By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua)
-- The round of 16 in the 2018 World
Cup finished on Tuesday night and with two days without football
before the first of the quarterfinals; here are a few things the
past four frantic and entertaining days have taught us.
Passing isn’t everything
Spain went out after
losing a penalty shootout to hosts Russia, after 120 minutes in
which they completed over 1,000 passes - a new World Cup record.
Yet the only goal the Spanish scored was an own goal following a
set piece. Possession at times seemed to be an end in itself,
rather than a means to an end. Way too often a Spanish player
would check and move horizontally rather than look to move into
space, making it easy for a brave but limited Russia side to
pack their defense and hang on for a penalty shootout which had
a feeling of inevitability about it.
Belgium: It pays to be positive
There were 30
seconds left on the clock when Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut
Courtois caught the ball in his area. Most keepers would have
been happy to clutch it to their chest to let a few seconds pass
to ensure extra time. Courtois had other thoughts however,
rolling the ball out to Kevin de Bruyne who ran almost the full
length of the pitch to start the move which led to Nacer Chadli
scoring the goal that beat Japan 3-2. Maybe the Spanish should
take note; sometimes speed and speed of thought are important,
and it pays to be positive.
Mbappe: New world number one?
This World Cup is
now without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; the two players
who have dominated world football for over a decade now. With
Messi now 31 and Ronaldo 33, this World Cup could show us who
will pick up the torch. Harry Kane’s goals and leadership make
him a candidate, but for sheer footballing thrills the torch may
be headed for France’s 19-year-old Kylian M’bappe, who won a
penalty in France’s 4-3 victory against Argentina and became the
first teenager to score twice in a World Cup finals game. It was
a breath-taking display of pace and skill that implies he could
just be the next great superstar.
Messi: No man can be an island at the World Cup
with disaster in the group stage and although hopes were high
that they could improve after beating Nigeria in the group
stage, it was not to be. An impressive France side made
Argentina’s weaknesses all too clear and with Messi out of form
and surrounded by players who are simply not good enough to win
a World Cup, defeat seemed inevitable. A great player can carry
a team some of the time, but against the best in the world,
reality is going to hit you sooner rather than later.
The world may end; England won a penalty shootout.
England do not win
penalty shootouts. It’s clear that something important has
happened and that the natural order of the world has changed,
maybe we should start preparing for the end of the world... or
maybe Gareth Southgate has been able to change the mindset of
this young England side. Southgate’s men have approached this
World Cup with hope rather than the fear that has dogged other