As we reach the final group games of the World Cup in Russia, we take a look at each side’s chances of progression, if any, as well as the teams that have already gone through to the next round.
By SportBrief Reporter
The 2018 World Cup has served up some thrills and spills so far, from the thrilling 3-3 draw between Portugal and Spain, to the shocking dismal performances of a star-studded Argentina side that has left them on the brink of a humiliating group exit.
But the fun is just beginning and with the teams now headed for the last round of group games, we take a closer look at who will make it to the round of 16, as well as our remaining African teams’ chances of progression.
Russia and Uruguay already have clinched qualification at the expense of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both sit on six points, but the hosts are ahead thanks to a superior goal difference and need only a draw against the South Americans on Monday in Samara to win the group.
When the tournament started, Russian fans feared the embarrassment of group elimination. Now, with a victory or draw, the Russians would finish unbeaten and rule the group.
It is a heartbreak for Africa’s current most prolific goal-scorer who did not have much of a say over proceedings as he could not take part in his team’s opening defeat to Saudi Arabia. Although he was fit for the second game against Russia, the hosts spurred on by their overwhelming crowd of supporters proved a little too much for the Pharaohs.
Spain and Portugal are even with points each and plus one goal difference. But heading into Monday’s games, the Spaniards have a slight advantage because they play a team that has already been eliminated, the fellow Africans Morocco who seemingly have nothing (else) to lose. As for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., they face an Iranian side who still fancy their chances with three points.
An upset would propel Iran into the next round, perhaps win the group and possibly eliminate Portugal. A Spanish victory is far from certain. Despite failing to earn a point, the Moroccans have played quality attacking soccer and deserved better in their first two matches.
Ultimately, with berths unsecured, none of the three contenders are safe yet and football is well..unpredictable and as we saw in our local language (bhora mutambo) anything can happen.
France is through to the round of 16 and, with a victory or draw against second-place Denmark on Tuesday in Moscow, would seal first place. But the jury’s still out on whether Didier Deschamps’s squad can be considered a genuine championship contender. His squad has been good but not great.
The Danes (four points) are unbeaten and on course to finish second with a draw, but if they fall behind, they will have to remain mindful of the Australia-Peru match. The Aussies (one point) could pull level with Denmark on points (and pull ahead on goal difference) by defeating Peru.
We know Croatia with six points is almost certain to finish first. The only team that can catch up is Nigeria, but Croatia’s plus-five goal difference is all but insurmountable. So even if Croatia were to lose to Iceland on Tuesday, they’ll probably still seal first place.
For the rest of the teams, it’s still anyone’s bet with all sides in with a chance. Let’s start with our African brothers from another mother Nigeria. The Super Eagles, with three points, need at least a draw against a desperate Argentina. If that were to occur, the only way Iceland (one point) would topple the Nigerians would be to beat Croatia (and good luck with that) by multiple goals.
However, Lionel Messi and Argentina, a two-time champion and 2014 finalist, will certainly be no push-overs as they are a lot of bruised egos in that team of superstars that would be eager to redeem themselves by beating Nigeria. While their match transpires, they’ll also be rooting for Croatia to defeat or tie Iceland.
Brazil and Switzerland are tied in points (four). The Brazilians have a slight advantage in goal difference in case they finish even but they also have a tougher matchup against Serbia (three points), while the Swiss play Costa Rica, who have already been eliminated.
A Swiss victory and Brazil draw is not out of the question, a scenario that would drop the five-time champions into second.
Germany’s dramatic victory over Sweden set the stage for a dramatic finish to the group. The current cup holders were set for a humiliating early exit until a last-minute Toni Kroos strike revived their chances. That having been said, there is a chance three teams could finish with six points, triggering perhaps layers of tiebreakers.
For that to happen, Germany (three points) would have to defeat South Korea on Wednesday in Kazan and Sweden (three) would have to beat Mexico (six). The tie-breaking is in this order: goal difference, goals scored, head to head and fair-play conduct (yellow cards, red cards). If all else fails, FIFA will draw lots (crazy as it sounds) to determine who goes through.
Things are a bit simpler in this group. Both England and Belgium have six points, plus-six goal differences and eight goals scored.
Our fellow Africans in the north, Tunisia, have already been eliminated, having lost to both European teams, and along with their final opponent Panama having suffered the same fate they’ll be playing for nothing more than their pride when the two teams meet.
With their draw on Sunday, Japan and Senegal remain the surprise leaders with four points apiece. Now they have to take the final step by holding their ground against the pre-tournament group favorites.
While Japan gets to play eliminated Poland (no points), the Lions of Teranga though, face a stern test in the form of a rejuvenated Colombia side fresh from defeating and subsequently eliminating the Polish. A draw would see Senegal scrape through, but that will by no means be an easy feat with the Colombians needing a win to reach the last 16.