World Cup weekend recap
Japan 0 - 1 Costa Rica
Belgium 0 - 2 Morocco
Croatia 4 - 1 Canada
Spain 1 - 1 Germany
It was a famous weekend in Australian football as Australia defeated Tunisia on Saturday night.
Fans all around the country were going berserk when Mitch Duke’s header brought the Socceroos the lead.
With the win now giving Australia a very real chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, let’s check in on how the state of play is after an exciting weekend of football in this year’s World Cup.
Here are five things we learned and a look ahead to tonight’s games.
Australia Has Biggest Opportunity to Reach Knockout Stages Since 2006
What a win it was for Australia on Saturday night as Mitch Duke’s header gave the Socceroos their first win in the World Cup Finals since 2010.
It was an impressive performance from the Socceroos, who worked tirelessly throughout the game to earn, then maintain their lead.
Every one of the starting XI performed as well as they have in an Australian shirt for a very long time and although goalscorer Mitch Duke was Man of the Match Mitch, Aaron Mooy, Harry Souttar, or Matthew Leckie would all have been well justified in winning that award.
The win sets up Australia’s best opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages since Lucas Neill and his team lost to eventual winners Italy in 2006.
Australia’s last win in the World Cup came in 2010, but it was the third game of the group stage and they had little chance of qualifying. A 4 - 0 defeat to Germany in Australia’s first game of the 2010 World Cup ensured that our inferior goal difference gave us very little chance of seeing the knockout stages.
This year, however, Australia now requires only a draw against Denmark to qualify for the Rounf of 16.
Denmark will have their own chance to qualify with a win over Australia and so will look to come out swinging in what could be their final game before they go home.
Denmark will also want to respond after a 2 - 1 defeat to France and if they can bring that level of competition to the game against Australia, the Socceroos will have a tough time holding them out for the full 90 minutes.
In saying that though, Australia has gone ahead in each of its two games at the World Cup this year and if they can do it again in the third game against Denmark, Australia’s prospects of qualifying will be enhanced significantly.
England Hard to Get a Read On
England sent an ominous warning to the rest of the competition when they scored 6 goals in an impressive performance against Iran in their opening match. But the Three Lions then weren’t able to find the back of the net for the entire 90 minutes against the USA.
English fans were quick to turn on Gareth Southgate who only used three of a possible five substitutions in his side’s quest for a win against the Americans.
Many observers, including Newcastle United legend and BBC pundit Alan Shearer were calling for Manchester City’s Phil Foden to be brought on for England, but he was left watching on as his side failed to gain more than a point from the game.
Foden has been one of the in-form players in the world this Premier League season for his side Manchester City and so many were left wondering why Foden, who only played 20 minutes against Iran, didn’t see any game time against the Americans.
The potential for aplayer with the quality of Foden to come into the England side means that it’s hard to get a read on just where England are heading into the final game of the group stage.
In terms of results, England only need to stay within 4 goals of Wales to ensure they qualify for the knockout stages, but anything less than a long run that reaches late into this tournament will not be seen as a success for Gareth Southgate’s men.
After their first game against Iran, you could have considered England to be one of the better performed teams in the competition, with only Spain’s seven surpassing their goal tally.
However, after their second game against USA, England has opened the door for the intense pressure to build that their fans and media create every major tournament.
England will be looking for a convincing performance against Wales so they can finish top of the group and face what is most likely to be Ecuador or Senegal in the next round. If they don’t win, and Iran or USA win the other game, they will finish second and their likely path to the final will be Netherlands, Argentina and Brazil. If this happens, the pressure cooker will turn up even more on Gareth Southgate and his team.
Messi’s Fairytale Isn’t Over
It was reported that Lionel Messi and his Argentinian teammates celebrated for a full hour in the dressing room after their win against Mexico. Messi led his team with a goal and an assist to ensure that his fairytale dream of lifting the trophy in his last World Cup can still go on.
Messi has been in sparkling form for Argentina recently, having scored in six international matches in a row and his teammates will want to support him in his quest for an elusive World Cup title.
Despite an opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, Argentina can still finish top of Group C if they beat Poland in their final group game. Poland may have found form themselves though, with a 2 - 1 win in their second game against Saudi Arabia giving them top spot in the group.
Poland need only a draw against Argentina to go through and will be fired up after Robert Lewandowski, their star striker, scored his first ever goal in the World Cup Finals.
Having the monkey off the back could free up Lewandowski, who has been one of the best strikers in the world for the better part of the last decade, but had previously failed to score at the a World Cup finals tournament, with 2018 being his only appearance. It was a conspicuous failure for Lewandowski and he may now have a taste for scoring at the World Cup since netting his first goal.
Argentina will hope that they can turn to more than Messi for goals and assists in their final game as they’ve relied heavily on the little master so far. It’s clear that Messi is single minded in his pursuit of World Cup glory and so you can be sure that it’s going to be a special performance when Poland and Argentina meet on Thursday.
Spain and Germany Can Both Go Home Before the Knockout Stages
Group E is shaping up to be the most hotly contested group of this year’s World Cup.
Each of the teams, Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica will qualify if they win their final game. This means Spain and Germany could both be heading home if they lose.
If Costa Rica can scrape a draw against the Germans, they could progress after producing no shots in their 7 - 0 defeat to Spain and having only two touches in the penalty box against Japan. This would also rely on Spain beating Japan, but they will go into that game as heavy favourites.
Japan will hope they can replicate their performance from their first game against Germany after they were the talk of the tournament following their 2 - 1 win to Die Mannschaft. They would have been incredibly disappointed to lose to Costa Rica, whose single shot on target for the tournament so far delivered them the win against Japan.
After Germany equalised against Spain and rescued a point this morning, they gave themselves a slim chance of making the next round of the World Cup. If they can defeat Costa Rica and Spain beat Japan, the Germans will see themselves progress having avoided a huge scare after their defeat in the opening game.
Should Germany progress, the tournament could open up for them with a favourable draw. They could face Morocco and Portugal in the next stages if they finish 2nd in Group E, but they will need to defeat Costa Rica and hope the Japanese lose to Spain if they are any chance of progressing.
With so much riding on both results and with so many possible scenarios that could still play out, the final two games in Group E look like they’ll be incredibly exciting affairs and both take place at the relative friendly time of 6am on Friday morning.
It will be interesting to see how many times the likely finishing order for Group E changes as both of those games play out simultaneously later this week.
Teams from Asia and Africa Are The Story So Far
According to people in Qatar for the World Cup, most of the tourists who are attending this year’s World Cup are supporting teams in the Asian and African Confederations.
Traditionally, teams from Asia and Africa haven’t enjoyed as much success at the World Cup Finals compared to the powerhouse nations from South America and Europe, but this year an increased level of support has translated to success on the pitch.
This year, we have already seen famous victories to six teams from Asia and Africa. This compares with only seven wins for the entire group stage at the 2018 tournament and there are still 12 games with Asian or African teams left to go in the group stage at the World Cup this year.
Each of the victories to teams from Asia or Africa have been famous wins that have sent their fans into raptures, both in the ground and across their respective nations back home.
Whether it was Saudi Arabia’s come from behind win against Argentina, Japan’s comeback against Germany, Iran’s two late goals that saw them triumph against Wales, Australia’s dour victory against Tunisia and Morocco’s 2 - 0 against Belgium, the tournament has benefitted greatly from the success of these lower ranked nations. It was only Senegal’s win against Qatar that one could have predicted fairly easily.
It shows that their has been great growth in the standard of football in teams from Asia and Africa.
With many of the world’s top professional leagues taking players now from all around the world, it’s a trend we’re likely to see continue into the future.
9pm AEDT - CAMEROON v SERBIA
Cameroon and Serbia will both be looking to record their first points of this World Cup after suffering defeats to Switzerland and Cameroon respectively.
With Brazil so impressive in their opening performance, both these teams will know that they will need to win this game if they are any chance to qualify.
Cameroon were impressive in their opening game against Switzerland, but couldn’t find the net despite recording more shots and more shots on target than their Swiss opponents.
Serbia were able to hold out Brazil for the opening 62 minutes in their first game, before a Richarlison double quickly ruined any chance they had of an upset win. Serbia was thoroughly outplayed by Brazil, but will feel they can give a much better account of themselves against Cameroon.
With this being one of those games that sees teams who will both feel they can win, both possessing conflicting styles of football, it’s likely to be an exciting affair that should see several goals.
12am AEDT - SOUTH KOREA v GHANA
Late goals to André Ayew and Osman Bukari were not enough to give Ghana anything from the game against Portugal. But they will take comfort in the fact that their two goals was more than South Korea could manage in their opening game, with South Korea even failing to register a single shot on target.
The Koreans will feel that they have a great chance to bounce back against Ghana though and will feel that it’s a matter of time before their superstar Son Heung-Min adds his name to the list of scorers at this year’s tournament.
Games involving Ghana haven’t ended in a nil-all draw since March, a stretch spanning 14 games, so it’s unlikely that tonight’s result will be a repeat of the relatively lacklustre nil-all draw that we saw in South Korea’s first game
3am - AEDT - BRAZIL v SWITZERLAND
Brazil will have the opportunity to stamp their authority on this World Cup with a win against Switzerland tonight.
France are so far the only team to win both of their games so far and Brazil will be looking to add their names to that list when they take on Switzerland in tonight’s third game.
The Swiss will be buoyed by a win against Cameroon, but they will need to be even better again against a Brazilian side that has arguably been the most impressive so far in this world cup, despite only scoring two goals in their opening game. The Brazilians showed in that first game that they have talent off the bench and can give a solid 90 minute performance. Switzerland will need to be at their very best if they’re to emerge victories at the end of that period of time.
6am AEDT - PORTUGAL v URUGUAY
Portugal will be hoping that they can seal qualification to the knockout stages with a win against Uruguay in the final game of Day 8. Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese teammates survived a scare against Ghana with two goals and very nearly a third nearly costing them the win in their opening game. Like Brazil, Portugal will feel that they are a good chance to go two wins from two games against Uruguay, but Luis Suarez’s Uruguayan teammates nearly all play for big clubs in some of the biggest leagues around the world, so are unlikely to shy away from the challenge.
A defeat or a draw would see Uruguay needing a win in their last game to qualify for the knockout stages, so they will be fired up to avoid the pressure associated with that possibility.
Portugal will know that they can sure up qualification with a win in this game and Cristiano Ronaldo is in good form, having already found the net at this year’s World Cup, albeit from the penalty spot.
This game, as well as the others that are on tonight, promise to be exciting, high scoring affairs that will form the final matches of the second round of the group stage. We will learn a lot more about how every team is going heading into their final game of the group stage once we’ve seen how these teams perform tonight.