- Lionel Messi. The Argentine’s fourth World Cup, and probably his hopes of winning the game’s greatest prize, ended in disappointment in the round of 16 loss to France.
One magnificent goal against Nigeria, a missed penalty against Iceland and two assists as Argentina chased the game against France were the most memorable moments of an otherwise forgettable tournament for one of the world’s great players.
- Africa. For the first time since 1982, not a single African side made it out of the group stage.
Senegal came closest, falling behind Japan in Group H because of their disciplinary record but no sense of grievance at that outcome can disguise a hugely disappointing showing from the five representatives of the continent.
- Asia. Asia’s five teams at least got some wins on the board, something the continent’s representatives conspicuously failed to do in Brazil four years ago, but only Japan managed to get out of their group.
The Blue Samurai came within a whisker of giving Asia their first quarter-finalists since the continent first hosted the tournament in 2002 before Belgium came from two goals down to knock them out with a last-gasp Nacer Chadli strike.
- Germany. Even if fellow heavyweights Spain and Brazil also failed to get to the business end of the tournament and defending champions going out in the group stage has become a trend at World Cups, Germany’s exit was particularly humiliating.
They needed a late Toni Kroos strike against Sweden just to stay alive until their final group match, where South Korea delivered a 2-0 coup de grace that left the Germans bottom of a group they would have expected to dominate.
- Nikola Kalinic. The AC Milan striker’s tournament lasted five days before he was sent home for refusing to come on as a substitute in Croatia’s first game against Nigeria, saying he had a back problem. Coach Zlatko Dalic said he had used the same excuse in a previous friendly and to skip training.
In his absence, Croatia went on to get to the final for the first time, guaranteeing the remaining 22 players a place in the country’s sporting pantheon. The phrase “Don’t be like Nikola Kalinic” went viral on social media.