Tuesday 24 April 2018

Another German triumph the only conclusion to draw

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Independent.ie newsdesk

Irish supporters will have eyed events in Moscow with a wistful eye, wondering if they could have done enough against Australia and Peru to perhaps wreak some measure of revenge for that Thierry Henry handball.

Or, perhaps, if they had maintained their position as leaders of the qualification group whether they, instead of Serbia, could have been contemplating the special World Cup experience that is taking on Brazil.

Instead, many of those fans will resort to the familiar pastime of sniggering as England manage to negotiate a novel means of exiting a major tournament; already, it seems, they are plotting a course that will see them evicted by Germany at the quarter-final stage.

On penalties, of course.

There is much to savour elsewhere and, even though there may be an obvious element of predictability to the groups, the experiences of South Korea in 2002 and Iceland at Euro 2016 remind us that there is always the prospect of a fairytale.

While an opening fixture against Saudi Arabia may be so appealing for the hosts, it is certainly not one to savour for the neutrals, who will instead hotly anticipate the second day of action, when Spain and Portugal clash in a heavyweight derby clash.

Both recent tournament winners, Portugal will thrive after being released from the pressure of being one of the best teams never to win a major tournament and, even though Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) remains vital to their cause, they did manage to win the Euro 2016 final without him.

Argentina's group is fascinating, even aside from a fifth World Cup meeting with unbeaten African qualifiers Nigeria.

There may be no group of death this time around but this is a collection of real depth.

Iceland, and their 334,000 fanatical supporters, will be seeking to extend their remarkable success story when they take on Lionel Messi and co.

Argentina's problem is a familiar one of how to ensure the Barcelona maestro receives encouragement from his supporting cast. Croatia have a hardened, experienced squad and deserve respect.

Brazil appear to have married discipline to their naturally gifted collection of players and, even if Costa Rica will be attempting to repeat their heroics of 2014, lightning may not strike twice for them.

Switzerland only lost to Portugal in qualifying but as we saw in the play-offs against Northern Ireland, they are not a formidable outfit by any means.

Germany, for all the traditional reasons, are justifiably favourites; their second string won the Confederations Cup last summer and they even picked up an U-21 title on the way.

The usual suspects should gather in their slipstream; many will wonder if Belgium can finally justify the hype that was punctured at the last tournament or, indeed, if England can live up to the hype that seems to follow them all the time.

Irish Independent

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