Monday and Tuesday continued to provide us with hectic World Cup action as the tournament’s Group Stage begins to wind down.
Saudi Arabia (2) Egypt (1). Mo Salah’s World Cup ends in sad fashion as Saudi Arabia comes back from down 1-0 to win 2-1 in a match that meant nothing to both nations outside of pride.
Uruguay (3) Russia (0). Uruguay ran through the Russians and proceeded to win Group A in a match where the Russians got exposed for not playing any quality competition yet.
Iran (1) Portugal (1).A Ricardo Quaresma trademarked outside of the foot goal put Portugal up 1-0 but a Ronaldo missed penalty limited their tally to 1. Iran equalized on a 93rd minute penalty due to a VAR review and the teams shared the points, but Portugal moved on.
Spain (2) Morocco (2). Spain conceded in the 14th minute and their Group B ambitions quickly led them down a possible path of elimination but an Isco equalizer brought them back to the top of the group just 5 minutes later. They went down again after conceding in the 81st but scored an equalizer in the 91st to claim the Group B title. The Spanish did not look good and may not go far if they play the way they’ve played in the Group Stage.
Australia (0) Peru (2).Peru, who were already eliminated, got their first win in 36 years with two beautiful goals from Carillo and Guerrero, knocking Australia out of the World Cup in the process.
France (0) Denmark (0). We had out first 0-0 draw of the tournament setting a new record for most matches without one. Many French stars were sitting due to rest concerns and yellow card accumulation concerns but both teams advanced with the draw.
Iceland (1) Croatia (2).If it wasn’t overshadowed by the Argentina match, this would have been the match of the day. Croatia, also sitting a few starters, scored a 90th minute winner to guarantee winning their group in a 2-1 thriller and will play Denmark in the next round.
Nigeria (1) Argentina (2).In one of the biggest matches in Argentinian history and of Messi’s career, the best player in the world stepped up and finally scored a beautiful goal in the 14th minute. He has now become the first player to score World Cup goals in his teens, 20’s and 30’s. A Nigeria penalty goal in the 51st temporarily put Argentina out of the World Cup, but a Marcos Rojo volley in the 86th minute sent Argentina through to play France in the Round of 16 (which will be awesome). Messi finally led his squad to victory, scored a goal and won Man of the Match honors all for the first time this tournament.
We enter the final two days of the Group Stage where the rest of the Round of 16 spots will be filled where there may be some intriguing matchups depending on the results Wednesday and Thursday.
Link to Group Standings: https://www.foxsports.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/groups
All-Time Record: 250-226-67
World Cup Record: 17-16-7
Wednesday, June 27
10:00 am EST
Mexico v. Sweden – A match with huge implications for both teams as any of Mexico, Sweden and Germany can go through to the next round. Sweden will need to win by more than 1 if they want to be guaranteed a spot as winning by 1 would tie them on goal differential. A draw or win for Mexico would win them the group but Sweden know that with an almost certain Germany win in the cards, they will need a result here against the Mexicans. What’s impressed me the most about Sweden is how they have been able to limit what teams can do offensively without having to keep the ball a lot. They let Germany dictate the game and they responded by putting men behind the ball, playing physical and countering quickly. Now although I love how Mexico has played, they will not have gone up against a team like Sweden in this World Cup yet. They ran with Germany, pressuring them, making them uncomfortable and countering on the break and beat South Korea purely on the quality difference. Sweden will be the first team that is fine with letting them take it to them and they will also be the first team to be able to counter on them quickly and successfully. Sometimes it’s not about how good the team you’re playing is, but how their style can counter yours. I think with Sweden’s ability to do that and with their desperation for points, they will cause Mexico trouble and could get the result. Sweden (Pick +130).
South Korea v. Germany – This one is a little less complicated than Sweden/Mexico as Germany need to win and possibly by a decent amount of goals in case Sweden wins, which would put Germany, Mexico and Sweden all on 6 points. Germany will win this match but the question is by how many goals, as the spread sits at -2. Germany also know if they place in 2nd, they could and would most likely be facing Brazil in the next round. All of this gives them incentive to not only win, but make sure that they rack up as many goals as possible to try to claim the top spot and at the worst advance to the Round of 16. It may go against one of my rules of picking against high spreads, but this is an instance where the team needs to win by multiple goals. Germany (-2).
2:00 pm EST
Serbia v. Brazil – Brazil haven’t looked good at all in either of their matches and without some late heroics, they could be sitting on 2 points in Group E. They will be going against an opponent who plays physical and tough soccer, throwing their opponents off their game and it couldn’t match up any better against a small and brittle Brazil side. Outside of a 90th minute Swiss winner on Friday, Serbia would be sitting on 4 points alongside Brazil at the top of the group. Instead they have 3 points and a slight chance at making the Round of 16 with a result here. As good as Brazil are on paper they have yet to play a solid full 90 minute at the level they would have liked. I expect the Brazilians to get three points but I don’t see them running up the score on the Serbs like a lot of other people do and they may actually be in danger of another slip up here. It may take them a while to score a goal, much like the Costa Rica match, and I can see Serbia being too physical for the Brazilians in their desperate quest for the Round of 16. Serbia (+1).
Switzerland v. Costa Rica – Costa Rica may have hung with Brazil for 90 minutes, playing the trademarked Concacaf style of soccer (being really bad but physical and really annoying to play against), but don’t expect them to do the same against the Swiss. The Swiss will finally play against the weakest team in the group after gaining 4 points against Serbia and Brazil, being down early in both of those matches. Costa Rica are a team that held Brazil scoreless for 90 minutes but posted an xG of 0.1, the second worst mark from any team in a match this tournament and they are arguably the worst team in this World Cup. The Swiss need a win to control their own destiny and go straight through to the Round of 16, and I don’t see Costa Rica preventing them from that. Switzerland (-0.5). *AS OF 9:30 EST, SWITZERLAND MOVED UP TO (-1). It’s only fair to accommodate for the spreads for readers and I still ain’t scared of this one. Switzerland (-1).
Thursday, June 18
10:00 am EST
Japan v. Poland – Although Poland are out of the tournament and Japan are technically top of the group, Poland should be the favorites since they are top 10 in the FIFA Rankings (those mean nothing really though, but still notable compared to Japan’s 61 ranking). But this match sits at a pickem considering how well the Japanese have been playing and many believe this Poland team may not put 100% into this match. But that’s where I disagree, as although Poland has 0 points, they are still a quality side and lost to two teams who outplayed them on matchdays 1 and 2. Many will make the argument that Japan are playing for a top spot in Group H and with points will qualify so they will come out strong, but I believe in this Poland squad to finish their World Cup campaign with points. Vegas putting this quality of a side as a pickem against a Japanese team who’s only real accomplishment was beating a 10-man Colombia team might be a big mistake from them. Poland (Pick -105).
Senegal v. Colombia – Colombia were almost counted out after their opening loss to Japan even though they had 10 men for 87 minutes but they came out on Sunday and showed the world what they can do with a full squad and James in prime form. With a statement win here they could send warning signs to whoever they would play from Group G (England or Belgium). But they go against a Senegal side who shocked Poland in the opening match and have played well all tournament with their confident style of attacking. But with 3 goals conceded over two matches, their defense has been exposed and could be the reason they are on the plane home before the Round of 16. I love Colombia to keep riding their momentum into the last match, knowing they have the opportunity to win the group. Colombia (-0.5).
2:00 pm EST
Panama v. Tunisia – Both teams are out, both teams are on 0 points and they have a combined 16 goals conceded from the two of them. This one is the wild card of wild cards and I don’t know what to do with this one. Both have been quite poor in the matches they’ve played, but Panama especially. Tunisia hung with England for 90 minutes only to concede a winner to Harry Kane but Panama hasn’t sniffed a result all tournament and have looked very bad in the process. Expect Tunisia, the slightly more organized team, to finish their World Cup a strong note and get the win here. Tunisia (-0.5).
England v. Belgium – This one is for all the marbles, but in one of the more odd ways possible. Both teams are equal on points, goal differential, goals scored and goals conceded (the tiebreakers in order) and if they draw then the team with the most fair play points will progress. Fair play points is based off of the amount of yellow and red cards you have accumulated in the tournament. To add to that, both teams know will also know who the winner of this group will play in the Round of 16, making things very interesting if the winner has to play Colombia. I don’t think either team would drop points on purpose and I also think both teams feel somewhat confident going against Colombia, but you can’t rule it out. It’s also hard to get a read on these teams since they’ve run through the entire group and haven’t played anyone of substance yet. But one thing that may separate these two teams is that Belgium has two or three starters who are doubtful to start on Thursday; Lukaku, Hazard and Mertens (in order of severity). If the Belgian lineup is changed enough and England play the same 11 as they have all tournament, England have the immediate upper hand. It may sound crazy but England have been reborn and I don’t expect the Belgian side to be fit for the match, giving England value on the pickem line. England (Pick -110).
Enjoy the final portion of the Group Stage as the tournament begins to thin down to include the teams who are serious about making a run!
Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.