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.