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Stories of the World Cup: Why did the bigger teams struggle?

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Germany, Spain, Argentina. Why did so many of the world's supposedly top sides struggle to make an impact at one of the most open World Cups in years?

Who has struggled?

Many sides have struggled against lesser opponents but the main stands out are the two finalists from 2014, Germany and Argentina. The Germans were beaten 1-0 by Mexico on matchday 1 before reviving chances with a late victory over Sweden. Argentina on the other hand only had a point to there name and faced a real possibility of not reaching the knockout stages, following an opening game draw to Iceland and then a 3-0 hammering from the very impressive Croatia.

Other teams that were far from impressive included Brazil, who were held by Switzerland before leaving it late to beat Costa Rica and France, who despite having 6 points seemingly struggled against lesser opposition in Australia and Peru.

Why did the big teams struggle?

Pressure and expectation? Failure to break down defensively minded sides? Not as good as everyone thinks? Perhaps a bit of everything.

Sides such as Argentina and Germany have such a depth to there respective squads that many other counties would take in a heartbeat however they haven't shown it so far.

Argentina carries huge amounts of pressure and the expectation is that they should challenge for World Cup glory and who can blame them when they have arguably two of the hottest forwards in world football at their disposal in the shape of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero?

However, they looked lacklustre and lethargic during the opening game against Iceland and despite having over 70% of possession, struggled to find the key winner. Much has also been made about the cautious approach from manager Jorge Sampaoli, who has insisted on using two holding midfielders, both over the age of 30 in Mascherano and Bigila and his persistence with a rigid 4-2-3-1 that perhaps is cramming all his best players into the team but sacrificing a tactical balance at the same time.

Germany also carries heavy expectations but the tournament hasn't been kind to previous winners in most recent times, with Spain having been knocked out in the group stages in 2014 and Italy suffering a similar fate in 2010.

However, maybe it is the case that the current holders aren't actually as good as what they've been hyped up to be.

Let's take for example the starting 11 of the side that beat Argentina 1-0 in the final four years ago, only 4 started against Sweden whilst the likes of Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Klose have all retired from the international stage.

The replacements are young and maybe this tournament has been a little too early for the heavily rated Timo Werner to carry the responsibility of leading the line, with older replacements such as Rudy and Hector just not as good as there previous counterparts.

Replacing such a prolific striker such as Klose and the influence of players such as Lahm and Schweinsteiger isn't easy and perhaps this Germany side isn't as good as what was first thought. 

Different cases, however, could be made for the likes of France. 

The new World Cup champions mainly dominated the opening game against Australia but left it very late to actually win the game and didn't look amazing when beating Peru 1-0.

However, it must be said that their opponents have decided to make it very difficult for them, the same being said for Brazil, who did everything but score against Costa Rica for a large part of the game before eventually finding a way through.

The smaller sides have made it more difficult when playing the bigger sides rather than just rolling over. This was similar in Spain's 1-0 with over Iran, who defended well for 45 minutes and continued to do so in the second half, however, their resistance was finally broken. 

The lesser sides came to the tournament with plans and whilst not all have got anything, some have made it extremely difficult for top sides or achieved some notable success. Iceland, who got a point against Argentina, showed that things can be achieved. 

Is there a changing of the Guard?

There could be something to suggest that actually there is a change at the top and new sides are ready to emerge. The force of Germany is clearly not as strong anymore and Argentina has struggled badly. However, there have been some impressive displays.

Belgium's side is finally beginning to tick and this golden generation that has been so heavily hyped up for the last 5 years is finally starting to get there act together and it wasn't surprising to see them go far. The critics will say they've only beaten mostly smaller sides in Tunisia, Panama and Japan, however, they've looked comfortable, have scored goals and looked together as a team. You can only beat what is put in front of you and the same can't be said for some other teams.

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