So the 'boring' group was not so boring after all. Twenty-four goals were scored in the six group games. With just eight games left in the group stages, only Group E, currently on 23, seems like it will have more goals than the ignored and shunned Group B. And that is largely because of the porous defence of New Caledonia (they even have 'New' in their name).
So, where did the predictions go wrong? It looked dull enough when giant-killers Turkey were held to a 1-1 draw by the kings of the islands, New Zealand. But the second match was a pleasant surprise. Heavyweights Mali were beaten 3-2 by an unfancied Paraguay in a thrilling encounter. Unfancied Paraguay then went on to beat New Zealand and Turkey to top the group with ten goals and a perfect record. Fancy that!
African champions Mali recovered quickly from their defeat in the opening match. They stamped their authority on Turkey, and stamped on some unfortunate Turkish players, to beat the Europeans 3-0. In their last group match, they cruised through to the round of 16 with a 3-1 win over New Zealand.
Turkey suffered. Maybe because there were no giants to kill. Only the heroics of goalkeeper Berke Ozer prevented further embarrassment. But to be fair to them, the players fought like there was no tomorrow. Of course, there is going to be no tomorrow as Turkey finished fourth.
As is so often the case, the giants of Oceania turned into dwarfs on the world stage. But, New Zealand fought with grit to hold Turkey and overturned a deficit to lead 2-1 for 40 minutes against Paraguay before losing 2-4. They also made Mali uncomfortable with a late rally before losing 3-1 to the Africans. Though they finished third, they are unlikely to secure one of the four round-of-16-berths reserved for third placed teams with the best records.
Mali will look to build on their momentum as they take on strong opposition—the runners-up of Group F (Iraq is second at present, Mexico is a close third) in the round of 16 in Goa on October 17. The Paraguayans looked stronger than the sum of their parts and they could yet have a major part to play in the remainder of this World Cup. They will travel to Delhi to face one of the third place teams on October 16.