World Cup·Analysis

Brazil inherits burdens of favourite with Germany's shocking departure

Many would tell you the "real" World Cup starts now. Not many of them would be German.

Keep an eye on Belgium and Spain

(Illustration by Sophie Baron)

Tear up your World Cup bracket and toss it in the garbage. You won't need it for the remainder of the competition. 

If, however, we'd been paying close attention, history had already forewarned us about everything we should have known. 

Repeating as world champion is virtually impossible. It has never been achieved under the current World Cup format; Brazil was the last nation to successfully defend the trophy and that was nearly 60 years ago when Pele was still years away from his peak. 

Furthermore, the World Cup holders have now fallen at the first hurdle in each of the last three editions. Germany's demise follows the trend set by Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014. 

Nonetheless, the German exit is of truly seismic proportions. We're talking about Germany, a soccer nation meticulous in its planning and efficient in its execution. 

This is the German team that humiliated Brazil at its own World Cup. This is the German team that cruised to victory at the Confederations Cup in Russia only a year ago. This is the German team that doesn't make mistakes. 

Germany is the team with four stars on its jersey. Only Brazil can better that. Germany, above all, can be relied upon to go deep at every World Cup. Every one except this one. 

Defending champion Germany's elimination was a shock to its citizens. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Ultimately they only have themselves to blame. They used their "Get Out of Jail Free" card with 10 seconds to spare against Sweden, but looked laboured and predictable against a well-organized and hard-working Korea. The sight of goalie Manuel Neuer giving up a desperate, almost comical empty-netter would have been more fitting in the Stanley Cup, not the World Cup. 

Germany's early departure sadly overshadows moments of sheer brilliance and creative genius. Exhibit A: Cristiano Ronaldo's fantastic free kick to grab a dramatic point for Portugal against Spain in the best match of the tournament to date.

Philippe Coutinho's outrageous curling strike for Brazil against the stubborn Swiss was a thing of beauty and what about Croatian talisman Luka Modric? His thunderbolt to sink a sulking Argentina gets better every time I see it. World Cup debutant Harry Kane of England has taken the tournament in stride and leads the race for the Golden Boot with five goals in just two matches. 

But amongst the highlights, there is an undeniable dark side to this World Cup. It is as predictable as it is ugly and unnecessary and I, like millions, am not a fan.

Since when did bear hugging and wrestling an opponent to the ground inside the penalty area become legal on a soccer field? Outside the stadium it would be common assault so why, oh why, do players think they can get away with mugging an opponent when the whole world and myriad cameras are watching their every move.

Some of the defensive tactics in this World Cup are ridiculous, writes Nigel Reed. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Defending is as much an art as attacking. That is why we call this sport the beautiful game. It is about timing and technique, not roughhousing. There is nothing beautiful about dragging an opponent to the turf and then protesting your innocence to a referee who now has multiple pairs of eyes.

The video assistant referee sees all and knows all. There is no hiding place for those who choose to cheat rather than compete. Furthermore, the VAR is there to assist the referee, not for the players or their coaches to bemoan and appeal every decision with which they disagree.

Let's get this straight once and for all. A referee is only a human being and can only give what he definitely sees. VAR is only there to assist his decisions and to give him a chance to review them. It is not to be used as an appeals platform by exasperated players or managers.

VAR is new and it is not perfect. In my opinion it has been rather overused in this World Cup, but it is a valuable aid for officials and fans of fair play. I'm one of them.

Germany's exodus means one thing — everyone else can now see a path to glory. The 16 survivors, encouraged by their initial progress, will now believe the World Cup is wide open. Four more wins leads to the promised land of soccer immortality. 

It's that simple, and that difficult. 

Neymar and Brazil have to be favourites with Germany no longer in the tournament. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Brazil will now inherit the burden of World Cup favourites. It's nothing new to them and they relish the spotlight. Neymar and company will expect to dispatch Mexico in the Round of 16 in Samara, but let's not forget El Tri began the German nightmare.

Somehow, Lionel Messi and Argentina are still alive. Not for long, I fear. Their defence is critically vulnerable and while they survived the group stages by the skin of their teeth, I believe France has the guile to send them packing in Kazan.

Portugal against Uruguay is arguably the tie of the round. Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez are likely both competing at their final World Cup. Ronaldo must lead his European champions like never before, while Suarez — the 2014 villain — wants to be remembered for his predatory scoring instincts, not the infamous scene in Natal which got him thrown out of the last World Cup.

Keep an eye on Belgium and Spain. The Red Devils should be too good for Japan in the Round of 16, but would then likely run into Brazil in the quarter-finals. Spain will likely eliminate the hosts on Canada Day and would fancy their chances against either Croatia or Denmark in the last eight.

The Swedes continue to belie their comparatively lowly world ranking (24) and their battle with Switzerland is too close to call. England rested many of their starters for their final group game and will hope that pays dividends against Group H winners Colombia.

From here on in, it's win or go home and no second chances for a bad day at the office. Many would tell you the "real" World Cup starts now. Not many of them would be German.   

About the Author

Nigel Reed


Nigel has spent more than 30 years covering a wide variety of sports in both Canada and Europe. He has worked on multiple Olympic Games and World Cups, specializing in soccer, rugby and golf. In recent years he has broadcast Major League Soccer, Rugby Canada, Toronto Wolfpack and the 2015 Pan Am Games.


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