Folks, it’s about to get crazy up in here. This week is the final first round matches. Eleven teams have nothing to play for because they’ve already locked their passage to the next round (Netherlands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Belgium) or they have already booked a flight home (Spain, Australia, Cameroon, England, Bosnia). For the other 21 teams it’s do or die over the next few days.
Takeaways from the first round so far
The biggest takeaway from the first round is how the goals have come in bunches. So many times a team that gets scored on gets an equalizer just a few minutes later. Lots of goals have come late in games (cough*USAvPortugal*cough). There have been lots of goals, period.
This is the worst World Cup refereeing I can recall. It started in the first match with an absolutely atrocious penalty call for Brasil against Croatia. It continues with botched off-sides calls that have cost several teams several goals.
Several teams that are going home have played well enough to earn my respect and may have had better luck in other groups. Australia gave Chile and Netherlands all they could handle. Bosnia played great but was unlucky with an early own-goal against Argentina and an incorrectly disallowed goal against Nigeria which cost them dearly.
The utter collapse of the teams from the Iberian peninsula. Both Spain and Portugal got spanked in their first game and never really recovered from the points, goals against, injuries, and suspensions. Not exactly Iberian, but Cameroon didn’t take long to fall apart either.
Overall there have been a TON of good games. Games I like to watch even if “my” teams aren’t playing. I can say that so far maybe only 2-3 games have been boring.
The crowds at the stadium have been great, even the ones in the swampy amazon jungle. Also good are the watch parties back home. Like this one in Grant Park in Chicago.
Some of these groups will be decided by tiebreakers. While the order of tiebreakers is kinda easy (goal difference, goals scored, etc) the hard math comes in when you try and go through all the possible scenarios. What if Team A beats Team B, but only if they win by more than X goals and then only if Team C loses to Team D by less than X goals. However, if they tie then…… [poof head explodes].
Here are the tiebreakers in a nutshell (The WashingtonPost has a good writeup on the rules).
- Greatest number of points obtained in all group matches (duh)
- Goal difference in all group matches
- Greatest number of goals scored in all group matches
- Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned
- Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned
- Greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned
- Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organizing Committee (this one has never been used before)
I’ll refer to these below using the following format (TB#) which is short for TieBreaker #. mmkay? I don’t get #’s 5-6 since #4 would determine the head-to-head winner. If you have more points, then 5 & 6 would goto whoever already had #4. If the game was a tie, then 5 & 6 by default will also be a tie. I am probably not understanding something along the way, so I hope the TV announcers do a better job of explaining than I do.
Let’s go Group by Group and see where the action is.
Final Matches – Monday June 23
Cameroon vs Brazil – Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasilia (ESPN2)
Mexico vs Croatia – Arena Pernambuco, Recife (ESPN)
Cameroon vs Brasil is all but a formality. The likely outcome is that after the match Cameroon will take their “thanks for playing” trophy and hop the first plane back home after a really horrible showing in this World Cup. In the unlikely event that Cameroon manages to surprise the entire planet by winning, then Brasil could potentially miss the second round if Mexico/Croatia also ends in a draw and the tiebreakers don’t favor the Brasilians. In that unlikely (but possible, because reasons) event I would seriously put the entire national team in the witness protection program.
Mexico vs Croatia is the game to watch here. “Win and you’re in” (not the last time I’ll say that) and loser go home applies to both teams. A tie will definitely put Mexico through with 5pts, and if Brasil loses their match would also put Croatia through with 4pts and tiebreakers. That’s because if Brasil loses then they’d have a lower goal differential (TB#2) than Croatia. If Croatia wins then they are definitely in and then it would come down to tiebreakers between Mexico and Brasil for the second spot. TB#2 would still apply, but depending on how many goals Brasil (hypothetically) loses by it could drop down to other tiebreakers.
This group will play teams from Group B in the next round.
Currently Netherlands & Chile are fighting to see who takes the top spot in their group. Netherlands beat Chile 2-0 to take the top spot in their group with Chile as #2. So top in this group faces Chile and the second will face the Netherlands. I can tell you that Brasil doesn’t want anything to do with either of those teams.
Brasil will win handily over Cameroon and take the top spot in this group. I think (hope) Mexico beats Croatia to take the second spot.
Final Matches – Monday June 23
Netherlands vs Chile – Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo (ESPN)
Australia vs Spain – Arena da Baixada, Curitiba (ESPN2)
Australia & Spain are already out. Spain is just playing for pride in not going home winless. Australia has fought well during the cup but will likely go home with three losses.
Netherlands and Chile don’t “technically” have anything to play for other than the chance to maybe avoid Brasil in the next round. I’d expect plenty of subs.
This group plays teams from Group A in the next round. Neither team really wants to face Brasil, but I also don’t think Brasil really wants to play either of these two teams either. Likely Mexico will end up playing against Netherlands.
No need. It’s already decided
Final Matches – Tuesday June 24
Japan vs. Colombia – Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba (ESPN)
Greece vs. Ivory Coast – Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza (ESPN2)
Colombia has already clinched their spot in the second round, and looked good doing it. Their defense has been solid and counter attacks have been deadly. Their weakness is perhaps they don’t maintain possession as much as some of their past teams. Japan has really not looked too good in this cup other than perhaps some flashes by Honda (the player, not the car). Neither has Greece. Ivory Coast played one sucky half against Japan and has been playing well ever since. They get a boost from Drogba coming on as a sub, but I don’t know how long they can continue to rub that magic lamp.
Ivory Coast “win and you’re in”. Also tie and you’re in. If they somehow lose to Greece then Greece would advance, except in the event of the equally unlikely win by Japan over Colombia which would see them through instead.
This group plays teams from Group D in the next round. Costa Rica has already clinched, and the other spot is between Uruguay and Italy. A likely Colombia vs Italy match will make me sad as one of my teams will then have to go home.
Colombia is already in (YAY!) and Ivory Coast should handle their business against Greece.
Final Matches – Tuesday June 24
Italy vs. Uruguay – Estadio das Dunas, Natal (ESPN)
Costa Rica vs. England – Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte (ESPN2)
In one of the surprises of this World Cup Costa Rica has already clinched a spot in the second round. England is officially out. Italy vs Uruguay is the match to watch as they will be fighting for the second spot. “Win and you’re in” for both Uruguay and Italy. A tie will see Italy through to the next round on tiebreakers. Uruguay needs to win if they want to advance, so they will likely come out pushing the initiative. Nobody parks the bus better than Italy, but Suarez is absolutely on fire. Tough to call this one.
This group plays teams from Group C in the next round. Likely, Costa Rica will play Ivory Coast and Italy/Uruguay will play Colombia.
I’m going to go with my heart here. Italy beats Uruguay 2-1 to take the second spot and faces Colombia in the next round. If I really get what I want then Italy and England both win by a landslide so that Italy can take the first spot in this group and avoid Colombia.
Final Matches – Wednesday June 25
Honduras vs. Switzerland – Arena Amazonia, Manaus (ESPN)
Ecuador vs. France – Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro (ESPN2)
This group is totally up in the air. France is in a very good position to advance needing only a win or tie to guarantee the next round, but they can also get in with a loss if the other teams cooperate. Basically, if Ecuador beats France and Switzerland beats Honduras then France, Ecuador, and Switzerland will all have 6 pts and it’s up to the tiebreakers. France is pretty safe in that scenario because of their +6 goal difference (TB#2). Ecuador is a little safe as well since Switzerland has a -2 goal difference compared to 0 for Ecuador, but if Switzerland wins by a large margin and Ecuador only wins by a goal Ecuador could get leapfrogged.
The bottom line… France is in as long as they don’t lose by a staggering amount of goals.
Ecuador can go through with a win as long as Switzerland doesn’t also win and score a ton of goals. They can go in with a tie if Switzerland ties or loses. They can go through with a loss if Switzerland also loses.
Switzerland need the most help. If Ecuador loses (certainly possible, if not likely) they can get in with a win or tie. If Ecuador ties, Switzerland needs to win by any amount. If Ecuador also wins, then Switzerland needs to score a boatload of goals.
This group plays teams from Group F in the next round. Argentina is already waiting, and likely they will be joined by Nigeria.
France handles Ecuador, Switzerland handles Honduras to go 1-2.
Final Matches – Wednesday June 25
Nigeria vs. Argentina – Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre (ESPN)
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran – Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador (ESPN2)
Argentina is already in. Bosnia is already out. Nigeria looked poor against Iran, but pretty good against Bosnia-Herzegovina. No matter which one shows up, I don’t think they match up well against Argentina who may or may not rest some players in this game. Neither Iran nor Bosnia want to go home empty handed so that might actually be an entertaining match among two teams destined for the airport.
If Iran and Argentina both win 1-0, then you could see some ugly tiebreakers between Iran & Nigeria. Both would have a 0 goal differential (TB #2), both would have 1 goal for (TB#3), both have the same number of points in head-to-head (TB#4) and I don’t get how TB#5 or TB#6 apply. Basically, it would be a mess. I think the next tiebreaker is who figures out the Higgs Boson first. Although it’s probably moot since I expect Bosnia to win and Nigeria to tie or just not lose by a ton.
Nigeria is “win and you’re in”. They are also “tie or don’t lose by a ton of goals and you’re in”.
For Iran to advance they need to win by a ton of goals and hope Nigeria has a contract dispute on the way to the stadium.
This group plays teams from Group E in the next round. If things play out like I expect, look for a very interesting France vs Nigeria match in the next round.
Argentina is already in, Nigeria does just enough to squeak in by tieing or just not losing by a lot and also Bosnia will handle Iran for them.
Final Matches – Thursday June 26
United States vs. Germany at Arena Pernambuco, Recife (ESPN)
Portugal vs. Ghana at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, Brasilia (ESPN2)
Both the USA and Germany are sitting pretty atop the Group Of Death. Germany has played the best of the teams in this group so far. USA and Portugal have both played one crappy and one good game, the difference being USA won the game they played crappy in. Ghana has also played fairly well, but have been (predictably) burned by their timely lack of defense.
A tie in either game maintains the status quo, Germany & USA advance. Portugal & Ghana go home.
If the USA wins, they advance. Germany would also likely advance UNLESS Ghana (or Portugal) score some incredible number of goals. Ditto if the Germany wins and USA loses.
Ghana is in better position than Portugal because of their goal differential (TB#2), but both teams will have to go balls to the wall in order to score that many goals which will leave them with a lot of holes on defense and more likely to concede goals than score them.
This group plays teams from Group H in the next round. The only perk to playing in the group of death is being able to go through the Group Of BORING to advance to the quarterfinals.
USA and Germany will go through. A tie, or perhaps small victory (2-1 maybe) by USA or Germany (Germany is the better team). Even with a victory, I don’t think either Ghana or Portugal will be able to score enough goals to close the goal differential.
South Korea vs. Belgium – Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo (ESPN)
Algeria vs. Russia – Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre (ESPN2)
A solid Belgium team and a surprising Algerian team are currently on top. Belgium should dispatch a disappointing S. Korea to remain atop the group. I don’t know what to make of the Algeria vs Russia match. Before the tourney I would have said Russia should win, but Algeria has shown well enough and all they need is to park the bus in front of goal and not lose.
loses to plays teams from Group H in the next round. Belgium can give USA or Germany a good run.
Belgium and Algeria maintain the status quo.