Denmark-Australia. Denmark gets the draw, and is close to getting through to the next round. I can't say they've looked very impressive, though, and I don't imagine they'll last much once the knockout rounds begin (they may end up playing Croatia, which at the moment is not something they will look forward to). The penalty wasn't much, but it gave Australia the draw. The highlight was the goal by Christian Eriksen, who didn't do much else but what else do you need?
France-Peru. France guarantees their spot in the next round while Peru are eliminated. Kylian Mbappé became the youngest goal scorer for France at an international competition. France hasn't exactly impressed, yet, but they could have a relatively easy match in the first knockout round (the same goes for Denmark if they beat France in the next, otherwise meaningless, match). Mbappé won't have many easier goals than this one, but the look on his face says he'll take it.
Argentina-Croatia. Oops. Argentina is on the brink of elimination, Croatia wins the group with one match remaining and will play the second-place team from Group C. Luka Modric scored the best goal:
But the "Oops" was personified by Croatia's first:
Uruguay-Saudi Arabia. It wasn't the blowout I expected ... the Saudis saved face after their awful game against Russia. But I never thought they'd win. Uruguay and Russia advance from Group A, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will go home after one more match.
Portugal-Morocco. One person said Morocco is going to be the best team ever to total zero points before going home. They did well against Portugal, and have now lost two 1-0 games. Which means they'll be watching the knockout rounds on TV. I don't know why Ronaldo irritates me more than, say, Luis Suárez. Suárez isn't in Ronaldo's class as a player ... hardly anyone in soccer history is that good ... he's very good, maybe even great, and he irritates people, too. But Ronaldo does irritate me. He is a great one, though.
Iran-Spain. I sure wish Spain looked better. At least they aren't this guy:
Portugal-Morocco (Group B) 5:00 AM. I found out today that I am 2nd out of 7 in the prediction contest I entered, so maybe these are closer than I'd think. Morocco came close to a draw in their first match, Portugal did get a draw in what is so far the tournament's best match. And Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, and Morocco does not. Returning again to my pre-Cup predictions, Portugal wins, 2-1, goals by Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva for the winners, Ayoub El Kaabi for Morocco.
Uruguay-Saudi Arabia (Group A) 8:00 AM. This won't be close, and when it's done, Uruguay and Russia will have made it to the knockout round. I'll go with a final score of 3-0, two goals by Luis Suárez and one by Edinson Cavani.
Iran-Spain (Group B) 11:00 AM. This is the match that matters to me. Iran is the surprise team atop the table, but I'm guessing by the end of these matches, Portugal and Spain will have taken over the top 2 spots. I predicted a 3-0 rout for Spain while back, and so I'll post it here, but I suspect Iran's defense will keep the score down ... say, 2-0 or even 1-0. Goals for Spain: David Silva, Isco, Iago Aspas.
Colombia-Japan. Entertaining match. Carlos Sánchez got sent off in the third minute, and the subsequent penalty gave Japan both a goal lead and a man advantage. José Pekerman had Colombia go on the attack despite having only ten men, and it paid off when Juan Quintero scored on a great free kick in a tournament that has already seen many great free kicks. Japan gradually wore down the Colombians, though, taking the lead in the 73rd minute. James came on for Colombia but didn't do much beyond getting a yellow card.
Poland-Senegal. A match that will be remembered for the oddball second Senegal goal. The Africans had taken the lead in the first half on an own goal, but that was just the appetizer to one of the weirdest goals you'll ever see, with the referees acting, to my limited knowledge, by the rules but bizarrely nonetheless, and Grzegorz Krychowiak doing one of the stupider things we'll likely see in this tournament. Poland got a late goal from Krychowiak, but it wasn't enough.
Russia-Egypt. Finally, Mohamed Salah turned up, and I was excited ... he's the player I most wanted to see. This was when the second matches in group play began, with Russia looking good after their big win in the opener, and Egypt needing a win to have anything more than a miracle chance of advancing. After a scoreless first half, Russia erupted once again, scoring three goals in 17 minutes. Salah picked up a consolation penalty, but it's looking pretty clear that we'll only get him for one more match in this tournament. Liverpool never looked so good ... Salah scored 43 goals for them in all competitions. Egypt isn't nearly as good as Liverpool, though, and Salah wasn't going to beat Russia all by himself.
Sweden-South Korea. Opta Sports tweeted early on, "The first shot in this match came after exactly 20 minutes – the second longest wait for a first attempt in a World Cup match since 1966". South Korea committed 23 fouls ... Tunisia and England between them committed 22. (Sweden wasn't much better ... they committed 20.) It makes sense that the only goal came from a penalty.
Belgium-Panama. Anibal Godoy was the only one of the two Earthquakes on the Panama squad to play. He didn't have much of a match, although he did complete 40 of 43 passes. Most of the Belgians had good game, none of the Panamanians did. The first half was fairly even, but then Belgium got a quick goal to start the second half, and Lukaku took over from there. Belgium should have no trouble advancing to the knockout rounds ... Panama may not score any goals before they go home after group play.
Tunisia-England. It took extra time for England to get a winner. The match wasn't as close as that sounds, and they won't have any problem joining Belgium in the knockouts. But outside of goalscorer Kane, not much impressed me from the English side. Trippier had a nice match, but overall, I don't know that England have proven themselves yet. They'll coast against Panama, and the match against Belgium won't be very important, only deciding who plays which team from Group H.
It wasn't a great day. The first match was pretty bad, Panama was pretty bad, leaving Tunisia-England to salvage the day, which it did thanks to late heroics. This was also the first match I watched in English, and I was impressed with Aly Wagner's work as color commentator.
"There Be Ice Dragons Here". Aron Gunnarsson, Iceland captain, on his country and their soccer. Especially interesting following their draw against Argentina.
It’s funny, because I can recall the exact moment when I realized that we had something special. It was after a training session just before the tournament, when Eidur Gudjohnsen came up to me.
He said, “You know, Aron … I really wouldn’t want to play against us.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Well, there’s no space. I wanted to play these passes, and I wanted to create chances … But I just couldn’t.”
And that’s when the penny dropped for me. Because if you didn’t know, Eidur is football royalty. He’s played for Pep Guardiola at Barcelona — he’s played with Ronaldinho and Messi. Basically, if Eidur says you have a great defense, you really do have a great defense.
There was plenty of attacking intent: Mexico pressed well in open play, and left three men upfront when defending set-pieces. In the latter stages they were forced to defend deep, but for long periods of the first half, they outplayed Germany.
Mexico’s key defensive tactic involved man-marking Toni Kroos, Germany’s deep-lying playmaker. Kroos was followed diligently by Carlos Vela, more renowned for his attacking speed than his defensive work, and occasionally by centre-forward Javier Hernandez, when Vela found himself out of position after attacking moves broke down.
I knew we were struggling. But when she was mixing in water with the milk, I realized it was over, you know what I mean? This was our life.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want her to stress. I just ate my lunch. But I swear to God, I made a promise to myself that day. It was like somebody snapped their fingers and woke me up. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do.
I couldn’t see my mother living like that. Nah, nah, nah. I couldn’t have that.
People in football love to talk about mental strength. Well, I’m the strongest dude you’re ever going to meet. Because I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen.
I kept my promise to myself for a while. But then some days I’d come home from school and find my mum crying. So I finally told her one day, “Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.”
I was six.
Since his essay was posted, Lukaku scored two goals for Belgium in their 3-0 win over Panama.
Sweden-South Korea (Group F) 5:00 AM Pacific Time. Germany's loss makes this match crucial. I have it 2-1 Sweden, goals by Marcus Berg and Emil Forsberg for the Swedes and Son Heung-min for the Koreans. Sweden is also on top of my "Human Rights Table".
Belgium-Panama (Group G) 8:00 AM. Panama features the only two San Jose Earthquakes in the tournament, Harold Cummings and Anibal Godoy. This group has two good teams and two lesser teams, so there shouldn't be much mystery to it. I have Belgium winning here, 2-0, goals from Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.
Tunisia-England (Group G) 11:00 AM. I don't think Tunisia will score in this tournament, but for some reason, I only predicted a 1-0 win for England, goal by Harry Kane. If England struggles, well, they usually disappoint eventually in every Cup since 1966. This will be the first match I watch in English ... only seems right for an England match. Derek Rae and Aly Wagner are scheduled to call the game.
England's relationship with Europe is complicated (at least from our side -- one suspects gloomily that it's much more straightforward over the Channel) and it's not hard to imagine that in the current climate, the England team means different things to different English people. If, as some fear, our far-right nutters clash with the Russian hard-right nutters, then feelings will become even more diffuse.
Of course, it would be great if England won the tournament but that "if" is too small to the naked eye to be any use to the editor of this piece. What many of us crave is an England team we can like: one that plays fast, muscular, ambitious English football, beats the teams that are inferior to them and goes out bravely to the one that's better.
It's not much to ask, but it would help an unhappy country to feel better about itself.