Red Bull clubs have eight representatives for seven nations competing at this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. RB Leipzig boasts the most with four, while Red Bull Salzburg and New York Red Bulls share the spoils with two apiece. Now that the group phase has concluded, let’s have a look at how each player has got on.
VAR has had a starring role in the tournament so far, so there’s no better place to start with than a man who has twice been on the wrong side of a decision. Breaking records for all the wrong reasons, Yussuf Poulsen’s World Cup debut has been a roller coaster of an ordeal. In Denmark’s opener versus Peru, he conceded a penalty just before half-time, which, to save his blushes, Christian Cueva lifted over the bar. The 24-year-old was able to redeem himself with a Man of the Match performance and the match-winning goal. Against Australia, Poulsen became the first player to concede two penalties at a single tournament since Milan Dudić in 2006 after he was penalised for handball. Unable to have as much influence as in the first game, he was hauled off in the 58th minute. Due to two yellow cards obtained, Poulsen watched on from the stands as Denmark secured their place in the round of 16 with a 0-0 draw against France.
For Poulsen’s partner in crime at Leipzig Timo Werner, it was a tournament to forget. Expectations were at a high for the 22-year-old after he secured the golden boot at last summer’s Confederation Cup with three goals in four games, but he seemed to buckle under the pressure as Germany crashed out at the group stage for the first time since 1938. Used as a lone forward, teams were able to nullify his threat with a low defensive line, leaving little to no space for him to run into and make use of his blistering pace. A bystander for most of a match, his presence wouldn’t be noted until an additional forward was introduced as he could drift wide, drive to the byline and drill across into a dangerous area. When he was able to do so, he was one of Germany’s main threats. Alongside a few missed chances, Joachim Löw’s poor management made his World Cup debut a forgettable one.
Onto the third Leipziger in Russia, Emil Forsberg’s time in the group stage will have seen him receive a word or two from the sheriff – his wife, whom he spoke about in a recent piece released by The Players’ Tribune. With Zlatan Ibrahimović no longer in the national team picture, Forsberg is the talismanic figure in the Sweden side, but he wasn’t able to have as much of an influence as he would have wanted. Starting on the left, he’d drift inside and find large pockets of space in between the lines, but would be frustrated as the supply to him was insufficient to make use of the area, so had to drop deep to be more involved in the play. At times he was wasteful in possession. Forsberg was at his liveliest versus Mexico, although his shootings boots were nowhere to be seen as he squandered multiple chances in a 3-0 win. With Sweden in the next phase, Forsberg will have another opportunity to prove what he’s capable of like he showed against Germany with a solo burst through the heart of their defence.
Flying the flag for New York Red Bulls at the competition is Panama duo, Fidel Escobar and Michael Murillo. In the country’s first ever World Cup game, the tears were flowing as Himno Istmeño bellowed around the stadium, but when it came down to business against Belgium, Escobar, in particular, produced a performance to be proud of as he helped his side maintain a clean sheet for 47 minutes. He even had the audacity to try to lob a six foot six inch Thibaut Courtois from within his own half and almost succeeded, but the whistle had been blown moments prior. Even if it had looped in, it wouldn’t have counted. In the same game, Murillo had Panama’s best opportunity to score after making an unnoticed run into the area, however, the chance was missed as he opened his body up too much and allowed the goalkeeper to claim the ball. He had a nearly identical opportunity in the next match with a similar result, this time chipping the ball into Pickford. On the topic of the England game, it could not have been more of a disaster for the pair. In a 6-1 demolition by the Three Lions, Murillo was at fault for both of John Stones’ goal as his poor marking allowed the Englishman to find the net twice with a free header. Escobar, on the other hand, gave away a needless penalty, coming from behind to barge Jesse Lingard over in the box. In the final match versus Tunisia, Murillo was suspended due to card accumulation. In contrast to his nation’s results, Escobar was Red Bull’s standout performer in the group stage, showcasing a good range of passing and coming up with the goods in defence when needed.
Onto the agenda of Red Bull Salzburg’s Hwang Hee-chan, it was quite a disappointing tournament for the 22-year-old. Used as a winger instead of the centre-forward role we’ve become accustomed to seeing this season, Hwang found time in possession limited with his side primarily on the back foot. When he’d get onto the ball, he showed excellent speed and skill to beat a man, although the end product wasn’t there as he’d overdo it. A perfect example of this in the game against Mexico. With South Korea 2-0 down, Hwang latched onto an under-hit pass from Márquez, and instead of rounding the goalkeeper and placing the ball into an empty net, he elected to blindly backheel it into Son, which lead to the move breaking down. Scoring opportunities were few and far between for him, but against Sweden, he missed a glorious chance to level the score in stoppage time, directing a free header way past the post. In the historic final match versus Germany, Hwang began on the bench and came on in the 56th minute, then returned to it just over 10 minutes later with an injury.
In Yvon Mvogo’s instance, it was the unfortunate case of not being able to participate in the festivities as his parents didn’t fill out the necessary paperwork for the trip, so he was forced to watch Switzerland qualify for the round of 16 from the comfort of the bench. Duje Ćaleta-Car almost fell into the benchwarmer category, having sat out of Croatia’s wins versus Nigeria and Argentina, but with his nation’s progression guaranteed, he was awarded a start against Iceland and produce a solid display, dealing with what came his way, despite not having much to contend with.
For Timo Werner, Michael Murillo, Fidel Escobar and Hwang Hee-chan it’s commiserations as we say au revoir, but congratulation to Emil Forsberg, Yussuf Poulsen and Duje Ćaleta-Car for the progression into the next phase of the competition. Once the World Cup has come to an end, we will release another report to see if the Red Bull trio were able to push their team any closer to the World Cup trophy.