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World Cup group-stage review

The knock-out stages of the World Cup start in Russia on Saturday.

World Cup group-stage review

The group stage at the World Cup is over after what is being considered one of the best rounds in the tournament’s history.

Here, we review the hits and misses after the first stage in Russia.

Best goal

Russia v Egypt – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group A – Saint Petersburg Stadium
Russia’s Denis Cheryshev celebrates during their win over Saudi Arabia (Owen Humphreys/PA)

There are plenty to pick from – Ahmed Musa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Luka Modric, Granit Xhaka and Jesse Lingard all scored screamers. But Russia’s Denis Cheryshev gets the nod for the best group-stage goal with his lofted finish with the outside of his foot in Russia’s opening 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia.

Top scorer

Harry Kane File Photo
Harry Kane scored a hat-trick against Panama (Adam Davy/PA)

Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane scored five goals in the group stage, despite being rested for the Three Lions’ 1-0 defeat to Belgium. A match-winning brace against Tunisia helped England to a 2-1 win before he scored a hat-trick in the 6-1 rout of Panama.

Funniest moment

Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi embarrassed himself following Adnan Januzaj’s winning goal against England on Thursday. He picked up the ball after it hit the back of the net and meant to kick it back in as a celebration. But instead the 24-year-old smashed it into the post and it rebounded to smack him in the head.

Saddest moment

Mohamed Salah had such a stellar season with Liverpool, cleaning up the individual awards, but his World Cup with Egypt was a bit of a nightmare. His shoulder injury stopped him from playing in their opening defeat to Uruguay and although he scored a penalty against Russia, his side were convincingly beaten. He also netted the opener in their final game, but a 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia saw Egypt finish bottom of Group A.

Most controversial moment

Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri was in hot water with FIFA
Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri was in hot water with FIFA (Antonio Calanni/AP)

In Switzerland’s 2–1 win over Serbia, scorers Xherdan Shaqiri and Xhaka celebrated goals with the double-headed eagle gesture. Both players, ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, celebrated by imitating the display on Albania’s flag. Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner joined them, and they were fined almost £20,000 by FIFA.

Biggest flop

Germany v Mexico – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group F – Luzhniki Stadium
Defending champions Germany flopped at the World Cup (Adam Davy/Empics)

Germany were dumped out of the group stage, finishing bottom of Group F, to become the third straight reigning champion to fail to make it to the second round. Their 2-0 defeat to South Korea ended their time in Russia having scraped past Sweden and lost to Mexico.

Biggest surprise

Argentina v Croatia – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group D – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Croatia’s Domagoj Vida (left) and Sime Vrsaljko celebrate beating Argentina (Tim Goode/Empics)

Croatia topped a tricky Group D ahead of Argentina and Nigeria with a 100 per cent record. They demolished Argentina 3-0, also beating Nigeria 2-0 and Iceland 2-1 and they will be favourites to make the quarter-finals ahead of their second-round game against Denmark.

VAR – hit or miss?

Tunisia v England – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group G – Volgograd Arena
VAR did not come to Kane’s rescue against Tunisia (Tim Goode/PA)

It helped knock Germany out when South Korea were awarded the first of their two dramatic late goals after it had been incorrectly disallowed for offside. Neymar was caught out for diving to win a penalty, Sweden earned a spot-kick after a foul was missed, while Iran rightly had a goal chalked off for offside and Spain were awarded one. Penalty claims for Kane and Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic were missed but, generally, VAR has worked.

The last 16

There appears to be a stronger side to the knockout stages with Argentina facing France, Brazil playing Mexico and Uruguay against Portugal. England face a tricky tie against Colombia but are recognised to be in the weaker half and could land a quarter-final against either Sweden or Switzerland.

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