Coming into the tournament, I don’t think many would have pegged Mexico as one of the top teams. They’ve played extremely well balanced soccer, effectively attacking and defending. They’re scoring goals regularly, creating good chances, and do an excellent job of maintaining possession. They beat a very good team and defending champion in Germany. The defense has been stout and Ochoa is once again dominant in front of the net.
We’ll have a better idea of how good Russia really is after their match with the boring but effective Uruguayan team. But so far, they’ve played great football and trounced the teams they’ve come up against. They’re tied with England and Belgium for most goals scored so far.
I don’t think anyone had them as a favorite coming in, but they have really been very poor so far. The attack is ineffective, Messi has barely had an impact, and the defense has been suspect. Maybe they’ll redeem themselves against Nigeria, but even if they happen to make it to the next round it will be a short trip. Very disappointing.
This is a far cry from the Jogo Bonito I knew in my youth. This team is led by Neymar, and it’s apparent he’s more interested in drawing fouls and PKs than anything else. His dive against Costa Rica was right up there with Rivaldo’s dive against Turkey in 2002. If he had stayed on his feet he would very likely have scored a great goal. There are some good players here, but their Achilles heel is always poor central defenders and goalkeeping. I find myself rooting against them for the first time in as long as I can remember.
Croatia has solidly thumped the opponent in it’s first two matches. We’ll have a better idea of their form after taking on
Vikings Iceland, but I can guarantee this is a team that no one wants to play in the second round.
After a rough start against a better than expected Mexico and then a tough battle against Sweden, Germany seems to be on it’s feet again. They didn’t show well against Mexico, but against Sweden had large stretches where they controlled the play and Sweden’s goal did come against the run of play. However, their defense does seem a bit spotty but as Kroos showed you can’t count these guys out until the whistle has blown.
Poland was supposed to win this group with Colombia and maybe Senegal fighting for the top spot. Instead, coming into Matchday 3 Japan is on the top of the group followed by Senegal, Poland is out, and Colombia is hoping for a victory to make their way into the next round.
Games to watch
Uruguay vs Russia, Monday 10am EST
Is Russia really as good as they’ve seemed in the first two games? Uruguay (yawn) will be a real test for them. Both teams have already secured passage to the next round, but Russia should want to show well in front of their home crowd
Australia vs Peru, Tuesday 10am EST
Both teams have struggled to score, but have otherwise shown very well. Expect a tough battle to go home on a high note. Australia has an outside chance of advancing with help.
Denmark vs France, Tuesday 10am EST
Two of the top teams so far. This could be an epic yawn-fest or a barn burner. I’ll be watching with popcorn.
Mexico vs Sweden, Wednesday 10am
Sweden is desperate to advance and needs a win or tie and some help from South Korea. Mexico wants to cement it’s place at the forefront of this year’s contenders.
Senegal vs Colombia, Thursday 10am EST
Colombia is desperate to advance and a victory sees them through. A tie gets messy, and a loss means they go home. Senegal is not a great choice to bunker and play for a tie, they are at their best when attacking.
England vs Belgium, Thursday 2pm EST
Similar to Denmark vs France, this could be really great or really boring. I will have refilled my popcorn and hope for the best.
Group by Group
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have no chance to advance
Both Russia and Uruguay are going to the next round
Both games are 10am EST on Monday 25th.
Saudi Arabia vs Egypt – These guys are playing for pride and trying to avoid being “last” in the group. This might be a good game to watch because neither side has anything to lose.
Uruguay vs Russia – Both teams are through. Normally this would be a boring affair as there is no need to risk an embarrassing loss, no one needs any cards or injuries to key players. Russia being the home team, they might have a little more oomph to their game but I’m not expecting much here.
Morocco has no chance to advance
No one is a lock. Spain & Portugal are likely to advance, but…
Both games are 2pm EST on Monday 25th
Iran vs Portugal – Iran has played tough, but I expect a victory from a solid Portugal team
Spain vs Morocco – Morocco has played tough, but I expect a victory from a solid Spanish team
If the games play out like they should then Spain and Portugal will advance and they are playing for the top spot in the group. However, Iran could make things pretty interesting. A tie does them no good, but a victory would see them through to the second round with 6 points and maybe puts Portugal out depending on how Spain treats Morocco. If BOTH Spain and Portugal lose on Monday, their goal differential would determine who takes second place behind 1st place Iran. It sounds crazy to even type that, but hey, stranger things have happened.
Peru has no chance to advance
France is definitely in
Both games are at 10am EST on Tuesday 26th
Australia vs Peru – The battle of teams who can’t score good. Both of these teams have shown well, and fought hard but just couldn’t score enough to make it past two other really strong teams
Denmark vs France – These guys are playing for the top spot in the group. I expect a good match here
France is into the second round no matter what. Denmark is in with a tie or a win against a strong, but not really dominant France team. Australia need a win AND a loss by Denmark in order to have any chance of advancing. In that scenario, it would fall to the tie-breakers as both Denmark and Australia would be tied on 4pts and they tied 1-1 earlier in the 1st round.
This one could get messy
Croatia is definitely in
Both games are at 2pm on Tuesday 26th
Nigeria vs Argentina – A really lackluster Argentina is going to continue to struggle
Iceland vs Croatia – It’s worth watching just for the Viking chant
Croatia is definitely in, but the rest of the group can get really messy with potentially all three remaining teams having a shot at the second spot in the group. A win by Nigeria over a really lame Argentina squad takes out all the possible drama in this group. However… a tie in Nigeria vs Argentina (certainly possible) and a big victory by Iceland (not likely, but hey… VIKINGS) would have Nigeria and Iceland fighting tie-breakers for the 2nd spot in the group. A loss by Nigeria would see them leapfrogged by Argentina (4pts to 3pts) and if Iceland pulls out a victory of any kind over Croatia then they would be the ones fighting Argentina over tie-breakers for the 2nd spot in the group
Costa Rica is definitely out
Everyone else has a chance to advance
Both games are at 2pm on Wednesday 27th
Switzerland vs Costa Rica – Costa Rica has played tough but just can’t seem to find the net
Serbia vs Brazil – Brazil might face their 3rd frustrating match in a row
If Switzerland and Brazil win or tie their games as they should, both will advance and there’s no drama here. If Serbia ties and Switzerland loses to Costa Rica that would force a tiebreaker for 2nd place in the group between those two teams.
If Serbia manages to snatch a victory from Brazil, they would leapfrog over Brazil in the standings. A win or tie by Switzerland would see Brazil bounced out of the World Cup in the first round! If that happens, buy some lotto tickets folks… If Switzerland loses along with Brazil then they’d fall into tie-breakers for that 2nd spot behind Serbia.
South Korea is definitely out
Everyone else has a chance, this could easily end up in tie-breakers
Both games are at 10am on Wednesday 27th
Mexico vs Sweden – Mexico looks really strong, Sweden is desperate to advance
South Korea vs Germany – Anyone remember the last time these two met in the semis of World Cup 2002?
Wins by both Sweden and Germany would have all 3 contenders tied with 6pts and the group would be decided by rock paper scissors tie-breakers. Mexico is in with a win or a tie and a loss falls to tiebreakers. Germany and Sweden are currently tied for the 2nd spot with Germany having the first tiebreaker in head-to-head results. Whichever of them can get the most out of a tie or win will likely be advancing.
Tunisia and Panama are definitely out
England and Belgium are definitely in
Both games are at 2pm on Thursday 28th
England vs Belgium – I’m pretty sure both sides would be just fine with a tie here
Panama vs Tunisia – Both defenses have been, um, porous. Slight edge to Tunisia here
This group went pretty much according to the script. England and Belgium want to make sure they go to the next round without injury. I expect these to be amongst the most boring games of the first round, let’s hope I’m wrong.
Poland is definitely out
Everyone else has a chance
Both games are at 10am on Thursday 28th
Senegal vs Colombia – A victory by either side guarantees advancement to the next round. Any other result
Japan vs Poland – Poland will try to play spoilers and make sure they get out with at least one victory.
Probably the most topsy-turvy group of this World Cup. Day One unexpected wins by Japan and Senegal threw this group for a loop.
Senegal and Japan control their own fate, a tie or win sees them onto the next round. Colombia wins and they’re in, loses and they’re out, a tie gets messy.
A tie by Colombia sees them through to the second round on goal differential against Senegal. If Japan also loses to Poland then Japan could fall from 1st to 3rd place and out of the Cup. A victory by Colombia and Poland upsets the apple cart and leaves Japan and Senegal fighting for the 2nd spot on tie-breakers.