Analysis

10 things we've learned from the group stage of World Cup 2018

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6. Hosts have won already

Around 75% of Russia fans expected their team to fail in a fairly easy group. The hosts reached a nadir just ahead of football's biggest tournament on their own soil, and even Saudi Arabia looked to be extremely tough rivals before the opening match.

But the Saudis were thrashed alongside a hapless Egypt, and Russians will now be happy regardless of the result in their last-16 match against Spain. The 3-0 defeat to Uruguay (in a game with both sides qualified) wasn't too painful, and the local feeling is that they've already won. The atmosphere is positive – and that's good for this tournament.

7. Robert Lewandowski is not a leader

The Bayern Munich superstar was the top scorer in qualifying, having netted 16 goals for Poland, but he's proved unable to help his team in Russia. Granted, Lewandowski had poor support, but a player of his level should be able to take the burden on himself. For the second international tournament in a row he has disappointed.

The striker only scored once in five matches at Euro 2016, and this time performed even worse. His leadership qualities as a captain are apparently nonexistent. After kissing his wife in the stands after losing to Senegal, the skipper declared that the team lacked quality after the 3-0 thrashing by Colombia – and he definitely wasn't including himself. Lewa might be one of the best strikers in the world, but Poland fans must be very disappointed in his personality.

8. Sweden are much better without Zlatan

Remember those Zlatan Ibrahimovic remarks about the World Cup not being worthy without him? Well, it is – especially for Sweden. Without the superstar who used to hog the ball while making his team-mates feel inferior at the same time, Sweden look united, focused, determined and liberated.

They got past Holland and Italy in the qualifiers, and now they've finished top of their group at the World Cup, helping to send Germany home in the process. They did so despite the fact that their star playmaker Emil Forsberg isn't even close to top form – but that’s because the RB Leipzig playmaker is a humble team player even when he isn't in good shape.

The same can't be said of their former striker with a giant ego who often underperformed at major tournaments.

9. Tiebreaker on cards is a good idea

Senegal might feel unlucky to finish behind Japan because of yellow cards, but this is actually a good idea. The problem is that teams weren't accustomed to the rules yet, so the Senegalese didn't pay attention to the issue until their last matchday.

Overall, cases of totally identical records are rare, and the rule is unlikely to be used frequently (the last case was at the 1990 World Cup when Ireland and Holland finished with identical records and had to be separated by drawing lots). On the other hand, it should make teams try to concede fewer cards. It's a win-win situation; certainly when compared to lots.

10. 48-team World Cup is a disastrous idea

Panama, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia didn’t impress spectators with quality play, and every World Cup features a few teams that aren't really up to standard. Yet starting from 2026, their numbers are set to increase dramatically, ruining the mathematically perfect 32-team system en route.

Mexico and Japan are the only two teams outside of Europe and South America to qualify for the last 16 in Russia. Does that mean we need more competitors from Africa and Asia? Not if it further dilutes the quality of this competition.

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