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tomorrow's matches

Spain-Russia. This is where the party ends for the hosts. Spain haven't always been at their best so far, but Russia's 3-0 loss to Uruguay is probably more telling than anything else. The Russians beat up on lesser opponents, and deserve props for that, since they were supposed to be one of those lesser opponents. But they aren't going to beat Spain. I wouldn't be surprised if they are held scoreless once again. I expect Isco for Spain and Aleksandr Golovin for Russia being their team's best players.

Here are highlights from a match between the two at the 2008 Euros. Ten years ago, but some familiar faces for 2018 World Cup fans, although the faces are older and the hairstyles have changed:

Croatia-Denmark. Croatia should roll on, having won all three of their group matches. Ivan Rakitic was dominant against Argentina, and he might find good pickings here, as well. Denmark's hopes lie in keeper Kasper Schmeichel, who is having a great tournament. Denmark only allowed one goal in three games, and that came via a penalty. On the other hand, Denmark has only scored twice so far. I think they will struggle to score in this one.

These teams haven't played a non-friendly match since 1997, so here's a different kind of highlight: Croatia-Denmark 2018, played on FIFA 18. Fun for a bit, but spoiler alert: no one scores until around 21:50 of the video.


today's matches

I said Messi would be the best player on the field. Close ... he was Argentina's best, with two assists. But Kylian Mbappé ... whoa, he's fast! In one game, Argentina their goal total from the first three matches. It wasn't enough. Mbappé was the best example ... Argentina didn't have an answer for all the fast Frenchmen.

In the late match, I had mentioned Diego Godin's excellence on defense for Uruguay. That wasn't a bad "prediction", but really, Uruguay's defense as a whole is very good. The goal they allowed today was the first in this World Cup. Cavani made up for that goal and more, and Ronaldo wasn't able to truly affect the match (he barely touched the ball in the first half).

One of the teams I was rooting for won, the other lost. But 10 goals, both matches at least close to competitive. I'll take it.


tomorrow's matches

France-Argentina. Messi will likely be the best player on the field, and I'll be rooting for Argentina, but I don't think that will be enough. N'Golo Kanté was excellent in France's two wins. France in regular time.

Blast from the Past: Here are the two teams in a 2009 friendly. You'll recognize Argentina's manager ... you'll also recognize the guy who scores the second goal.

Uruguay-Portugal. Ronaldo's been on fire, of course, although not so much against Iran. Diego Godín has been excellent on defense for Uruguay. I can see this going to penalties. I'll be rooting for Uruguay, although again, I think the other team will win. In both games, I see the European team beating the one from South America.

Blast from the Past: I don't think these two have ever faced each other. So here's a highlight reel from Luis Suárez' time with Liverpool:

goodbye to some good players

Wilfred Ndidi, Nigeria. He was Nigeria's best player, playing every minute, leading them in tackles and interceptions. Rumored to be headed for Liverpool. He is also the only player who doesn't get a video here ... he's truly an unsung hero.

Cho Hyun-Woo, South Korea. Goalkeeper was unbeatable against Germany. Rumors connect him to Liverpool, too.

Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia. Had two goals and two assists. The entire team only scored five times.

M'Baye Niang, Senegal. Did a little of everything ... scored a goal, assisted on a goal, was Man of the Match in their win over Poland, even picked up two yellow cards.

Keisuke Honda, Japan. This veteran came on twice as a substitute, played a total of 38 minutes, still managed a goal and an assist. Plays for Pachuca in the Mexican league.



Time for the stupidest post of every World Cup: the list of great names. Stupid, because the list always looks like it was chosen by a 12-year-old boy. Stupid, because its assumptions are U.S.-centric. But I do it, anyway.

The criteria for making the list? Well, I like names that don’t seem to fit the country. I don’t really know this, of course … that criteria is based on my ignorance about the world. I also like names that seem funny to my ears … this is the stupidest of all, really, people don’t choose their name based on what sounds right to someone from the USA (I know that “Steven Rubio” sounds silly to someone out there).

Argentina: Willy Caballero.

Australia: Milos Degenek, Tim Cahill, Massimo Luongo, Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren, Aziz Behich, Dimitri Petratos.

Brazil: Gabriel Jesus, Fred.

Costa Rica: Ian Smith, Joel Campbell, Rodney Wallace, Patrick Pemberton.

Egypt: Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Abdel-Shafy, Mohamed Eineny, Mohamed El-Shenawy.

England: Raheem Sterling, Kieran Trippier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

France: Hugo Lloris, Kylian Mbappé, Steven Nzonzi, Steve Mandanda.

Germany: Sami Khedira, Mario Gómez.

Iceland: Halldórsson, Sævarsson, Friðjónsson, Guðmundsson, Ingason, Sigurðsson, Guðmundsson, Bjarnason, Sigurðarson, Sigurðsson, Finnbogason, Rúnarsson, Árnason, Eyjólfsson, Skúlason, Gunnarsson, Magnússon, Gislason, Hallfreðsson, Traustason, Böðvarsson, Skúlason, and Frederik Schram.

Iran: Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Mexico: El Kaiser, Memo, Chicharito, Principito, Chucky.

Panama: Harold Cummings, Erick Davis.

Peru: Andy Polo.

Russia: Mário Fernandes.

Senegal: Moussa Sow, Alfred N'Diaye, Alfred Gomis.

Spain: Nacho, Saúl, Koke, Rodrigo, Thiago, Isco.

Switzerland: Michael Lang, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri.

Uruguay: José Giménez, Jonathan Urretaviscaya.

today's matches: fair play

It was an odd day, when the most important things happened just to the side of the actual events.

Group H went first. The live table as the matches began: (Senegal 5 Japan 5) Colombia 4 Poland eliminated.

In the 59th minute, Jan Bednarek scored to put Poland up 1-0 against Japan. SEN 5 (JPN 4 COL 4).

In the 74th minute, Yerry Mina scored to put Colombia up 1-0 against Senegal. COL 6 (SEN 4 JPN 4).

Senegal tried for an equalizer, but Colombian keeper David Ospina made a couple of saves, and, to be honest, Senegal didn't show much. Colombia ended atop the table with 6 points, Senegal and Japan with 4. Which led to tiebreakers.

The first two tiebreakers are Goal Differential and Goals Scored. Both teams scored 4 and allowed 4.

Next is head-to-head. (I'm skipping some that don't seem necessary to me, important only if more than 2 teams have tied.) When the two teams met, they drew, 2-2, in one of the more entertaining matches so far.

Which leads to the "Fair Play" tiebreakers. The team with the best record in yellow and red cards finishes ahead of the other team.

In three games, Japan received 4 yellow cards. Senegal received 6. Japan advances, Senegal goes home.

You might say Polish star Robert Lewandowski, who had a disappointing tournament, was as crucial as anyone. In the 66th minute of today's game, he was fouled by Tomoaki Makino, leading to a yellow card. In the second half of the match between Senegal and Poland, the African team received two yellows for fouls on Lewandowski. In a group where Fair Play mattered, Lewandowski drew three yellows from the teams in question.

Of course, Senegal had two more yellows than Japan, so Lewandowski wasn't the only reason Japan advanced. But I'll put him forward as the Forgotten Man of this World Cup thus far, for his mediocre play, and for his ability to draw yellow cards.

Group G

Here's how important Group G action was today: I'm writing this at halftime, because the only match that matters is largely a sham. As I type, Panama leads Tunisia, 1-0, at the half. Both teams are already eliminated, and the only goal of the match was an own goal. Meanwhile, England and Belgium are scoreless at the half. The crucial stat in that game: Belgium has gotten two yellows, England none. If the teams finish the game tied, this one will also go down to Fair Play, and in the "Live Table", England is leading the table. (In fairness, Belgium just scored, so it won't finish 0-0.)

It gets better/worse: there is some debate whether either team actually wants to win the group. The winner faces Japan in the next round, the second place team takes on Colombia. But it's what might come down the road that has people wondering. If the winner beats Japan, their likely next opponent would be Brazil. If the second place team beats Colombia, their next opponent would be Sweden or Switzerland. So, all else being equal, the Group G winner would face Japan and Brazil, the second place team would face Colombia and, say, Sweden. Some people think this means the second place team is in better shape than the winner.

Should I wait until the matches are over to post this? Nah.

tomorrow's matches

OK, so this is actually today's matches, which begin in less than ten minutes. But I was too high to type last night. Hey, a guy needs a break.

Group G is easy. England-Belgium decides which team finishes first and which finishes second.

Group H is more complicated. I'll cheat and cut-as-paste from ESPN:

Group H

- Japan need at least a point against Poland to guarantee qualification, and will be through with a defeat if Colombia lose too. They will definitely top the group if they win and Senegal do not.
- Senegal need a point against Colombia to qualify, and can only qualify with a defeat if Japan lose too. They will top the group if they better Japan's result.
- Colombia must beat Senegal to guarantee going through. They will also qualify with a draw if Japan lose to Poland. They will top the group if they win and Japan do not.
- If both Japan and Senegal draw, both will be through and the team in the highest-scoring draw finishing top. If both draws are the same score, top spot will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- If both Japan and Senegal win, both will be through and the team that wins by the biggest margin, or is in the highest-scoring win of the same margin, will finish top. If both wins are the same score, top spot will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- If both Japan and Senegal lose then Colombia win the group. Second place will go to the team that loses by the smallest margin, or is in the highest-scoring defeat of the same margin. If both defeats are the same score, second place will be decided first by Fair Play and then drawing of lots.
- Fair Play is currently Japan -3, Senegal -5, so the Asian side has the edge at the moment.

south korea

"South Korea's Performance Is Why The World Cup Exists", by Tom Ley.

There is almost no other scenario in sports in which players could find themselves simultaneously ambushed with such conflicting emotions. Over the course of about 15 minutes the South Koreans went from experiencing the creeping dread of an increasingly likely 0-0 draw or 0-1 loss, to the blinding, exhilarating thrill of a 2-0 win, all followed in swift succession by the cruel comedown of learning it changed exactly nothing and helped them not at all. What comes after all that? Pride? Devastation? Some sort of perverse euphoria? ...

No moral victory is ever an adequate substitute for the real thing, but maybe there’s some solace in the fact that the same circumstances which made today’s result such a crushing one for South Korea will also make their victory one that won’t be soon forgotten. Once Mexico’s meltdown had reached its full suck-o zenith, the entire soccer-watching world was fixated on South Korea. They didn’t disappoint themselves or anyone who was watching, and for a brief moment they were the stars of a tournament that had already closed itself to them. If any team playing in this morning’s games truly deserved to advance, it was South Korea, but teams don’t always get what they deserve. Sometimes they just get a glorious moment, and sometimes those moments end up mattering more than the results.