The World Cup is approaching its closing stages.
In Moscow on Sunday, a winner will be crowned. We will know who has won the Golden Boot, the Golden Ball, the Golden Glove, and which players have made the team of the tournament. But there will be no wooden spoon for the worst side of the competition.
With that in mind, RealSport have set out to determine which team were the biggest losers in Russia.
To make things simpler, the only sides in contention are those who came bottom of their group, though there were plenty of bad teams who didn’t finish last. By taking into account style of play and pre-tournament expectations among other entirely scientific values, this should settle the debate.
No pressure then…
Herve Renard’s team are the least deserving of a place on this list given they played some excellent football over three matches and had the misfortune of being drawn into a group with Spain and Portugal along with a tactically robust Iran.
Like Egypt, a late header in their opening match against Carlos Queiroz’s side floored them at the start of the tournament. The fact it was scored by Aziz Bouhaddouz at the wrong end only made it more of a crushing blow for the Atlas Lions.
They took the game to Portugal in their next match but were eliminated by an early Cristiano Ronaldo penalty. This allowed them to play without fear against Spain against whom they almost pulled off a shock win before VAR intervened (Nordin Amrabat made his thoughts on the new technology clear after that game).
Nordin Amrabat lets the world know what he thinks of VAR... pic.twitter.com/0ZhQHk6Av4— Myron Naicker (@myronnaicker) June 25, 2018
Morocco attempted the fourth most dribbles per game (21) and weaved together some brilliant moves but they lacked a cutting edge in front of goal. Rather than sit back and try and hit their opponents on the break like most underdogs this tournament, they played good football and were punished for it.
A name which conjures up horrible images for England fans, this was Iceland’s debut at the World Cup after knocking out Roy Hodgson’s men two years ago in Nice. As such, they came into this tournament free of any expectation.
That showed as they secured their first ever finals point against Argentina with filmmaker-goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saving a penalty from Lionel Messi to write another historic moment for Icelandic football.
They lost against Nigeria and Croatia but were unlucky to lose against Luka Modric et al. in the end.
They may have finished bottom of the group but Iceland can be proud of how they performed in Russia.
6 Costa Rica
Costa Rica is another name which brings back unpleasant memories for English supporters.
The Central Americans surprised everyone in Brazil by topping a group with the Three Lions, Italy and Uruguay and making it to the quarterfinals where they were eliminated on penalties by Louis Van Gaal’s Netherlands.
This time around, they lost to a fine Alexander Kolarov free-kick in their group opener against Serbia which Keylor Navas could do nothing about and were beaten by two late moments of individual brilliance against Brazil. Perhaps unfairly, that meant they were eliminated before their madcap final game versus Switzerland.
They had the third lowest shot count this tournament (27) and were unable to reproduce their showings in Brazil but that would have been a very tall order for Oscar Ramirez’s team.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
The odds never seem to favour the Socceroos at the World Cup. In Brazil they were drawn against Spain, Netherlands and Chile, three teams ranked much higher than them and it was the same story in Russia where they came up against France, Denmark and Peru.
Bert Van Marwijk’s side had their moments. They managed a draw against a Denmark side who finished runners-up in the group and momentarily pegged back France in their group opener. But a solitary point was never going to be good enough.
It is worth pointing out, however, that Australia failed to qualify for the finals between 1974 and 2006. Making it to the group stage is no small feat and they have been unlucky to face some quality sides in 2014 and 2018. They will hope the balance is redressed next time.
How different would things have been had Mohamed Salah not been injured in the Champions League final? Sergio Ramos temporarily became the most hated man in Egypt when he dragged down Salah in Kiev with one lawyer even claiming he had filed a lawsuit against the Real Madrid captain.
Hector Cuper rested his star man for the opening match against Uruguay, and they never recovered from Jose Gimenez’s late header.
Salah was unable to rouse them as they were trounced by Russia and then beaten by Saudi Arabia in a dead rubber, meaning they departed the group stages without a single point.
Even without the Anfield hero at full fitness, Cuper’s set-up was far too defensive. They had the fourth lowest shot count of any team (28) and only Iran had fewer shots on target (5). They rarely looked like scoring and that makes them worthy contenders for the wooden spoon.
By far the biggest shock of this World Cup came when reigning champions Germany were knocked out at the group stage.
Toni Kroos thought he had saved his side when he curled home a pinpoint free-kick in the dying minutes against Sweden but the Germans’ fate was sealed against South Korea when Son Heung-min scored with Manuel Neuer stranded upfield.
That meant the 2014 champions became the third consecutive winners to be knocked out at the first attempt after Spain in Brazil and Italy in South Africa. The last time Germany had been knocked out at the first round of the finals was in 1938.
It was an even bigger upset given Joachim Low’s side won the Confederations Cup last summer and were pre-tournament favourites.
Their football, however, was uninspired. Despite completing the second most passes per game (656.7) behind Spain, they could not make their possession count, and perhaps it says something that both sides were eliminated early on.
Their finishing was also hugely wasteful, with more shots off target per game than any other team (8.7). They were made to pay for that against South Korea, and this will go down as the limpest defence of the trophy in recent times.
The president of Panama declared a national holiday when the national side made it to their first World Cup finals by beating their neighbours Costa Rica with a goal from centre-back Roman Torres. Sadly, any goodwill which neutrals might have felt towards Torres and Co. evaporated with their style of play – if it can be called that.
Panama picked up the joint-most yellow cards at this tournament (11) and the most per game (3.7), so it is a wonder they didn’t pick up any reds in the group stage. They lost all three of their matches and leaked nine goals against Belgium and England.
But it is hard to begrudge a side who were making their debut at this tournament, especially considering how fans celebrated when Felipe Baloy turned in their first World Cup goal against Gareth Southgate's side.
Panama knew they would not have the technical ability to match Belgium or England and that the odds were stacked against them, so had to adapt. It was not pretty or particularly effective but just reaching the finals in the first place was huge for the Panamanians.
Poland were handed the most evenly-matched group on paper and big things were expected of this side before the tournament, especially after reaching the quarterfinals at the Euros in France.
It seemed as if the current crop of stars led by Robert Lewandowski were finally coming good and many billed them as dark horses in the build-up to Russia. Along with Colombia, they were seen as the most likely team to qualify from Group H.
But they failed to live up to the hype, playing a turgid style of football which meant star man Lewandowski had to rely on scraps. Adam Nawalka’s outfit lost their first two matches against Senegal and Colombia, and were out before a consolation win against Japan.
Nawalka’s change to a 3-4-3 having played 4-4-2 in qualifying may have played a role in their dismal peformance, leaving Lewandowski frustrated and isolated up front. At 29, this was probably the Bayern Munich striker's last chance to prove himself at a World Cup at the peak of his powers.
And the losers are...
Poland. Panama may have been the worst side in purely footballing terms and Germany the biggest disappointment in terms of pre-tournament expectations but Adam Nawalka’s side married the two.
They played some of the least exciting football of the tournament and Robert Lewandowski never threatened despite scoring 16 goals in qualifying.
They should have done much, much better and that is why they deserve the inaugural wooden spoon.
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