World Cup: Big guns remain despite shocks and scares

ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports from Doha, where England are preparing to take on African champions Senegal

Yes, there have been quite a few group stage shocks, and yes Belgium have gone home but if you study the surviving teams in Qatar, is the line-up for the first round of knock-out matches really that surprising?

Seven of the world’s 10 best ranked teams are still here and four of the top five.

Germany have gone but then they failed to escape their group at the last World Cup in Russia, didn’t make it beyond the quarter finals at the Euros last year and anyway they don’t even make FIFA’s top 10.

The flip side of that though is that this tournament has shown, perhaps more than ever before, the gap between the traditional football super powers and the rest is closing.

Take Saudi Arabia’s win over Messi’s Argentina - it is a result that shows if you’re not at your best, you run the risk of defeat.

Lionel Messi. Credit: PA

It might also be evidence that the timing of this World Cup, in mid-season with little or no preparation time for the majority of the top players from the European leagues, might just favour the less fancied teams.

Of course, during the group stages, if you experience a slip up, you have a chance to make amends. Not any more you don’t, lose now and you’re on a plane out of the desert.

Tonight, marks very much the beginning of part two of this tournament; the important part. We’re now at the business end and the tactics and style of football will probably change.

Usually that means games becoming cagier, and only the best and most confident of players taking the same risks they might have done before now. The jeopardy has cranked up several notches.

Teams’ overall fitness will be tested to the limit too. In fact, if you look back at some of the shocks so far you can partly match success with the sides who seem to have superior staying power.

Also remember just how much longer these games are lasting compared to usual. That is one reason why some of the less technically gifted but fitter teams are enjoying success in Qatar.

Tomorrow night England face Senegal and will bear all of the above in mind.

They know to lose would not be acceptable because of the world-class players they have at their disposal.

But while confident, they will not be complacent because if they are, the African champions will exploit that, and England will be sent home early with their tails between their legs.

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