- No manipulation in Groups A and B
- Argentina could yet face France
- Germany must beat Sweden if Mexico avoid defeat
With the novelty of another World Cup giving way to the harsh realities of competition, we’re now reaching the calculation stage of the group phase.
For all the colour and joy of Peru’s fans, Mexico’s fervour, and Russia’s exuberance, pragmatic expedience will now come to the fore.
While Russia and Uruguay can luxuriate in qualification, Spain and Portugal still need to get the job done in the sister group. Iran could yet leapfrog both of them. With Group A finishing before we know who emerges and in what order from Group B, the eventual last 16 pairings from these groups will be organic rather than manipulated. So much for Putin’s masterplan.
Uruguay have little incentive to beat Russia other than to continue their winning run. Win or lose, there is no predicting the outcome of Group B. In such a scenario, it’s easier to favour the status quo than predict an alternative.
Right now, form suggests Iran will give Portugal a tougher time than Morocco will give Spain, but it’s conjecture. All things considered, Spain v. Uruguay and Russia v. Portugal seem more likely than not, but one result makes a lottery of the pairings.
France will surely want to avoid Croatia in the second round and Denmark have huge incentive to protect a draw – just to ensure safe passage. Peru might finally get a goal and even a win against the honest but technically grim Australians, anyway, so France and Denmark – in that order – seems likely.
Iceland currently look best placed to join Croatia from Group D – but can they now handle the favourites tag? With Argentina in crisis, there is even a path for Nigeria to progress. France v. Iceland and Croatia v. Denmark look to be potential pairings here, with three of the four positions looking firm. What we can safely say now is that Argentina – if they could save themselves – will likely meet their end against France.
Brazil have made hard work of Group E to date, but it’s hard to see them finishing on less than 5 points after matches with Costa Rica and Serbia. The big question is are the Serbs ready to seize the initiative and qualify by beating the Swiss tonight? The Serbs would be a serious second round threat to even the Germans.
Mexico look set fair to top Group F but they simply must beat the South Koreans or risk disaster. The Germans could do with a Korean win as that would keep them alive even if they can only draw with Sweden. If Mexico avoid defeat, the Germans must beat the Swedes. Two draws means Sweden and Mexico can play for the biscotto.
England and Belgium are surely playing for order in Group G, but who knows who will emerge from Group H. Three teams could yet end on six points, and right now Poland look most likely to be the odd men out.