Good news stories and tough home truths

There are some occasions in sport – and other facets of life – when the form book can go out the window. Or at least that’s the way it used to be. With Irish sport anyway.

Tonight at the World Cup though, the form book didn’t so much go out the window as into a barbecue having already been glazed. Actually, it began early in the day with Morocco making their way into the knockout stages via their victory over the already eliminated Canadians.

Tonight, mind you, the upskuttling of the perceived order went onto another level with the progression of the Japanese side and the expulsion of the Germans. Though even their demise is probably not as big a talking point as that of Belgium.

Mind you, on that, was it as much of a turn up as some would make it out to be. Yes, they have tremendous individual players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard and Yuiri Tielemenns and Romelu Lukaku but have they ever really fused properly as a team?

Kevin De Bruyne: Far more effective for Man City than Belgium

Granted, they were, for a while, the top ranked team in the world, but whether they were ever worthy of their vaunted billing is debatable, given that they finished third and fourth in the last two major championships but had obviously regressed in the interim.

Thus, with manager Roberto Martinez having called time on his tenure with the curiously titled Red Devils, it is all but impossible not to think their time to make a breakthrough to the highest level of all may have passed. On the other hand, that has probably been thought about Germany on numerous occasions but they keep bouncing back.

This time though, one can’t help feeling that even the superpowers of old within European football might be set for a spell in the doldrums. Failing to get out of the group stages of the last two major tournaments they contested is surely unprecedented for them. And, regardless of the manager’s re-assurances regarding his job security, such a reality is surely not sitting well in Bavaria.

However, to that end, the paucity of competition in their own Bundesliga is hardly doing the national team’s cause any good. Even before the departures of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, Dortmund could only just provide meaningful opposition to Bayern Munich. If, or more than likely when, Jude Bellingham gets snapped up by a better team in a better league, where does that imply for the competitiveness of domestic German football?

For now though, far better be it to focus on some of the good news stories to emerge, so far, from this most maligned of tournaments. That is not, for a moment, to sidestep the heinous criminality associated with the awarding of the event to Qatar, but it is, after all, a football competition.

Such as the progress of nations such as Japan, Senegal, the United States and South Korea progressing to the knockout stages of the competition. Or, just as this piece was nearing completion, Cameroon’s historic victory over Brazil.

Cameroon Coach and former Premier League player Rigobert Song

On the latter point, prior to tonight’s result, this corner was leaning towards the aristocrats of the game as the most likely outright winners. They may well still be as such, but one of their South American neighbours and at least one of the European sides left in the running might have something to say about that.

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