10 things we've learned from the group stage of World Cup 2018
1. European champions suffer once more
It looks like a curse: four World Cup champions from Europe in a row have now been eliminated at the group stage. In 2002, France failed to score a single goal and finished bottom of a group that included Denmark, Senegal and Uruguay. Even more incredibly, Italy somehow managed to finish last behind Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand in 2010.
Spain followed with defeats to Holland and Chile putting them out after two games in 2014. Now Germany are the latest victims, and it's still quite hard to believe that Die Mannschaft finished bottom of a group with Sweden, Mexico and South Korea. The trend shows that illusion of invulnerability – and perhaps loyalty to senior players four years further on – in fact makes you extremely vulnerable.
2. Jogi Löw has overstayed his welcome
It's extremely difficult, at times impossible, for a coach to know the exact moment when it’s right to leave. Arsene Wenger's example springs to mind, as he definitely departed Arsenal too late, while some might claim that Zinedine Zidane decided to resign from Real Madrid a bit too early.
It's indisputable that Joachim Löw is one of the greatest national team coaches of all time, having overseen the great revolution in German football ever since arriving as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant in 2004. But was a decade enough? Should he have left the team after winning the World Cup in Brazil four years ago?
The performance at Euro 2016 showed signs of stagnation, and Germany's historic first-ever World Cup group stage exit proved that Jogi is not the right man for this side anymore. His ideas have stopped working – as happens to even the very best managers at a certain moment.
3. VAR has helped – but won't eliminate all controversies
There have been 24 penalties awarded during the group stage, which is a record for an entire tournament by some distance. Overall, VAR has helped referees to make the right decisions in most cases, and the system hasn't really been overused. There have been instances where VAR was used to annul wrongly-awarded penalties, such as the case of Neymar falling theatrically against Costa Rica, then Davinson Sanchez’s perfect tackle on Sadio Mane during Colombia vs Senegal.
So it can be argued that VAR has been moderately successful, but it also makes mistakes look much graver and more deliberate – and that’s a significant black mark. Serbia will never forget the blatant foul on Aleksandar Mitrovic by two Swiss defenders which wasn't referred by VAR, and the second penalty given to Saudi Arabia against Egypt was a farce – even after consulting VAR.
4. Latin Americans are the best supporters in the world
Even in Russia, so vast and far away, Latin American fans had a much more significant presence during the group stage than their European counterparts. The Belgians and Germans could be seen and noticed, but Mexicans, Argentines, Colombians, Peruvians and Brazilians were responsible for the carnival atmosphere in Moscow and other Russian cities.
Mexico supporters turned the Luzhniki into the Azteca during their win over Germany; Argentines continued to back their team through the worst of times; while Colombians and Peruvians filled the Red Square in incredible numbers – even though their teams didn't have a single game in Moscow. They didn't seem concerned with security and hooliganism at all, which probably made the long trip much easier to make.
5. Tite is the right man for Brazil
Regardless of how the tournament ends, Tite has shown that he really unites Brazil – and that's quite rare. Players, journalists and fans alike stand behind the coach who has found the right system, taken the pressure off Neymar (who struggled to handle insane expectations four years ago), and even managed to make captain rotation work brilliantly.
As Brazilian journalists say, there is a good chance of Tite staying even if the Seleção don't win the World Cup. That would be an unprecedented achievement.