2018 World Cup: The good, the bad and the ugly (so far)

For the first time since 1938, Germany was eliminated in the group stage of a World Cup.

Their downfall continued the recent trend of winners becoming losers, as the Germans became the third consecutive titleholder to fall in the group stage after Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.

And if Germany left feeling disappointed, then Senegal exited angry after its elimination at the hands of…the fair play tiebreaker.

At the 2018 World Cup, what's fair is also ugly. FIFA (and for that matter, Vladimir Putin) wouldn't have it any other way.

Here are the highlights, lowlights and everything in between from the group stage in Russia.

The good

Toni Kroos' stoppage time golazo

Oh, what could have been. After Kroos scored a beautiful free kick to lift Germany over Sweden in their second game, things were looking up. Of course, they quickly fell.

But for one fleeting moment, Germany was on top of the soccer world once again.

Ronaldo opens the World Cup in style

The (arguably) best match of the World Cup so far happened on Day 2. Powerhouses Portugal and Spain squared off in a back-and-forth thriller.

In the second half, Spain pulled ahead 3-2 and controlled play. But as Spanish coach Fernando Hierro said after the game: "It's very fortunate for whatever team has Cristiano Ronaldo."

And in the 88th minute, Ronaldo dazzled with a free kick goal to secure a hat trick for himself and a tie for Portugal.

Russia shocks the world, enters knockout stage on home soil

The lowest ranked of all countries entering the tournament, no one expected much of anything from the Russian squad at the World Cup.

Fast forward to today, and Stanislav Cherchesov's army is preparing to battle Spain in the Round of 16. Who would've thought?

Not the Russians. Before the tournament even began, the country had produced self-deprecating rap and a "Mustaches of Hope" campaign, named after Cherchesov's facial hair.

The bad

Video replay

VAR — more like VA-arghhh, amirite?

The Video Assistant Referee has taken centre stage at the World Cup, as every possible call has been subjected to video review.

The good news is that, unlike the NFL (and NBA…and NHL… and MLB), the reviews have been fast and the game hasn't been slowed down.

The bad news is that VAR isn't always correct, like when Ronaldo got away with just a yellow after elbowing an Iranian player in the face, or when Argentina's Marcos Rojo headed the ball off his own arm.

The never-ending GOAT debate

After the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, we thought the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) debate was over.

Finally, we could stop hearing about Jordan vs. LeBron. And we did. But then the World Cup introduced an even hotter debate: Messi vs. Ronaldo.

Of course, no one can agree. Ronaldo stated his case early with a hat trick and brought his total goals to four through the games. Messi trails with just one, but it was a crucial one in Argentina's final match to secure a spot in the knockout stage.

The pendulum will surely continue to swing.

The ugly

What is going on with Diego Maradona?

During Argentina's crucial 2-1 win against Nigeria, Maradona — one of the best soccer players ever — wasn't slow to show his emotions.

At varying points, he was dancing with fans, taking his shirt off and flipping double birds at no one in particular.

Diego Maradona makes gestures during Argentina's win over Nigeria in the group stage of the World Cup. The Argentinian legend's antics has become a story on its own in Russia. (Getty Images/CBC Sports)

After the game, rumours flew that the Argentinian legend had been hospitalized. Those were false, but Maradona was treated by medics in the stadium for what he called "a strong pain in the back on [his] neck."

Maradona, who has suffered from addiction since retiring, also said he was drinking white wine during the game with everyone else in his box. He topped it all off by announcing he was fine — in third person: "Diego will still be there for a while!"

Senegal sent home on fair play points

After three games, Senegal and Japan were tied with four points apiece in Group H. They were tied in goal differential and goals for, and tied their head-to-head matchup at two.

That meant the tiebreaker to determine who moved on to the knockout stage was fair play points. And Senegal had accrued two more yellow cards than Japan, so they were eliminated.

The rule was introduced in 2014 as a measure to avoid a drawing of the lots to determine a winner, which would've been next on the list.

Japan understood the fair play tiebreaker, and after going down 1-0 to Poland knowing Senegal was simultaneously losing 1-0 to Colombia, made the decision to sit back and not press for the win. The game was ugly, and the outcome might've been even uglier.

Germany flames out

We'll end where we began, with the stunning demise of Germany. As the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Germany was expected to ease through the group stage and reach the semifinals at a minimum.

After all, they beat Brazil 7-1 in 2014. Instead, an ugly loss to South Korea at the end of the group stage sent the Germans packing.

Of course, this entry is only ugly for Germany.

For every other country, it represents added hope. The favourites are gone, and everyone's title chances just increased.

After a group stage filled with great goals, disputed decisions and shocking upsets, we can only hope that the knockout rounds match that excitement.

A pair of World Cup hopefuls — France and Argentina — kick things off on Saturday.

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