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The Story Continues: 10 2014 World Cup Narratives That Still Apply In 2018

If you like your dramas with a bit of continuity — and you haven’t watched a soccer match since the 2014 World Cup — you needn’t worry, the 2018 World Cup has got a better story arc than Anna Karenina. Here are 10 narratives that dominated the 2014 tournament that still apply in 2018.

#1. 2018 Costa Rica is 2014 Costa Rica. 

It’s still almost entirely unfathomable that Costa Rica topped Group D at the 2014 World Cup, finishing above Uruguay and effectively bouncing both Italy and England, before advancing to the quarterfinals and technically never losing a match (los Ticos were eliminated by the Netherlands on penalties). 

The CONCACAF power played five matches and surrendered only two goals with Keylor Navas proving inspirational in goal and Celso Borges an absolute rock in midfield. In the attacking third, verve was provided by the ever-dependable Bryan Ruiz and the permanently loaned Joel Campbell. 

The good news here is that if you were a fan of the side in 2014, you’re gonna love the side in 2018 — the whole gang is back together again! Los Ticos could almost field an unchanged starting XI in Russia from the one that took Brazil by storm four years ago. No side has greater player continuity than the Central Americans.  

And as they showed throughout CONCACAF qualifying, this is no bad thing (just ask the USMNT, who lost 6-0 on aggregate to Costa Rica in the two games they played). Paired with Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in Group E, Costa Rica will again play the role of underdogs. 

Much will depend on the opening fixture against Serbia, which takes place on June 17 at the Cosmos Arena in Samara. With Brazil to follow in Saint Petersburg, it’s a match that Oscar Ramirez’s men dare not lose. 

#2. Germany Kickass 

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Of Germany’s standout performers in Brazil, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer all return. The only significant loss for Die Mannschaft is the retirement of outstanding right back Philipp Lahm. However, Lahm has been replaced on the national team by his replacement at Bayern Munich — the hugely talented Joshua Kimmich. 

That’s just how it works with Germany.

What’s more, Joachim Low now has additional attacking options following the emergence of the likes of Julian Draxler and Timo Werner, and there’s no overstating the importance of a healthy Marco Reus. Germany’s just stacked to the teeth — the B team could probably challenge for the title, and the C team could probably advance to the knockout stages. 

The Germans will be heavy favorites in what some consider to be the group of death in Russia. Alongside Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, Group F should be a fascinating tilt. 

#3. Luis Suarez is still a surly rascal. 

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No player has defined the last two World Cups quite like Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. In 2010, the Barcelona striker ended Ghana’s tournament and his own after deliberately handling the ball on the goal line. Asamoah Gyan’s resulting penalty was saved, Uruguay won in a shootout and Suarez declared that he’d “made the save of the tournament.”

In 2014, Suarez got his tournament off to a flyer with a brace against England, but he was then retrospectively banned for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s final group stage match. 

At the age of 31, Suarez enters the 2018 competition as Suarez as ever. He had a massive year in La Liga, scoring 25 goals and adding 12 assists in 33 games, but he was also booked nine times, joint-most in the team alongside Gerard Pique. 

At his best, Suarez is perhaps the best number nine in world football. At his worst, well, he’s a total shit head. However, like any maniacal street fighter, Suarez depends on his fiery nature to bring out the best in his play.  

#4. For Argentina and Brazil, all good things must go through Messi and Neymar.

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If you’re wondering why Neymar’s Brazil are favorites while the planet’s best footballer is being labelled as something of an outsider for the trophy, you need only look at CONMEBOL qualifying for the answer.

Brazil pulverized its rivals over the course of the three-year qualifying marathon, only losing one of 18 matches while recording a staggering goal difference of +30. While Neymar is undoubtedly the side’s key player, the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Paulinho, Philippe Coutinho and Willian all impressed for the Seleção while manager Tite introduced some much-needed midfield balance and defensive acumen. 

Argentina, on the other hand, only secured direct qualification on the final match day after losing four matches and contriving to draw seven. Without Messi in qualifying, Argentina played eight and won only one. They scored 0.75 goals per game despite fielding the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain in those games. 

If the aforementioned attackers show up in Russia, the entire narrative surrounding Argentina changes. If they don’t, as has been the case over the last decade, it’s difficult to imagine la Albiceleste really troubling the likes of Brazil, Germany, France and Spain. Although Messi will, so anything is possible.  

#5. Xherdan Shaqiri is here to score bangers. 

The Alpine Messi, the 5-6 Xherdan Shaqiri is one of the true delights of world football. He demonstrated this in 2014 by scoring a hat-trick against Honduras, including a trademark howitzer from outside the box.

He only scores worldies, as further evidenced by his glorious bicycle kick against Poland at Euro 2016.

Despite Stoke’s relegation from the Premier League, the 26-year-old is coming off a fine season in England after scoring eight goals in 36 appearances. He’s now being linked with a move to Liverpool, and he certainly won’t do himself any harm by scoring another 25-yard bomb in Russia. 

#6. Tim Cahill is also here to score bangers. 

A scorer of five World Cup goals (including Australia’s first-ever World Cup strike in 2006 and that ridiculous volley against the Netherlands in 2014), the 2018 tournament will be Cahill’s fourth. The 38-year-old isn’t slowing down with the Socceroos either — he scored 11 goals throughout qualifying, including a match-winner against the UAE and a pivotal brace against Syria in the playoff.

He’s now sitting on 106 caps and 50 goals for Australia, and you shouldn’t bet against him adding to those totals against France, Peru and Denmark in Group C. 

#7. Belgium is still the Dark Horse candidate. 

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The ultimate dark horse candidate at Brazil 2014 and Euro 2016, can the tag still be applied Belgium, especially as they’re the world’s third-ranked side? I guess so, because people are still saying it. 

In reality, there’s nothing exceptionally surprising about a team with Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Mousa Dembele, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld playing well — they’re just dark horses because they never really have.

This group hugely disappointed in France — culminating in a 3-1 defeat to Wales at the quarterfinal stage — and anything less than a top finish in Group G would be a shock. England demand respect, but the Three Lions are building towards the future while Belgium is built to win now. 

What’s more, whoever advances from Group G will play Group H (Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan) in the Round of 16. An inability to AT LEAST get the quarterfinals should be viewed as an inexcusable disaster. 

#8. Little Hope for Asia

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The AFC sent four representatives to Brazil in 2014 and the confederation failed spectacularly in the group stage, combining for zero wins, three draws and nine defeats. Following Australia’s victory in the playoff, the AFC will now send five nations to the 2018 World Cup, but the outlook is no less rosy. 

Iran has been placed in a group with Portugal and Spain. South Korea is with Germany, Mexico and Sweden. Australia faces a tall task against France, Peru and Denmark. Saudi Arabia has a softer group with hosts Russia, Egypt and Uruguay, but many view them as Asia’s worst team.

Perhaps Japan has the best chance of advancing to the Round of 16 in a group with Poland, Senegal and Colombia, but many view this Samurai Blue side as being exponentially weaker than the Japanese teams that advanced to the Round of 16 in 2002 and 2010. 

#9. England Expectations 

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For the first time in recent memory, England approached the 2014 World Cup with little to no expectations on their shoulders. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney were still huffing and puffing out there, but it was obvious that the squad was in the midst of a difficult transition period. 

That transition has now been made, and England are amongst the youngest squads in Russia. There’s a lot to like about Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but nobody is expecting this side to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. 

#10. Mexico’s Round of 16 Curse

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Advancing from a group with Germany, Sweden and South Korea should constitute a major success for Mexico, but the major narrative surrounding el Tri concerns a run of six-straight Round of 16 eliminations. Will that change in Russia?

Well, if they finish behind Germany in group play, they’ll almost certainly meet Brazil in the Round of 16. Mexico’s a top 15 side in the world, but it’s a massive leap from there to the top eight. 

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