In his latest column straight out of Qatar, Chelsea legend Pat Nevin reports on a World Cup he sees taking on a familiar shape and reveals who remains his tip to raise the famous golden trophy – just about…

I think we can safely say it has been a pretty entertaining World Cup so far with the wild ups and downs of the group stages. In retrospect, it was the upsets from the smaller, less-celebrated nations in football’s history that were the story. For a brief moment Saudi Arabia, Iran and Australia suggested the surprises might keep on coming. Even the African teams such as Tunisia, Cameroon and Senegal worried the big boys, but in the end they all succumbed when the pressure started at the business end.

England’s demolition of Senegal was a classic case in point. Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy did their best but they were being attacked from every angle and at every speed by a quality team. Considering the standard of players that England didn’t have to use, such as Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling (who had popped home and I hope everything is okay after his family’s trauma), it underlines they are seriously in the mix.

I am going to be at the France v England game that now looks like being one of the biggest games of the tournament. Whoever wins through that one must be considered one of the two favourites left in the draw. The French were my pre-tournament favourites and although they have lost some top-class players, they are still by the merest of margins the most likely to win by my, albeit usually fairly inept, calculations.

Argentina have Messi and…

It is the big boys playing well with Argentina also cruising past Australia in the end. I was at that game too, so you are probably thinking I’m getting to more games than Gianni Infantino! What I did learn from that one was that Argentina have two-world class aids that might just see them to the final. The first clearly is Lionel Messi. Without him they would be massive outsiders considering who is left.

Yes they are on a great run, notwithstanding that defeat to Saudi Arabia, but other teams have bigger and crucially younger and livelier squads. If Messi gets injured, they might as well book the next flight home I reckon.

Their other world-class help is an incredible fan base. No other nation at the tournament has come even close to the numbers, the noise and the passions of the Argentineans, well not that I have seen so far anyway. They were incredible and dragged their team over the line when the Aussies made a typically feisty go of it at the end. Messi however knew just how much energy to release, which actually wasn’t much, but he knows it is a long tournament and his team are relying on him.

Just to see him in the flesh one more time was special. It might not be the last time I see him play in person, but you have got to savour these last moments of the career of a total football genius.

Today I am off to watch Spain against Morocco and I can’t wait to see the possible match-up between Cesar Azpilicueta and Hakim Ziyech. Hakim has had a great tournament so far, international football seems to suit him, but Spain will be a big ask. Having said that, beating De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard, Courtois, Hazard and Batshuayi, and a few other Belgians who haven’t played for Chelsea, was a big ask and Hakim and co. answered that.

Defining images

I actually did have a day off the other day. Somehow I managed to get the time. I decided to go for a drive and managed to drive round the entirety of Qatar in a morning and an afternoon. It really is that small. I thought I would go out and take some pictures for this page in the rural areas up by the Saudi Arabian border, but the only things I fancied taking a pic of was the numerous signposts saying No Pictures!

Happily, there are a few pictures at the stadiums available to the world and I just wonder what will be the photo that defines this tournament. Most have one above all others and I can remember all the way back to 1970 and the glorious picture of Pele celebrating in the final, that still makes me smile. Keep well Edson, the entire planet football is thinking of you and hoping we can see that smile many more times.

I think Pele would have smiled if he was watching Japan play at this World Cup. They have been a fabulous breath of fresh air throughout. They play with such speed, passion, pace, fairness and they have a clear love of the game. At half-time last night against Croatia they were tearing apart one of the best teams around. Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic are among the best midfields here and they were given an incredibly tough 45 minutes. The question was whether or not the Japanese could keep up the pace. They had actually got stronger in every game up until this one, so there was great hope.

We got the answer as Maeda’s first-half goal was cancelled out by a very professional Croatian side and when the penalties arrived, I wouldn’t have given Japan a 10 per cent chance. I’m so happy for Mateo and co. but my heart breaks for the Japanese. The tournament is lessened by their absence.

After Brazil saw off South Korea, another of my favourite teams, one more outsider bit the dust. Normal service appears to have resumed. I’ll be at the Croatia v Brazil game and by then I guess it will seem like just about every World Cup, the major nations will as usual be the major players and that is exciting enough for me.

Oh yes, and Brazil were quite good. Did I say France were my favourites? Like everyone else I might just be wavering. There will be lots of great World Cup memories but Thiago Silva’s through-ball and face after he put Richarlison through for Brazil’s third goal was a picture. I will stick with that one as my favourite for the moment.