It is no mean feat for a team to reach the last four of any World Cup. This means that you have at least faced five opponents and played a part in eliminating four of them. Being part of the semi-final teams means being regarded as elite in terms of pedigree in the competition.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has offered many surprises beyond our wildest imagination. Who knew that a team like South Korea could humble defending champions Germany 2-0? More so, who could bet in favour of Germany finishing last in a group that had Sweden, Mexico and minnows South Korea?
People have argued that England has cruised into the last four after tactfully finishing second in the group behind Belgium. They ultimately avoided the route that had teams such as France, Brazil and Argentina in the subsequent rounds.
Belgium, as expected topped the pool that featured the Three Lions as their closest challengers, Tunisia and debutants Panama. After surviving a scare against Japan in the last 16, Belgium showed their class in upsetting Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-final.
The prospect of Belgium and England facing each other in the final fell by the wayside on Monday when France emerged as 1-0 winners. In their first encounter, Belgium and England fielded second-string sides as they had already qualified to the knockout round.
There are players in these two teams who quite simply basked in the glory of their team’s success and did not put a good shift. Some of these three players were guilty of not performing even when presented with sumptuous opportunities.
#3 Yannick Carrasco (Belgium)
The Belgium winger had been given many opportunities to impress by manager Roberto Martinez. This was a show of faith by the manager who had a star-studded squad to choose from.
Carrasco took part in Belgium’s four out of six matches at the World Cup. His numbers at the tournament were not impressive at all.
He scored zero goals, provided zero assists and as a winger, completed zero crosses into the box from five attempts. All in all, he lost 24 balls in what was a string of below-par performances by the winger.
His poor performance did little to deter Belgium’s resolve to win matches. Luckily for him, there were quality players around who shipped in the goals. They scored a whopping 13 goals to become the tournament’s top scorers.
The Barcelona wonder kid was touted to perform in this year’s tournament. He is part of France’s relatively young squad that stormed the final. Manager Didier Deschamps was also bound to have a selection headache given the pool of talent at his disposal.
Dembele ultimately lost his place to Olivier Giroud after Deschamps opted to change his system and use Kylian Mbappe on the wings. Dembele was poor in France’s fortunate 2-1 win over Australia in their opening Group C match.
In the tournament so far, Dembele has featured in four of France’s six matches at the competition. He has no goals or assists to his name. Also, Dembele has made three attempts on goal with none being on target.
He has attempted six crosses into the box with none being completed. It will, therefore, not be a surprise if Dembele is not included by Deschamps in the starting line up for Sunday’s final.
#1 Raheem Sterling
The Sterling that has donned the England jersey is the one who has in the past been guilty of missing clear-cut chances. England boss Gareth Southgate has surprisingly stuck by Sterling in his starting line up despite his failure to impress on several occasions.
Sterling is a player with two sides and a manager is never sure which side will turn up on matchday. On one side, he is a devastating forward who torments defenders with his movement and scores goals.
On the other, he can become the type of unreliable forward who you do not fancy to score even in one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper. For Manchester City last season, he pumped in over 20 goals to earn his place in Russia.
In his 3-5-2 formation, Southgate has preferred to play Sterling as a number 10 behind Harry Kane in England’s front line up. He has started all but one of England’s five matches in the competition. Only one of his seven attempts at goal has been on target and he has lost the ball 21 times.
England’s fairytale run to the semi-final cannot cloud the fact that one of their front men has been a weak link. This was clearly seen in England’s comfortable quarter-final win over Sweden on July 7, 2018.
In the 45th minute of the match, Sterling was through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat. He unsuccessfully tried to go round Robin Olsen. Even with the chance gone, he should have passed to Kane or Delle Alli at the far post who had a clear sight of an open goal.
He opted to force the issue by going on his own which allowed defender Andreas Granqvist to make the block.