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The World Cup Favorites Panic Index

Who among the best in the world are freaking out right now?

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Right then. With the greatest respect to Group H, and its stable of dark horses — Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal — we’ve now seen them all. All the World Cup favourites. All the teams that have ambitions of lifting the little gold cudgel thing at the end of the tournament, plus England, who are telling anybody who’ll listen: “Hey, we just want to have a nice time.” Nice one, lads. Nobody believes you.

Not every side has had an ideal start. There have been wins, as expected, but they haven’t all been convincing; we’ve also had draws, and even a surprise defeat. More importantly, there haven’t been many truly convincing performances. So should anybody be panicking yet? How much panicking should they be doing, on a scientific scale from one to five? Let’s take a look.

Spain

Could have gone worse. Could have gone a whole lot worse. When your coach is bounced two days before your first game, you take anything better than a total collapse. And Spain managed to put together perhaps the World Cup’s best performance so far, even if they couldn’t quite manage the win.

Diego Costa’s brace was particularly encouraging, given that he spent the 2014 World Cup looking lost, angry, and confused. Elsewhere, Isco was extremely impressive, and apparently Nacho hits the ball like a Dutchman of the ‘78 vintage.

The only worry will have been some poor decision making, and David de Gea. Neither Nacho or Gerard Piqué really had to give away the early penalty and late free-kick, and De Gea, who chucked in Ronaldo’s second, will have to shake off some oddly intense criticism from back home. If they can stop making silly mistakes, they’ll be very dangerous. If they can’t, they’ll still do pretty well.

Panic rating: 1 unwanted Real Madrid approach/5

Portugal

No idea if Portugal should be in here, but since they won Euro 2016 we kind of have to mention them. Ronaldo looks like he’s in the mood, and six more hat tricks will probably win the tournament. Thanks to the one he’s already scored, they won’t be panicking in the slightest.

Panic rating: 0 funny-looking sculptures/5

Argentina

It will have been of no surprise to anybody, least of all themselves, that Argentina looked a bit wobbly at the back against Iceland. A central axis of Nicolás Otamendi and Marcos Rojo guarantees fun, which is basically the opposite of what a defence should do. But we all knew that beforehand. You can’t panic over what you see coming. That’s fretting, and that’s different.

Much more panic-inducing: the lack of anything much up front. This is where Argentina are strong, theoretically, yet they didn’t seem to be able to generate anything much from open play. Sergio Agüero will always be able to make himself space in the box, but Angel di Maria and Lionel Messi were well smothered by Iceland’s defensive set-up, and their midfield offered very little in the way of encouragement.

Also, take Messi off penalties. For everybody’s sake. It’s just too confusing to watch the best player in, well, whatever geographical area you want, puzzle over how to kick a ball into the net from 12 yards. Is it perhaps just too simple for him? Not enough moving parts? Would it help if an Argentine defender joined him in the box and shouted at him?

Panic rating: 4 short passes back to the central defence/5

France

Ugh, France. Nothing to panic about here, really. They won, and they’ll probably get a bit better as we go through. Paul Pogba was fine. France were fine. Just fine. And that would be all right, if the sight of all that glorious and sensuous potential being just fine didn’t do to the soul what fingernails do to a blackboard. Why are you the way you are, Didier Deschamps? Why?

Panic rating: 1 shrug/5

Germany

The red lights are flashing at Germany’s training camp. Sami Khedira is buying tinned foods. Timo Werner is singing “Amazing Grace”. Mesut Özil is asleep; he’s smiling. Alarms are wailing. You do not want to know what Jogi Löw is doing. Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng are holding one another, weeping gently. Somebody’s set fire to the away kits. Nobody’s seen Toni Kroos, but his bed hasn’t been slept in. Marco Reus has hurt his foot.

Panic rating: 6 managerial trouser rummages/5

Mexico

Probably favourites to win the whole thing now, with just the slightest question about what happens when then play against a team with a midfield.

Panic rating: 0 Chicharito tears/5

Brazil

Early days. Early days. But while Philippe Coutinho slamming one in from the edge of the box is always a possibility, it’s not going to be a reliable plan. And Brazil, though they dominated the ball, didn’t do a whole lot with it. A couple of decent chances, and a lot of sitting on the floor looking at the referee.

There are, we think, two consequences. The first is that Switzerland’s tactics here — defend stoutly, stick a foot in as required, and take chances — were proved successful. This will encourage all the other teams in the tournament, since that’s what they were planning to do anyway. An early proof of concept is always useful.

The second effect is that Brazil were kind of off-putting, from a neutral perspective. Everybody wants to see Neymar playing football. Nobody wants to see him sitting on the floor, holding the ball, demanding that the referee give him the free-kick that his wounded majesty warrants.

Panic rating: 2 sobbing facepainted children/5

Belgium

Looked for a bit like they were going to get CONCACAFed. Didn’t get CONCACAFed. Job done.

Panic rating: 1 weird-shaped beer glass/5

England

Something is coming home. You don’t know what it is. It is strange and unfamiliar and not entirely unpleasant. It does not feel safe. You don’t know if you want it. But it’s coming. It’s definitely coming.

Panic rating: ?! missed penalties/5