KATHMANDU, June 25: The second round of the group stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup offered unpredictability, salvation for some big guns and still time left for one last battle for some teams going into the third and the last round of the tournament.
It was the host Russia who surprised everyone when it reached the last 16 after it defeated Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, along with Mexico, who had stunned Germany in the first round, as it got past South Korea to move closer to the knockouts.
Salvation for big guns
Three of the big guns Spain, Brazil and Germany found themselves in a very uncomfortable situation in their respective groups at the end of the first round, but all the three teams managed to win their second games and stay in contention for the knockout rounds.
Spain had its balanced midfield to thank as it defeated Iran 1-0 to go joint-top of Group B with four points. Spain had also played well in a 3-3 draw against Portugal in the first round and played well this time too having had 18 shots and a pass success rate of 90%. Diego Costa was again in the scoresheet for Spain scoring in the 54th minute after his shot took a wicked deflection off Ramin Rezaeian and hit him again before going in. With four points, Spain takes on Morocco in the final group match to decide its round of 16 fate along with Iran and Portugal.
Likewise, Brazil had to wait till the stoppage time to score their two goals which meant Brazil went top of the table, ahead of Serbia vs Switzerland match which saw a win for the Swiss and Brazil stayed at the top. Brazil had shared a point with Switzerland in the first match after its terrible second half performance.
Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock in the first minute of the stoppage time after the end of 90 minutes to give Brazil a lead, while the South American side doubled the lead through Neymar in the seventh minute and sealed the win. The performance was not that convincing and will take a lot to beat Serbia, but with four points, it’ll surely be hoping to get at least a point for a place in the knockouts.
Germany provided a scintillating performance against Sweden in a 2-1 comeback win, only the second of the tournament so far. Germany was attacking from the first to the last whistle with 75.5% possession and 600 accurate passes. Germany went behind as Ola Toivonen gave Sweden a lead in the 32nd minute from a Toni Kroos error, but equalized through Marco Reus. Kroos scored the winner in the fifth minute of the stoppage time. Now it takes on South Korea, who is looking for its first win of the tournament.
Still going strong
Russia is at the top of the Group A standings with six points from its two games. Having scored eight goals and conceded just one against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Russia still looks hungry for more and will be hoping to defeat Uruguay on Monday to go to the knockouts as the winners of the group.
Croatia is one of only two teams in this World Cup to not have conceded a single goal so far. If the 2-0 win in the first round of Group D over Nigeria was good, then the 3-0 victory in the second round over Argentina was delightful. It now takes on Iceland in the last match, while the other match will see Argentina play Nigeria.
The European duo of Group G England and Belgium look like the teams to go very deep in the tournament, as far as their recent exploits of Panama and Tunisia are concerned.
Both the teams have six points each, have scored eight goals each, and have conceded two goals each in the two matches they played against Panama and Tunisia.
In the first round, Belgium defeated Panama 3-0, while England narrowly saw off Tunisia 2-1. Then, Belgium thrashed Tunisia 5-2 in the second round, while England did even better thrashing Panama 6-1. England and Belgium now take on each other in the last match to decide the fate of the group.
Work to do
Egypt was the favorite to, at least, qualify to the knockout rounds along with Uruguay. But, the staggering performance from Russia did not let that happen, in fact, Egypt is yet to win a single game.
Egypt first lost to an 89th minute Jose Gimenez header in the first round, while the second round saw it lose to Russia 3-1. It has only scored one that too from a Salah penalty, and have conceded four. Egypt is well and truly out with a lot of work to do if it wants to progress further in another World Cup finals.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia shares the same story, but with a more tragic backstory. It has lost both the opening games, has conceded six and hasn’t still scored a single goal. Saudi was thrashed 5-0 by Russia in the opening match, but in the second game, it lost to a Luis Suarez goal despite displaying an improved set of performance.
Now, Saudi takes on Egypt in the final game for a third spot in the group.
The other African team to go out of the tournament was Morocco when it lost both its games 1-0 against Iran and Portugal. It will take on Spain and will want to end its tournament with a win in Group B.
Peru is the other team on the casualty list with a similar fate as of Morocco. It has lost both its games 1-0 to France and Denmark and is still to score a goal like Morocco. Now, it plays Australia to at least move to the third place in Group C.
Costa Rica had a superb World Cup campaign in 2014 when it qualified as far as the quarterfinals. This time, it’s a whole different story.
It lost both its games, hasn’t scored a single goal, has conceded three already, and in the final game of Group E against Switzerland, it’ll take a score 4-0 to see off Serbia from the third place. That is if Serbia loses against Brazil.
Tunisia and first-timers Panama are the most goal conceders in the tournament. Tunisia has conceded seven, while Panama conceded nine in just two games. They are surely out of the tournament but will be playing against each other for the third place of Group G.
Poland was the team that many suggested would go far, but it lost both its opening games against Senegal and Colombia, and will not still qualify for the knockouts even if it defeats Japan in the last.
Still not convincing
Uruguay and France are the only two teams who won both its games but did not impress anyone. Uruguay won both its games 1-0 against Saudi and Egypt, but the cutting edge going forward and balancing the midfield were lacking.
Similarly, France had technology to thank in its 2-1 victory over Australia in the first game, while it relied on a Kylian Mbappe goal against Peru. The game saw Peru dominate France with more possession and 108 accurate passes more than the Euro Cup finalists.
Both the teams have already qualified for the last 16.
One last battle
There are still 18 teams battling out for the knockout rounds and have not still qualified. Staggering is the fact that we are into the last round of the group stages, and some teams are still separated by just a point.
Group B has Spain, Portugal and Iran. Spain and Portugal have four points each, while Iran has three. A win for any of the sides will take them to the knockout rounds, while a draw each for Portugal and Spain will directly knock Iran out.
Group C has Denmark and Australia vying for a spot in the last 16. Australia will be facing Peru in the last game, while Denmark will take a tough challenge of France hoping to avoid a defeat.
One of the most open groups of the finals is Group D as only Croatia has qualified so far. Nigeria will take on Argentina, while Iceland will play Croatia. Out of the three countries, Nigeria is in a better position with three points, but a win for Argentina against the African side will see them go out, if Iceland draws or loses against Croatia.
Group E is quite as much like Group D, but the difference from that group is the winner of Group E has not been finalized yet. So, Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland are battling out for the two available places, and a win for either side will see them go to the last 16.
No team is officially out from Group F and no team is officially in the knockout rounds. Mexico is at the top with six points, while Germany and Mexico are second and third respectively with three each. South Korea has no point, but a 3-0 win over Germany will see the Asian side go to the last 16 if Mexico defeats Sweden.
Japan, Senegal and Colombia will fight for the two places in Group H, with just one point separating Colombia from Japan and Senegal. Colombia will take on Senegal, while Japan will play the already-out Poland.