If only the World Cup Fantasy stalwart Aleksandar Mitrovic could have scored more points for the fantasy team.

Group F

Ole! to Mexico, who put in one of the performances of the first round to beat Germany 1-0.

Could the Germans be another team to bow out in the group stages? Three of the past four champions haven’t made it out of the group stage.

Hirving Lozano one of the players from the first round.

Sweden vs South Korea was the dullest game thus far in the 2018 World Cup. More boring without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Spurs’ Son Heung-min and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-Woo were the shining lights in a poor South Korean team.


Group G

England looked like they were going to do an England: struggle in a very winnable fixture and have start the tournament off poorly.

Harry Kane has good news for England. A genuine goal threat for other teams. 

Tunisia’s tactics of rugby tackling players probably won’t reap too many rewards.

But what was Kyle Walker thinking. It looked like another return to the England of old.

Romelu Lukaku proved his effectiveness against easy teams with a couple of goals in the win over Panama.

Dries Mertens’ goal was much better though.

Group H

As open as Group H is, did anyone truly expect it to be Japan and Senegal as the round one winners?

Japan were helped by the World Cup’s first red card, one that will certainly end up being one of the stupidest handed out. Although, you do question how the French player escaped a card at all for his effort against Australia.

Colombia did well to equalise against Japan with ten men, but fresher legs prevailed. Hard to judge relative qualities given it was such an early dismissal but, in the cutthroat world of the group stage, who cares?

Senegal flew the flag for Africa with a win over Poland. The second goal was somewhat controversial, but the win no less deserved.

Group G big boys England and Belgium must be rubbing their hands at the prospect of getting knocked out by someone more exotic than first expected.

Best and worst of the World Cup so far

The Peach: Portugal 3-3 Spain
The POS: Optus Sport
Biggest moments: Russia’s 5-0 spanking of Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo’s free kick, VAR debut for France penalty, Messi’s miss, Germany’s Mexican wave goodbye?
Best games, so far: Portugal 3-3 Spain, France 2-1 Australia, Peru 0-1 Denmark
Best goals, so far: Nacho Fernandez’s cracker volley from outside the box, Kolarov’s free kick for Serbia, Denis Cheryshev’s second goal
Best players: Aleksandr Golovin (RUS), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Hirving Lozano (MEX)
Biggest surprises: Mexico beating Germany, Russia not only winning, but winning 5-0, Iceland holding Argentina to a draw
Biggest disappointment: The second French goal (if you’re an Australian)
Worst team: Saudi Arabia
Worst game: Sweden 1-0 South Korea

Guest Tipsters

You may recall the piece on alternative ways to find a World Cup winner from before the World Cup.

Well here are the progress scores after the first 16 games.

Tips based on various football stats: 9/16
Tips based on betting odds: 7/16
Tips based on political stats: 7/16
Tips based on children’s selections: 5/16
The dog’s (Muttstradamus) tips: 4/16

A quick look at Round 2 of the Group Stage

Must-watch games: France vs Peru, Argentina vs Croatia, Germany vs Sweden,
Bold predictions: Australia to beat Denmark, Germany to fail to win again, Brazil to put many goals past Costa Rica.
Players to watch: Christian Cuerva (PER), Isco (ESP), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Lionel Messi (ARG)
The nil-nil special: Not one scoreless draw in the first wave of matches, so surely the first one is just around the corner; Nigeria vs Iceland.