World Cup 2018: How did group stage compare to previous tournaments?
The World Cup group stages have come to an end - with enough memorable storylines to last for a lifetime.
Germany were knocked out of the first round for the first time since 1938 after conceding twice in injury time to South Korea. That was after Toni Kroos' dramatic 95th-minute strike in their previous in their previous game to give them hope.
We had Xherdan Shaqiri's last-minute winner - and political celebration - for Switzerland against Serbia, and Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick against Spain - who sacked their manager the day before the World Cup started.
Hosts Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in a near-record-breaking opening game. Argentina looked like they were going out after two matches - only to go through thanks to a late Marcos Rojo volley.
England's Harry Kane scored five goals in his opening two games, including a last-minute winner and a hat-trick, while Brazil launched their campaign proper with an injury-time salvage job against Costa Rica.
And let us not forget Milad Mohammadi's throw-in for Iran against Spain, which went viral.
It feels like one of the most exciting World Cup group stages - but do the numbers back it up? We had a look to see how it compares to every World Cup since 1998 when the tournament grew to 32 teams.
Quality not quantity
This World Cup has a way to go before it can match the abundance of goals scored in France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014.
In fact, as the below graphic shows, only in 2006 and 2010 have fewer goals been scored during the group stages of a 32-team World Cup.
However, Russia 2018 has thus far been about quality, not quantity.
Banging 'em in
The tone was set by the first game of the tournament, with hosts Russia smashing five goals past poor Saudi Arabia. A day later, Portugal and Spain served up six goals between them in a gripping 3-3 draw in Sochi.
Since then, Belgium and England have dished out hammerings of their own, 5-2 against Tunisia and 6-1 versus Panama respectively.
Only two previous 32-team World Cups have had more than four games containing five goals, as you can see from this...
They think it's all over...
The group stages of Russia 2018 have been characterised by late drama, with twists and turns aplenty throughout the 48 games.
Ronaldo set the tone with his free-kick to salvage Portugal a 3-3 draw with Spain. Since then, we've had Kane's headed winner against Tunisia, Shaqiri's strike for Serbia against Switzerland, Brazil's injury-time double versus Costa Rica, the crazy VAR-influenced conclusion to Group B, Rojo's rescue job for Argentina, all building to the peak moment when holders Germany crashed out.
This World Cup is already closing in on the previous five tournaments for goals scored from the 80th minute onwards in games, as you can see below...
Race is on for the Golden Boot
Some of the world's top goalscorer's have hit form fast in Russia: Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Ronaldo, John Stones.
Once again, Ronaldo got the ball rolling (well, travelling at speed), scoring a hat-trick in Portugal's opening game - including that stunning last-minute free-kick - to claim a 3-3 draw with Spain.
Not to be outshone, Lukaku and Kane bagged a double each in their own opening games for Belgium and England respectively, before the latter went one better with a hat-trick in his side's 6-1 demolition of Panama.
So prolific has Tottenham's Kane been that his tally of five goals so far would already be enough to secure a share of the Golden Boot in two of the previous five tournaments, as this shows:
Bore draws thin on the ground
It has felt like teams have gone into the group stages of this World Cup with positive intent, something born out in the scarcity of limp, uneventful goalless draws.
Russia represents the longest we have gone in a 32-team version of the tournament before the first 0-0, when France and Denmark strolled their way to a pedestrian stalemate for which they were booed off by the crowd at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
If it wasn't for that abject final Group C game we'd still be waiting for a 0-0 in Russia.
Holders fail at first hurdle again...
Germany's failure to qualify from the group stage continues an amazing run of shock exits for teams looking to defend their world title.
The elimination of Joachim Low's side was sealed in extraordinary circumstances. Four days on from Kroos' 95th-minute free-kick winner against Sweden, South Korea - previously without a point in the competition - scored twice late on to send the Swedes and Mexico through and Germany home.
|Holders' performances at recent World Cups|
|Winner and year||Four years later...|
|France in 1998||Bottom of Group A with one point|
|Brazil in 2002||Beaten by France in quarter-finals|
|Italy in 2006||Bottom of Group F with two points|
|Spain in 2010||Third in Group B with three points|
|Germany in 2014||Bottom of Group F with three points|
The introduction of VAR (video assistant referees) has added to the excitement of this World Cup, bringing drama to games where there may otherwise have been none.
The new technology has certainly had an impact at both ends of the pitch, contributing to more penalties having been awarded in the group stages in Russia than in the entirety of any of the previous 32-team World Cups, as illustrated in the below graphic.
Love it or hate it, you can't deny that VAR has kept things interesting.
We've had a Willy Caballero clanger...
Essam El Hadary proving age is no barrier...
An own goal penalty...
Neymar's full range of qualities...
The first qualification through fair play...
And the world's weirdest throw-in...
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