Well that couldn’t have been a much better of a start to the World Cup. From Russia kicking it off with a 5-0 win, the last minute winners from Iran and Uruguay, the Spain Portugal thriller, Messi’s missed penalty and more!
Russia (5) Saudi Arabia (0).
Morocco (0) Iran (1).
Portugal (3) Spain (3). In one of the best group stage matches ever played, Portugal climbed back from being 2 goals down to draw Spain 3-3. It had a Ronaldo hat trick a, 2 beautiful goals and 3 lead changes. Highlights: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAPrS43Xcs&feature=onebox).
France (2) Australia (1). An 81st minute winner from France gave them 3 points.
Argentina (1) Iceland (1).In a historic draw for Iceland, Messi’s penalty kicked was the difference and Argentina are now in danger of not winning Group D.
Peru (0) Denmark (1).
Croatia (2) Nigeria (0). Not a good start for the Nigerians.
Costa Rica (0) Serbia (1).
Germany (0) Mexico (1). Mexico get the historic win they were looking for and looked really convincing while the reigning champions looked lost and not prepared. The curse of the reigning champions lives on.
Brazil (1) Switzerland (1). Brazil looked somewhat pedestrian until the end where they created tons of chances and Switzerland look hard to beat. If Germany comes in 2nd in Group F and Brazil come in 1st in Group E, they would face each other in the Round of 16.
Half of the group favorites and four of the top 5 favorites to win the whole thing didn’t win their first match. It’s shaping up to be a wild card of a World Cup.
All-Time Record: 237-213-60
World Cup Record: 4-3-1
I started off hot on Thursday and Friday going 2-1-1, until Saturday handed me a 2-2 record to bring me back down to Earth a little bit. The Spain loss was obviously tough but it was hard to be too upset after watching one of the best Group Stage matches in the history of the World Cup along with one of the best individual performances in a while in Ronaldo’s hat trick.
But Planet Football keeps turning though as we still have 4 more groups who need to play their first match, and there are a few eye opening fixtures.
Sunday June 17th
8:00 am EST
Costa Rica v. Serbia – Serbia has a great chance to get off on the right foot here playing the weakest opponent in Group E, Costa Rica. But for Serbia to win they will need to go through Keylor Navas, the Real Madrid keeper who can make things really difficult for the Serbs. But this is a Serbian team that navigated themselves out of a tricky group in qualifying and has the stars and experience to get 3 points in their first match here. It will most likely be a low scoring match but Serbia’s quality will outlast Costa Rica in the full 90 minutes. Serbia (-0.5).
11:00 am EST
Germany v. Mexico – Can the Germans reverse the defending champions curse with a good start here in this year’s World Cup? Or can Mexico get their signature win to possibly lead them to the top of their group for the first time since 2002. This match will come down to a few things almost right away; whether Mexico can take it to Germany out of the gate and not allow them to control the match early on, if the Germans can score early and batten down the hatches and if Mexico can limit the shape, production and precision of the German midfield. Juan Carlos Osorio said he plans to take it to the Germans to try to prevent them from controlling the match early on and setting the tempo, which can work well against Germany but it isn’t sustainable for 90 minutes. If Mexico want to be successful, they may want to pick their battles instead of taking it full throttle. The last thing you want to do is make a mistake or turn the ball over too much because Germany will make you pay. The best part about Germany is that they also don’t have a specific style and are very good at pivoting their strategy mid-match to counter what the opposition is bringing to the table. Germany is favored by a goal here and it’s hard for me to buy into this Mexican team to stop Germany’s midfield or even apply a strategy that makes the Germans uncomfortable. Germany (-1).
2:00 pm EST
Brazil v. Switzerland – I like Switzerland a lot here in this World Cup but they’re a tough team to analyze. Although they have played really well in the tune up matches leading up to this World Cup (drawing against Spain and beating Japan and Panama by a combined 8-0), they didn’t have much competition in qualifying outside of Portugal where they split their two matches 2-0 to each team. The Swiss are a well-oiled machine with a stingy defense and a few solid players and could cause the Brazilians trouble. Brazil meanwhile are simple; they’re really damn good and are the favorites to win this tournament. They’ve beaten Germany, Croatia and Austria in the tuneup matches and are healthy and confident going into this match. What makes this pick hard though, is that the spread is 1.5, the trickiest spread in the World Cup. I picked Argentina and France on Saturday at -1.5 and both didn’t hit, possibly an omen that I should stay away. But with like a lot of things in life, I say screw the signs and stick to your gut because I believe that the Brazilians can make this one messy for the Swiss. They’ve also had a history of playing really well in opening matches and I can see this being a 2-0 or 3-1 match for Brazil. Brazil (-1.5).
Monday June 18th
8:00 am EST
Sweden v. South Korea – I love Sweden this year, mostly due to the fact that they are really hard to break down and don’t fear any opponents. Luckily for them, South Korea isn’t much of an opponent and they match up extremely poorly against the Swedes. South Korea’s one thing they have going for them is their striker Son who is one of the better strikers in the Premier League, but Son and the Koreans are going against a Sweden side who had the best goal differential in their qualifying over France and the Netherlands. It may be a really ugly match and goals may be hard to come by, making me nervous about the draw, but I like Sweden here. (P.S. I usually hate taking so many favorites but I pick what I pick so deal with it). Sweden (-0.5).
11:00 am EST
Belgium v. Panama – This one is a tricky one as we have our first 2-goal spread of the tournament. Belgium is by far and away the better team here and this one could get ugly, but watching some of these favorites stumble against smaller sides and not covering somewhat bigger spread makes me nervous to take Belgium. If anyone read this before the World Cup they would know I try to stay away from any favorite of 2 or more goals due to the nature of the sport and the World Cup reinforces that stance. I can’t believe I’m doing this but Panama will be fighting for their lives in their first ever World Cup match and I’m going to cap this Belgium win at 2 goals even if the spread pushes. Panama (+2).
2:00 am EST
Tunisia v. England – As I said in my preview blog for Group G, I’m high on England this summer. Although I don’t know if they can beat Belgium and win the group, I do like how they play and how this group of young players has come together. Tunisia meanwhile barely got out of their African qualifying group of Congo, Libya and Guinea and they don’t have the firepower to match England. Although England aren’t known for winning by multiple goals at the World Cup, I’d be shocked if they don’t get three points here and I think England winning by 2 is more likely than the draw. England (-1).
Tuesday, June 19th
8:00 am EST
Colombia v. Japan – Japan’s overall squad isn’t that old but their key players are and I think it will be their undoing in this World Cup. Compare that to Colombia’s overall solid average age and that most of their stars are in their prime and you have two totally different squads. Honestly this match should be Colombia’s but something about Japan’s veteran lineup made me consider them as the underdog here due to the possibility of a draw. But this is a Japan squad that couldn’t beat Mali, Ukraine, Ghana and Switzerland in 6 of their last 7 friendlies. I trust my gut in believing in Colombia to take all 3 points here so let’s just go with that before I overthink this. Colombia (-0.5).
11:00 am EST
Poland v. Senegal – Odds-wise this is a weird match as the line stands at a pickem with Poland the HEAVY favorite on the odds on that line. You’d have to risk 16 dollars to win 10 on that pickem line at some places which means it could likely move to Poland (-0.5). But since the line is at pickem we will go with that. This match is one of the bigger matches in terms of group implications not only due to the up-for-grabs nature of the group, but because if Colombia win get 3 points against Japan, this match could decide who will likely leave the group with them. As I said in my Group H preview, both of these teams are sneaky good and both have a star player on offense but what I think will set this match apart is the pace. Senegal play fast and aren’t afraid to take it to the opposition which may put Poland in a spot they don’t want to be in. Yes Poland can score goals and there are lots of questions at the goalkeeper position for Senegal, but I like the Senegalese to take this crucial match and at worst get 1 point from it. Senegal (Pick +135). (P.S. I will update this pick if the line changes prior to the match, especially if I can get Senegal (+0.5). AS OF 10:00 AM ON 6/19 THE LINE CHANGED TO SENEGAL (+0.5).
BONUS GROUP A MATCH
2:00 pm EST
Russia v. Egypt – Russia have the opportunity to lock in a trip to the Round of 16 in this match, but have to go against an Egyptian side that is desperate for points. Mohammed Salah is expected to play and it could really provide a spark to a team who conceded a crushing last minute goal to Uruguay on Friday. It was actually smart in my opinion to not play Salah because towards the end of the match, an attacking sub was not necessary and you might as well save his energy and assure his fitness for the other two matches which will be more crucial. Although Russia is favorited I think Egypt has a great shot at not only a point, but all three points here. I love them as underdogs and expect Mo Salah to remind everyone that he’s a top 5 player in the world. Egypt (+0.5).