World Cup Week Two Update!

So we’re two weeks into the World Cup which means the group stage is over and the bracket for the knockout stage is all set! The ending of the group stage has been incredible, including the defending champion being knocked out this early for the third straight World Cup, so let’s take a look at how things shook out:

 

Group A

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Uruguay

3

0 0 5

9

Russia

2

0 1 4

6

Saudi Arabia

1

0 2 -5

3

Egypt

0

0 3 -4

0

After an underwhelming pair of 1-0 wins, Uruguay finally looked like a team to beat with a 3 – 0 win over Russia that secured them first place in the group. Suarez put them up early with his second goal of the tournament before an own goal and a red card sealed Russia’s fate. Winning this group was never going to have a particularly high reward with Spain and Portugal both in group B, and it’ll be the Portuguese up next for Uruguay.

Russia will certainly be disappointed that they couldn’t cap off the group stage with another win, as their home field advantage was finally broken. That being said, they were put in an easy group (what a coincidence!) and have taken advantage of it. This is the first time Russia have made the knockout stage since the fall of the Soviet Union. As a reward, they get to play Spain.

Saudi Arabia looked easily like the worst team in the tournament through their first two games, but somehow they managed not to finish bottom of their group. They pulled it together just enough to beat Egypt, and all things considered will probably be happy just to have one a game.

Egypt, on the other hand, had just a disaterous World Cup. They came in as a dark horse pick, but after resting Salah against Uruguay (a game they should have won) and then getting dominated by Russia their final match against the Saudis was meaningless. Making matters worse, Mo Salah threatened to quit the national team before that final game, so you can understand why they played so poorly and lost to perhaps the worst team. All credit to Egypt for making it to the World Cup but they’ll be incredibly disappointed.

I would have gotten this group exactly right had Egypt not imploded in their final game, but I had Uruguay first and Russia second so I’ll take it.

 

Group B

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Spain

1

2 0 1

5

Portugal

1

2 0 1

5

Iran

1

1 1 0

4

Morocco

0

1 2 -2

1

What a crazy finish this group had. Spain and Portugal each needed only a draw in their final match to secure a Round of 16 spot, while Iran knew a win against Portugal would send them through. There was also the crazy scenario where Spain and Portugal would have to draw lots (literally just pick a name out of a hat) to determine who won the group, but luckily we avoided that.

It was a bit of a nailbiter for both advancing teams. Portugal took the lead on an incredible goal from Ricardo Quaresma:

Things got crazy in stoppage time at the end of the game, as Iran were (questionably) awarded a penalty which they converted to make it 1-1. Then, with what was more or less the last kick of the game, Iran had a chance to win and go through:

This shot didn’t go in (it missed the net completely) and by the skin of their teeth Portugal were through.

Meanwhile, Spain went behind against Morocco twice before Iago Aspas scored in stoppage time to secure a 2 – 2 draw. That goal was incredibly important for a few reasons. First, they needed the point to stay tied with Portugal. Second, that goal means they had scored more goals than Portugal which means they win the tiebreaker between the two and finish first. Moreover, finishing first in the group gives Spain a much easier road to the Final (I’ll get to this at the end)

Iran and Morocco should both be proud of how they played. It was always going to be a longshot for either of them to get out of this group, but they hung in there in every game.

I had Spain and Portugal through in that order, but had Morocco and Iran flipped. Close enough.

 

Group C

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

France

2

1 0 2

7

Denmark

1

2 0 1

5

Peru

1

0 2 0

3

Australia

0

1 2 -3

1

France went into their final game against Denmark knowing they were already headed to the Round of 16 and just needed a draw to guarantee finishing in first place. Denmark, meanwhile, were not in such a safe position. A loss for them and a win for Australia likely would have resulted in them being eliminated. Not only were the Danes able to hold off France, but they got a helping hand from Peru as well who beat the Australians 2 – 0 to knock off the Socceroos and secure their first win at a World Cup since 1978.

It was nice to see Peru win a game after playing so well against France and Denmark. As it turned out, the other captains in the group didn’t come to regret appealing to FIFA to let Paolo Guerrero, who finally got his World Cup goal against Australia, play.

The Australians were always longshots to advance, but were given a chance in their final match and blew it.

France, once again, have not been particularly convincing. They’ll have that in common with their Round of 16 opponents, Argentina. If they want to advance in their very difficult portion of the bracket they’ll have to play better, and they know it.

Denmark will be satisfied with second place in this group, and now play one of the hottest teams of the tournament so far, Croatia.

I had France winning this group, but bought into the Peru hype more than I should have. I’m not surprised that Denmark proved me wrong. Australia finishing bottom felt like a safe pick.

 

Group D

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Croatia

3

0 0 6

9

Argentina

1

1 1 -2

4

Nigeria

1

0 2 -1

3

Iceland

0

1 2 -3

1

When we last talked about this group a week ago, it looked as if Argentina might be going home with Iceland or Nigeria advancing in their place. Of course, that didn’t happen. Iceland lost to Croatia and Argentina beat Nigeria. The Argentines did leave it late, though, with Marcos Rojo’s 86th minute goal being the winner to send them through instead of Nigeria and their awesome uniforms. Messi of course scored Argentina’s first goal, his missed penalty against Iceland forgiven (for now). Argentina know they’ll have to up their game against France. Messi basically dragged this team to the World Cup Final four years ago; he might yet be able to do it again.

The Nigerians were certainly underdogs in this group, and their win over Iceland proved not to be enough as they were simply beaten by better Croatia and Argentina teams.

Iceland still had hope heading into their final match against Croatia; maybe they hoped Croatia would take it easy on them and they could edge out a win that would allow them to advance without any harm to Croatia. However, it wasn’t to be and the magic of Iceland is gone. It was certainly unrealistic to expect them to replicate their Euro 2016 success. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these vikings.

The story of this group is without a doubt Croatia, who have been one of the best teams so far. After their complete domination of Argentina, they dispatched Iceland with a 90th minute winner from Ivan Perisic. The Croatian midfield is living up to its hype, best exemplified by the performances of Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic against Argentina. They’ll be heavily favored against Denmark, and may be looking at a quarterfinal matchup with Spain.

I got this group all wrong. I way overvalued the crazy off-the-field stuff going on with Croatia which clearly hasn’t been a distraction at all. I really did want to believe in Iceland, and that was clearly wishful thinking. I also overestimated Argentina, but at least they’re still going through.

Croatia proved me wrong, and I hope they continue to do so.

 

Group E

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Brazil

2

1 0 4

7

Switzerland

1

2 0 1

5

Serbia

1

0 2 -2

3

Costa Rica

0

1 2 -3

1

Nothing all that surprising here. After stalling a bit in their first game in which they drew against the Swiss, Brazil turned it with a pair of commanding 2 – 0 wins over Costa Rica and Serbia. The Brazilians will now face Mexico in the Round of 16 with momentum and history decidedly in their favor. Philippe Coutinho has been without a doubt Brazil’s best player as Neymar is limited by a foot injury that’s probably still not 100% healed. Beyond being just Brazil’s best player, Coutinho is certainly an early candidate for this tournament’s Golden Ball award.

Switzerland followed up their draw against Brazil with a difference-marking win against Serbia thanks to a 90th minute winner from Xherdan Shaqiri, which he celebrated the only way he knows how:

Maybe even better was when, following a rocket of a goal from Granit Xhaka, a fan threw a wheel of cheese on the field:

The Swiss then basically mailed it in against Costa Rica, knowing they would need to lose and Brazil to lose for them not to qualify. They’ll take on Sweden in the Round of 16, which will be anyone’s game and could produce a Cinderella run in the knockout stage.

Serbia need an Aleksandar Kolarov free kick to beat Costa Rica, and that was the best they got in this World Cup. They hardly threatened Brazil and just couldn’t hang on to a draw against Switzerland. They’re a talented team that just couldn’t get it done when it mattered.

Finally there’s Costa Rica, who to no one’s surprise did not repeat their incredible 2014 run. The oldest team in the tournament, they never looked competitive and are headed home despite Keylor Navas’ best efforts.

Brazil are my pick to win the whole thing, so of course I had them winning this group. Switzerland and Serbia were basically a coin flip that I guessed right.

 

Group F

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Sweden

2

0 1 3

6

Mexico

2

0 1 -1

6

South Korea

1

0 2 0

3

Germany

1

0 2 -2

3

For the third consecutive World Cup and the fourth of the last five, the defending champions did not advance out of the group stage. But Germany did less than not advance, they were completely embarrassed. After they were completely outplayed by Mexico, they needed this moment of physics-defying soccer wizardry from Toni Kroos to beat Sweden:

Then, all they had to do was beat South Korea, a team that had lost both it’s games so far and would certainly be overmatched by the German talent. Instead, they turned in a performance that was so uninspiring and ineffective. The Koreans played as if they needed to get a point at all cost, despite already being eliminated. The Germans missed several great opportunities and never found a goal. To make matters worse, they were the masters of their own demise. South Korea got their first goal from a misplaced back-pass by Kroos. Their second came from a hockey-style empty-net-goal after Manuel Neuer was thrown up front and promptly turned the ball over; Son Heung-Min raced to the other end of the field and tapped the ball into the empty net to cap off a South Korean victory. This produced maybe the best moment of the World Cup so far: Mexican fans picking up random Korean fans and carrying them around in celebration, including the Korean ambassador to Mexico back in Mexico City:

Why were the Mexicans so happy? Because their team totally sh*t the bed against Sweden. After dominating the Germans and then beating South Korea, the Mexicans were clearly not particularly afraid of what would have happened to them if they lost and Germany won. The South Koreans majorly bailed them out, and for their lapse in concentration the Mexicans get to play Brazil in the Round of 16. A seventh straight last 16 exit, here they come!!

Sweden have obviously been the positive surprise of this group, recovering from their heartbreaking defeat to Germany by blowing the doors off of Mexico. Sweden is phenomenal from set pieces and now faces Switzerland with dreams of maybe even making the semifinals. All without Zlatan.

Like probably everyone I had Germany winning this group and didn’t foresee this kind of disaster. Sweden really performed well, so all credit to them. The Mexicans are right on course for where I had them.

 

Group G

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Belgium

3

0 0 7

9

England

2

0 1 5

6

Tunisia

1

0 2 -3

3

Panama

0

0 3 -9

0

This group went as it was supposed to: England and Belgium cruises through their first two games before the game between them decided who would finish first.

Belgium followed their three goal win over Panama with a second one over Tunisia, this time scoring 5 goals.

Meanwhile, England gave Panama an absolute beat-down. They racked up 6 goals including a hat trick from Harry Kane, who leads the World Cup with 5 goals. Panama did get 1, their first ever World Cup goal, and preceded to celebrate as if they had won the whole thing:

Tunisia did get themselves a win over Panama, in a game that meant absolutely nothing. All in all, Panama were horrendous in this tournament and only increase the embarrassment for the USA in not being able to qualify instead.

The final game between England and Belgium presented a strange scenario: neither team wanted to win. That’s because the side of the bracket the first-place team would be sent to is much much tougher. So what did both teams do? They played their B teams and hoped they would lose under the guise of playing time for other players. England pulled off the loss and will now face Colombia who may be without James Rodriguez. As for Belgium, they have an easier matchup with Japan, but it could get a whole lot harder after that.

I called this group, no surprises here.

Group H

Team

Wins

Draws Losses GD

Points

Colombia

2

0 1 3

6

Japan

1

1 1 0

4

Senegal

1

1 1 0

4

Poland

1

0 2 -3

3

What a weird group. Japan beat Colombia but couldn’t muster another win. Colombia managed two wins despite James Rodriguez battling injury issues. Senegal was entertaining and in position to advance, but found themselves the first ever victims of the fair play tiebreaker (more in a moment). Poland finally got a win against Japan but it didn’t end up mattering.

Colombia certainly looked more like the team I expected them to be in their second and third games, easily beating Poland before grinding out a win against Senegal. While they’re obviously happy to have won the group, James Rodriguez’s health is a major concern and there’s serious doubts about whether he’ll be fit to face England:

Japan is certainly a surprise coming in second, and they’re a little lucky to still be there after not winning either of their two most recent games. They played an entertaining draw against Senegal, which left the teams even on points. Thus, whoever performed better in their final match would likely go through. Senegal lost to Colombia, while Japan fell to Poland who scored just their second goal of the tournament to get the win. This meant that tiebreakers were needed. Both teams had the same goal differential (0) and had drawn against each other. Each had also scored and conceded the same number of goals (4). The next tiebreaker is fair play points, which is a bit of convoluted system but basically comes down to the team that has received fewer cards. Japan has received 4 yellow cards, Senegal has received 6. That means that Japan goes through.

This is heartbreaking for Senega, who have been an exciting team to watch and, I would argue, would present a tougher test for opponents in the knockout rounds. Senegal’s elimination also means that no African teams made it out of the group stage, the first time that’s happened since 1982.

As for Poland, they largely live and die by Robert Lewandowski and he was virtually invisible in this tournament. This is of course in part due to how teams defended against Poland, but at the World Cup the big name players are expected to step up.

This group was a crap shoot. I got Colombia right, but Poland really underperformed my expectations.

 

ROUND OF 16

With all of that, the bracket for the elimination round looks like this:

world cup bracket

I’ll briefly run through the match-ups and pick who I think will advance.

 

URUGUAY vs PORTUGAL

Uruguay have yet to allow a goal in this tournament and have stayed relatively under the radar up to this point. They’ll be taking on Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been a one-man-wrecking crew in this tournament so far. I picked Portugal in this matchup before the tournament so I’m sticking with them, but I won’t lie I’m a little nervous after how they played against Iran.

 

SPAIN vs RUSSIA

Spain will be incredibly happy with how the bracket looks in front of them. Neither team played their best game last time out, and it will be interesting to see how Spain’s superior talent deals with the Russian home field advantage. I picked Spain to win here in my original prediction and have no reason to change that.

 

FRANCE vs ARGENTINA

Two teams that haven’t lived up to their potential thus far, Argentina will feel fortunate just to be here after stumbling out of the gate. I expect France to dominate possession in this game. The question is can they turn that into goals? Or will Messi create a moment of magic for Argentina? I originally had France playing Iceland, and Argentina is certainly a tougher test. I’ll stick with the French here, as I just don’t think Messi has enough support to get much farther.

 

CROATIA vs DENMARK

Croatia have been arguably the best team in the tournament so far and I wouldn’t want to play them. They have several world class midfielders, Denmark just has Christian Eriksen. I didn’t have either of these teams advancing out of the group stage, so it’s a clean slate. I’ll take Croatia; they’re hot right now and I think Eriksen will be overwhelmed.

 

BRAZIL vs MEXICO

Brazil definitely have another gear they can go to after recording two fairly pedestrian 2-0 wins in their last two games. Mexico are coming off that bizarre loss to Sweden and are only here thanks to South Korea. I predicted these teams would face each other, and I still think Mexico will get knocked out in the last 16…..again.

 

SWEDEN vs SWITZERLAND

This will be anyone’s game. Somehow Sweden won Group F and are coming off a big win over Mexico. Switzerland took it a bit easy in their last game against Costa Rica but played well when it mattered. I think the Swiss will rise to the occasion once again and will be off to the quarterfinals.

 

BELGIUM vs JAPAN

For beating England, Belgium gets the prize of an easier Round of 16 game but a much harder rode after that. They’ll have to be careful not to overlook Japan, who while they’re here because of a weird tiebreaker I’m sure won’t think anything less of themselves for making it out of the group. That said, Japan should be no match for the Belgians. Look for Lukaku, Hazard, and friends to dominate this game.

 

ENGLAND vs COLOMBIA

One of the most exciting matchups in this round, it hinges largely on one question: Will James play? If not this is a tough matchup for Colombia, but when you’re playing England anything is possible. If Harry Kane keeps scoring England should keep winning. I’m not sure that football is coming home, but England aren’t going home yet either. Onward for England!

 

So that’s that, this time next week we’ll be halfway through the quarterfinals so I’ll either have the blog out on Thursday or Saturday.

Stay tuned!

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