There’s an interesting paradox that comes with watching the World Cup. On the one hand, we tune in specifically to see how the action unfolds, and to be thrilled and surprised. On the other, we tend to spend months leading up to the tournament trying to analyze each group and predict the outcomes anyway. Often, this is a worthwhile cause. Writers, fans, former players, and other analysts all over the world tend to be able to work out which are the best teams and players, who the likely group winners are, and who the tournament favorites ought to be. The early returns from Russia, however, suggest that this is shaping up to be a particularly surprising and unpredictable World Cup.
To recap, these are some of the particularly shocking results we’ve seen in just the first few days of the tournament.
Iceland 1-1 Argentina
One of the most talked about matches of the early days of this World Cup saw the lovable underdog of Iceland hold mighty Argentina to a 1-1 draw (courtesy of a missed penalty kick by Leo Messi). One article looking at some early results suggested that Argentina had wrongfully been labeled a favorite to win the World Cup, and yet it still referred to them as a “giant” that had struggled early. In a sense, this result isn’t completely shocking. Iceland is a small nation but a very strong team, and Argentina was a PK away from winning anyway. but the bottom line is that a proud football nation with possibly the best player in history fell to a draw against a nation of under 400,000 people.
Mexico 1-0 Germany
This was the biggest upset of the opening few days, and it’s hard to imagine we’ll see a much bigger one before the tournament is over. This site has been generating previews for each group as well as some of the marquee matches, and in its preview for this particular match it suggested Germany was too strong to lose. Pointing out that the Germans were undefeated against Mexico historically, it painted the picture of a decent Mexican squad that was about to come up against an unstoppable force. And that’s about what everyone seemed to think, right up until the final whistle and Mexico’s stunning 1-0 triumph.
Portugal 3-3 Spain
This is perhaps the least surprising result on this list, but the way it happened was remarkable. Portugal is a strong team, not quite on the level of Spain as a contender, but one many believed could hang with the Spaniards. However, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat trick and securing the draw with a miraculous free kick finish late in the game was something else altogether. It was an incredible thrilling and surprising result to witness.
Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia
This opening match of the World Cup was surprising in a few different ways. For one thing, Russia went into the tournament as one of the worst hosts ever, at least in terms of statistics and expectations. For another, however, because Saudi Arabia is also one of the field’s weakest teams, many expected this to be a one- or two-goal game, if that. For Russia to come out and blitz the Saudis with a 5-0 effort was a surprise to most everybody watching.
Switzerland 1-1 Brazil
Last but not least, you never really expect to see Brazil draw against inferior competition, even if it’s something that’s happened fairly frequently in recent international tournaments. Brazil looked masterful for parts of this match, and always seems threatening. But it just couldn’t get the opportunities it seemed on the cusp of for much of the game, and ultimately surrendered a 1-0 lead to fall into a draw with a Switzerland team that was a little more impressive than we’d been led to expect. These two look like clear favorites to advance from their group at this point.