Argentina and France faced each other in one of the all-time great World Cup finals, seeing off all their peers to play out a classic at the Lusail Stadium.

But for 16 nations, the tournament has been over for a while now. Those teams that exited at the group stage went home more than two weeks ago having played just three matches.

For some teams it was little surprise – they were never expected to make the knockout rounds. But for others, it will have been a bitter pill to swallow. Sportsmail has taken a look back at the 16 teams who were eliminated at the group stage, and graded how they performed in the Middle East. 

Argentina and France battled it out for the World Cup in Sunday's final in Qatar - with Lionel Messi (left) and Co coming out on top to win their nation's first World Cup since 1986

Argentina and France battled it out for the World Cup in Sunday’s final in Qatar – with Lionel Messi (left) and Co coming out on top to win their nation’s first World Cup since 1986

GROUP A  

Ecuador

Position: 3rd Points:

This was only Ecuador’s fourth World Cup, and they had only made it past the group stage once in 2006.

Yet being placed in Group A looked to give them a chance of equalling that feat, and they started well by easing past Qatar.

They were then arguably the better side when they faced Holland, recovering from an early Cody Gakpo goal to draw level through Enner Valencia as the South American outfit earned a hard-fought point.

Going into their final game, Ecuador only needed a point against Senegal to progress.   

Enner Valencia enjoyed a fine World Cup, scoring twice in Ecuador's match against Qatar

Enner Valencia enjoyed a fine World Cup, scoring twice in Ecuador’s match against Qatar

But they started nervously and fell behind to an Ismaila Sarr penalty. Once again, they hit back as Moises Caicedo equalised, but a Kalidou Koulibaly goal 20 minutes from time sent them home.

Ecuador will be disappointed with how their final match played out, but they can be pleased with their opening two displays, with star man Valencia shining up front.

The team’s energy and intensity caused Holland plenty of problems, and Ecuador looked the more likely winners in that game as they pushed forward late on.

That must be the blueprint for how they play looking ahead, and if they can consistently achieve that level there is no reason why they can’t do well in the next World Cup in 2026. 

Grade: B- 

Qatar

Position: 4th Points: 0

Not much was expected of the host nation, but they were even worse than most people anticipated.

Their dismal opening day showing against Ecuador set the tone for their tournament as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat. In truth, Ecuador appeared to take their foot off the gas in the second half, and the stadium was half-empty by full time.

In their second game against Senegal there were signs of improvement – they couldn’t be much worse! 

Mohammed Muntari created history by scoring Qatar’s first ever World Cup goal with a thumping header, but Senegal still ran out comfortable 3-1 winners.

Qatar went out of their own World Cup without picking up a single point from their matches

Qatar went out of their own World Cup without picking up a single point from their matches

That result meant Qatar were out of their own tournament inside five days, but they still had to show up for their final group game against Holland.

Louis van Gaal’s men swatted them aside 2-0 to bring Qatar’s misery to and end. 0 points. One goal scored. Seven conceded. The worst performance by a host nation by some distance.

Will there be a next time? Qatar have never qualified for a World Cup before, and on this evidence they won’t be playing in football’s biggest tournament again any time soon. 

Grade: F 

GROUP B

Iran

Position: 3rd Points:

Iran were supposed to be the team that could trouble England by keeping things tight at the back and looking to hit Gareth Southgate’s men on the counter-attack. That’s not how things played out.

Let’s be honest, that game was a disaster for Iran. From having their goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand injured inside 10 minutes after taking a sickening blow to the head, to going on to concede six goals, Iran’s tournament could hardly have got off to a worse start.

That match was also significant as Iran’s players refused to sing their national anthem to support protestors back in their homeland following the death of Mahsa Amini.

After an opening game drubbing and everything going on off the pitch, Iran’s response in their second match against Wales was outstanding.

Iran bounced back from their opening game thrashing to beat Wales in their second match

Iran bounced back from their opening game thrashing to beat Wales in their second match

Carlos Quieroz’s side got better as the game went on and deservedly emerged 2-0 victors thanks to a couple of late goals.

Iran entered their final game against USA knowing that a point would likely take them through to the last-16, but they came up short as Christian Pulisic netted the only goal of the game.

Iran’s thrashing at the hands of England showed they are not ready to go toe-to-toe with the best teams yet, but their final two matches was much more like it.

This is a team that has to be focused on defensive stubbornness. That strategy helped them beat Morocco and draw with Portugal four years ago, and sticking with that could keep them competitive moving forward.

Grade: C 

Wales

Position: 4th Points: 1

This was always going to be a momentous occasion for Wales. Their first World Cup appearance in 64 years. But it all went a little flat, didn’t it?

There were obvious opening game nerves when they took on USA, and they deservedly fell behind in the first half to a Timothy Weah goal. But the second half was better as Keiffer Moore came off the bench to make a difference, and Wales probably deserved the point that they secured thanks to Gareth Bale’s late penalty.

It seemed that momentum was on their side heading into their clash with Iran, particularly as Iran had been trounced in their first outing.

Gareth Bale scored from the penalty spot in Wales's opening World Cup game against USA

Gareth Bale scored from the penalty spot in Wales’s opening World Cup game against USA

Wales struggled in the heat, though, and were hanging on for dear life in the second half. 

It looked like they might manage to nick another point, but Wayne Hennessey’s red card after a ridiculous charge from his goal proved to be decisive, and the team could not hold out as they conceded twice in added time.

This meant that Wales needed to win their final game against England. Right from kick-off the plan was clear – stay in the game and try and get a goal on the counter.

But you have to show something. Wales hardly laid a glove on their opponents, and when England went through the gears in the second half, Rob Page’s men had no answer.

It ended up being a disappointing World Cup for Wales as they finished bottom of Group B

It ended up being a disappointing World Cup for Wales as they finished bottom of Group B

Bale went off at half time and hardly looked fit throughout the tournament, while Aaron Ramsey was unable to rediscover the form that helped Wales make the Euro 2016 semi-finals.

Those two Welsh icons are very unlikely to be around in four years’ time, and Page has a rebuilding job on his hands if he remains at the helm, having watched his side fail to score a goal from open play.

There are some exciting young players that could take the team forward. Brennan Johnson and Dan James offer pace on the counter, while wing-back Neco Williams can also be proud of his efforts in Qatar. Add in the experience of Ben Davies in the backline and there is something to work with. 

Wales have been heavily reliant on some magic from Bale for the past decade, but it will have to be a real team effort if they are to qualify for the next World Cup. 

Grade: E-

GROUP C

Mexico

Position: 3rd Points: 4

Mexico had made the round of 16 at each of their previous seven World Cups, and when veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa saved Robert Lewandowski’s penalty in their opening game to earn his side a point, they must have fancied their chances of extending that run.

Their second match pitted them against an Argentina side still reeling from their shock opening loss against Saudi Arabia.

In a scrappy affair, it was left to Messi to turn the game in his team’s favour as he rifled home a shot from the edge of the area, and then set up Enzo Fernandez for the match-clinching second goal.

Mexico were undone by some Messi magic in their second group game in Qatar

Mexico were undone by some Messi magic in their second group game in Qatar

It was all to play for in their final game against Saudi Arabia, although Mexico knew that they needed to boost their goal difference if they were going to leapfrog Poland in the group.

After a goalless first half, Mexico turned on the style after the break with Henry Martin and Luis Chavez scoring within the opening seven minutes of the half.

With Poland losing 2-0 against Argentina, it looked like it could come down to the fair play rule, and Mexico were set to head out due to picking up more yellow cards than Poland.

Mexico were unable to win by enough goals against Saudi Arabia to make the last-16

Mexico were unable to win by enough goals against Saudi Arabia to make the last-16

An injury-time Saudi Arabia goal prevented this ridiculous scenario from playing out, and Mexico exited the competition.

In the end, Mexico were desperately close to getting through, but they will look back on their first two games and question why they didn’t show a bit more ambition. Their performance against Saudi Arabia showed that they can hurt teams if they take it to them rather than sitting off all the time.

Mexico will be one of the host nations in 2026, and standing off and waiting for things to happen in front of their home fans simply won’t be acceptable.

Grade: C- 

Saudi Arabia

Position: 4th Points: 3

No one gave Saudi Arabia a prayer of beating Argentina. Watching the first half of their encounter, it looked like a case of keeping the scoreline down.

Saudi Arabia went into the break just one goal down, but Argentina had seen three further goals chalked off by marginal offside calls. 

Saudi Arabia needed some inspiration, and they got it from manager Herve Renard who gave a rousing half time speech to send his team out believing that they could actually pull off the impossible.

Saleh Al-Shehri brought his side level three minutes after half time, and Salem Al-Dawsari then netted a stunning solo goal to put Saudi Arabia in front.

Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating Argentina

Saudi Arabia pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history by beating Argentina

Saudi Arabia were inspired to victory by their charismatic manager Herve Renard

Saudi Arabia were inspired to victory by their charismatic manager Herve Renard

Argentina huffed and puffed afterwards, but could not find a way through as Saudi Arabia picked up the biggest win in their history.

Unfortunately for them, that was as good as it got. They were beaten 2-0 by Poland and lost 2-1 to Mexico meaning they finished bottom of the group.

Yet they proved that they belong at this level, and gave a far better account of themselves this time around after being hammered by Russia 5-0 at the last World Cup. 

Whether Renard hangs around and they continue with their high line remains to be seen, but they were certainly entertaining to watch in Qatar.

Grade: B

GROUP D

Tunisia

Position: 3rd Points: 4

Tunisia will have been delighted with their opening draw with Denmark, and it looked like a big opportunity for them to get their first win on their board against Australia. They didn’t take it.

Instead, they slipped to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a remarkable Mitchell Duke header, with Australia producing some courageous defending to hold on.

Tunisia still had a chance of qualifying prior to their final match with France, and their cause was helped when Didier Deschamps made wholesale changes to his team after they had already booked their place in the last-16 with a game to spare.

Wahbi Khazri's goal helped Tunisia beat France, but the African nation still went out

Wahbi Khazri’s goal helped Tunisia beat France, but the African nation still went out

The North African side pulled off a famous win thanks to Wahbi Khazri’s second-half goal, but it was not enough as Australia edged past Denmark to take second spot in Group D.

Conceding only one goal in a group containing France and Denmark warrants praise, but only scoring once is cause for concern.

Tunisia showed that they can make things difficult for some of the top teams, but they need to be more ruthless in front of goal if they want to become a genuine threat on the world stage.

Grade: C 

Denmark

Position: 4th Points: 1

Denmark must have had high hopes coming into the tournament having made it all the way to the semi-finals of last year’s Euros and then taken England to extra-time in their last-four clash.

With Christian Eriksen back in their ranks, it appeared they could potentially challenge France for top spot in the group and progress to the knockout stages wasn’t expected to be an issue.

It quickly became apparent that this team was not at their best when they drew 0-0 with Tunisia in their first match. The side looked short of a top-class striker ahead of the tournament, and Andreas Cornelius hardly silenced the doubters when he missed the target with a header from all of two yards out.

Next up was France, and Denmark fought hard to keep their European rivals at bay, only for Kylian Mbappe to pop up with two goals to condemn them to a 2-1 defeat.

Denmark went out of the World Cup after scoring just one goal and failing to win a game

Denmark went out of the World Cup after scoring just one goal and failing to win a game

Despite picking up just a single point from their first two games, it was still in Denmark’s hands when they faced Australia in their last group game.

The team struggled to create many clear-cut chances, though, as Australia stood firm and then delivered a knockout blow when Mathew Leckie netted the winner on the hour mark.

Scoring just one goal in three matches is simply not good enough, and Denmark have to be considered one of the biggest disappointments of this year’s tournament.

With Eriksen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in midfield and Andreas Christensen alongside Joachim Andersen in defence, Denmark have a strong foundation.

But until they find a striker to put their chances away, it is hard to see the side troubling the very best teams.

Grade: E 

GROUP E 

Germany

Position: 3rd Points: 4

It used to be a foregone conclusion that Germany would make the latter stages of every tournament. Did they have to play well? No. Be particularly fun to watch? No. But they’d be there in the final week poised for another shot at glory.

Those days appear to be over. Having gone out in the group stages in Russia, Germany were expected to do much better this time, but were stunned by Japan in their opening game as they surrendered a one-goal lead to lose 2-1.

There was very little sympathy for the four-time World Cup winners, especially after Antonio Rudiger’s bizarre running when Germany were in front led to accusations of the defender showing Japan a lack of respect.

Hansi Flick’s men were immediately on the back foot, and their second game saw them go up against fellow European powerhouse Spain. 

Japan pulled off a stunning win against Germany in the opening World Cup game in Group E

Japan pulled off a stunning win against Germany in the opening World Cup game in Group E

After falling behind, Germany came back well and earned themselves a creditable 1-1 draw when Niclas Fullkrug struck late on. 

The group was in the balance ahead of the final game, but it seemed that a win against Costa Rica would probably book Germany’s place in the last-16.

At half time, Germany were a 1-0 up, and Spain were winning by the same margin against Japan. So far so good. Then everything changed.

Japan scored twice in a matter of minutes to take the lead, and Germany conceded twice against Costa Rica to fall behind. Suddenly, Germany were bottom of the group.

Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 in their final match but still went out on goal difference

Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 in their final match but still went out on goal difference

Three late goals turned the game back in Germany’s favour as they ran out 4-2 winners, but Japan held on against Spain as Flick’s side were eliminated on goal difference.

The draw against Spain suggested that Germany are still a very good side, but they massively underachieved here.

The team are lacking a prolific forward, and their backline was made to look fragile throughout the tournament. Until these issues are fixed, there could be more heartbreak to come for Germany, starting with Euro 2024 which they are hosting.

Grade: E 

Costa Rica

Position: 4th Points: 3

Costa Rica were a penalty shootout away from making the semi-finals in 2014. Admittedly, hopes of repeating that feat were pretty low this time around, but losing 7-0 against Spain in their first match was embarrassing.

They were picked apart at ease by Luis Enrique’s men, and offered nothing going forward.

They weren’t much better as an attacking force against Japan, but somehow managed to snatch a 1-0 win through Keysher Fuller’s late goal.

Costa Rica were thrashed by Spain, leaving themselves an uphill task to get out of their group

Costa Rica were thrashed by Spain, leaving themselves an uphill task to get out of their group

This meant that they were still in with a chance of qualifying when they played Germany.

And for a brief moment it seemed that they might just get through when they went in front with 20 minutes to go. 

Germany pulled themselves together, though, to score three times in the final 17 minutes, ending Costa Rica’s World Cup dreams.

Costa Rica deserve some credit for bouncing back from their abysmal showing against Spain, but you’re never going to get very far if you concede 11 goals in three matches. Something to work on for 2026.

Grade: C- 

GROUP F

Belgium

Position: 3rd Points: 4

The end of an era. Belgium’s best chance to win the World Cup came four years ago when they were narrowly edged out by France in the semi-finals. They looked a shadow of that side in Qatar.

The warning signs were there right from the off. Canada largely outplayed Roberto Martinez’s team in their first match, and will have gone away from that game wondering how they managed to lose 1-0. 

Having got a let-off against Canada, Belgium were expected to improve when they faced Morocco, but they were even worse.

Kevin De Bruyne claimed early on in the tournament that Belgium were 'too old' to win in Qatar

Kevin De Bruyne claimed early on in the tournament that Belgium were ‘too old’ to win in Qatar

They hardly created a chance, and shipped two second-half goals to fall to a 2-0 loss. 

Prior to that game, Kevin De Bruyne had admitted that his side were ‘too old’ to win the tournament, and his comments did not appear to go down well with his team-mates.

Amid reports of a split in the Belgium camp, Martinez rang the changes for Belgium’s must-win game with Croatia, dropping both Hazard brothers and Michy Batshuayi. 

The move nearly paid off as Belgium delivered their best performance of the competition, but substitute Romelu Lukaku missed three huge chances and the goalless draw sent Belgium out.

With just one goal all tournament and a seemingly unhappy squad it was a sad way for Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ to end. Martinez has now stepped down and Eden Hazard has retired from international football. He will be difficult to replace, and it will be hard for Belgium to regroup with Euro 2024 just 18 months away.

Grade: E 

Romelu Lukaku missed some huge chances against Croatia as Belgium finished down in third

Romelu Lukaku missed some huge chances against Croatia as Belgium finished down in third

Canada

Position: 4th Points: 0

Canada were competing in their first World Cup since 1986, and they came racing out the blocks against Belgium. How they lost that game remains a mystery, with Alphonso Davies missing a penalty and several other opportunities being spurned.

Canada manager John Herdman was immensely proud of his team after that game and backed them to ‘F’ Croatia in their next game.

The problem is: if you talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. Croatia proceeded to hand Canada a lesson in ruthless finishing as they cruised to a 4-1 victory, and with that Canada were out.

John Herdman talked his side up ahead of their group game against Croatia

John Herdman talked his side up ahead of their group game against Croatia

His words backfired as Croatia comfortably beat Canada 4-1 to eliminate Herdman's team

His words backfired as Croatia comfortably beat Canada 4-1 to eliminate Herdman’s team

Their last game saw them go up against Morocco, who scored two early goals to record a 2-1 win, meaning Canada left Qatar without picking up a single point.

In fairness, Canada offered plenty from an entertainment point of view, but they were perhaps a little naïve with their approach of going toe-to-toe with superior teams.

Ahead of co-hosting the 2026 tournament, Canada must find the right balance between attack and defence as they were found wanting at the back time and time again.

There is plenty to work with, though, and they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves in Qatar.

Grade: D 

GROUP G

Cameroon

Position: 3rd Points: 4

Samuel Eto’o backed Cameroon to win the World Cup at the start of the tournament, but there was no evidence that they would come close to achieving that when they lost their opening game against Switzerland.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana did not appear to do a lot wrong in that game, but he subsequently got into an argument with manager Rigobert Song about his style of play and promptly left the squad.

Cameroon needed to bounce back against Serbia, but things weren’t looking good when they fell 3-1 down early in the second half.

Enter super-sub Vincent Aboubakar, who netted a delightful scooped effort and then set up Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to earn Cameroon a point.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana went home after a disagreement with manager Rigobert Song

Goalkeeper Andre Onana went home after a disagreement with manager Rigobert Song

Pre-tournament favourites Brazil opted to rotate their squad after booking their place in the last-16 by winning their first two games, and Cameroon took full advantage as Aboubakar popped up again to nod home a late winner.

He then proceeded to mark the historic moment by taking his shirt off to celebrate, which led to him picking up his second yellow card and being sent off.

Aboubakar did not seem too unhappy with the decision – it’s not every day that you score the winning goal against Brazil.

Ultimately, that win was not enough for Cameroon to progress, but their match against Serbia was one of the games of the tournament and beating Brazil has to be respected.

Grade: B- 

Vincent Aboubakar was sent off after taking his shirt off to celebrate his winner against Brazil

Vincent Aboubakar was sent off after taking his shirt off to celebrate his winner against Brazil

Serbia

Position: 4th Points: 1

Serbia finished above Portugal in qualifying for the World Cup so there was genuine optimism that they could thrive in Qatar.

With Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the line, it seemed they could pose Brazil some problems, but Serbia hardly created a chance as they fell to a 2-0 defeat.

Their attacking flair was on show in their second match against Cameroon as they netted three goals. However, their defending was abysmal as they also shipped three goals by trying to utilise an offside trap that never looked like working.

It all came down to their final match with Switzerland. Win and they would probably go through. Draw or lose and it was time to go home.

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice in Qatar but Serbia still failed to make it out of their group

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice in Qatar but Serbia still failed to make it out of their group

Manager Dragan Stojkovic finally started Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic together up front, and it paid off as both scored in the first half.

Yet Serbia’s defensive vulnerabilities were exposed again as they conceded another three goals, including two in four minutes either side of half time.

With the team needing goals, their cause wasn’t helped by Stojkovic deciding to take off Mitrovic, Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the second half. His changes were inexplicable.

All this meant that Serbia finished bottom of Group G, picking up just a single point. Goals aren’t a problem for this side, but they have to tighten up at the back if they want to take that next step. 

Grade: D

GROUP H

Uruguay

Position: 3rd Points: 4

Uruguay looked like they might be able to cause a stir in Qatar. With the experience of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front, and the midfield class of Fede Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur, they looked well-placed to at least make it of their group.

But their first match with South Korea was a drab goalless draw, and they were equally disappointing in their 2-0 loss against Portugal.

Anyway, forget about those games, it was all about their crunch clash with Ghana. 12 years after Luis Suarez’s handball denied Ghana a place in the World Cup semi-finals, it was time for the rematch.

Both teams were still in with a chance of progressing. Would it be repeat or revenge?

In the end, Uruguay won convincingly thanks to a first-half brace from Giorgian de Arrascaeta, but news started to filter through that South Korea had also beaten Portugal.

Uruguay went out in agonising fashion, with Luis Suarez left in tears after their early exit

Uruguay went out in agonising fashion, with Luis Suarez left in tears after their early exit

This left Uruguay needing one more goal to go through, while Ghana were doing everything in their power to ensure that the South American outfit would be joining them in exiting the tournament early.

Uruguay screamed for a late penalty but to no avail, and as the final whistle blew Suarez was left in tears. 

There were ugly scenes after full time with Uruguay players charging onto the pitch to confront the officials, and some may face sanctions for their actions.

Uruguay have no one to blame but themselves, though, after their conservative approach in their first two games saw them fail to find the net.

Suarez, Cavani and Diego Godin are now set to exit the international stage, but with Valverde, Bentancur and Darwin Nunez in their ranks, Uruguay can still be a dangerous force moving forward if they show a little more initiative in matches.

Grade: D- 

Ghana

Position: 4th Points: 3

Ghana didn’t even qualify in 2018, and having been placed in a group with Portugal and Uruguay they weren’t expected to go very far this time.

Perhaps that is why they showed Portugal a little too much respect in their first game. They went 3-1 down late on, but when they did start to show more ambition they troubled Portugal.

An 89th minute goal from Osman Bukari gave them hope, but it was too little too late.

Four days later, they were on the right side of a five-goal thriller, this time against South Korea.

Ghana endured more penalty heartbreak as Andre Ayew saw his spot-kick saved

Ghana endured more penalty heartbreak as Andre Ayew saw his spot-kick saved

Mohammed Kudus scored twice after Mohammed Salisu had the team ahead in the first half, and Ghana were in second place heading into the final round of matches.

Perhaps the occasion got to them against Uruguay, and once Andre Ayew missed a first-half penalty they never looked like getting the result they needed.

Still, they managed to also ensure that Uruguay didn’t progress either, leaving their fans happy. 

Kudus looks like a star in the making, and he should be the heartbeat of this side if they are to shine in 2026.

Grade: C 



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