As we come upon the midpoint of the group stage, we reach some some clarity, with several teams punching their tickets to the 16-team knockout stage, and others booking early flights back home. But so much still remains up in the air, and today’s games all look to bring plenty of impact and excitement.
BRAZIL V. COSTA RICA (Group E, early game)
Brazil drew its first game with Switzerland 1-1, but things easily could have ended up differently. Neymar was fouled 10 times, the most in a World Cup game in 20 years, and Switzerland committed 19 fouls total, but the referee gave only three yellow cards (and no reds) to Swiss players. Other than fouls committed and cards earned, Brazil dominated the stat sheet, with 20 shots to Switzerland’s 6, 4 on target to 2, and 7 corners to 2. In my opinion, both in real time and watching slo-mo replay, the Swiss score should have been called back for the build-up’s blatant push. Given that Switzerland is ranked #6 in the world by FIFA and is very fortunate to have drawn, Brazil should not go into today’s game in any real sort of panic.
Of course, given what happened to Argentina yesterday, the Samba Kings cannot afford to take Costa Rica lightly. Following a disappointing 1-0 loss to Serbia when a draw probably would have been a fairer result, Los Ticos will be absolutely desperate for a result. Star keeper Keylor Navas can always make things frustrating for offenses, and this is a team that will do everything it can to summon the spirit of 2014 when it shocked the world by winning the “Group of Death” over Uruguay, Italy and England.
Costa Rica lost its final two pre-World Cup friendlies badly to top competition — 0-2 to England, and 1-4 to Belgium — so most will expect to see something along those lines here. But, as we’ve learned so far this tournament, sometimes you must expect the unexpected.
NIGERIA V. ICELAND (Group D, middle game)
What’s that you say? The Group D game is sandwiched between the Group E games rather than preceding them? Given that the finale of the first round came on the same day as the opener of the second round, is anybody really surprised at seeing another quirk in the schedule? [Editor’s note: After looking at the time-zone difference between Rostov (east of the Sea of Azov) and Kaliningrad (west of Lithuania), I understand completely — I think.]
After Croatia’s emphatic 3-0 win over Argentina, this game has become all about securing the second spot in Group D, or at least getting the upper hand in doing so. Iceland’s 1-1 draw in the first game against Lionel Messi’s men now does not look nearly as impressive in retrospect, while Nigeria’s listless 2-0 loss to Luka Modric and company doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as it did initially.
This would seem to be a clash of styles, with Strákarnir okkar going in with a defensive focus in front of keeper Hannes Halldorsson, and the Super Eagles attempting to fly high in an attack led by the Premier League’s Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Wilfred Ndidi. However, despite its reputed obduracy, Iceland has allowed 12 goals in its last five games (with no clean sheets), while supposedly offensively talented Nigeria has failed to score more than one goal in eight straight affairs (blanking four times). Ending 0-0, 3-1, 2-2, I don’t know, nothing much would surprise me here.
Quoting Santiago from his Group D preview article: “The Iceland / Nigeria match will be fascinating for globalization nerds: With 195 million, Nigeria’s population is 577 times greater than Iceland’s!” Rejoice now, for this day has finally come, globo-geeks everywhere!
SERBIA V. SWITZERLAND (Group E, late game)
Serbia has a chance to take a choke-hold on Group E with a second win, and fantasy managers with Aleksandar Kolarov would love to see him shine again with a beautiful goal + cleansheet combo. However, Serbia has been an extremely up and down team of late. In its last seven international matches, the Eagles have beaten Ireland, lost to Austria, beaten Georgia, lost to Morocco, beaten Nigeria, lost to Chile, beaten Bolivia, and of course won over Costa Rica.
Aside from that unpredictability, it’s not going to be easy anyway against a Switzerland side brimming with confidence. The Swiss are unbeaten in their last seven games (four wins, three draws). Xherdan Shaqiri will look to make more of an impact than he did against Brazil, while keeper Jan Sommer and the back line will hope to get more of a breather. Switzerland probably goes in as the favorite, but Serbia should certainly be able to make things interesting.
Are you watching all three games today? Or are you instead focused on one clash in particular? Which team(s) is your heart rooting for? What players do you have going in fantasy? Join in the live chat below!