The group stage of the 2022 World Cup came to an end recently, and it provided us with plenty of talking points.
There were shocks, late twists, some brilliant goals and several standout stars. It will come as a surprise to no one that the likes of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe have been amongst the tournament’s best performers so far.
However, not every big name has lived up to the billing. Here are seven eliminated players who underwhelmed in the group stage.
Kevin De Bruyne
It’s rare that Kevin De Bruyne gets more attention off the pitch than on it, but that was the case this time around. His most notable contribution to the tournament was declaring that his side were ‘too old’ to come away with the trophy.
And on the pitch, he did…well, nothing. No goals, no assists, no notable performances. For a player regarded as one of the very best in the world, this was a disastrous fortnight for him.
There was once a time when Thomas Muller was the king of World Cups. In his first two editions, he accumulated a total of ten goals and five assists, while winning the trophy once. Many touted him to overtake compatriot Miroslav Klose as the competition’s all-time top goalscorer.
But since 2014, his record at major international tournaments has been surprisingly below-par. In his last 17 games at World Cups or European Championships, he has not scored a single goal and registered just one assist.
After Germany’s elimination, Muller hinted that he might retire from international football. He’s had a fantastic career for Die Mannschaft, but it’s probably the right time for the 33-year-old to move on.
So often, Gareth Bale has been the hero for Wales. He scored a stunning brace in their play-off semi-final and then bagged the winning goal in the final to get them to their first World Cup in 64 years.
But, aside from converting his penalty against the United States in the opening game, he was unable to step up to the plate, offering next to nothing against Iran and England. And, unsurprisingly, the Dragons looked completely lost without their star man at his very best.
Denmark were widely selected as dark horses for this tournament. They reached the semi-finals of the 2020 European Championships, beat France twice in the Nations League and had Christian Eriksen returning to the biggest stage following his cardiac arrest 18 months ago. It all seemed perfectly set up for the Manchester United midfielder to shine.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Eriksen struggled to make any impact, and Denmark picked up just one point and finished bottom of their group.
Opinion on Darwin Nunez is pretty divided among football fans. His return of nine goals and two assists in 18 games for Liverpool is very respectable, especially considering he’s completely new to the country. However, this hasn’t silenced the doubters, who are eager to pounce on every mistake.
And it was those doubters who were loudest from the World Cup group stages. Across three games, it’s difficult to remember him doing anything aside from an attempt to scuff the penalty spot against Ghana.
They ended up missing the penalty. So…you know…there’s that.
Should we be giving advice to Antonio Rudiger? He’s a Champions League winner, and we’re just some people who sat and watched him do it.
But hey, if you’re reading this Antonio, listen carefully – if you’re going to do a silly run to mock your opponents, make sure you win the game next time. Don’t concede two and lose. And definitely don’t get knocked out early, while those same opponents top the group.
It may seem a little unfair to include Romelu Lukaku on this list. After all, he featured for only 54 minutes across the whole tournament – he’s far from the main reason why Belgium went home early.
However, it certainly didn’t help that his appearance against Croatia was quite possibly the worst performance in the history of football.
The Red Devils needed just one goal to qualify for the knockout stage at Croatia’s expense. After a goalless first half, they turned to Lukaku – their all-time top goalscorer, a player with over 300 career goals, and the most expensive player in the world (cumulatively).
The 29-year-old missed not one, not two, not three, but FOUR golden opportunities to break the deadlock. In fact, his only attempt on target came after the game, when he punched the substitutes’ bench in anger.
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