After Round Two, mid-day highlights six seasoned campaigners who may never play in a World Cup again
Sergio Busquets, Manuel Neuer and Luis Suarez
Eden Hazard, 31, (Belgium)
A flop show by Belgium’s Golden Generation, led by skipper Eden Hazard, saw them exit in the first round itself. Considered to be one of the best attacking midfielders or wingers in the business, Hazard was a pale shadow of his otherwise skillful self as Belgium, who lost to France in the semis and then beat England in the third-place match at the 2018 edition, managed just one win in three matches here and that too against Canada. Hazard has aptly rightly announced his retirement from international football.
Sergio Busquets, 34, (Spain)
Spain's central midfielder had put in a near-flawless performance at the back as his tiki taka-loving team qualified for the knockouts with the highest per game average of passes completed (854 compared to the average of 817 per game of other teams). However, it all ended when he stepped up to take his team’s third penalty in the shootout against Morocco during their Round-of-16 match on Tuesday night. Busquets’s attempt was saved by Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who even palmed away Spain in the bargain.
Luis Suarez, 35, (Uruguay)
For an aggressive striker, Luis Suarez had a rather anti-climax end to his World Cup journey, finishing in tears when Uruguay failed to qualify for the knockouts after South Korea stunned Group H toppers Portugal in their last group match to finish second. Suarez had a quiet first two matches, as Uruguay drew 0-0 v Korea before losing 0-2 to Portugal. However, in the third match v Ghana, he returned to his original avatar, sprinting for every ball and even pushing and shoving en route. Uruguay won 2-0, but their exit means Suarez can’t add to his tally of seven World Cup goals.
Manuel Neuer, 36, (Germany)
Considered to be the safest pair of hands in the business, and voted the best goalkeeper of the decade from 2011 to 2020, Germany’s skipper and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer couldn’t save his team from a second successive group stage exit at the World Cup. Having conceded just once and twice in the group stages at the 2010 and 2014 editions respectively, Neuer let in four goals in 2018 and was beaten five times in Qatar, suggesting that age could be a factor in his drop in form.
Also Read: 'We aren't going to change,' says Spain coach Luis Enrique
Enner Valencia, 33, (Ecuador)
One of the heroes of this World Cup, striker Enner Valencia scored thrice in three matches as Ecuador beat hosts Qatar 2-0 and held The Netherlands 1-1 before losing 1-2 to Senegal and failing to make the knockouts. Having scored three goals in the 2014 edition (Ecuador did not qualify for the 2018 tournament), Valencia made history by scoring his team’s sixth consecutive World Cup goal in this competition, also becoming his country’s highest scorer at World Cups.
Thomas Mueller, 33, (Germany)
Known for his consistent goal-poaching ability that saw him score as many as 10 World Cup goals, Thomas Mueller drew a blank at this edition. A poor start was the main reason for Germany’s early exit as they were shocked first-up 1-2 Japan before holding Spain 1-1 and beating Costa Rica 4-2. Mueller, however, couldn’t do much other than chase balls, and frequently raise his hands in appeal or show his displeasure to the referee’s decisions.