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day eleven

Tuesday was excruciating until it wasn't for USA fans. Today topped it for the neutral, with the events of Group C, which was the best example yet of how tense the final matches of group play can be. At the start of the day, the table was:

  • Poland 4
  • Argentina 3
  • Saudi Arabia 3
  • Mexico 1

No one scored in the first half, so the "live table", accounting for each team getting one point for a draw, was:

  • Poland 5
  • Argentina 4
  • Saudi Arabia 4
  • Mexico 2

One minute into the second half, Argentina scored (1-0 over Poland). Two minutes into the half, Mexico scored (1-0 over the Saudis).

  • Argentina 6
  • Poland 4
  • Mexico 4
  • Saudi Arabia 3

Poland and Mexico being equal, tie-breaking rules applied. First up is goal differential, and at that point, Poland was +1, Mexico -1. So the Poles had the tenuous lead.

In the 52nd minute, Luis Chávez scored one of the goals of the tournament to put Mexico up, 2-0. Poland +1, Mexico 0.

In the 67th minute, Argentina scored to take a 2-0 lead. Poland 0, Mexico 0.

Another Argentina goal or another Mexico goal would put the Mexicans ahead of Poland on goal differential. If that didn't happen, though, you had to go through a bunch of tie-breakers, none of which broke the tie. Which led to Rule 7, "Fair Play". "The fair play system determines which team will advance based on which team has the fewest penalties following their respective matches. Each team loses a point for each yellow card, three points for an indirect red card (second yellow card), four points for a direct red card and five points for yellow and direct red cards." At that point, Poland had 4 yellow cards, Mexico 7. Advantage Poland.

So the last half hour depended on Argentina or Mexico scoring, otherwise Mexico would be eliminated due to yellow cards.

The excitement finally ended 4 minutes into stoppage time, when Saudi Arabia scored a goal to give Poland the goal differential advantage.

After the match, Mexico coach Tata Martino said, "My contract ended as soon as the referee blew the final whistle and there is nothing more to be done."

Group D was much less stressful. France lost to Tunisia 1-0, but claimed top spot via goal differential. Australia surprised Denmark 1-0 to advance.

Upcoming matches: Argentina-Australia on Saturday, France-Poland on Sunday.

As for tomorrow ...

Group E is Spain 4, Japan 3 (0 GD), Costa Rica 3 (-6), Germany 1 (-1). If Spain beats Japan (likely) and Germany beats Costa Rica (extremely likely), those two will advance. Germany must win their match to have a chance at advancing. Spain can advance with a win or a draw. The rest is up in the air.

Group F sees Croatia 4 (+3), Morocco 4 (+2), Belgium 3 (-1), and Canada eliminated. I have claimed throughout that this is the closest group, and anything is possible (other than Canada advancing). Morocco has the benefit of playing the Canadians, while Croatia has to get by Belgium. I expect the top two teams to advance, but I wouldn't bet on either of these matches.

one story at the world cup

What Alex Shultz wrote last week is still true, even as we enjoy the matches:

"Qatar's World Cup is an unparalleled disgrace"

Having made itself outrageously wealthy with the world’s worst pollutant, Qatar’s ruling class is on the doorstep of completing the dream of authoritarian regimes throughout the region: diversifying beyond fossil fuels by carving out highly lucrative, heavily restricted tourist playgrounds. “Sportswashing” means hosting sporting events to improve a reputation damaged by abuses in other realms. It’s not a sufficient term for what happened here. This is a sports tsunami that has killed thousands to date.

day ten

Some matches really matter now, because the end of the road beckons for some.

In Group A, Netherlands 2-0 Qatar barely mattered. Qatar was already eliminated, and no one expected them to offer much of a challenge to the Dutch. That left Ecuador and Senegal to fight for second place. Ecuador entered the match with a one point lead, but Senegal scored a penalty at the end of the first half to take over second place. Ecuador rallied with a goal in the 67th minute, only to see the African champions regain the lead just three minutes later on a goal from Kalidou Koulibaly, who had his best match of the Cup so far. I'm glad to see Senegal remain ... their fans are great fun to watch.

In Group B, England 3-0 Wales is the one that barely mattered, although some held out hope the Welsh might surprise. Once again, we had a match for second place. Iran advanced with a draw or a win, while the U.S. had to win to grab second place. The Iranian attempt to park the bus didn't work, as the Americans dominated the first half, with Pulisic scoring a fine team goal to put the U.S. up at the half. The second half was more even, and late in the match, Gregg Berhalter made a batch of defensive subs hoping to hold on for the win. But the Iranians, try as they might, didn't ever really mount a comeback, and while it was tense at the end, the U.S. deserved their victory.

This sets up Netherlands-USA on Saturday and England-Senegal on Sunday. The European teams will be favored in both matches.

Group C will be interesting tomorrow. Poland is the current leader with 4 points, but they'll be playing an Argentina team that should squash them, to be honest. Mexico is favored against Saudi Arabia, but the Mexicans only have 1 point so far ... even a win may not get them to the next round.

Europe should look good in tomorrow's Group D matches, as well. France has already qualified for the next round, so the big match will be Australia-Denmark. The Danes should win, and they will have to, since at the moment, Australia has 3 points to Denmark's 1.

pulisic's goal

How the goal went at my house:

1) power goes off for 1/2 second
2) everything shuts down and needs to reboot ... computer, wi-fi, TV, cable box, receiver
3) while it reboots, I frantically load the Comcast streaming app on my phone
4) I click on Telemundo and match comes on
5) It's England-Wales
6) I switch to the other Telemundo
7) I hear "Qué golazo!"

day nine

Here are the scores for the Tuesday-Sunday matches that started at 2:00 AM my time: 2-1 0-0 1-0 2-0 1-0 1-0. These weren't necessarily bad matches ... Saudi Arabia's 2-1 upset of Argentina was especially interesting. But five clean sheets, and a total of 8 goals in 6 matches made it easier for me to miss out because I couldn't stay awake.

And the 5:00 AM games weren't a whole lot better. Yes, England put up 6 against Iran, but there were two scoreless draws, and arguably only one unmissable match (Japan's comeback win over Germany).

So I was keeping my eye on every game, as I have throughout the Cup, but I was also aware that after today, there would be no more 2:00 or 5:00 matches, and I wasn't going to be sorry they were gone.

So, of course, those early games went out with a bang. Cameroon and Serbia was 3-3, Ghana-South Korea 3-2. At least I saw the highlights.

The marquee matches didn't have the goals, although they had the excitement. Brazil left it until the 83rd minute to score in their 1-0 win over the Swiss, and it took two second-half goals for Portugal to beat Uruguay.

Now the fun begins. All group matches will be played simultaneously within the group, so tomorrow we'll have Netherlands-Qatar and Ecuador-Senegal from Group A starting at 7:00 AM (my time), and Group B matches (Iran-USA, Wales-England) will start at 11:00. For an explanation why this has been the case since 1986, check out this Wikipedia article (Disgrace of Gijón).

This makes for nail-biting table watching. Let's take Group B. At the start of play, the standings are England 4, Iran 3, United States 2, Wales 1. If both games end in draws, England and Iran advance, the USA and Wales go home.

Suppose the Americans score an early goal. That will make the "live table" read ENG 5 USA 5 IRN 3 WAL 2. The U.S. would advance, Iran would be out. But then say Iran and Wales both score. Now it's ENG 4 IRN 4 WAL 4 USA 2, and goal differential starts to matter. Iran scores to take the lead? IRN 6, ENG 4 WAL 4, USA 2. Basically, every goal in both games changes the table. It will take a lot to eliminate England, who have a big goal differential. But all other teams are still in the hunt.

Meanwhile, in Group A, Qatar are already eliminated, leaving the others with everything to play for. As the day starts, the table is Netherland and Ecuador 4, Senegal 3.

day eight

We're still at the point where every match matters, but since Spain played today, I was mostly distracted away from the other matches.

In Group E, Costa Rica, who looked so terrible losing 7-0 to Spain, managed to defeat Japan, who had beaten Germany earlier. Germany got a late goal to earn a draw with Spain, leaving a complicated table going into the final matches:

Spain 4 points (+7 Goal differential)
Japan 3 points (0)
Costa Rica 3 points (-6)
Germany 1 point  (-1)

Spain will advance with a win or draw against Japan. It's possible they will advance even if they lose. Costa Rica probably needs to beat Germany, although a draw and a Japan loss would send Costa Rica into the next round. If Japan beats Spain, they win the group, if they draw they might advance, if they lose and Germany also loses they will probably advance. Germany needs to beat Costa Rica and hope Spain deals with Japan, although if Spain-Japan is a draw and Germany beats Costa Rica by 2+ goals, they will pass Japan.

I think. I'm calculating all of this in my head, so I may have it all wrong.

Group F is also a bit bonkers. Canada scored their first-ever World Cup goal in the 2nd minute against Croatia. They then proceeded to lose, 4-1, and are now eliminated. Anything is possible with the other three teams, after Morocco surprised Belgium, 2-0:

Croatia 4 points (+3)
Morocco 4 points (+2)
Belgium 3 points (-1)

Morocco gets Canada in their final game ... hard to know how the Canadians will react to being eliminated. Croatia-Belgium is the crucial match, with Belgium probably needing a win.

Meanwhile, tomorrow's big match is Brazil-Switzerland (both teams won their first games in Group G).

day six and seven

It's a sign of how I experience this World Cup that I can't keep up. The 2:00 AM games are the biggest problem, one which will soon be over (starting Tuesday, no match will begin earlier than 7:00 AM my time). Once I'm behind, everything falls apart. I had plans of watching matches on a delay, but my sleep patterns insist on preventing that. So I wake up in the middle of the night, find out the current score of the first match, go back to sleep, wake up sometime in the middle of the second game, maybe watch the end of it, and then lock in for the final two matches of the day. Which is still pretty excessive, but in World Cups past, I came close to watching all 64 matches.

Which partly explains why this post was originally titled "Day Six" but became "Day Six and Seven" when I was too tired to finish the post.

Then came a situation that would have been simply unthinkable in the past. Wrexham's FA Cup match today against Farnborough was on U.S. television, and it conflicted with the France-Denmark match, which started 45 minutes later. I appreciate that this was no choice for most people ... it was no choice for me, either. I watched Wrexham advance to the next round with a 4-1 victory.

Add the fact that our grandson is visiting. We watched England-USA together on Friday, and Argentina-Mexico on Saturday. But we also had to go out for breakfast on Saturday, and ... well, I guess I have to fess up: I ended up watching only one of the four matches today.

So there's no use writing up little previews of the Friday and Saturday matches, and not much reason to write about the results, either, since I missed many of the matches. Of what I saw, I felt the U.S. could have benefitted from earlier substitutions, and I still want to see more of Gio Reyna, but they have set up a beat-Iran-and-advance scenario, so what the heck. As for Argentina-Mexico, I was torn between wanting Mexico to do well and wanting Messi to get his World Cup championship at last, so I wasn't really brokenhearted at Mexico's loss.

Which leads to tomorrow's games. At our house, and perhaps at many neutral houses, the big match is Spain-Germany, which thankfully is the 11:00 AM game. Germany's shock loss to Japan means they are on the verge of elimination; Spain's 7-0 trouncing of Costa Rica makes them seem unbeatable. I expect a Spain win, and if Japan also beats Costa Rica, the group will be effectively decided with one date to go. Germany is well aware of this, and will bring their A-game, I assume.

In Group F, Belgium can advance with a win, but as I have noted, this is the closest group in the tournament, and it's hard to pick a favorite ... only one goal has been scored among the four teams so far. I'd like to see Canada pick up a win.

day five

Uruguay-South Korea. Someone forgot to wake up Luis Suárez to remind it this is his last hurrah. The highlights of the match were the two times Uruguay hit the post with shots. Combined with the Switzerland-Cameroon match, which featured one goal and a goalkeeper Man of the Match, it was turning out to be a dull day.

And for 65 minutes of Portugal-Ghana, it wasn't much better. But then Cristiano Ronaldo won a penalty-that-wasn't-a-penalty and converted, and suddenly, everyone woke up (except, perhaps, Luis Suárez). Eight minutes later, André Ayew equalized for Ghana. Seven minutes later, Portugal had stormed back with two more goals, to make it 3-1. In the 89th minute, Osman Bukari scored to bring Ghana within one goal. And that's where the scoring ended, although Portuguese goalkeeper Diogo Costa provided one last thrill when he placed the ball on the ground to kick it away, failing to notice the Ghana player right behind him. That player almost stole the ball away from Costa, i.e. almost scored another equalizer, but he seemed to slip, and disaster was thwarted, ending a most entertaining half hour.

Brazil-Serbia. More fun than I expected. Serbia held off the Brazilians for 60 minutes, until Richarlison scored twice to make sense of the world. His second was the best goal of the Cup so far. Serbia were outmatched throughout, but goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic kept them in the game.


Group A: Qatar-Senegal, Netherlands-Ecuador. Neither Qatar nor Senegal managed a point in the first batch of games. A loss for either here would spell doom. Not sure either team will advance, but Senegal should win the match. Netherlands should beat Ecuador, but a low-scoring match could help Ecuador pick up a point.
Group B: Wales-Iran, England-USA. Wales has 1 point, Iran 0. Wales is marginally better, but neither team is particularly impressive, and a draw is certainly possible. A draw for the USA would be a victory of sorts, leaving them open to beat Iran and advance. I don't think the USA can beat England, though. Gio Reyna must start for the Americans unless he is seriously injured.

day four

Germany-Japan. I used to root against the German national team, but I got over that a long time ago. But Japan's comeback was delightful. I was bothered by Argentina's collapse vs. Saudi Arabia ... if I'm honest with myself, I like sports to make sense, and I might not enjoy upsets as much as they deserve. If Saudi Arabia can beat Argentina, what can we rely on in this world? I had no such problems with Japan's win. Spain-Costa Rica. Before they won a World Cup, I used to bristle when people said Spain's soccer team was boring. Post-championship, I don't listen to those people any more. Of course, they're right most of the time. But not much was boring about this match for a Spain fan. Meanwhile, as I said on Facebook, "Folks who only tune in every four years: despite what you are seeing today, in his day, Keylor Navas was one of the greats, often called the best goalkeeper in the history of CONCACAF."

Meanwhile, Morocco-Croatia sounds like the perfect match to sleep through when it starts at 2:00 AM my time (and yes, I did sleep through it). Yesterday, I said Group F was the closest group of the tournament. Nothing demonstrates this like a scoreless draw with only 2 shots on target by each team, where Dejan Lovren is the best player on the pitch. Belgium-Canada didn't do anything to clarify the group ... it was as close as a 1-0 match could be. Canada outshot the Belgians by more than 2-to-1, had more possession, had twice the expected goals (2.13-1.06). But Belgium has Thibaut Courtois, current holder of the Yashin Trophy as the best goalkeeper in the world. Courtois stopped a penalty kick by Alphonso Davies, the Belgians grabbed a goal just before halftime, and that was that. Belgium tops the group, even though it could be said Canada looked better than any other team in the group on the day (nonetheless, they now sit at the bottom of the table).

Tomorrow, after which everyone will have played one match:

Group G:

Switzerland-Cameroon., Brazil-Serbia. I've had a soft spot in my heart for Cameroon since their delightful performance at the 1990 World Cup. Goalkeeper André Onana will help keep them competitive. I also have a soft spot for Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, but in this group, the best they can hope for is to beat out Serbia for second place. Brazil ... well, what do I need to say? The only remotely negative thing is that there have been a couple of big upsets in the Cup thus far, so maybe Brazil can be beaten. They have won five World Cups, although it has been 20 years since their last victory. You know Neymar, but this is a squad full of riches, like Real Madrid's Vinícius Júnior, and many more. They are even loaded in goal ..  #1 Alisson is one of the best, #2 Ederson is #1 for the great Manchester City. Serbia has prolific young goalscorer Dušan Vlahović and the even-younger defender Strahinja Pavlović. They will hope to keep the score down against Brazil, as goal differential will be important in the fight to finish second.

Group H:

Uruguay-South Korea., Portugal-Ghana. The probable last hurrah for two again veterans, both of whom have plenty of detractors. Uruguay has Luis Suárez, about whom Wikipedia says, "Due to his diving, biting, stamping, and other antics, Suárez has been frequently labelled as a pest and a cheat." He has also scored 68 goals for his country, and more than 350 at the club level, including for the likes of Ajax, Liverpool, and Barcelona. Uruguay's youth movement is led by Federico Valverde and Darwin Núñez. Portugal has all-time great Cristiano Ronaldo, who makes Suárez look second-best (117 goals for Portugal, nearly 500 at club level, including 311 for Real Madrid alone). They also have young players like Rafael Leão and Nuno Mendes, but their fortunes will likely rise and/or fall with Ronaldo. South Korea and Ghana will fight for also-ran status. The Koreans have the better chance to surprise, although their talisman Son Heung-Min is coming off of recent surgery to fix a fracture around his eye.

day three

Yesterday, I wrote:

Argentina-Saudi Arabia. Argentina are strong contenders to win it all. The Saudis are not. Besides Argentina's incomparable Lionel Messi, look out for Lautaro Martínez and Enzo Fernandez. Salem Al-Dawsari might be the best Saudi player.

It was the best match of the day. Things went as expected. Messi scored a penalty in the tenth minute to put Argentina up, 1-0. Lautaro Martínez didn't have much of a match, and Fernández didn't even start, but with Messi being Messi (their best player, even if not at his best), things looked fine for Argentina. The numbers were unsurprising ... Argentina outshot the Saudis 15-3, with 6 on target to 2. They controlled possession almost 70% of the time. Their offense was so potent, only a Man of the Match performance from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais kept things close. The Saudis tried what many underdogs attempt: they committed 21 fouls to Argentina's 7, and received 6 yellow cards to Argentina's 0. The Saudi attack was ineffective ... the Argentina keeper, Emiliano Martínez, didn't make a single save the entire match.

There were two statistics that told the ultimate story. Argentina were called offside 10 times. And Saudi Arabia scored two goals, while Argentina never scored after that early penalty.

Well, I got one thing right, I suppose. The winning golazo came from the aforementioned Salem Al-Dawsari. Some are saying this was the biggest upset in World Cup history (they are forgetting 1950, when the USA beat England, 1-0).

Denmark-Tunisia. I said this match might decide second place. I mentioned Christian Eriksen for the Danes, who had a good game, and Anis Ben Slimane for Tunisia, who had a so-so game. Don't have much else to say ... I slept through most of the match, and when I was awake, I was listening to the audio, not watching.

Mexico-Poland. A second-straight scoreless draw, although this was entertaining. I said Mexico had an old squad, and sure enough, the Man of the Match was 37-year-old Memo Ochoa, who saved a penalty from Robert Lewandowski. (It was Memo's fifth World Cup.) The Group C table after one match is unbelievable: Saudi Arabia 3, Mexico 1, Poland 1, Argentina 0.

France-Australia. I can't brag about saying France would win easily ... everyone else thought the same thing. Of course, we all thought that about Argentina, too. France was fun to watch in this one.


Group E:
Germany-Japan., Spain-Costa Rica. Germany and Spain should advance from this group. Players who might surprise from the underdogs: Junya Ito of Japan, and Jewison Bennette of Costa Rica. I'll be pulling for Spain (Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati).

Group F:
Morocco-Croatia., Belgium-Canada. A fairly close group. The difference between the best team (Belgium?) and the worst (Canada?) is smaller than that of any other group. Players to watch: Luka Modric, Joško Gvardiol (Croatia), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David (Canada).