As we approach the latter stages of this summers World Cup in Russia, it is continuing to prove one of the most unpredictable tournaments in living memory. Argentina and Portugal’s exits came as no great surprise, but the Germans getting kicked out in the group stages and Spain being knocked out by Russia have been real shocks to the system.
We thought it was about time we looked at some players who will be desperate to put their failures in Russia behind them.
Here are 7 players who had World Cups to forget
7. Timo Werner – Germany
Going into the World Cup, many people saw the centre-forward position as a potential weak spot for Germany. It turned out that they had a very many even more serious problems, but certainly that concern materialised. Werner started all three group games as Germany’s central attacking option, but failed to score a single goal. We’ve only put Werner in seventh since the lad is only 22 and there were clearly more deep-rooted problems in Joachim Low’s side, but the former Confederations Cup top scorer deserves his place here nonetheless.
6. Robert Lewandowski – Poland
Two of the most highly thought of centre-forwards in German football form the starting duo in this seven. Robert Lewandowski really just never got going in Russia. Having been very impressive in qualifying for this World Cup, both Poland and Lewandowski were really disappointing at the tournament proper. The prolific Bayern Munich star who is, of course, a world class striker, looked just a little off the pace. His legs moved slower, his touch looked less assured and he failed to find the back of the net in three starts as Poland finished bottom of their group.
5. Javier Mascherano – Argentina
There were one or two concerns within the Argentinian press that Javier Mascherano wasn’t really up to the pace and intensity of World Cup football at the age of 34, and you’d probably have to concede that those critics of his inclusion were correct. Jorge Sampaoli employed Mascherano as a defensive midfield screen in front of his back four – a similar role to the one Mascherano played for Liverpool all those years ago. Sadly however, the former Barcelona man, who now plays his club football in China, was unable to roll back the years.
Having played centre-back for so long, Mascherano looked overrun and exposed in the middle of the park, and looked like he was running through treacle as the likes of Ahmed Musa of Nigeria and Kylian Mbappe of France burst past him. Mascherano announced his international retirement following Argentina’s round of 16 defeat to France, a game in which he should really have been sent off. Although it was a forgettable tournament in terms of performances and results for Mascherano, it did see him overtake Javier Zanetti as Argentina’s most capped player of all time.
4. Willy Caballero – Argentina
Where to start? Well, probably with that horrendous excuse of a chipped pass which saw his side concede against Croatia. In fact, that’s probably where the talking points start and end for Willy Caballero at the 2018 World Cup. In Sergio Romero’s absence, Caballero became first choice, and he rewarded that faith by spaffing the ball straight up into the air and right into the path of Ante Rebic who fired it past his despairing head. The Chelsea back-up was subsequently dropped for Argentina’s next two games.
3. Manuel Neuer – Germany
I have always found Manuel Neuer to be a difficult person to take to, but there’s no denying that he has been one of the greatest goalkeepers of the 21st century. It is that reputation and tremendous peak ability which convinced Joachim Low to make Neuer his number one in Russia, despite the fact the ‘keeper had played virtually no first team football in a year. He was rusty, clumsy and a shadow of his usual self. A poor tournament for the Bayern Munich man was compounded in injury time against South Korea when he suddenly decided he was a left winger. He lost the ball and the South Koreans belted it down field for Son Heung-min to tap home into an empty net. Not Neuer’s finest hour, it would be fair to say.
2. David de Gea – Spain
With the exceptional performances of Guillermo Ochoa, Keylor Navas and Manuel Neuer, the 2014 World Cup was truly one for the goalkeepers. Four years on and Russia has rather swiftly redressed the balance, with some horrendous goalkeeping performances, and the two best shot stoppers on the planet failing to impress at all. David de Gea has been absolutely magnificent for Manchester United for at least five years now, and the 27-year-old made the PFA Team of the Year for the fifth time – and was named Manchester United’s Player of the Year for a third time last season.
And yet, he couldn’t catch a cold in Russia. He allowed a Cristiano Ronaldo shot which should have been a routine save to worm its way into the back of the net in Spain’s opener against Portugal. Throughout the entire tournament, De Gea let in 6 of the 7 shots on his goal, and he failed to make a single save as the Spanish were knocked out on penalties by the hosts Russia.
1. Jerome Boateng – Germany
Cast your mind back to 2014. Jerome Boateng was a colossus of a man. He was powerful, mobile, intelligent, comfortable on the ball and strong in both the air and in the tackle. He was probably the most highly thought of centre-back in world football, and rightly so – he was a major reason why Bayern had just won the double and Germany had just won the World Cup.
His decline, then, has been quite a steep one. Now aged 29, he should be in his peak, but few would take him in their team over the likes of Diego Godin, Sergio Ramos, or even Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Boateng has looked to be on the wane ever since Lionel Messi floored him for Barcelona in a May 2015 Champions League semi-final.
This summer was certainly the apex of his decline, though, and he had a torrid time in Russia. Germany lost their tournament opener 1-0 against Mexico, with their entire defence struggling with Mexico’s pace on the counter-attack – and that was the better of Boateng’s two games. His tournament came to an end in Germany’s second game when he was sent off against Sweden, and in truth, the referee probably did Germany a favour. That was the worst performance I’ve ever seen from Boateng, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can bounce back at Bayern next term.