Each team has played two matches now, and we’re one step closer to finding out who will advance to the Knockout rounds. The final two groups threw up high scoring encounters and I review them in this article. I’ll also preview the final set of matches for Groups A and B.
Match 3: Belgium vs Tunisia
Belgium started off where they left off against Panama, winning an early penalty after Hazard was brought down. Tunisia were unfortunate as the contact looked to be just outside the box. Hazard converted easily. In the 16th minute, Lukaku ran onto a pass from Hazard and slotted it past the goalkeeper for their second. Dylan Bronn halved Tunisia’s deficit 5 minutes later, with a glancing header after a Khazri free-kick. Lukaku restored Belgium’s two goal lead in first half injury time with a smart dink over the prone goalkeeper. The second half continued in much the same vain, Hazard skillfully controlled a ball before rounding the goalkeeper and scoring into an empty net. Michy Batshuayi scored in injury after having around five efforts not go in via the post, the bar or a goal-line clearance. He looked to be almost cursed before finally grabbing this deserved goal. Tunisia got a consolation even deeper into injury time, Khazri scoring this time. Belgium were well on their way to the Round of 16.
Final Score: Belgium 5 – 2 Tunisia
Match 4: England vs Panama
England were buoyed after their injury-time win against Tunisia. They were overwhelming favourites for this match and they did not disappoint. The rout started with John Stones heading in from a corner after 8 minutes. Sterling was brought down in the box. England were awarded a penalty and Kane converted. Good interplay between Sterling and Lingard led to the latter scoring a sublime finish for England’s third. The game looked to be over in the 36th minute. The pain continued to intensify for Panama as Stones got onto the end of a free-kick after the ball pinged around in the penalty box for a while and made it 4-0 a few minutes later. A bout of wrestling later, England were awarded another penalty after both Stones and Kane were laid flat. Kane converted once again. This was getting embarrassing for the Panamanians and their physical play was becoming farcical. Kane completed his hat-trick in the second half, although he did know anything about it. Loftus-Cheek’s long range effort deflected off the English captain’s heel and found the net. No one was really complaining. Kane became the leading goal-scorer of the tournament. Panama made history in the 78th minute, Felipe Baloy scored their first ever goal in World Cup history, from a Avila free-kick. The fans went wild and it was evident how important this moment was for them. That’s how it ended. England were through to the next round, and this result meant Belgium were too. Panama bow out, joining Tunisia. The former had their goal and Baloy would hold that record for ever, and seemed to fill them all with satisfaction.
Final Score: England 6 – 1 Panama
Match 3: Japan vs Senegal
The most exciting group in the World Cup lived up to its billing. Japan and Senegal were winners in first match and a win here would mean they would be on the verge of qualifying. Senegal were the better team for the first 20 minutes. They got the goal they were after on 11 minutes. Kawashima parried a knee height shot that he should’ve been collecting and the ball ricocheted off Mane and back into the net. The Senegalese captain didn’t know a lot about it but he would surely take that. Japan got into the game after the first 20 minutes. In the 35th minute, Nagatomo excellently controlled a cross field ball by Sakai, beat two defenders with his first touch and laid it off to Inui. The latter positioned and curled the ball around two defenders and beyond the diving N’Diaye to level the scores. Senegal started the second half better but it was Japan who wasted a glorious opportunity to take the lead on the hour mark. Osako failed to make contact with a Shibasaki cross with the goal gaping and having got the better of his marker. Inui hit the bar with a curling shot from the left edge of the penalty box. Senegal were hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Senegal punished their wasteful opponents with Moussa Wague running onto a Youssuf Sabaly cross, which was deflected onto his path by Niang, and scored masterfully into the roof of the net. Japan did not give up however. In the 78th minute, a cross by Osako was missed by N’Diaye as he came to punch it. Inui sent the ball back across goal from the other flank. Keisuke Honda was free in the 6 yard box and scored. For the second time, Japan had pulled back their deficit. That’s how it ended after an open end-to-end encounter, which meant that both teams were now on four points.
Final Score: Japan 2 – 2 Senegal
Match 4: Poland vs Colombia
The result in the other game meant that if there was a result in this game, the losing team would be eliminated from the World Cup. Poland were the more favoured team but Colombia did not allow them to settle in this game. Although the first goal took time, it was coming for some time after a well worked short-corner was headed home by Mina in the 40th minute. The returning James Rodriguez providing the assist. Polan had a chance to equalize, when Lewandowski controlled a ball over the top and found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He could only strike against the ‘keeper, to be fair, he was at full stretch and had an acute angle to aim for as the goalkeeper had come out of his line. 10 minutes later, Colombia more or less put the game to bed when Quintero played in Falcao who made no mistake in finding the net. James Rodriguez turned provider again, setting up Cuadrado for Colombia’s third. The game was over and Poland was going home. This was a statement of intent from the South Americans and sets up a mouth-watering clash with Senegal up next.
Final Score: Poland 0 – 3 Colombia
Match 5: Saudi Arabia vs Egypt
With both teams heading home after this game, there is nothing to play for in this match, other than pride. Egypt’s tumultuous campaign may have gotten worse, with rumours circulating about Salah considering retirement after there was controversy of his meeting with Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov. So maybe this is the last time we’ll get to see him in and Egypt shirt! For the Saudis, they were much improved against Uruguay than their first game, but it still wasn’t enough to get any points. Egypt were poor against Russia. Both teams will want to sign off in style. I can see an inspired performance from Salah and his teammates in this one to pull off a narrow win.
Prediction: Saudi Arabia 1 – 2 Egypt
Match 6: Uruguay vs Russia
Russia have bene the surprise package of this tournament after they were favourites to be eliminated in this stage. They’re the joint highest scorers in the tournament so far. Uruguay have played no nonsense football, winning two games with a 1-0 score-line. Russia will be more motivated for this game and to win the group in their home World Cup. However, I do think that Uruguay have enough quality to not lose this match, and am going for a draw here. This would mean Russia will win the group.
Prediction: Uruguay 1 – 1 Russia
Match 5: Iran vs Portugal
The unlikely scenario of Iran defeating Portugal and progressing to the next round at the latter’s expense is still very much a possibility. The Iranians played as a solid defensive unit against Spain and expect more of the same here. Portugal huffed and puffed to get the better of Morocco, who were unlucky not to get a point from that game. Portugal will need to more fluent going forward. So far, the genius and determination of Ronaldo has got them through their matches, but others need to start contributing. Portugal should still win this, even a draw is enough for them to progress. I’ll go with a narrow Portugal win, although I can see Iran have some chances of their own.
Prediction: Iran 0 – 1 Portugal
Match 6: Spain vs Morocco
The unlikely scenario of Spain not progressing to the next round is also still a possibility! It can happen if the other fixture is a draw or a narrow win for Iran, and a higher margin loss for Spain in this game. In all honesty, I can’t see that happening. Morocco are already out and have nothing to play for in this game. Spain will want no slip-ups after what happened in the last World Cup and will make sure they get the job done early. I predict an easy win for Spain and hardly any possession for Morocco in this match.
Prediction: Spain 3 – 0 Morocco