Things haven't exactly gone as expected in Russia...
We’re only a week into the 2018 FIFA World Cup but there have already been moments that have shaken up soccer’s biggest event. These are moments that have trended on social media, “broken the internet” in some countries, and have defied expectations, analytics, and predictions. I’m sure we’ll have more before the tournament ends in July, but here are the five biggest surprises thus far.
1 Messi’s missed penalty kick
Argentina’s Lionel Messi had the chance to play hero again in his country’s opener against Iceland on June 16. The game was tied at a goal apiece in the 64th minute when Messi was awarded a penalty kick, something that should be automatic for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. But he missed it and Argentina never threatened again, thus the game ended in a tie. Messi has now missed four penalty shots in his last seven attempts, not good for a player with so much pressure to succeed on the global stage. The tie only improved Iceland's chances of advancing to the knockout stage.
2. Germany’s historic group play loss
Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico in the first match for both teams on June 17 was its first World Cup opening loss since 1982. Up until then the defending World Cup champions had gone unbeaten in the group stage since that loss 36 years ago to Algeria. The German faithful have already demanded changes to the team’s lineup after losing to “El Tri,” which had a combined record of 4-3-6 in the previous three World Cups and had been struggling on offense. While the team -- and the fan base for that matter -- shouldn’t hit the panic button yet, losing to Sweden in the next match would give Germany two losses, which would put the team on the wrong side of soccer history.
3. Brazil vs Switzerland ends in a 1-1 draw
While Brazil has 18 draws in World Cup play, the South American power was heavily favored to beat the Swiss in the teams' opener on June 17. With Neymar back in action the hope was that Brazil would continue its World Cup excellence, but Switzerland put on a solid defensive performance to hold the five-time World Cup champions at bay. It was an interesting game but not one that anybody had expected.
4. Colombia and Costa Rica lose their opening games to unexpected teams
Colombia and Costa Rica are two of Latin America’s fastest rising teams. Both teams reached the quarterfinals in Brazil in 2014 and have looked to capitalize on those performances. But both teams hit a roadblock in their World Cup openers in the past week. Costa Rica fell 1-0 to a Serbian team making just its second World Cup appearance since gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia. The Colombians on the other hand lost to Japan 2-1, it was their first-ever World Cup loss to an Asian team. Both teams are now in a fight to make it to the knockout stage.
5. Russia is enjoying home-field advantage
The first-time World Cup hosts are playing in just their fourth event since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In their first three post-Soviet appearances (1994, 2002, 2014) the Russians were unable to make it out of the group stage. This year they have dominated Group A so far with a record of 2-0 and have outscored their opponents 8-1. If they defeat Uruguay later this week, they’ll officially punch their ticket to the Round of 16 for the first time in their current incarnation.
-- Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.