With the group stages of the FIFA World Cup now done and dusted, only 16 teams are left as they try to lift the coveted title by the end of the competition.
Most of the teams expected to make it through are still around, but there are certainly many surprises which only adds to the allure of international football.
Furthermore, there are also teams that were not highly rated before the tournament began, but have surpassed everyone’s predictions and are now ready for more upsets.
Below are two groups of teams to be considered – with one surprisingly falling short of target and bowing out in the group stages; while the other are the overachievers who are living the football dream.
EARLY EXITS: GERMANY
Starting with arguably the biggest name in the list of group stage exits are the defending champions Germany.
Heading into the competition, many predicted that the Germans would simply coast in the group stages and were deservingly one of the top teams everyone thought would challenge for the crown.
Unfortunately, a loss to Mexico in their first game saw them fall flat in the competition, and they seemed like an uninspired team who only recorded one win.
Their defeat against South Korea was an epic upset which saw them land at the bottom of the table and crashing out of the World Cup too early.
EARLY EXITS: EGYPT
Returning to the World Cup for the first time since 1990, not much was expected from the Egyptian national team, but they had one of the best players of 2018 so there was a certain hope they could make a splash in the competition.
Mohamed Salah had a breakout year with Liverpool and his heroics to being Egypt to the World Cup resulted in many looking at him to carry the team. Placed in Group A alongside Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia, the Egyptians were ranked higher than the hosts and Saudi so qualifying was not entirely impossible.
Unfortunately, they failed to secure a single point in the competition and showed that the team’s dependency on Salah was simply not enough for them in the competition.
EARLY EXITS: POLAND
Another big shocker in the competition were Poland as they did not even have a chance to bounce back after two early losses in the World Cup saw them eliminated in the second round of the group stages.
A team with talent especially in the attacking half, the Polish squad were ranked eighth in the world and were placed against Senegal, Colombia and Japan who were all ranked lower – with the Colombians being the closest at 16th.
Poland failed to find their footing in the World Cup, losing to Senegal in the first game of the competition. Despite having Robert Lewandowski in the line-up, the Polish team failed to score a goal in the first two games – with the one goal in the Senegal game coming from an own goal from the Africans.
With the other teams registering points in at least one of their respective games, Poland’s World Cup hopes were quickly dashed.
They managed to beat Japan in their final game of the competition but it failed to make any difference from their World Cup fate.
SURPRISE ENTRIES: RUSSIA
Winning a spot in the World Cup thanks to hosting the competition, many were not truly optimistic with Russia’s chances in the contest.
Ranked 70 in the world, the hosts were the team with the lowest place in FIFA’s list and seemed to lack the superstar names that could help swing things their favour.
However, the national team are proud players and wanted to give their home crowd something to cheer about as they played impressively with a big 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the competition’s opening game.
They followed it up with a convincing 3-1 victory over the Egyptians to secure their spot in the last-16. Russia lost their final group stage game against Uruguay but they have already surpassed expectations and have made their country proud.
SURPRISE ENTRIES: SWEDEN
Placed in a group with the defending champions and a CONCACAF team that has reached the knockout stages in the last six World Cups heading into Russia, Sweden were not particularly considered as favourites in their group.
Despite only ranked 24th in the world, the Swedes surpassed all expectations as they did not only secure their spot in the last-16, but they ended up winning Group F after an emphatic 3-0 victory over Mexico in their final group stage game.
The Swedes showed a mix of excellent offence with stable defence, only allowing two goals in the competition while forcing five of their own.
Looking at their only loss in the competition, Sweden could have gone unbeaten if not for Toni Kroos’ injury time winner in Germany’s 2-1 win.
SURPRISE ENTRIES: JAPAN
Being part of one of the most unpredictable groups in the competition, Japan did just enough to ensure their progression in the competition – finishing second behind eventual winners Colombia.
It was a group of twists and turns as surprisingly beat the Colombians in their first World Cup game of 2018 to help them jump to the top of the table.
Despite being ranked lowest among their rivals at 61st, Japan drew against Senegal to set-up a very intriguing last group stage round among the four teams in the group.
The Samurai Blue lost 1-0 to Poland in their last game, but with the help of a 1-0 victory by Colombia, the Japanese took second place after winning via Fair Play rules by having two less yellow cards than Senegal.
This incredible result ensures that there are no African teams to take part in the last-16, while Japan are the only Asian side to make it through to the knockout stages.