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World Cup 2022 Unofficial Awards: Biggest Underachievers

After every World Cup competition, a series of official awards are given out by FIFA; Golden Ball, for the best player; Golden Boot, for the top goal scorer; Golden Glove, for best goalkeeper; the list goes on. These awards are boring! They only look at the best few players from the top few teams and players from the same dominating nations win them regularly. The World Cup is about far more than just the best of the best, it’s also about the stories, moments, fans, villains, heroes, and far more. In this list of unofficial awards given out by myself, across a series of articles, I look to celebrate all of those who aren’t included in the official awards and capture some of that magic that makes the World Cup such a spectacle.


Biggest Underachievers

This unfortunate accolade will go to the team who disappointed us the most during the tournament. The recipient is a nation who vastly underwhelmed; perhaps the pressure of expectation was too much for them.

There have been many deplorable performances from top teams at World Cup 2022. Wales qualified for the World Cup for the 2nd time in their history after a 64-year hiatus. Qualifying for the greatest tournament in the world capped off a meteoric rise for the tiny nation. The powers of the Welsh have been fading since the 2016 European Championships golden generation, abilities of star players Bale and Ramsey have dimmed significantly. Despite this, the 19th-ranked side was tipped to do much better than they did- exciting the tournament with just a single point and 1 goal to show for their efforts.

Denmark and Germany found themselves ranked 10th and 11th in the FIFA World Rankings, however, their stories of getting to that position were quite opposite. Despite losing their best player Eriksen to an awful cardiac arrest, Denmark rallied to the Euro 2020 semi-finals. In the UEFA Nations League, they finished above the world champions at the time -France- and beat them 2-0. After a rapid ascent up the world rankings, Denmark was expected to do better than getting dumped out in the group stages in last place with only 1 point.

As mentioned previously, Germany has had the opposite of a rise. The 2014 World Cup champions have been on a rapid downward trajectory since that triumph, they have been knocked out at the group stages in the last 2 World Cups now, and are a far weaker team than before. This is simply unacceptable for ‘Die Mannschaft’.

Ranked in 7th spot before the tournament, and finishing top of their last Nations League group, a youthful Spain crashed out in the round of 16 to surprise packages of the tournament: Morocco. Despite being in a transitional period, the Spanish were expected to at least make the quarter-finals

Brazil has won the most FIFA World Cup trophies in history but hasn’t lifted the trophy since 2002, they’ve only made it past the quarter-finals once since then, and in the semifinal they did make it, they were embarrassed by the Germans 7-1 on home soil! Despite all of this habitual underachieving, the ‘Selecao’ sat top of the World Rankings coming into the 2022 World Cup- making them one of the pre-tournament favorites to win. Brazil was knocked out at the quarter-final stage- disappointing once again.

After reading about all of this failure and chronic underachieving, you are probably wondering how any team could have performed worse than those previously mentioned. There is one. The biggest underachievers in Qatar were Belgium. Despite never actually winning anything on the international stage since a gold medal at the 1920 Olympic Games, Belgium has been tipped for greatness for some time now. Being constant ‘dark horses’ at seemingly every tournament since Euro 2016, Belgium has possessed a squad more than good enough to win any tournament, with a side packed full of Champions League regulars. Belgium was at 2nd top of the world rankings pre-tournament, but they were in 1st place for almost 4 years prior. After finishing in 3rd last time around, the expectation was high for the Belgian golden generation to finally deliver in this iteration of the World Cup.

The ‘Red Devils’ started the tournament with a shaky 1-0 victory over Canada; a game in which they were undoubtedly 2nd best. They failed to improve and were punished by Morocco 2-0 in the next match. Needing a victory against Croatia in their final group-stage game to secure passage to the knockouts, Belgium only managed a 0-0 draw where they missed a whole host of massive chances. Despite playing only a handful of minutes, Romelu Lukaku misfired so much that he underperformed his expected goals by minus 1.7- the worst expected goals underperformance out of every player in the entire tournament!

The golden generation has rotted away and underperformed once again. Roberto Martinez’s insistence on playing ancient players who are far past their best has come back to bite him. The Europeans must look to purge their side of deadwood and rebuild with some of their young talents- that is their only hope of getting another crop of players capable of lifting a trophy.

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