The World Cup has been filled with tremendously entertaining games. A Germany goal in the 95th minute produced a victory over Sweden that potentially saved the hide of the defending champions, allowing the public to hammer books rooting for a draw.
It didn’t take long for the tables to turn since Monday’s action featured three huge upsets. Hours after Saudi Arabia (+400) scored a stoppage-time winner Morocco drew with Spain and Iran drew a late questionable penalty to tie Portugal at 1, wrapping up a chaotic Group B.
Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty kick of his own to leave the door open and a reluctant referee whistled a handball after being pinged to go check the video by VAR (video assistant replay). Although he could’ve stuck with his own call, Paraguay’s Enrique Caceres decided a handball that looked inadvertent merited a yellow card, an opportunity from the spot three minutes into stoppage time. The 1-1 result paid better than 3-to-1.
Elsewhere in Russia, Spain was able to avoid a loss to Morocco when another questionable review ruled there was no offsides on Iago’s equalizer in the 91st minute of action. The African side would’ve rewarded backers at +900, but instead, the tie paid 4-to-1.
One minute it looked like Group A winner Uruguay would be playing Spain, but instead gets the Portuguese since the Spaniards nipped them on goal differential after tying them up at 5 points. Russia, which now looks extremely vulnerable after a 3-0 defeat, will face them to begin the Round of 16.
Following Monday’s results it’s clear this soccer tournament is delivering the entertainment if nothing else. There hasn’t been a goal-less draw yet and the total has seen the over/under do a number on fingernails all over the world given what we’ve seen with results rescued or rung up.
If you listened to last week’s call, you were a happy camper since every one of the teams we had in play for winning parlays came through. They caused more heart palpitations than anticipated, but that’s apparently par for the course in Russia 2018.
We’ll look to knock out another winner for you this week as group play ends and the knockout stages begin. I can already tell you the belief here is the host country won’t last the weekend. Spain, the big winners in Monday’s controversial results, will advance to the quarterfinals.
Be advised extra time now comes into play and you won’t get paid unless a result is secured in the regulation 90 minutes, since games that require an additional 30 or penalty kicks are graded as draws.
Here’s what to look for in the remaining groups:
Group C: France needs only a draw to secure first place against Denmark, which must upset Les Bleus to pull the upset. Only Australia can catch the Danes with a win over Purdue and help from the French, so this pairing could go according to form. There had only been one game to go over the posted total in this group as Peru remained scoreless entering the finale against the Aussies. Considering the South Americans are playing for pride, count on an entertaining match.
Group D: Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentine side has been the World Cup’s biggest disappointment to date and rumors are out there that he’s been stripped of power, remaining as head coach in name only.
Fortunately, an opportunity to reach the Round of 16 should serve to focus a capable group that simply hasn’t been playing well together. Having hit rock bottom against Croatia, there’s nowhere to go but up for the South American juggernaut, especially since failure would render everyone involved with this national team much shame back home.
A draw will do them no good. Lionel Messi isn’t injured and must rise up. Count on a huge performance as the empowerment of players ultimately serves to help this squad avoid massive embarrassment. Croatia needs only a point against Iceland to finish first and should accomplish that feat, which means whoever gets out of Argentina/Nigeria alive is likely to be drawing France.
Group E: After failing to defeat the Swiss in the opening game of the group, Brazil rebounded against Costa Rica with a pair of goals after 90 minutes had already been played, putting it in a position of strength entering the finale against Serbia. With Costa Rica unlikely to be blown out by the Swiss, look for Brazil to be cautious against the Serbs since they’re still in jeopardy of not advancing. This is another group where goals have been difficult to come by. Only one game has gone over the posted total and three of the eight that have been scored have come in stoppage time.
Group F: Mexico got its shocker over the Germans and can now seal a group victory by holding Sweden to a draw. The Swedes can eliminate the Mexicans with a convincing win since South Korea is unlikely to defeat Germany, so there will be a lot of scoreboard watching on Wednesday.
Group G: There’s little mystery here since England and Belgium have already advanced and will play one another, so it remains to be seen how they play out the game. If the teams end up tied, yellow and red card accumulation will dictate who finishes first and second, per FIFA rules. If you think that seems like a strange way to decide a future, you’re right.
Group H: Colombia started slowly in getting a man sent off three minutes into its first match, losing to Japan. Following an impressive 3-0 rout of Poland, it can now win the group with a victory over Senegal and a Polish draw against the Japanese. They can’t control what happens in that game, so avoiding a draw with the Senegalese is essential to avoid a catastrophic result given expectations. If you’re looking for a team in a must-win situation to back on Thursday, look no further than Colombia.