Players are often judged on their ability to present their quality when it really matters. Turning up on the big stage is what often differentiates a good player from a great one. And the stage doesn’t get any bigger than a World Cup.
Often players have risen to the top after shocking the world with a confounding tournament; but who are the players that have done quite the opposite and let the occasion get the better of them at the 2018 World Cup?
David de Gea
Tipped by many to catch the Golden Glove, the Manchester United man failed to transfer his admirable domestic record into the World Cup tournament.
De Gea’s quality is unquestionable, but his performances in this year’s World Cup left quite a few questions to say the least. This comes after the Spanish international recorded just one save in the entire competition. Often referred to as the current best goalkeeper in the world, De Gea started the campaign with a crucial mistake. He gifted Cristiano Ronaldo a goal after letting the Portuguese’s relatively tame effort slip through his arms, under his legs and into the net.
His tournament never really picked up after he failed to save any of the four Russian penalties he faced in the Round of 16 despite diving the right way on two occasions. This ultimately spelled the end of a bitterly disappointing World Cup for both Spain and De Gea.
Players who have ‘underperformed’ automatically carry quite a considerable weight of expectation on their shoulders to begin with. None more so than Poland’s Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich forward had been the sole driving force behind Poland’s successes in recent years.
He broke a world record for goals scored in the history of World Cup qualifiers, almost single-handedly booking his nation a flight to Russia after netting an impressive 16 goals. It was, though, to no avail as Poland finished rock bottom of a group they were expected (by some) to win.
Lewandowski failed to score in all three of the Group Stage fixtures. He began to look progressively frustrated with the service he was receiving from his teammates and often took up a very unnatural, deeper role to try and see more of the ball.
Leading the front line for Germany in the World Cup for the first time is a responsibility few would be worthy of. The pressure of following on from the likes of Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller is enough to drive any player insane.
And that responsibility fell to non-other than Timo Werner. The 22-year old earned the right after two very successful goal scoring seasons in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig. He looked to be up to the task too, as he performed well in the qualifiers. In 14 games, Werner had netted a very respectable eight goals for his national side.
Unfortunately, the circumstance of a World Cup took its toll on the young man. He failed to score in all three of Germany’s Group Stage matches as they unbelievably and prematurely ended their World Cup, bottom of Group F. The striker was often forced out wide and drawn in deep to try and get touches on the ball. Positionally, he was poor and failed to put himself in positions to have the best opportunity to score goals for his country.
Messi has and always will be considered as one of the best footballers to ever grace the planet. For Barcelona the little magician does things with a football that would, at first, seem impossible.
In the previous World Cup, Messi proved to the world that he was capable of replicating his form for his country, Argentina. He scored four goals, took his side all the way to the final and won the Golden Ball award. A whole nation was hoping he would go one better in this year’s tournament and win the most prestigious award in all of football.
But it wasn’t to be. Messi scored just once as Argentina crashed out of the Round of 16 knockout stage. Before, he had missed a penalty in Argentina’s Group Stage match against Iceland. After obviously becoming frustrated, Messi perhaps tried to force his talent on the field and he became quite careless and impulsive as opposed to his normal controlled and instinctive self. Messi still showed sparks of brilliance throughout the campaign but ultimately failed to turn his efforts into bundles of goals as he has so often done in the past.
You could include the entirety of the German squad into this list, but Boateng was arguably the most disappointing of them all. Germany failed to keep a single clean sheet in this year’s World Cup which is a true reflection of how their team defended.
Human machines, resilient and cold have been the words used to describe both the German squad and their performances in tournaments gone by. However, this 2018 tournament was vastly different and showed us a side to Germany that we have not yet seen before. It seems as though they had grown too cold to the point of completely freezing. And their ever-reliable electronic parts? Rusted. Boateng was at the heart of it. He looked sluggish and his positioning was staggered in the two matches he endured.
After a desperately disappointing start against Mexico, Boateng’s tournament just got worse; against Sweden, he exited the tournament even quicker than his nation after he received a red card in the 80th minute. Boateng would not play again in the competition and let his side down massively as they were dramatically knocked out of the World Cup following a 2-0 defeat to the South Koreans. Boateng could do nothing more as he watched from the touchline in despair.