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The nature and set up of the World Cup means there are no free rides, and no losable games; you have to hit the ground running and find a way to get a result in seven matches over one month in order to have a shot at glory.
Some teams manage this effectively, producing a style of football that allows them to function as something greater than the sum of their parts.
Others are not so fortunate, and end up looking like little more than a bloated, expensive mistake.
On that note, let’s take a look at some of the most disappointing teams from this year’s World Cup.
Okay, so they were the lowest-ranked host nation in World Cup history. But we still expected a little bit more from Qatar.
In the 12 years since they were awarded the competition by FIFA, Qatari officials have waxed lyrical about the money that has gone into improving their national setup. From developing the domestic league to nationalising foreign players in order to make them eligible to represent Qatar, a great deal of time and money went into creating a side that could be somewhat competitive on the global stage.
Zero points and one goal scored later, it feels as though Qatar could have used another decade to prepare a functional team for this competition. Maybe next time, lads.
If you thought including Qatar on this list was harsh, we’re only just getting started.
Wales were taking part in their first World Cup since 1958, and many will tell you that even qualifying this time around was such an achievement that the results don’t even matter. Still, is it wrong to have expected more from a side containing Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey?
Robert Page had plenty of talent to call upon in his squad, with a good number of his players being Premier League regulars. In the end, though, Wales were outplayed by each of the other three sides in their group, scraping a draw with the USA and being soundly beaten by Iran and England.
Remember when Denmark reached the semi-finals of the Euros last year? It feels like a lifetime ago now.
Kasper Hjulmand’s side were expected to be dark horses in Qatar, but ultimately managed to win just one measly point against Tunisia and suffered a surprise defeat to Australia to crash out of the competition at the group stage.
It would be easy to argue that Belgium were never likely to win this World Cup. After all, half their players came out and said it before the tournament even kicked off.
Yes, their team was old, but Croatia showed that a bunch of canny, experienced players can still control games despite their athleticism being in decline. Why couldn’t Belgium do the same with a squad containing De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku and so many others?
Next, let’s look at a side that could have gone all the way, but fell pitifully short.
Spain’s squad had so much potential, featuring World Cup veterans such as Sergio Busquets alongside the new generation of Spanish talents such as Barcelona maestros Pedri and Gavi. Throw in a manager with the pedigree of Luis Enrique, and what could do wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Spain’s possession-heavy, short-passing style was easy on the eye but did not provide the right balance for international football. Spain had no cutting edge, no way of turning that intense possession into incisive attacks, leaving the likes of Alvaro Morata and Ferran Torres stranded up front.
After scraping through the group stage following a defeat against Japan, Spain crashed out in the last 16 at the hands of eventual semi-finalists Morocco. Enrique has since resigned, and the nature of Spain’s exit has led to some soul-searching over how future Spain sides should play.
Ultimately, if we’re ranking the most disappointing sides at this World Cup, there can only be one winner.
Having disappointed at the last World Cup and at Euro 2020, Germany were determined to show signs of improvement in Qatar. With younger talent such as Kai Havertz and Jamal Musiala ready to take over from the old guard that won the World Cup in 2014, they looked strong enough on paper to at least reach the knockout phase.
Then Japan happened.
A shock defeat at the hands of the Blue Samurai left Germany reeling, and while they were able to draw with Spain, failure to win either of their first two games meant the win over Costa Rica came too little, too late.
This article was updated 12 months ago