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How much can you remember about the group stages of the 2018 World Cup?

PUBLISHED: 13:53 05 July 2018

England's John Stones (second left) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game during the World Cup Group G match against Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy / PA

England's John Stones (second left) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game during the World Cup Group G match against Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy / PA

PA Wire/PA Images

With the group stage of the World Cup in the books, how much can you remember about the opening round of games?

The tournament got off to a flyer with Portugal and Spain serving up a classic. Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed the headlines by completing a hat-trick with a stunning late equaliser.

After 13 days, this World Cup got its first goalless draw as France, already through, and Denmark, who needed a point to join them, went through the motions in Moscow.

There are plenty of contenders for goal of the group stages after Russia’s Denis Cheryshev set the tone in game one. There have been fine long-range strikes from Nacho, Philippe Coutinho, Luka Modric, Granit Xhaka, Son Heung-min and Jesse Lingard and a great volley from Dries Mertens. But the skill of Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa to control and smash home against Iceland stood out.

Germany mounted an unexpectedly dismal defence of the title they won so impressively four years ago. After losing their opener to Mexico, a last-gasp defeat of Sweden offered hope but they slumped out after an insipid display against South Korea.

The host cities have been awash with the colour and vibrancy of all nations but, for sheer joie de vivre, Senegal fans take some beating. And that’s without mentioning the fact they pick up their litter on their way out of the ground.

As Germany’s first-choice centre-forward, much was expected of highly-rated Leipzig forward Timo Werner but he simply failed to make an impact. He was not alone, however, as the vastly-experienced Robert Lewandowski proved hugely underwhelming in Poland’s dire campaign.

Even the VAR cynics had to agree that the system worked perfectly as South Korea were awarded the first of their two dramatic late goals against Germany after it had been incorrectly disallowed for offside. That followed other successes such as Neymar being caught out after diving to win a penalty, Sweden earning a spot-kick after a foul was missed, Iran rightly having a goal chalked off for offside and Spain being awarded one. Critics will still point out that it missed Kane and Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic being wrestled off the ball while Australia and Portugal harshly had spot-kicks awarded against them for handball.

Perhaps the only positive Germany will have to reflect on from this World Cup wass Toni Kroos curling home his brilliant last-gasp winner against Sweden from a set-piece, in a moment of need, daring, and exceptional quality.

The depth and quality of TV analysis has probably never been so high, with both main broadcasters backing up their reliable experts with some smart new signings. Alan Shearer continues to talk common sense on the BBC, who have also benefited from the insight of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Alex Scott. Ally McCoist has done a fine job as a co-commentator on ITV, whose studio analysis has also been strong with Roy Keane, Eni Aluko and Gary Neville proving popular.

Germany’s Mats Hummels summed up his country’s sorrow after their elimination with a simple word - sorry. That was a far cry from Kane’s display of sheer joy after his late winner against Tunisia, which earned him more than 24,000 retweets. Elsewhere, Ian Wright’s stunned reaction to a Lionel Messi penalty miss went viral while Jesse Lingard provided some talking points with his photographs of England team-mates racing unicorns in their hotel pool.

Team of the group stages:

Jo (South Korea); Trippier (England), Gimenez (Uruguay), Stones (England), Cheryshev (Russia); Casemiro (Brazil); Hazard (Belgium), Coutinho (Brazil); Ronaldo (Portugal), Kane (England), Lukaku (Belgium).

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