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Five unexpected things that shook the World Cup

By Michael Place MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- The World Cup in Russia has thrown up no shortage of surprises as favorites have been toppled, heroes vanquished and new stars born. Here we look at the five biggest shocks of the tournament so far.

Germany dumped out:

The World Cup champions curse continued as Joachim Loew’s men were dumped out in the group stage. It was the third consecutive time that the holders have failed to reach the round of 16, following on from Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.

Something just wasn’t right from the start of their first match against Mexico, which they lost 1-0. A brilliant Toni Kroos free-kick routine saved their blushes against Sweden before they collapsed to a 2-0 loss to South Korea in their final group match.

Messi kept in check:

Argentina fans had hoped that this tournament would provide a glorious and belated coronation for Lionel Messi after the Albiceleste lost three straight finals in major tournaments: the 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America.

However both Messi and Argentina were found wanting, sputtering through the group stage before being knockout out by France in the last 16. Messi looked a shadow of the player that has won five Ballon d’Or awards, scoring just once in four matches.

Rampant Russia:

Rated before the tournament as Russia’s worst ever team, the hosts quickly went about proving their doubters wrong by romping to a 5-0 win in their tournament opener against Saudi Arabia, led by a Denis Cheryshev brace.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s side won their next match against Egypt 3-1 before losing 3-0 to Uruguay after being reduced to 10 men early. They then beat 2010 champions Spain on penalties in the round of 16 but bowed out in the quarterfinals against Croatia in another duel decided by spot-kicks.

Roberto Martinez’s Belgium:

Belgium’s so-called golden generation has finally turned potential into concrete results by reaching the last four of the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Coach Roberto Martinez has succeeded where his predecessors failed by making the team greater than the sum of its parts.

The Spaniard has also shown great tactical pragmatism by setting up his side to suit the characteristics of his best players and exploit the weakness of opponents. This was exemplified in the team’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Brazil, when Kevin de Bruyne was deployed as a false nine while Roman Lukaku and Eden Hazard where pulled wide.

Kylian Mbappe:

The 19-year-old forward almost single-handedly fired his team to victory over Argentina in the round of 16 by scoring twice and earning a penalty. In doing so, he became the first teenager since Pele in 1958 to net a brace in a single World Cup match. His explosive speed and lethal finishing has drawn comparisons with Brazil great Ronaldo.



Four future stars shining among young players in World Cup

KAZAN Russia (Xinhua) -- While many people feel sorry to see Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar leaving the World Cup pitches earlier than expected, some young players stood out to show that they deserve equal, if not more, attention from the media and fans.

They have impressed audiences with their great skills, superb goals and have shown the world that they are the future stars.

Kylian Mbappe (France)

There should be no doubt that Mbappe, the Golden Boy of 2017, is the most talented player of his generation. Born in 1999, the PSG striker will become the world’s second-most expensive player if his loan from Monaco to PSG turns permanent this summer.

In the 4-3 thriller against Argentina, Mbappe scored twice and set up another for Antoine Griezmann, becoming the first teenager to score a brace in the same World Cup match after Pele. Had it not been for Mbappe, Didier Deschamps’s side might have already been eliminated in the first match of the knock-out stage in the World Cup.

After the match, Mbappe finally cemented his place in the starting line-up. With France taking on another talent-studded team Belgium in the semifinals, Mbappe could be the devastating weapon for Les Bleus.

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)

Although the hosts were eliminated by Croatia on penalties in the quarterfinal clash, this can’t shadow the highlight performance of Golovin.

Golovin is considered by many as the most talented Russian player in the last decade after Andrey Arshavin. It’s not easy to define his role, but it’s not hard to conclude that he usually does a good job.

In the emotional opening match in which Russia crushed Saudi Arabia 5-0, Golovin dominated the front pages although Denis Cheryshev, who replaced injured Alan Dzagoev, was rated the man of the match.

The playmaker now is closely linked with a summer move to Serie A giant Juventus. The Bianconeri have offered 20m to CSKA Moscow for Golovin, but after his wonderful performance in this World Cup, higher price is expected.

Hirving Lozano (Mexico)

Mexico stunned defending champion Germany 1-0 in their opening match of  Group F, and it was Lozano who scored the sole goal through the counter.

Just like another legendary soccer star Luis Hernandez, Lozano is small, quick and has a seemingly endless bag of tricks.

As a winger, his footwork, agility and desire to drive forward with the ball surged Mexico to the last 16 clash.

It is reported that Manchester United and Arsenal have joined the battle to sign Lozano.

Harry Kane (England)

Strictly speaking, 24-year-old Kane can’t be tipped as a future star, but there is no denying that the captain of the young “lions” still has potential to feature.

Kane scored 41 goals in 48 matches across all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur in the 2017-18 season. Now he has brought that form to the England national team and made his way to become the current top scorer in the World Cup with six goals from just four games.

His leadership, composure and finishing ability have helped England move on to the semifinals, the best record since 1990. In the upcoming match against Croatia, Kane remains absolutely essential to England’s play.



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