After the tight scheduling that had the end of the first round on the same day as the start of the second set, it sure is nice to have a breather! Following Sunday’s matches, everybody could relax and take time to think over their fantasy team management for round 3. Now it’s right back into the fray with the deciding games in groups A and B on Monday, then C and D on Tuesday. Each group has its fixtures happen simultaneously so that no country gets an information advantage. That means we’ve got to make the tough choice of which games to watch!
Group A (early games)
Russia and Uruguay will fight it out for the top spot, which is not a surprise to most of us. What is a surprise is that Russia merely needs a draw to finish #1, with an enormous lead in the goal differential battle after two extremely impressive wins: 5-0 over Saudi Arabia and 3-1 against Egypt. Meanwhile, obdurate Uruguay eked out a pair of 1-0 victories against the same teams.
We’ve enjoyed the offensive fireworks of Russia’s Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin, while Fernando Muslera, Jose Gimenez, Diego Godin and the rest of the defense have led the way for Uruguay as Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have combined for only a single goal. What gives here?
Saudi Arabia v. Egypt
With two losses each, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are playing for Middle East pride. More importantly, they are playing for their fantasy managers, especially those who have hung onto the Pharaohs’ Mo Salah, Ahmed Hegazy and Mohamed El-Shanawy for the seemingly favorable match-up. Does Egypt cruise to a victory and doom Saudi Arabia to worst-team-in-the-World-Cup status, or can the Green Falcons pull the upset? Does an inconsequential match auger a goal party or a snooze-fest?
Group B (late games)
Most of us expected that Portugal and Spain would fight it out for the top spot in Group B, and that may well end up being the case. But thanks to the win against Morocco, Iran has a legitimate chance to finish in the top two. All it has to do is beat Portugal (or draw and get some help from Morocco against Spain)! Easier said than done, but Morocco showed Iran the blueprint in Portugal’s 1-0 victory that easily could have been a draw or a defeat.
All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo, who looks to score his fifth goal (and perhaps more) in the group stage, furthering the quest for the Golden Boot. Team Melli, of course, will likewise have their focus on the Portuguese superstar in trying to scrap out a defense-inspired result.
Spain v. Morocco
Morocco is out of it but has shown plenty of fight in a pair of 1-0 losses. The Lions of the Atlas can only be spoilers, but oh what a joyous memory they could create by taking down their neighbors to the north!
Spain, of course, enjoyed its own share of luck in the 1-0 victory over Iran, so La Furia Roja would love to show its class with a dominant performance against Morocco. Diego Costa is has been in wonderful form with three of his side’s four goals so far. Like Portugal, Spain certainly will expect to get through, but similarly it will have to avoid a nightmare scenario to do so.
Group C (early games)
Australia v. Peru
Peru was a popular dark horse candidate, but instead, it is afterthought Australia in this final fixture who holds a chance to advance. It will take outside help though: The Socceroos need a victory over Peru plus a French win over Denmark, and likely one of those must be more than a one-goal margin.
Peru has attempted 27 shots (8 on target) without scoring in its two games so far. Naturally, Carlos Cueva’s sky high penalty miss stands out, but star striker Paolo Guerrero has failed to convert several outstanding chances. Australia was extremely unlucky to allow a late own-goal to decide things in the loss to France, and the Socceroos may even feel that they were the better team against Denmark in their 1-1 draw. It may not sound like a marquee match-up, but we should be in for a good game here!
Denmark v. France
This is one of those dreaded fixtures where both teams will probably be happy to play for a draw to get through. France, of course, would love to win the group, and an even result will suffice. On the other hand, Denmark could press for the victory to take the group’s top spot... but realistically, the Danish Dynamite will be more worried about opening the game up too much and losing, which could leave them on the outside looking in with respect to the knockout stage.
We would all love to see the continued exploits of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, and Christian Eriksen, so hopefully there will be some action around the opposing penalty boxes, not just an overdose of comfortable passing around midfield. However, there’s an unfortunate probability that both teams will take the air out of the ball.
Group D (late games)
Certain Argentina fans we know and love had to be talked down from the metaphorical ledge following a dispiriting penalty miss in game one. Then after an awful goalgiver blunder in game two, we had to take all sharp objects away. But despite the depressing performances in the first two games, La Albiceleste have a real, legitimate, actual, serious, no-joking chance of advancing.
All they have to do is beat Nigeria without Iceland beating Croatia, or beat Nigeria by such an impressive margin to make a slimmer Iceland victory irrelevant. Is that too much to ask from a team featuring one of the GOATs (Lionel Messi), a Premier League living legend (Sergio Aguero), a young wonder (Carlos Pavon) and a solid if unspectacular defense? And this against a team it has beaten four out of four times in World Cup history, including each of the past two tourneys?
Following a spirited 2-0 victory over Iceland headlined by a brilliant Ahmed Musa, Nigeria will harbor no sympathy as the Super Eagles attempt to get out of the group stage for only the third time ever. They will point to a 4-2 win over Argentina in a friendly only last November for plenty of confidence. It’s the old guard vs. the newcomers. Redemption or destiny? Whatever happens in this game, it’s going to be a great story!
Iceland v. Croatia
Following impressive victories over Nigeria and Argentina headlined by majestic Luka Modric, Croatia look like one of the best teams at this World Cup. With first place nearly wrapped up, the Blazers may look to relax a bit here.
If they do, Iceland could find a tenuous lifeline. Should Strákarnir okkar beat Croatia, combined with a draw or an Argentina victory in the other game, then with enough goals in the right places, Iceland might actually pull through as the second place team!
The FIFA World Cup tie-breakers are goal-difference, then goals scored, then head-to-head, then... some more esoteric metrics. Could Iceland’s perfect fair-play conduct get them through? You do the math. There are so many possible permutations lurking, you will want your abacus on hand and a slide-rule nearby!
Which games will you be watching closely? What fantasy players do you need to deliver big performances? Are your remote controls at the ready for when the drama unfolds? Please join in and let us know in the live chat below!