“Congratulations to Korea for the win, for Sweden and Mexico for the qualification. It’s difficult to explain. The way we played we didn’t deserve to go through.”
-Germany coach Joachim Loew
Many of you may remember during the last World Cup, I posted a blog about the challenges the defending World Cup champion faces. Sometimes it seems like bad luck. After Germany’s game against South Korea, my look at the defending Champion deserves an update.
In the 20th Century, only Italy in 1950 and Brazil in 1966 were among the defending champions that failed to make it past the Group Stage. In the 21st Century, there was France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Then came Germany here in 2018. Germany was the most impressive team at the 2014 World Cup and deserving of their victory. The team appeared to have many a great retire from the national team over time like Miro Klose, Per Mertesacker and Phillipp Lahm just after their World Cup win, Bastian Schweinsteiger right after Euro 2016, and Lukas Podolski in 2017. Nevertheless their reputation of consistency would continue to be as they would continue to do very well in tournaments, if not win. There was the semifinal finish at Euro 2016. There was winning their first ever Confederations Cup in 2017. They even won FIFA team of the year in 2014 and 2017 as well as the Laureus award for Team Of The Year in 2015. It appeared that the years were kind to team Germany as well as with the new talent that was coming along. Including Joshua Kimmich who won German Player Of The Year in 2017. Germany’s Olympic team in Rio which consisted mostly of men under 23 won the silver medal. It also appeared Head Coach Joachim Loew was continuing to make the right decisions and Germany’s football system which went through an overhaul in the early 21st Century was continuing to pay off big time.
Even in friendly play, Germany did very well, but they also had notable defeats like 4-2 against Argentina seven weeks after the World Cup, 2-1 against the US in June 2015, 3-2 against England in March 2016, and 3-1 against Slovakia in May 2016. 2017 looked like a good year for Germany as they topped their World Cup qualifying group easily and they didn’t even lose a dingle friendly. Their draw for the World Cup didn’t appear to threaten their World Cup status as their mix with Sweden, South Korea and Mexico appeared to be a group they could advance with after playing.
Then the 2018 year began. They drew against Spain 1-1 in their first friendly in March. Their next friendly, against Brazil four days later, they lost 1-0. They would lose to Austria in a friendly 2-1 on June 2nd and then win 2-1 in a friendly against the Saudis on June 8th. It was apparent the team chemistry that gave Germany the winning edge in 2014 wasn’t there.
The World Cup squad of 23 for the German national team was announced on June 4th 2018: two days after their loss to Austria. Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for the 2014 team, was back and was captain of the team, as were eight other members of Germany’s 2014 team. There was also Mario Gomez who was part of Germany’s 3rd-place World Cup team of 2010. Marco Reus, who had to be replaced just before the 2014 World Cup because of an ankle injury, finally got his World Cup moment in 2018. There were some notable differences about the make-up. Four members of the 2014 team had 100 caps or more. None of the 2018 team had that. Three of the members were part of Germany’s silver medal-winning performance at the Rio Olympics in 2016. There were the ‘reliable’ veterans like Ozil, Muler, Neuer, Khedira and Boateng. As for the new players, there were talents like 26 year-old Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 22 year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Julian Brandt, and defenders like 25 year-old Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea and 23 year-old Joshua Kimmich from Bayern Munich as well as 22 year-old striker Timo Werner who scored three goals during the 2017 Confederations Cup.
There were also some notable members of the German national team who were left off the World Cup squad like Shkodran Mustafi who was part of the 2014 team and Mario Gotze who scored the goal that won Germany the World Cup. Gotze had been going through a metabolic disorder since March of last year and it may have caused his dismissal from the national team.
Then the World Cup started. Their first opponent was Mexico right in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. There were talks of struggles with the team chemistry since the Cup started, including with their team-based training in Moscow, but it appeared to be nothing to worry about. Mexico was a team where their last defeat to them was in 1985. They even beat them in the semis at the Confederations Cup last year. However sport is not about the past; it’s about now. Vet Neuer was chosen to be goaltender, Kimmich and the relatively inexperienced Marvin Plattenhardt were the only two ‘new’ players chosen as defenders, the two midfielders were vets Kroos and Khedira, and Werner was the only ‘new’ defender of the four. Substitutions also caught people’s eyes as ‘new players’ Plattenhardt and Werner were among those substituted and two vets along with ‘new player’ Julian Brandt were the substitutes. Germany had 60% of the ball possession, 25 of 37 attempts, nine attempts on-target and nine off-target, eight of the nine corner kicks, 88% pass accuracy, but the one goal was scored by Hirving Lozano of Mexico in the 35th minute.
Germany’s 1-0 loss soon got people talking. This was Germany’s first loss of a Group Stage opening match in yay so long. There was even talk about how the German team lacked organization, lacked chemistry. Some claimed Loew was ‘separating’ the team between the tried-and-true vets and the newer players. More scattering of players than setting a build of play. Germany still however had two more games. Their next match was Sweden in another Olympic Stadium: Fisht in Sochi. Neuer was back as goaltender, but this time there was more presence of newer players, especially among defenders. Even two of the three substitutes were new players like Brandt and Ilkay Gundogan. However it appeared to be another struggle for Germany, especially after Ola Toivonen scored after the 32nd minute. It did, however, appear that Germany was beginning to find their groove again as Marco Reus evened the game up at the 48th minute. However it was starting to look like Germany was going to choke again. Then came the miracle of stoppage time. It was Toni Kroos delivering a successful free kick in the 5th minute of stoppage time to give Germany their winning goal. Despite their 2-1 victory, there were still naysayers, pointing out how Germany did so little with so much. Germany had ball possession for 71% of the game and 16 goal attempts, but only five attempts on-target. They also had five of the seven offsides. Also Jerome Boateng received two yellow cards– in the 71st and 82nd minutes– en route to a red-card dismissal and Germany to play one man down for the remainder of that game and against the following game against South Korea.
Then came Game 3 against South Korea at Kazan Arena. Germany had to win if they wanted to qualify as Mexico already had two wins. No doubt Germany appeared to be there. They had 70% ball possession, had nine corner kicks, and delivered 17 shots, but only six were on-target. Germany appeared to deliver a lot of good attempts at goals, but young goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo was on that night. It was definitely frustrating for Germany as they knew they had to win to stay alive. Sweden was beating Mexico 3-0 so a win was needed to qualify. It did not happen. This time, it was South Korea that took full advantage of stoppage time with a goal by Kim Younggwon in the 93rd minute giving Korea the lead and a goal by Son Heungmin in an empty net in the 96th minute that meant it was the end for Germany. That was only Germany’s second loss to South Korea after their fourth time playing each other.
It’s tough to decide what lead to Germany’s demise. It may be the coaching staff’s overtrusting of its senior players and not giving the newer players a fair chance. Especially after vets like Neuer, Ozil and Thomas Muller all performed below expectation. Some say there was lack of unity or lack of a game plan. There was enough on the field to notice that. Some say the coaching tactics of Joachim Loew that was successful in the past finally ran out here. Loew himself was shocked at the loss and Germany’s early dismissal, however he did not deny any of his misdoings or the team’s misdoings.
Quotes from Loew after the game:
“I think we prepared well for the tournament. We were ready and we knew that all teams will be desperate to beat us, but we haven’t showed for it.”
“It wasn’t only Ozil, a number of other players didn’t perform as they normally would. I take responsibility for that and stand up for that, but I thought it was a good team.”
Interesting to note that Loew signed a contract to stay on as coach of the national team until 2022. Loew has been coach of the German national team since 2006. However he has made it evident that he will voluntarily step down. He made his disappointment obvious, but he said it will take hours to digest.
One thing about the loss is that it gave Germany some embarrassing statistics like the second World Cup ever and first time since 1938 that Germany failed to move past the 1st round, first time for Germany to fail to qualify after opening Group Stage play, and the third defending champion in a row to be eliminated after the Group Stage.
That last statistic continues to be biting. This is the fourth time in five World Cups this 21st century and the third consecutive time the defending champion is out after the Group Stage. I’ve never considered it bad luck to be defending World Cup champion, but the statistics are strongly pointing the way to it. It was never this way in the 20th century. They may have had some bad statistics at the following World Cup, but it was very rare to be out in the Group Stage. Now it’s more common than ever with Germany being the sixth ever and third-consecutive. It’s tempting to think bad lack, but one has to study teams to know why they perform poorly time after time. This is something new and shouldn’t be, but this is tempting.
The defending World Cup champion. The definition continues.
Already in these past eleven days, all 32 teams played their first two games. Already some team’s fates are determined as six teams know they’ve qualified for the knockout round and eight teams know they’re going home after they play their last game. The fates of the remaining eighteen are still unclear and they will have to rely on their play in the last game in order to determine if they’re among the remaining ten to advance or among the other eight that will head home earlier than they hoped. With each group’s games both taking place simultaneously, you can bet each team will need to play like they mean it.
Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance. Hyperlinks with each group are to my original review:
Group A: This is as basic as game statistics go about right now. Two teams won both their games which of course means the other two teams lost. The two that won their two games already know they’re advancing. That’s as basic as it gets. This is the only group that has it that way. The two teams that won both their games are Russia and Uruguay. One of two groups that already has decided both of their qualifiers.
Monday’s game of Russia vs. Uruguay will be a case of the final standings. They know they’re qualifying. The game will be about who qualifies as first and second. Russia could finish first by simply drawing. Their goal differential is big enough. Uruguay will have to win if they want to finish first as both their wins were 1-0.
Since Egypt and Saudi Arabia lost both their games, it’s pretty clear in their match against each other on Monday, it will be a game for pride.
Group B: Group B is a group that’s hard to explain. The only definite thing is it’s over for Morocco. As for qualifiers, no definite ones with three teams still having a chance. Portugal and Spain both have the best chances after their 3-3 draw against each other and 1-0 victories in their following games. Both would not only have to win in their games (although they could still qualify even if they both draw), but if both win, goal differential would have to decide 1st and 2nd.
However don’t count out Iran. They may rank 3rd right now with a win and a loss– their win being their first since 1998– but beating Portugal will mean they would qualify. If Spain loses their game against Morocco in the process, Iran could just come out on top! Goad differential would have to decide between Spain and Portugal for the second berth.
What can I say? Game 3 will have to decide it all.
Group C: Right now one team, France, is guaranteed to qualify based on their two wins. Also one team, Peru, is guaranteed to go packing for home after Tuesday’s game, whether they win against Australia or not. Even if Denmark beats France on Tuesday, France still has enough game points to qualify, even if they would finish second and Denmark would win Group C.
The way things are right now, France and Denmark could draw and both teams would advance on game points, even if Australia beats Peru. Australia would still have a chance if they beat Peru and Denmark loses to France. However even as little as a draw against Peru would eliminate Australia’s chances from qualifying. Another case of Game 3 to decide the second qualifier, as well as the final standings of all teams.
Group D: That’s all it took. It just took Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria and 3-0 win over Argentina to have them qualify for the Round of 16 for the first time since their 3rd-place finish in 1998.
Croatia is in a healthy position to finish first in Group D as Iceland would have beat Croatia to have a chance at qualifying. And Croatia is as capable of losing to Iceland as they are to beating them. Both teams won a game against each other in World Cup qualifying. Actually the other three teams all have a chance to qualify, no matter how slim. Even Argentina, despite their big loss to Croatia. Argentina’s big loss does put them at the bottom with the harshest of chances to qualify. They would not only have to beat Nigeria, but Croatia will have to beat or draw against Iceland. Messi’s fourth and possibly final chance at winning a World Cup depends on all that. Nigeria could still qualify with a draw against Argentina, but a win will guarantee them qualifying should Iceland actually defeat Croatia. That’s Game 3 for you. Sometimes chances are not worth taking.
Group E: Group E is a lot like Group B where two teams have a win and a draw, one team has a win and a loss, and one team has two losses which guarantee elimination after Wednesday’s game. The team that’s definitely eliminated is Costa Rica. They may have been the Cinderella story of 2014, but the clock struck midnight here in Russia for them. Even if they beat Switzerland, it’s over.
Any of the other three teams–Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia– can qualify, depending on the results of their games on Wednesday. All three also have chances to get eliminated too. Brazil could draw against Serbia and it would guarantee qualification for them. However Serbia would have to win over Brazil to guarantee qualification on their side. They could still qualify if they draw against Brazil and Switzerland loses to Costa Rica 2-0 or 3-1, but why take a chance? The only way Switzerland could still qualify after losing to Costa Rica is if Brazil loses to Serbia 2-0 or 3-1 as Brazil has an edge with their goal differential. A draw against Costa Rica would guarantee qualification for Switzerland, whether either Brazil or Serbia wins.
Brazil could still qualify if they simply draw against Serbia, but the only way for Brazil to qualify if they lose to Serbia is if Coast Rica beats Switzerland, and as long as their loss to Serbia isn’t that huge of a margin. Whatever the situation, Game 3 will be a case where all three eligible teams will have to play it like they mean it.
Group F: This is the one group where there are no definite qualifiers, but no teams definitely eliminated either. All four teams still have a chance to qualify and it will completely rely on the outcome of the final game on Wednesday. Game 3 could have a case where there are two teams with two wins and a loss with the other two teams having a win and two losses. It could even be a case of one team having three straight wins and the other three teams having a win and two losses and goal differentials deciding the second qualifier. Of course draws could change all that, but right now none of the teams are eliminated and all still have a chance.
Starting with Mexico, they have the best chances of qualifying after their 1-0 win against Germany and 2-1 win over South Korea. However they could be eliminated if they lose to Sweden 2-0 or 3-1 and Germany wins 2-0 or 3-1 to South Korea in the process. That would be the case of three teams with two wins and a loss but one doesn’t qualify. And it has happened in past World Cups.
Germany and Sweden both have a win and a loss as well as two goals for and two against. However Germany leads Sweden for the second-place spot because of the head-to-head result. I have to say that goal by Tony Kroos in the 95th minute was definitely something Germany needed to stay alive and have healthy chances of qualifying to the knockout stage. Otherwise they would’ve risked being the fourth of five defending Cup champions this 21st century that failed to advance. Nevertheless they still risk missing out not just if they lose to South Korea, but even if they draw and Sweden ends up winning over Mexico. It’s still possible Germany will fail to advance past the opening round for the first time since 1938. Like Germany, Sweden would have to win over Mexico to have the healthiest of chances to qualify. Qualifying via a draw could only happen if Germany draws too and Sweden’s draw is bigger: such as Sweden-Mexico 2-2 while Germany-South Korea 1-1. Whatever. It’s too complicated to tell! But they know they need to play like they mean it.
Finally there’s South Korea. It’s easy to think they have the best chances of getting eliminated with losing both games, but they still have a chance, despite it being a slim one. They not only have to win over Germany, but Mexico has to beat Sweden in order for the Koreans to qualify. A slim chance is still a chance possible. And the Koreans could do it since they will have a one-man advantage on Wednesday. The fates of all will be decided that Wednesday. Sure, it was awfully long for me to describe, but the group is that tight right now.
Group G: Group G is like Group A where the two qualifiers are already decided thanks to both England and Belgium scoring two wins and both Panama and Tunisia losing to both teams in the process. This is especially happy for England as the first win was England’s first win of a World Cup match since 2010. Definitely a big upper after a dreadful 2014 showing. The big surprise is that both England and Belgium share the same goal differential with eight for and two against. Their game on Thursday will be just to decide who finishes first and who finishes second. A draw, god forbid, would require the team of the first goal to take first place, or some other FIFA law if the draw happens to be nil-nil. Glad to see no nil-nil draws yet this World Cup.
It may be all over for Panama and Tunisia but their game on Thursday will be for pride. Panama will try to win their first game ever while Tunisia will try to win their first game since their debut in 1978.
Group H: Another group with no definite qualifiers and three teams that still have a chance at qualifying. When I made my predictions, I looked back and wondered if there would be any African teams or Asian teams that would have a chance of making it past the group stage. My predictions didn’t make it look so. However Japan and Senegal are the two teams that have done the best play with a win and a draw each. Japan is especially noteworthy as they delivered the first victory by an Asian team since 2010. The That 2-2 draw where Japan played Senegal was tight. Their games on Thursday will have to decide their final fates. Colombia endured a 2-1 loss to Japan in their first game, but really picked themselves up tonight after their 3-0 win over Poland. That win helps keep Colombia in contention for qualifying. It all depends on their game against Senegal. They would have to win as Senegal has the advantage if they draw. And who knows what will happen in the game of Japan vs. Poland. Both Senegal and Japan have the luxury of qualifying even if they both draw in their final matches.
The only team that has their World Cup fate already decided is Poland. They lost 2-1 to Senegal and 3-0 to Colombia and that means it’s over for them. They could win against Japan for their national pride. If Japan does lose, the only way Japan could qualify is if Senegal beats Colombia. Game 3 is almost always make or break.
And there you have it. This is how qualifying stands for the knockout stage of the World Cup right now. These next four days will seal the fates of all teams not just for who qualifies, but how they finish in their group. Don’t forget it’s not just about getting a berth by finishing in the Top 2. It’s also about the two qualifiers’ group finish as it will decide which game they play in and determine who their opponent will be. Too complicated to explain it all. Still exciting to watch the action unfold.
Euro 2016 has made headlines for a lot of good memorable play. It’s also made headlines for the worse for hooliganism from Russian and Croatian fans. However starting tomorrow, all 24 teams have one last game to play. Three teams have officially qualified, one is officially out and the other twenty are still relying on the last game to decide it all. Here’s the breakdown of the teams that made it and the teams still with one last chance. Note only teams guaranteed qualification have their names bolded.
Okay, it’s safe to say that by now, two wins guarantees you’ll be playing in the knockout round no matter what happens in the third game in any group. France is already guaranteed to move on after their wins against Switzerland and Albania. However they’re not guaranteed first place in the standings. Switzerland could take France’s top position away if they beat them. Chances are slim but still there. If Switzerland doesn’t win, they do have strong chances of finishing second despite what happens in the Romania-Albania game. Romania would need to have a win of at least 2-0 or 3-1 over Albania and Switzerland will have to endure nothing more than a loss to France if they can take second place in Group A.
Albania may have lost both of their games but they are not out. They still have a chance of qualifying if they defeat Romania. It will have to be nothing less than a win for Albania and even then they will have to wait until all the groups have finished and have all the third-placers ranked in order to determine the four that qualify. It’s what it all boils down to in this wildcard race.
This is unique because none of the teams in the group are guaranteed of qualifying. That’s a good thing because all four still have a chance leading up to their last matches on Monday, June 20th.England currently leads with a win and a draw with Wales and Slovakia with both a win and a loss. However they could drop to third place if Slovakia beats them and Wales beats Russia. I’m sure England wouldn’t want that embarrassment. Slovakia and Wales can qualify even if they draw Final results of who ranks where will have to be decided in the final game. One thing is certain: if Wales and Slovakia both win, draw or lose, Wales will have a higher ranking because of their win over Slovakia. Even if Wales lost to Russia on Monday, they would still have the advantage of finishing at least third.
Now onto Russia. Russia has had a lot of bad publicity because of their fans’ hooligan actions. UEFA has even dealt them a blow of a fine of 150,000. In addition, they face difficulty with their play as they sit with just a draw and a loss. Russia can still qualify but they will need nothing less than a win against Wales to do so.
Germany currently at the top is no surprise. Germany’s scoreless draw against Poland was to many. Except me because I anticipated them to draw: albeit a score of 1-1. No doubt about it, this is Poland’s best Euro especially since they achieved their first ever win. Germany leads Poland in goal differentials should both Germany and Poland win, lose or draw on Tuesday the 21st.Poland could still clinch the lead over Germany but they would have to win over Ukraine and Germany draw over Northern Ireland or Poland draw and Northern Ireland win. Northern Ireland will need nothing less than a win over Germany to rank second at the very least. They are guaranteed a third-place finish but they will have to rely on win-loss stats and goal differentials of the other third-place teams to see if they are one of the wildcard qualifiers.
As for Ukraine, it’s over. Even if they did win over Poland by even the hugest margin, their Euro 2016 trip will end Tuesday because their loss to Northern Ireland on Thursday put them in last place in Group C. For those that don’t know, head-to-head results override goal differentials at the UEFA Euro while it’s the opposite for the FIFA World Cup. That’s how things work here.
It’s official that Spain is advancing to the Round of 16. Their wins against Turkey and the Czech Republic solidified their chances. However they could still finish second in the group. That can happen if they lose to Croatia. Croatia sits in second with a win against Turkey and a draw to the Czech Republic. Croatia is comfortable enough that they’re guaranteed finishing third at least. A draw will give them second place. A loss could still keep them in second but it would have to be a small loss to keep them in second. They wouldn’t want the Czechs to win big against Turkey.
The Czech Republic will need a win if they are to advance. A draw will not cut it because of possibly falling short in the wildcard ranks. Meanwhile Turkey is not out either. A win will put them in third place with the possibility of qualifying. It will all be decided Tuesday the 21st.
It’s now official that Italy has guaranteed qualification to the Round of 16. Its wins against Belgium and Sweden assured them a spot in the next round. Actually Italy has been guaranteed first place because even if they lost to Ireland and Belgium won, they’d have the advantage over Belgium because of their 2-0 win. Belgium’s win over Ireland brought their chances back. They could still qualify if they drew against Sweden. However a loss could endanger their chances of qualifying. Simply put, Sweden and Ireland need nothing less than a win to qualify. A draw for either wouldn’t cut it.
Hungary is the team on top right now thanks to the group’s only win: against Austria 2-0. Every other match was a 1-1 or 0-0 draw. Hungary can still advance with a loss to Portugal because of their win over Austria. Iceland and Portugal have two draws but Iceland leads because they scored more. Already Iceland has their best team ever and they keep on breaking new ground each time, even if their two Euro games are 1-1 draws. I’ll bet Portugal was shocked to find out how good they were. Iceland would have to win over Austria in order to advance but Austria needs nothing less than a win over Iceland for their chances as they’re the one team with a loss. And it’s all chancy for Portugal. A win over Hungary will give them qualification but a draw will put them in the tricky wildcard category.
And there you go. That’s the team rundown before they play their final preliminary game. Just like in FIFA tournaments, the third games for each group will all be played simultaneously. Hey, it’s do or die.
Today is now a rest day at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. All 24 teams are now moving away from the stadiums they’ve played their first two group games and preparing for their final group game. Sixteen teams will move on after this game, eight will be heading home. Third-place teams still have a chance but it depends on how well they all stack up as only the best four of the six can go through. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance:
Canada leads but without a doubt they lack the dazzle they’ve been known to have. A 1-0 win over China and a scoreless draw over New Zealand may assure them first place right now but they’re not impressing the home crowd. Canada could still likely qualify even if they lost to the Netherlands but I don’t think they’d want to do that. China was able to get itself in after its win against the Netherlands. Actually both China and the Netherlands are tied as they both won 1-0 and lost 1-0. Their play in the next game will decide their fates. New Zealand still has a chance of qualifying after that scoreless draw against Canada but they need nothing less than a win against China if they’re to do so. This group is anyone’s game right now.
Norway’s win over Thailand was not a surprise. Neither was Germany’s win over the Ivory Coast but the score was definitely a surprise. For the record, the 10-0 score is not the most lopsided victory at the FIFA WWC. That was achieved by Germany in 2007 in a Group Stage match against Argentina: 11-0. Germany and Norway drawing was a surprise. It’s not uncommon to see teams drawing after they feel they have a comfortable enough lead. Both Germany and Norway are likely to win their next games as neither Thailand nor the Ivory Coast seem like a challenge to either of them. Thailand could still have a chance if they draw against Germany but that’s unlikely. That would have to draw down how they’d rank against the third-place teams. Ivory Coast doesn’t appear too likely to qualify as they will play Norway next.
Japan is definitely progressing. Their two wins secured it for the defending Cup champions. They will highly likely come in first as their last match of group play will be Ecuador and it looks most likely to be a win. Both Switzerland and Cameroon have lost to Japan but they were able to profit off of play against Ecuador. Switzerland had it best with their 10-1 win on Friday. If they both tie in their final game, both will qualify because of goal differentials to their advantage. The win of course would decide the second place team in the group. Of course Ecuador is out. As I said in my group blogs, there are some countries that don’t have a chance of progressing or winning and this World Cup is their opportunity to learn and hopefully grow in the years to come.
As you probably read in my blog, I had a feeling this group would be the ‘Group Of Death’ and it has already delivered some surprises. The first being the 3-3 draw between Sweden and Nigeria. The second being the scoreless draw between the U.S. and Sweden. The U.S. will qualify no matter what happens against Nigeria. All three other groups’ fates will be decided in their final game. As of now, all three have a chance. Nigeria could get in if they beat the Americans. Australia could qualify upon a draw against Sweden but Sweden needs nothing less than a win to qualify.
Brazil is already guaranteed to finish top of their group with their two wins against South Korea and Spain. Even if they lose to Costa Rica, which highly won’t happen, they have enough game points to finish on top. Neither of the other teams have even a single win and that means second and third is anyone’s game. Costa Rica could still qualify if they tie Brazil though that may not be too likely but if they do, they would have to rely on the third-place team rankings to see if they made it. They have an advantage over teams that would have a win and two losses because of even goal differentials. South Korea and Spain both still have a chance but either team has to win if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as there are at least four third-place teams with at least a win.
This is another group with surprises. At first I thought Colombia didn’t have a chance of qualifying but right now they’re the Group F team that’s assured of advancing. It was their 2-0 win over France that did it. That leaves favorites France having their fate decided in their game against Mexico. England however received an advantage after their 2-1 win over Mexico. That kept them in contention of qualifying with their match against Colombia to decide it. Both France and England can advance by simply drawing against their opponents but there’s no question they’d want to win with their reputations as women’s football leaders in Europe at stake. Mexico however needs nothing less than a win in order to advance. They’re lucky as their goal differential is actually quite small. Nevertheless it’s interesting to see that this group best demonstrates the progress of women’s football in countries of Europe and Latin America.
And there you go. That’s what’s needed in terms of advancing to the Round of 16 starting on Monday. I’m sure it will be crazy shifting your attention from one game to the other but don’t worry, the other will eventually get replayed.
Well here we go. Each of the teams at this year’s World Cup have played two of their three Group Stage opponents. Over the next few days they will all play their last opponent and the group results will be official. Two countries from each group will remain in contention and move onto the knockout rounds. Two others will have their World Cup dreams end right there.
Already there have been some clear results over these past two games. There are some that already achieved their guarantee to move on. There are some that already have been determined it’s already all over. And there are some that will have to rely on the last match as a last chance. Here is a group-by-group breakdown of those who made it (with countries who are guaranteed to advance in bold), those who will be leaving soon and those who still have a chance:
I’ll bet most of you thought that Brazil would be the first country to be guaranteed a berth in the Round of 16, right? So did I. The scoreless tie against Mexico still keeps things uncertain between three countries. The one certainty is that Cameroon will not move on even if they won against Brazil, which would highly be unlikely.
The way it looks for the three teams in contention is this. With Mexico playing Croatia, Mexico can qualify by simply tying. Croatia needs nothing less than a win. Brazil can simply qualify by tying but do you think they’d want to do that after their scoreless draw to Mexico?
This is the one group where both advancers have already been decided. Both the Netherlands and Chile have two wins guaranteeing them a spot in the Round of 16. It’s also guaranteed it’s all over for Australia and defending champs Spain with two losses each. Even if one of them won in their match on Monday, it would all be just for pride. That’s all they can muster now. I’m sure Spain will most likely want to win it as a last message about themselves.
The match of Netherlands vs. Chile on Monday will be a case where it decides which team finishes first and which finishes second. Netherlands can end up #1 just by simply drawing against Chile because of better goal differentials. Chile must win this if it wants to claim the #1 spot in Group B. Besides I have a co-worker who’s Chilean and he wants Chile to win. He feels if Chile loses, they’ll end up facing Brazil in the Round of 16. And Brazil has cut Chile’s World Cup dreams short in the Round of 16 twice before: in 1998 and 2010.
Colombia’s two wins over Greece and the Ivory Coast have guaranteed them a berth in the Round of 16: their first since 1990. The other three countries still have a chance. Japan could do it by winning against Colombia and Greece could do it if they win against the Ivory Coast. However it’s a case for either of those two nations that they have to win in order to qualify. And even if both win, it would depend on goal differentials to decide who qualifies with Japan having a two-goal advantage over Greece. Ivory Coast could advance just by simply tying Greece but it’s best guaranteed by a tie between Colombia and Japan.Ivory Coast could lose their chances if they tie and Japan has a win with a two-goal advantage. Or Ivory Coast could be out if they lose to Greece. So it’s not out for any of the four and the last games in Tuesday to decide it all.
Admit it. When you’ve been looking at this group all these months, you were probably guessing which of the three: Uruguay, England and Italy will qualify. And I’m sure with good reason. All three have a World Cup legacy and all three have proven to be strong challengers today. Even I was fixated almost strictly on those three. I’m sure hardly any of us payed much attention to Costa Rica. I’m sure we all thought Costa Rica was the odd one out and wrote them off. They don’t have the same legacy of the three and even now they rank low in the world. Well guess which of the four in Group D is guaranteed to advance?
Another definite thing is England will be out. This makes it the first World Cup since 1958 that England will fail to advance after the First Round. It’s possible they could win against Costa Rica on Tuesday for the sake of pride but we’ll see. So the match of Uruguay vs. Italy will settle who the second advancer will be. Winner of course advances but if it’s a draw, Italy advances because of better goal differentials. So Uruguay has to win if they want to advance. Quite something how it will be two former World Cup winners from this group who will not advance.
If there’s one country that wanted to make past embarrassments a thing of the past, it’s obvious it’s France. I’m sure most of you remember their embarrassments in 2010. The two wins from France–and big wins with 3-0 against Honduras and 5-2 against Switzerland–show that Les Bleus are back and have an exceptionally strong chance of advancing. The only way I can see France not advancing is if they lose badly to Ecuador (a minimum of 4-0 Ecuador) and Switzerland have at least a 5-0 win over Honduras. That’s how comfortable France’s chances are, though nothing is set in stone right now.
The other option is which of the other country’s will advance. Both Ecuador and Switzerland have a win and a loss each with Ecuador having the advantage with even goal differentials. Ecuador could qualify with a simple 1-0 win over France. If Switzerland were to win too, its win would have to be over three goals at least. The only way Switzerland can advance with something as little as a 1-0 win is if Ecuador loses or ties France on Wednesday. Honduras has slim chances of qualifying but the chance is there. They would have to have a big win over Switzerland–like 4-0 or 5-1– and Ecuador would have to lose to France. No ifs, ands or buts.
Argentina’s two wins may be unspectacular but their 2-1 win over Bosnia and their 1-0 win over Iran guarantee they will advance to the Round of 16. Bosnia unfortunately is out. So the most they can do in their match against Iran on Wednesday is win for pride.
Nigeria and Iran both still have a chance with Nigeria having the advantage with a win and a tie. Nigeria could advance by simply tying Argentina on Wednesday. Iran not only needs a win but Nigeria has to lose to Argentina completely for Iran to advance. Plain and simple.
This is one group where all four still have a chance to qualify.
Germany and the US are the two most likely due to them having both a win and a tie. Portugal has the slimmest chances but they’re still there. They have to have a big win against Ghana and for either of the other two to lose badly in their match to have a chance. Ghana can also make it in with a win but it would have to come at the US losing. They only way Ghana could advance with Germany losing is if Germany loses to the US 5-0 or 6-1. Germany and the US can simply advance just by tying. The US’s chances are good but not solid. As I mentioned before, they could be out if they lose and Ghana has a win. Thursday is the day everything will be decided.
Belgium is the one country right now that’s guaranteed a berth in the Round of 16 with their wins of 2-1 against Algeria and 1-0 against Russia.
While the other three countries still have a chance ,the country with the best odds is Algeria upon their 4-2 win over South Korea. Their win was big enough so that they could advance by simply tying Russia. Only if South Korea won over Belgium 3-0 or 4-1 would that ruin Algeria’s chances. However Russia can still have a chance. They have to have nothing less than a win over Algeria for them to advance. It would only take a big win from South Korea to prevent Russia from advancing upon a win over Algeria on Thursday.
Wonder why all four teams play their last Group Stage game simultaneously? It had its origins at the 1978 World Cup. It didn’t happen in the First Round Group play but in the Second Round of group play. This was when the Top 2 from each group advanced to a second round of group play. Winners of both groups played in the final for the Cup. Second-place in both groups played for third-place. Brazil played their last match 2 1/2 hours before hosts Argentina was to play theirs. Brazil won over Poland 3-1. That sent the message to Argentina they’d need to win over Peru by at least four points to qualify for the final. And they did it: 6-0. Argentina eventually won the Cup. That led FIFA to pass a ruling that all teams in a group play their last Group Stage match simultaneously.
And there you go. That’s what’s needed in terms of advancing to the Round of 16 starting on Saturday. I’m sure it will be crazy shifting your attention from one game to the other but don’t worry, the other will eventually get replayed.
It was something nobody saw coming. Spain entered this World Cup as the reigning champions. Ever since their win of the Cup, they’ve had an impressive record with winning Euro 2012, Runners-up to Brazil at the 2013 Confederations Cup, and an impressive streak of 39 wins, eight draws and six losses in the games they’ve played since World Cup 2010.
However something went wrong in their game against the Netherlands on June 13th. At first, it looked like Spain would command an early lead with a penalty goal scored by Xabi Alonzo in the 27th minute. Then things turned for the worse as the Netherlands, whom Spain played against in the 2010 World Cup final, came back first with a goal from Robin van Persie in the 44th minute, followed by four more goals from the Netherlands including a second from van Persie and two from Arjen Robben. The score 5-1 was Spain’s biggest loss in a World Cup game since 1950.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque reassured fans that Spain will be ready in their next two games. Spain’s next opponent was Chile in the Maracana Stadium. Chile already had beaten Australia 3-1 in their World Cup opener. You’d expect Spain to be hungry for a win after their big loss to the Netherlands. However things went completely unexpected for Spain. Chile’s Eduardo Vargas drew first blood by scoring in the 20th minute. Then just before the first half was about to end, Charles Aranguiz gave Chile another goal to give them a 2-0. There was no more scoring in the second half. As the final whistle blew, Chile not only won the match against Spain but found themselves advancing to the Round of 16 through acquiring their second win. Just hours earlier the Netherlands won their match against Australia 3-2. With that being their second win, the Netherlands were guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16 too. Spain found itself with two losses and with only one game left in the Group Stage, all chances of qualifying for the Round of 16 had fallen out of their hands.
Spain’s situation is actually not that uncommon for a defending World Cup champion. Of the nineteen defending champions in the history of the World Cup, only two have successfully defended their title: Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962. An addition two were successful enough to make it to the finals. If you want the full details of how defending World Cup champions have fared, here’s the chart:
As you may have noticed in the chart, five defending champions in the history of the World Cup have failed to advance past the opening Group Stage, with Spain being the latest. The craziest thing about this is that Spain’s incident is actually the third time in the past four World Cups that the defending champion would face the end of the road in the Group Stage.
Seeing a defending champion of a major sports event falter is very common in sport. I’ve seen it happen many times before in terms of the professional sports scale and even in the Olympic arena. The World Cup is no stranger to that, obviously. I myself witnessed the struggle of the defending World Cup holder first in 1990 when Argentina lost to Cameroon 1-0. Cameroon finished on top in their group while Argentina finished third and was able to qualify to the Round of 16 because the World Cup consisted of 24 countries and third-placers were eligible for wild card berths. Argentina then came alive after that and went on to qualify for the finals. The second time I noticed was back in 1994 when Germany was the defending Cup holder. For the record, Germany is the team I cheer for at the World Cup. They too had an excellent record of consistency. Then it was their quarterfinal against Bulgaria. they scored first but Bulgaria came back to win 2-1. Bulgaria went on the semifinals while Germany packed sooner than expected.
I’ve watched many more World Cup since and I’ve payed close attention to how the defending champion would do. It’s interested that of the eighteen times the defending champion competed at the World Cup, only twice were they successful to repeat. Even now seeing how Spain is the fifth defending Cup holder ever and the third in the past four Cups to be eliminated in the Group Stage makes me wonder if there’ starting to be a curse with the defending Cup holder. I mean it’s no question the defending Cup holder would face the pressure to win. You have the World spotlight and the adoration of a nation behind you. Not to mention your #12 ranking on FIFA’s chart at stake too. It’s easy to see in situations like those in which the reigning champions would falter. Sometimes it could be overconfidence. The team might think they’re #1 and sometimes forget to play well and pay for it in the end. Or it could be that the team was not all there mentally. That could happen. Even though Del Bosque has been coach of Spain since 2008 and hugely responsible for its success, it is possible for even the best teams to falter.
Whatever the situation, Spain will return back home after they play Australia in what will be their last Group Stage game. They may play badly or they may play spectacularly as if they have one last thing to prove. Whatever the situation, Spain will have to regroup and train again as a national team from scratch. It’s highly likely Del Bosque will be dropped as head coach. Who will replace him is a big question right now. Spain’s first chance to prove itself after the World Cup will be September 4th in a friendly match against France whom themselves choked in 2002 as defending Cup holders.
Winning the World Cup may be everything for the football players in Brazil. However for those that win on July 13th, it could be a bad omen for the next World Cup. I don’t want to get superstitious but it is tempting right now.
UPDATE: For my 2018 update, click here.