The first round of the World Cup is over, so it is a good time to assess what has been good and bad, and what teams are worth looking out for.
- Qatar: besides the fact that they should never have had the World Cup, they are a poor footballing nation, and hopefully will be out in the first round
- Netherlands: defeated Africa's best side, Senegal, and for that they should be counted on. Another test will be against an Ecuadorian side that is stronger than was expected
- England: their 6-2 win over Iran was noteworthy, and surely they must be counted as candidates. But at the same time it was a strange match with political overtones and an injury, so England must still be tested against stronger opposition
- Argentina: a sensational loss to Saudi Arabia does not necessarily mean they are out; in 2010 Spain opened by losing to Switzerland and went on to win the entire thing. However, an Argentina led my Messi appears to lack this kind of stamina, and the side also shows weaknesses in defense that will prove good for opposition
- France: despite the absence of some of their key players the defending World Champions are looking to defend their title. France has star quality substitutes in every position, and although they were up against a quite primitive Australian side they will probably face little problems in overcoming Denmark and Tunisia to win the group
- Belgium: one of the favourites undeservedly won against a fantastic Canadian side, and should therefore still be considered favourites. Canada will be interesting to follow though, and could easily become the darlings of the tournament if they pull good results in their coming matches
- Spain: after their trashing 7-0 of Costa Rica they are surely one of the candidates for the title. But although they played well, it was against a very cheap background: Costa Rica's match must stand as one of the worst performances of any team in World Cup history. Spain will get far I think, but will be tested against better teams
- Germany: Their loss to Japan was a surprise, but not a huge one. Germany cannot win by name alone, and everyone seems to have forgotten that four years ago they lost to South Corea, In my view Hansi Flick made a tactical error when withdrawing Musiala and Gundogan, giving all initiative to the Japanese, who knew Germany well (most players play in German clubs). That said, Germany has slow defenders, something that will make them suffer against bigger teams. I expect Spain to defeat them, and Germany may likely be on the way out
- Japan: they have been improving over the past two decades; anyone who has watched football should know this, and nobody seems to recall four years ago when they defeated Colombia and almost eliminated the mighty Belgians in one of the best matches of that tournament. Anyone who is surprised about Japan should simply shut up and stop watching.
- Brazil: They passed their test against a defensive and disciplined Serbian side winning 2-0 in a match where Richarlison scored what is the best goal of the tournament so far. They overcame a difficult match, and with few visible weaknesses are, in my view, the favourites to take the title after the first round of games.
Of course, as in any World Cup, many things can and will happen. Teams will improve, others will decay.