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  • Rowan Mackey

World Cup recap - Day 9

Day Nine results

Cameroon 3 - 3 Serbia

South Korea 2 - 3 Ghana

Brazil 1 - 0 Switzerland

Portugal 2 - 0 Uruguay



CAMEROON and SERBIA fought out the game of the tournament, a 3-3 draw


It was the highest-scoring day of the World Cup, so far as 14 goals were scored across the four games, marking the halfway point of this year’s World Cup.


There have now been 32 games of the group stage and there are now another 32 games of group stage and knockout matches to complete this year’s tournament.


Last night saw Brazil and Portugal join France on the list of teams that are two from two. They beat Switzerland and Uruguay to lead their group and book their place in the competition's knockout stages.


Cameroon and Serbia played out a thrilling 3 - 3 draw that saw both sides come from behind at different stages and two goals from South Korea’s Cho Gue-Sung were not enough to earn even a single point from their game against Ghana.


Here are five things we learned and a look ahead to tonight’s fixtures, which set up to be some of the most exciting World Cup matches we’ve seen in recent years.


Five Things We Learned

Brazil In A Good Position, But Will Be Sweating On Neymar’s Fitness

Brazil will be happy to have booked their spot in the Round of 16 at this year’s World Cup, but they will be sweating on the fitness of superstar Neymar, who was substituted in Brazil’s first game and missed the game against Serbia with an ankle injury.


Brazil is the only side at this year’s World Cup to have won both their games without conceding a goal, so they won’t be panicking just yet, but Neymar’s absence was notable in the match against Switzerland.


Having accounted for both opponents relatively easily, Brazil is yet to be truly tested at this year’s World Cup. Without the injuries to Neymar and defender Danilo, they would look the clear favourite at this year’s tournament.


However, it will be interesting to see whether Neymar in particular, who will also miss Brazil’s final group game against Cameroon, can come back and make an impact so soon after ligament damage was confirmed to his ankle.


Former Arsenal legend Ian Wright made the point when speaking on English television that Neymar was responsible for a large portion of Brazil’s ball movement into the most dangerous areas of the pitch. If Brazil come up against the tournament’s better organised defences and Neymar has not returned to full fitness, they likely won’t enjoy the same penetration through the oppositions defence that has led to goals in recent games, particular in central areas of the pitch.


It looked for some time that Brazil might emerge as a clear contender for this year’s World Cup, but there’s a lot yet to play out, and this year’s tournament is still wide open.


Brazil will feel that they have started as well as possible, but they will want Neymar to return to the field in at least some capacity if they're going to win this World Cup.


Portugal Aren’t Just Relying on Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has enjoyed one of the most successful international careers of any player male or female. He is the highest scorer in international football, and the way he led his Portuguese team to a triumph at the European Cup Competition 2016 sits up there with his greatest achievements.


But not since the retirement of Portuguese legend Luis Figo has Ronaldo had teammates that could compete on his level. When Portugal won the Euro 2016 final after Ronaldo had gone off injured and his team had scored two goals and delivered the trophy in his absence, it was seen as a shock that they’d managed it without him.


The narrative at the time was that the Portuguese team had repayed Ronaldo for all the times he’d scored the winning goal or been the one to catalyse their success.


This year, however, Portugal is not just relying on Ronaldo, evidenced by his substitution in both games so far at this year’s World Cup, albeit late in the game.


In recent years, Ronaldo wouldn’t have accepted being substituted at any point in such a big tournament, but it seems that at 37 years of age, he’s learning that his best contribution to the team involves allowing others to step up as well.


No one has stepped up more for Portugal than Bruno Fernandes, Ronaldo’s former teammate at Manchester United.


Fernandes registered two goal assists in Portugal’s first game against Ghana and followed it up with two goals against Uruguay this morning.


As one of the players of the tournament so far, Fernandes is showing that this Portuguese team doesn’t just have a single string to its bow. It means that Portugal is more of a threat than they have been in recent years.


Despite being one of the powerhouses in world football over the years, having produced some of the very best players ever to play the game, Portugal has traditionally struggled at the World Cup. A 3rd place performance at the 1966 World Cup is the highlight of their history as we look back at Portugal’s performances in previous years.


Portugal has made it beyond the group stage four times since their 1966 tournament debut, but a 4th place in 2006 is the only time in that period that they haven’t lost the first knockout game in the Round of 16.


It’s a trend they’ll be hoping to reverse this year, with an impressive Swiss side waiting as their likely opponents in the next round.


Can Cameroon and Serbia Play Each Other More Often Please?!

Cameroon and Serbia played what was arguably the game of the World Cup so far in a thrilling 3 - 3 draw that saw both sides score their own burst of two goals in two minutes to completely change the nature of the game in their teams’ favour.


It was Cameroon who went ahead first with a goal to defender Jean-Charles Castelletto opening the scoring. The Cameroonians looked like they were going to be able to hold their lead into half time before two quick goals to Serbia in added time completely changed the game.


A third Serbian goal early in the second half looked to put the result beyond doubt before a series of severe lapses from the Serbian defence allowed Cameroon to twice get past all of the Serbian players and score from a 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper.


It was a fascinating pattern to the game as Cameroon's free-flowing, dynamic style of ball movement troubled the Serbian defence. Serbia persisted with playing an offside trap, which seemed overly aggressive at 3 - 1 up, and the Cameroonians made them pay.


The Serbians were still able to control much of the game and created three goals and many more chances that could have seen them put the game to bed if striker Aleksander Mitrovic’s many opportunities in the box had resulted in more than his single goal.


It was only the second time these two teams had ever played each other after Serbia won 4 - 3 in an international friendly in 2010.


That’s now two high-scoring, exciting matches in a row that these two teams have played against each other. If last night’s match is anything to go by, the exciting football would continue if they were to play more.


Luis Suarez and Ghana to Meet Again With it All to Play For

Many of the fixtures in the final round of the group stage at this World Cup have added feeling.


The game between Ghana and Uruguay, which will decide the final qualification spot in Group H will undoubtedly be one of them.


Most of these games will have added tension for political reasons, but for Ghana, their desire for revenge against Luis Suarez and his Uruguayan teammates is purely football related.


Luis Suarez was responsible for a handball on the goal line in the 2010 World Cup that cost Ghana a place as the first African team ever to make the Semi-Final of a World Cup.


The infamous act has stirred debate for more than a decade. Depending on where you’re from or how you see the game, it’s often seen as either one of the most cynical or genius acts ever to have taken place on a football field.


Almost everyone in Ghana seems to be playing down the revenge narrative, but there’s no doubt that it will be on all of the Ghanaians’ minds that they have their chance to send Luis Suarez home in his final World Cup.


The Final Round of The Group Stage Sets Up Perfectly, With Only Three Teams Qualified

The final round of this year’s group stage sets up to be one of the best in recent World Cups.


There are no dead rubbers and several matches will have extra feeling attached when the final 13 places are decided in the next round of this year’s World Cup.


The format of the group stage of the World Cup is that for each group, both of the final group games will be played at the same time. This is so it doesn’t advantage any team in knowing the score of the other game.


Unfortunately, this means we will lose the 9pm game as two games will be played at a 2am and another two at the 6am timeslot in Eastern Australia.


It might be worth sourcing a second screen if you want to stay across all of the action!


With 16 games to play, so many scenarios could still play out in terms of the teams that could qualify for the knockout stages.


But it’s not just the football that has everyone excited, as several games will likely have some extra feeling attached when the players take to the pitch.


It’s one of the best things about the World Cup that teams from countries that do not even have diplomatic relations can meet on the field and put any animosity aside for 90 minutes.


The games between Iran and USA, as well as Serbia vs Switzerland will be highlighted by political tensions that will likely be put aside for the game, but will add extra emotion to the games between these teams.


Tensions between Iran and the USA have been well highlighted in recent years. As recently as November 27th this year, the Iranian Football Federation accused the US Football Federation of supporting the protests against the Iranian Government by displaying the wrong flag in a graphic they released online. The flag used in the graphic removed the emblem of the Islamic Republic from the middle of the Iranian flag. It is a version of the Iranian flag that is being used in protests that are currently happening in Iran.


They quickly changed the picture to Iran’s official flag, but it was not before the publication of the incorrect flag had stirred tensions between the two governing bodies.


Any animosity between Iran and America is unlikely to carry over to the players on the pitch. In fact, there is a good opportunity for both sets of players to create ease tensions if they swap shirts at the end of the game. This is something teams often do in World Cup matches, but would be particularly symbolic between the USA and Iran.


Serbia vs Switzerland is the other game that will be underscored by tensions off the pitch.


These two teams met at the 2018 World Cup, and Swiss players Xerdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka were both reprimanded for their celebrations after they scored for Switzerland and made gestures with their hands to taunt the Serbian players.


Xhaka and Shaqiri are two players whose families fled Yugoslavian forces in the 1990s following the invasion of Kosovo and Albania. Xhaka and Shaqiri both made a hand gesture to symbolise a dragon, the emblem on the Albanian flag when they scored in the match in 2018 and it was seen as an incitement against Serbian fans.


Switzerland won that game 2 - 1 and the Serbian fans were indeed stirred up after the game, so their players will be looking to send Xhakiri and Xhaka home with a win in their final group game.


Also, and to a lesser extent than the first two games, the match between Wales and England will also have extra feeling. Wales will recognise that they are able to get one over their bigger neighbours when they meet in their final group game. The Welsh will know that they’re underdogs going into the match against England but will relish the opportunity to knock the English off and disrupt their preparation for a likely birth in the knockout stages.


It’s what the World Cup is all about that international conflict can be put aside, and everyone can come together and enjoy the football. Despite Xhaka and Shaqiri’s celebrations in 2018, it’s unlikely that any of the players bear any hatred for their on-field opponents, but it will add an extra element to an already high-stakes match.


Tonight’s Schedule

2am AEDT - NETHERLANDS v QATAR

Qatar will be looking to make the most of their last game at their home World Cup when they take on the Netherlands in their final match.


It hasn’t been the World Cup the Qatari’s would have hoped for when they prepared their bid to host the 2022 World Cup, but they have one more chance to give a good account of themselves on the biggest stage against Luis Van Gaal’s Dutch team.


The Netherlands has been one of the better-performing sides at the World Cup this year, with winger Cody Gakpo one of the standout performers of the tournament. Gakpo sits one goal behind France’s Kylian Mbappe and Ecuador’s Enner Valencia in the race for the Golden Ball at this year’s World Cup.


The Netherlands only need to draw to progress to the knockout stages but will want to win well and take the momentum associated with a big win into the knockout stages.


If Qatar can cause an upset in their final game, they will gain something from a home World Cup that has not gone as they would have hoped.


2am AEDT - ECUADOR v SENEGAL

Ecuador’s Enner Valencia has arguably been the surprise packet when it comes to individual performances at this year’s World Cup. He sits at the top of the goalscoring tally at this World Cup, level with France’s Kylian Mbappe with three goals.


Ecuador will hope that he can continue his blistering form in the final game of the group stage as these two teams face off for a single qualification spot in Group A.


Senegal won’t be going down easily, though, with a win in their last game with a 3 - 1 victory against Qatar giving them a chance to qualify if they can beat Ecuador in their final group game.


Ecuador will go into the match as slight favourites, but they have only had one goal scorer in their two games this tournament. Senegal will know that if their defenders, led by Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly can shut Valencia down, it will go a long way to winning the game for Senegal.


6am - AEDT - WALES v ENGLAND

This is a game that many pencilled in as one of the games of the group stage. There’s likely to be a heightened amount of emotion from both sets of fans for this final game of the group stage for these teams.


Welsh actor Martin Sheen went viral when he gave a rousing speech that emulated what he would have said to the Welsh team before they took to the field against England.


It showed that the Welsh will be relishing the opportunity to knock off their Great British neighbours.


England will be hoping they can repeat their performance in the European Cup in 2016 when they beat the Welsh 2 - 1. A dramatic late injury-time winner to England’s Daniel Sturridge highlighted that game. The Welsh will know they can disrupt England’s preparations for a likely Round of 16 birth if they are to gain at least a point from the game tomorrow morning.


Most eyes in Britain will be glued to the telly when these teams do face off as it’s unlikely to be a lacklustre affair. Both sets of fans will be able to take serious bragging rights, which will be an added bonus if their team can qualify on top of a victory against their neighbours.


6am AEDT - IRAN vs USA

What a fixture it sets up to be as the USA and Iran face off in their final game of the tournament.


With England’s superior goal difference, it’s unlikely that both of these teams will qualify for the Round of 16. However, one of them likely will.


A draw would see Iran send the Americans home and progress to the knockout stages, but only two late goals against Wales presented them with that opportunity.


With so much riding on the World Cup, it’s hard to see how the Iranian team could last another 90 tense minutes and emerge victorious if the game goes into injury time at nil-all as it did in their first game. That being said, though, the Iranians will know that a draw will be enough to help them progress, so it will be fascinating to see how they approach the game, particularly if it is close heading into the game’s later stages.


It’s in some ways a shame that these games between Wales and England, as well as Iran vs USA, are taking place at the same time as they are both set up to be fascinating affairs, but it’s likely to be high drama and tension when these games take place at 6am tomorrow.

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