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Five things we learned from World Cup pre-quarters

Moscow, July 4: The Round-of -16 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup finished on Tuesday night and with two days without football before the first of the quarterfinals, here are a few things the past four frantic and entertaining days have taught us, says Xinhua news agency.

1.Passing isn’t everything

Spain went out after losing a penalty shootout to hosts Russia after 120 minutes in which they completed over 1,000 passes — a new World Cup record. Yet the only goal the Spanish scored was an own goal following a set piece. Possession at times seemed to be an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Way too often a Spanish player would check and move horizontally rather than look to move into space, making it easy for a brave but limited Russia side to pack their defence and hang on for a penalty shootout which had a feeling of inevitability about it.

2.Belgium: It pays to be positive

There were 30 seconds left on the clock when Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois caught the ball in his area. Most keepers would have been happy to clutch it to their chest to let a few seconds pass to ensure extra time. Courtois had other thoughts, however, rolling the ball out to Kevin de Bruyne who ran almost the full length of the pitch to start the move which led to Nacer Chadli scoring the goal that beat Japan 3-2. Maybe the Spanish should take note; sometimes speed and speed of thought are important, and it pays to be positive.

3.Mbappe: New world number one?

This World Cup is now without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; the two players who have dominated world football for over a decade now. With Messi now 31 and Ronaldo 33, this World Cup could show us who will pick up the torch. Harry Kane’s goals and leadership make him a candidate, but for sheer footballing thrills the torch may be headed for France’s 19-year-old Kylian M’bappe, who won a penalty in France’s 4-3 victory against Argentina and became the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup finals game. It was a breathtaking display of pace and skill that implies he could just be the next great superstar.

4.Messi: No man can be an island at the World Cup

Argentina flirted with disaster in the group stage and although hopes were high that they could improve after beating Nigeria in the group stage, it was not to be. An impressive France side made Argentina’s weaknesses all too clear and with Messi out of form and surrounded by players who are simply not good enough to win a World Cup, defeat seemed inevitable. A great player can carry a team some of the time, but against the best in the world, reality is going to hit you sooner rather than later.

5.The world may end; England won a penalty shootout.

England do not win penalty shootouts. It’s clear that something important has happened and that the natural order of the world has changed, maybe we should start preparing for the end of the world… or maybe Gareth Southgate has been able to change the mindset of this young England side. Southgate’s men have approached this World Cup with hope rather than the fear that has dogged other campaigns. (IANS)

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