The World Cup is over. We should be looking ahead to a new Premier League season but, instead, we find ourselves casting our minds back to the month-long footballing feast that gripped the world.
France won the tournament, Croatia won the hearts and minds of the public and England won over some doubters.
There were shocks, too. Germany fell at the first hurdle while Spain fell to Russia.
Overall, it was a remarkable tournament and Football Whispers have looked back on how every country fared.
The five-time winners looked as strong as anyone on paper heading into the tournament and mostly justified their status as frontrunners by taking seven points from three games.
Although the Seleção were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland, they took immense satisfaction in breaking down Costa Rica’s resistance with two stoppage-time goals in their second outing. A comfortable win over Serbia confirmed their place atop the group.
Again, Tite’s side had too much for Mexico but Brazil were blown away by Belgium’s stunning first-half performance in the quarter-final and the 2-0 deficit heading into half-time ultimately proved too much to overcome.
Brazil’s campaign started brightly and, with Philippe Coutinho in excellent form, it promised much but they weren’t able to fully redeem themselves after the disastrous end to their 2014 tournament. Grade: B-
Manager: Tite is certainly a more popular figure than his two predecessors, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga, but the 57-year-old will be expected to rejuvenate the squad ahead of hosting next year’s Copa América tournament.
Star player: Coutinho was brilliant in the group stage, scoring a fantastic goal against Switzerland before opening the scoring against Costa Rica. The Barcelona playmaker had the most accurate passes with 293 and notched two assists to go with his two goals. Neymar’s playacting ruled him out of the running for Brazil’s star player.
Standout stat: Brazil had 20.8 shots per 90 in Russia and created 2.2 big chances per 90 too, the second-highest in both categories, while no team could rival their xG of 12.57.
For the third time in four tournaments, Switzerland’s World Cup campaign ended at the round of 16 stage. Having nicked a point off Brazil in their opener, the highlight was unquestionably the comeback victory over Serbia, with Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri cancelling out Aleksandar Mitrović’s early opener.
A 2-2 draw with Costa Rica proved enough to clinch second spot but the Swiss ran out of steam when it mattered, going down 1-0 to an average Sweden team and blowing a reasonable shot at reaching the last eight. Grade: B
Manager: Vladimir Petković, the former Lazio coach, has done well since succeeding Ottmar Hitzfeld following the 2014 World Cup. His Switzerland proved a tough nut to crack and if he can develop some of the younger players they should be formidable opponents at Euro 2020.
Star player: Xhaka enjoyed a fine tournament, winning possession 30 times and scoring a wonderful goal against Serbia.
Standout stat: Switzerland averaged 21.5 crosses per 90, with only two countries managing more.
However, having seen off Costa Rica in their opening game, they squandered a lead against Switzerland before losing 2-0 to Brazil, spelling disappointment and an early exit. Grade C
Manager: Mladen Krstajić replaced Slavoljub Muslin after the latter was blamed for Serbia’s whimpering end to qualifying. Given the circumstances and the integration of Milinković-Savić into the starting line-up, expectations were reasonably high for Krstajić but his tactical naivety was exposed by the Swiss.
Star player: Mitrović worked tirelessly up front and left with a goal to his name.
Standout stat: The Serbs tied with Morocco in possession won in the middle third (27).
Costa Rica promised little and ended up offering about the same. Yann Sommer’s last-minute own-goal equaliser against Serbia stopped the Central American side going home without a point but, in truth, they never stood much chance of advancing past the group stage.
The surprise package in 2014, reaching the quarter-finals, they were unable to repeat those heroics as they bowed out without much noise in Russia. Grade: D
Manager: Óscar Ramirez was sacked following his side’s disappointing showing in Russia.
Star player: It’s difficult to pick one but Celso Borges looked decent in midfield throughout.
Standout stat: Costa Rica weren’t expansive or imaginative on the ball. They were the lowest-ranked nation when it came to average verticality and width of possession, scoring 43.65 and 34.15 respectively.
Nobody predicted Sweden to top Group F. Then again, nobody predicted much of what went down in Group F.
Sweden proved to be one of the most organised teams at the tournament. They edged past South Korea in the opener and almost held out for a famous win over Germany, but secured their passage as group winners with a thumping 3-0 win over Mexico.
Watching Sweden play wasn’t the most invigorating experience but their commitment was something to marvel at. Having seen off Switzerland in the last-16 a quarter-final clash with England proved a game too far.
However, the last eight is the country’s best finish at a World Cup since finishing third in 1994. Set against reasonably low expectations, this summer has to be interpreted as a step forward for the Scandinavians. Grade: B+
Manager: Janne Andersson had an eventful World Cup. The coach was forced to apologise after a Swedish ‘spy’ infiltrated South Korea’s training camp before accusing Germany manager Joachim Löw and his backroom staff of over-celebrating following Toni Kroos‘ last-minute winner.
Overall, it was a positive coaching experience for the 55-year-old, whose managerial experienced amounted to Swedish club football before taking charge of the national team in 2016.
Star player: Andreas Granqvist, without question. The captain led by example from the back, keeping his nerve to score two penalties while also managing more touches and accurate passes than any of his teammates. The 33-year-old won a lot of admirers in Russia, where he spent five years with Krasnodar before joining Helsingborgs this summer.
Standout stat: Sweden created 1.8 big chances per 90 minutes, enough to rank them third in that category. Surprising for a side not renowned for their invention from open play.
It was the same old story for Mexico, who exited at the round of 16 for the seventh World Cup in a row.
It’s a remarkable statistic. Their fate was all but sealed when they lost heavily to Sweden in the final group game, leaving them with a last-16 meeting with Brazil.
Second place in the group was particularly disappointing given how they stunned Germany to win 1-0 in the opening match. A knockout game against Switzerland would have been much more appealing but El Tri are once again left with that familiar and inescapable feeling of what might have been. Grade: B-
Manager: At the time of writing, Juan Carlos Osorio is officially still with Mexico. However, the highly-regarded tactician is widely expected to move on. He’s been linked with the Colombia and United States jobs but wherever he ends up, it will be worth following his progress.
Star player: Hirving Lozano announced his arrival with the winning strike against Germany but the hard-working midfield trio of Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera and Miguel Layún deserve plenty of plaudits too.
Standout stat: Mexico were shot-happy at the World Cup, averaging 15 per game.
Expectations were low for South Korea ahead of Russia, with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min expected to provide most of the attacking inspiration. Unfortunately, it largely played out as planned in the first two games with Son’s lovely consolation strike against Mexico the only positive.
It ended on a high, though, as the 2002 semi-finalists sent Germany packing with a shock 2-0 win in Kazan. The South Korean fans celebrated that win like they had won the World Cup. But so they should have – that’s what the World Cup is all about. Grade: C
Manager: Shin Tae-yong spent time with the under-23 and under-20 sides before stepping up to manage South Korea. But the coach struggled to get the best out of his team, with their attack-shy displays costing them in the end.
Star player: Son looked the brightest spark throughout their three games and mostly delivered with two goals.
Standout stat: Korea were the least effective team at winning possession in midfield, managing just 13.33 per 90.
In the end, even the mighty Germany could not escape the dreaded champions’ curse, joining France, Italy and Spain as holders to be dumped out at the group stage.
And it was certainly one of Die Mannschaft’s darkest chapters, losing to Mexico and South Korea while needing a late, late Kroos strike to edge out Sweden.
It was a disaster for Löw’s men, many of whom underperformed amid accusations of a schism in the squad.
A first group stage elimination since 1938 leaves Löw facing easily the biggest challenge of his 12 years in charge of the national team. Grade: D
Manager: Löw got it wrong. Leaving Leroy Sané at home seems a foolish decision in hindsight while the coach’s faith in the spine of the 2014 team was unwavering to a fault. The humiliation of their exit will lead the 58-year-old down a difficult path of intense soul-searching. What comes out the other side is anyone’s guess.
Star player: He didn’t have an overly impressive tournament but, given he provided Germany’s only memorable moment in Russia, we’re giving it to Kroos.
Standout stat: Germany relied heavily on crossing, with 32 per 90 minutes putting them top of that category. The 2014 winners were also wasteful, having hit a total of 72 shots but scoring just twice.
Undoubtedly Belgium’s finest World Cup, Roberto Martínez successfully silenced his doubters as he extinguished the misery of the Marc Wilmots era en route to a third-place finish.
Having seen off Brazil impressively in the quarter-final, Belgium would have been dreaming of going all the way but came up just shy against France in the last four.
The Red Devils played some of the most thrilling football at times and they showed unrivalled ruthlessness on the break, notably when they constructed a beautiful move to knock Japan out in the last minute of their last-16 clash.
Russia constituted a significant leap forward for Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation.’ They will have to be considered a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the European Championships in 2020. Grade: A-
Manager: Martínez has had his critics but showed real nous with his game-changing double substitution against Japan and switching it up to play De Bruyne as a false nine against Brazil, a system which saw the Manchester City playmaker strike such sweet harmony with Hazard and Lukaku. Given their finish in Russia, expectations for Euro 2020 will be high and Martínez must deliver.
Star player: De Bruyne was excellent but Hazard was hypnotic at times, terrorising Brazil in the quarter-final before being Belgium’s standout performer in the semi-final defeat to France. Hazard was the most effective dribbler at the tournament, averaging 6.94 successful take-ons per 90.
England’s finest World Cup campaign for 28 years, Gareth Southgate deserves immense credit for getting a nation dreaming once more.
This is not the time for a rose-tinted review of England’s summer of love. Tunisia and Panama were weak group opponents and Colombia and Sweden were far from the most formidable knockout foes.
The Three Lions lost twice to Belgium and were outclassed by Croatia, three games which show the work that still has to be done if England are to re-establish themselves as a genuine force.
Southgate must operate on the assumption that Germany, Spain, Italy et al will return stronger and hungrier for the European Championships in two years’ time.
He has enough talent at his disposal to suggest that the future is bright but two games each against Croatia and Spain in the UEFA Nations League (starting in September), will offer further accurate reflections of this side’s progress. Grade: A-
Manager: Southgate impressed throughout England’s campaign. A likeable, intelligent man, Southgate spoke honestly about the performances and radiated a sense of control. Admittedly, his tactical limitations were exposed as Croatia turned the semi-final on its head but there is more than enough time for the 47-year-old to learn.
Our pick, however, must go to Jordan Pickford whose flying saves were critical in England reaching the last four. Pickford is only 24 – he has the potential to become one of the world’s very best goalkeepers.
Standout stat: England were the third-most effective side at winning possession in the final third (5.14 per 90), while their post-shot xG of 7.37 was bettered by only four teams.
Tunisia almost stole two points off England in their first game, only for Kane to crush the Eagles of Carthage’s hopes with a stoppage-time header.
There was nothing close about their defensive capitulation at the hands of Belgium next time out, however. Although they ended on a high in beating Panama 2-1, there wasn’t much to shout about for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations winners. Grade: C-
Manager: Nabil Maâloul’s tactical naïvety was ruthlessly exposed by Belgium. Having only taken charge in April 2017, he resigned following his side’s exit and is now coaching Qatari club Al-Duhail.
Star player: Sunderland outcast Wahbi Khazri did well to score twice.
Standout stat: Tunisia’s defensive fragilities are reflected in their stats, with 6.55 post-shot xG conceded and 5.31 xG conceded.
It was Panama’s first taste of World Cup football – and it showed. A limited, aging squad offered precious little going forward and couldn’t keep things together at the back, shipping six against England, five of which came in the first-half.
Given they barely laid a glove on their three opponents, it is difficult to accept that Panama qualified over the United States. Of course, that is as much an indictment of the USMNT’s failure as it is a discredit to Panama. Grade: D
Manager: Hernán Darío Gómez got Panama to the World Cup and that’s all that really mattered to the nation. The 62-year-old Colombian remains a hero in Panama, regardless of results in Russia.
Star player: Felipe Baloy – he became the first Panama player to score at the World Cup when he found the net against England.
Standout stat: Panama made only managed 142 ball recoveries during their three games – the lowest managed by any team.
Quarter-finalists in 2014, Colombia’s campaign in Russia got off to a catastrophic start when Carlos Sánchez’s third-minute red card led to a 2-1 defeat to Japan.
Fortunately for the former Aston Villa midfielder, Los Cafeteros responded gloriously with a 3-0 spanking of Poland. A 1-0 win over Senegal clinched top spot for José Pékerman’s men.
Of course, Colombia’s progress was hindered by James Rodríguez’s fitness woes. The Golden Boot winner from Brazil in 2014 only played 31 minutes of the defeat to Japan but his tournament ended when injury forced him off after half an hour against Senegal, meaning he had to sit out the last-16 defeat to England. Grade: B-
Manager: Pékerman has enjoyed a hugely successful six-year stint with Colombia but there were suggestions that it may be time for a change. His defensive tactics seemed to negate the attacking quality at his disposal, so it will be interesting to see if the Colombian Football Federation decide to go in a different direction.
Star player: Yerry Mina, a central defender, scored three times while Wilmar Barrios’ industry in midfield caught the eye, leading to reports he is a Tottenham transfer target. Radamel Falcao finally scored his first World Cup goal but Juan Quintero was mesmeric in the win over Poland. He left the strongest impression.
Standout stat: Colombia won the ball more times in the defensive third than any other team with an average of 32.75 per 90 minutes.
Had it not been for a stunning Belgium fightback, Japan would have been World Cup quarter-finalists for the first time. The manner of their elimination was particularly heartbreaking but Japan’s experience in Russia was a positive one, having beaten Colombia and fought back twice to earn a 2-2 draw with Senegal.
The Samurai Blue played nice, passing football, too, particularly at times against Belgium – it was difficult not to feel for them as Belgium progressed to the last eight. Grade: B-
Manager: Akira Nishino admitted regret over his negative tactics against Senegal but Japan certainly showed more enterprise against Belgium. Having only taken over from Vahid Halilhodžić in April, Nishino left his post following Japan’s elimination.
Standout stat: Japan were impressive when it came to shooting – their shot placement ratio (post-shot xG/xG) of 1.2 was the second-highest of the tournament.
There was to be no repeat of the famous 2002 side who reached the quarter-finals. This time, Senegal again took three points in their opening game but failed to build on that success, throwing away a lead twice against Japan before losing the decisive group game against Colombia.
Their attacking unit of Ismaila Sarr, Sadio Mané and Mbaye Niang is one of the quickest in the business but their pace alone couldn’t see them through to the round of 16. Grade: B-
Manager: Aliou Cissé became one of the most popular coaches at the World Cup and it will be intriguing to see how far the former Senegalese captain can take this current group of players. They will surely be among the favourites for next year’s African Cup of Nations.
Star player: Moussa Wague, the 19-year-old full-back, certainly caught the eye, becoming the youngest African to score at the World Cup when he found the net against Japan.
Standout stat: Senegal won possession in the defensive third an average of 28.7 times per 90.
Having gone into the World Cup as Group H favourites, Poland’s campaign quickly descended into a nightmare. They lost 2-1 to Senegal in their opener before being played off the pitch by Colombia, which was enough to dump them out after just two games.
Jan Bednarek’s goal may have given Poland three points in their final group game but finishing bottom of the group after having sailed through qualifying was difficult to fathom for many of their fans. Grade: D
Manager: As expected, Adam Nawalka’s contract was not renewed and he has been replaced by former national team captain Jerzy Brzeczek.
Star player: Grzegorz Krychowiak scored in the opening game and was solid in the win over Japan. The best of a bad bunch.