Wow, is all I have to say at this point with how this tournament has gone. Not only has there not been a single 0-0 draw, but each game has been marvelous in its own right.
Brazil (2) Costa Rica (0). Brazil get the stranglehold on the group that they were looking for, but it took them two injury time goals to do it. They looked good but they can’t rely on late goals like that.
Nigeria (2) Iceland (0). This Nigeria win opens a massive opportunity for Argentina in Group D and sets up basically a winner-goes-through match between the two nations.
Serbia (1) Switzerland (2). Switzerland climb back from a 1-0 halftime deficit with an early second half goal from Xhaka and a 90th minute winner from Shaqiri.
Belgium (5) Tunisia (2). Although they’ve only played Panama and Tunisia, Belgium look like the best team in this tournament. They’re playing fluid soccer but the injury bug may be back for them before their group deciding match with England. Watch out.
South Korea (1) Mexico (2). Mexico looked good again and South Korea could not hang. Mexico are through to the Round of 16, but haven’t guaranteed a Group F title.
Germany (2) Sweden (1). Wooowwww what a match!! A first half Sweden goal put the Germans in position to get knocked out but they pulled one back in the 48th. After a testy second half which included a Germany red card in the 82nd minute it wasn’t looking good for the German’s but a Toni Kroos strike in the 95th minute off of a free kick wins it for the German’s and they sit in a good position to qualify and possibly even win the group. If you haven’t seen the goal, click HERE
England (6) Panama (1). An England masterclass against a lowly Panama side has given the England camp more confidence in this World Cup. A Harry Kane hat trick also puts him atop the list for the Golden Boot with 5 goals.
Japan (2) Senegal (2). One of the sneaky best matches from the last few days with Japan being down a goal twice to earn a point against Senegal. It was physical, it was exciting and it had 4 goals.
Poland (0) Colombia (3). Colombia has officially risen from the dead after wiping Poland off the map and out of the tournament on Sunday. They played with purpose and James Rodriguez had a peach of a match, assisting two of their three goals.
Link to Group Standings: https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/groups
Well as I stated at the start of the second matches, things will get a little easier to evaluate after watching every team play their first match. There’s just more data supporting the teams and you can get a feel for how they’ve played and against what type of competition. It worked for me as I went 6 wins 1 loss and 2 pushes in the second half of the second matches and it has put me back in the positive with a win/push rate of 63%.
We’re exactly halfway through the tournament and if you’re not entertained yet, the best is yet to come as we have teams fighting for their lives and for the right to win their respective groups and to not get knocked out. It’s all or nothing.
FYI: Each match in each group occurs at the same time on the same day for the final matchday of the group stage, 10:00 am EST and 2:00 pm EST.
All-Time Record: 247-222-66
World Cup Record: 14-12-6
Monday, June 25
10:00 am EST
Saudi Arabia v. Egypt – Both of these teams have already been eliminated but will be playing solely for pride. My instinct is to hammer Egypt because they’re the outright better side, but news broke on Sunday that Egyptian star Mohammed Salah may quit the national team after the tournament due to a political rift with the Egyptian FA. It’s not going to deter me from taking Egypt here due to how poor Saudi Arabia is, but be mindful that a lot may hinge on if he starts or even plays up to his billing. Egypt (-0.5).
Uruguay v. Russia – This match will decide who will top Group A with the rights to play the runner-up of Group B, likely to be Portugal and not Spain. In an odd role reversal, Russia have been the offensive juggernaut of the group instead of Uruguay. They have outscored Egypt and the Saudis 8-1 compared to Uruguay’s 2-0. Although signs point to Russia instead of Uruguay and the Russians have the home field advantage, this will be the Russian’s first real competition in a long time. Remember since they are the host nation, they did not have to go through qualifying over the last two years. Uruguay meanwhile has stayed consistent over their two matches earning at least a 2 expected goals (xG) count, no goals conceded and have the veterans to lead them through an important match like this on the world stage. I like Uruguay on the Pickem line and feel at worst they draw here to the Russians. Uruguay (Pick -110).
2:00 pm EST
Iran v. Portugal – Huge group implications here as an Iran win would put them through to the Round of 16 instead of Portugal. The odds are between (-0.5) and (-1) depending on where you find them, leaving Vegas somewhat exposed. Iran is a team who is 1-1 so far this tournament both winning 1-0 and losing 1-0 to Morocco and Spain respectively. But they face a Portugal team with Ronaldo on a hot streak and in position to advance with a draw. But to be honest, I was not impressed with Portugal against Morocco as they did not handle playing with the lead for 86 minutes very well. Iran meanwhile held Spain to a 1-0 win and although they got dominated on the stat sheet they knew what they had to do to stop them which was absorb the pressure and make Spain have to get past 11 players behind the ball. Expect them to do the same here, but with more intentions of counter attacking which is where Portugal can be exposed. I do see Portugal taking at least a point here but I am not going to count out Iran’s ability to stifle Ronaldo and hit them on the counter. Also take into account what Portugal may need to advance which is a draw at the least and if things get tight towards the end, they know to just keep the result they may have which could be that draw or a 1-0 lead. Iran (+1).
Spain v. Morocco – Morocco have been eliminated in somewhat cruel fashion as they’ve played very well in both games this World Cup, but couldn’t pull together a result from those performances. Morocco being eliminated can be analyzed in two different ways and those two thought processes will be put into motion for my decision making going forward for matches like this. Will Morocco come out and play with pride on the world stage against a world powerhouse? Or will they crumble under Spain’s incredible ability to break down teams added with their intention of winning the group. In fact, Spain aren’t technically into the Round of 16 yet and with a loss here and a draw in the Iran/Portugal game they could find themselves on the plane home before the next round in back to back tournaments. But I’m here to tell you that won’t happen as Spain have too much to play for and Morocco sadly don’t have anything to play for other than pride. Expect Spain to run away with this one and to lock up Group B. Spain (-1.5).
Tuesday, June 26
10:00 am EST
Australia v. Peru – Peru have been eliminated but Australia are still technically alive, needing a win here and a France win against Denmark at the same time on Tuesday. These are very possible occurrences and you can’t rule out the Australian hunger after the Socceroos draw to Denmark. They have held strong with the two best teams in the group and even a tournament favorite and know their role against these types of teams. They play physical soccer and refuse to let the opposition take it to them, frustrating everyone they play. In their draw to Denmark they had an xG count of 1.52 and had similar or better possession, shots on goal and total completed passes in both of their matches. They go against a Peru team who is already out of the tournament after not producing offensively like everyone expected them to. For example in their first match they created chances posting an xG of 1.78 but didn’t score. When they played France they could barely even get a shot in the box and had only 2 shots on goal the whole match. They seem lost and the locker room seems to be broken. Since Australia has a golden opportunity to go through here, expect the Socceroos to get at least a draw. Australia (Pick +110).
Denmark v. France – One of the better matches of the group stage comes to us on Tuesday as if either team wins, they win the group. But a Denmark loss leaves the gate open for the Australians to go through to the Round of 16. Since France is already in the Round of 16 and the winner of the group will play the runner up of Group D, possibly Argentina, many believe they will not play a full squad here. Personally I don’t think the French care considering they want to win their group, gain confidence in going 3-0 to start the tournament and I also don’t think they should be scared of Argentina or let what their situation dictate this match. It’s a hard match to pick because you’re tempted to take France, the better team with more confidence and better form but you know the Danes are desperate for at least a point. Vegas is pretty on point by making France slight favorites and inflating the odds on Denmark as the underdog, creating a situation where both sides almost have the value. But I can’t fade the French here as they are just too good and I think Denmark have been relatively lucky to earn 4 points in this group. Expect depth to play a major role if the French do sit a few players or sub them off in the second half for rest purposes, as they have one of the deeper benches in the tournament. Like I said, I can’t and won’t fade the French. France (-0.5).
2:00 pm EST
Iceland v. Croatia – No team has been eliminated from this group yet and any team has the shot to qualify on the last matchday for Group D. This game directly impacts the other game in the group and both Nigeria and Argentina would like Croatia to run away with this one, eliminating Iceland and making the race for second place come down to that Nigeria/Argentina match. I don’t know why Vegas has Croatia as such little favorites in this match considering the stark contrast in ability. Maybe they think Iceland won’t give in due to the possibility of going through (although it’s quite unlikely), or the fact that these two usually play in tense and tight affairs whenever they meet. They were in the same group in qualifying, which Iceland won by 2 points over Croatia, and they split their meetings with a win each. But this Croatian team is now a sneaky tournament favorite after crushing Argentina and keeping a clean sheet in both of their matches. Croatia only needs a draw to win the group and can even still win the group with a loss, but I don’t see them dropping points in this match. Don’t take Iceland’s draw to Argentina into account as much as Croatia’s ability to crush the two better teams in the group into submission. Croatia (-0.5).
Nigeria v. Argentina – Here. We. Go. The match of Lionel Messi’s life? The birthday boy as of 6/24 will have to come up big for his country as Argentina will need a win and anything but an Iceland win to get through to the next round. Argentina have looked horrible and it has started with Messi. He hasn’t had the proper body language or sense of attack he usually has in situations like these and the rest of the team has responded in a similar fashion. But he is not to blame for the position they are in, as the rest of the team has let him down over and over again this tournament from the finishing to the defense and especially the goalkeeping. Now they go against a Nigeria team that can win or lose to basically anyone in the tournament. They lost to Croatia 2-0 but came back and unlocked the Icelandic defense with 2 beautiful goals from Ahmed Musa and they know they have the opportunity of a lifetime to advance out of the group stage with a draw here and a Croatia draw or win. You’d expect them to sit back and absorb the pressure from a team like Argentina but I don’t think they’ll do that. They know Argentina has been below average through two games and if they take control of the game and make Argentina get desperate they will be successful and probably come out with at least a point. BUT, they are still going against one of the better attacking lineups in recent history and I expect them all to come out and play for their star man Messi. Expect the law of averages to kick in and I can see Argentina coming out and doing what they do best, led by Lionel Messi. When they needed a win to qualify for the World Cup in November in the final game of qualifying, Messi had a hat trick. It would shock me to see this Argentinian team come out flat again and make the same mistakes they did against Croatia. Argentina (-1).
That’s all for the first crop of matches, I will be back on Tuesday night to preview the rest of the matches. Enjoy the simultaneous matches and remember, all matches are available to stream on foxsportsgo.com and the foxsportsgo app.
Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.