The gap between the big teams of Europe and South America and those from Asia and Africa is narrowing and matches in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup have been close. This is primarily due to globalisation of football, players joining and training with clubs in various European leagues and the finances provided by Fifa to hire top class coaches and develop infrastructure.
However the difference is that the European and South American countries know how to grind out results even in difficult situations. The best example were Colombia in Group H. They lost their opening match to Japan 1-2 and struggled against Senegal in their must win last match. Even with playmaker James Rodriguez injured and off the field they relied on the clever passing of Juan Quintero and set pieces to score a memorable 1-0 win.
Senegal got eliminated on the Fair Play rule and thus there will be no African country in the last sixteen for the first time since the 1982 World Cup.
Asian nations have done better, with Japan qualifying from their group for the first time since 2010. Remarkably three Asian nations Saudi Arabia, Iran and South Korea managed wins in the group stages.
This is much better than the 2014 World Cup when all Asian countries were eliminated in the group league and did not secure a single win. So the Asian Football Confederation can be pleased with the results and overall performances which are much better than four years ago
However the old order still prevails. There are 10 European and four South American countries in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup. The other two are Japan and Mexico.
With Japan likely to lose to Belgium and Mexico may also succumb to Brazil, the last eight will again feature just nations from Europe and South America
The best match of the round of 16 is on Saturday between France and Argentina. This was to be the dream final of the 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona versus Michael Platini, the two best players in the world at that time. It did not materialise as Germany upset France in the semi final.
They will now meet 32 years later and one of the pre tournament favourites will be knocked out
If Argentina win and in the next match on the same day Portugal prevail over the tenacious and hard tackling Uruguay, then a dream quarter-final is on the cards, Argentina versus Portugal, Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time ever in a World Cup.
England have probably benefitted by coming second in Group G.
They have moved to the bottom half of the draw and avoid a potential clash with Brazil in the quarter finals.
If England can overcome an injury-ridden Colombia in the round of sixteen on July 3 they could enter the semi finals for the first time since 1990 as they would meet the winner of Sweden vs Switzerland in the last eight. In an all European clash England would be favoured to win.