World Cup diary 2018 – Friday 29 June
So that’s that. The final round of group games were completed yesterday and the final sixteen teams are now all known.
The action began in Group H, and with Poland already out, it was left to Colombia, Japan and Senegal for fight for the top-two spots. It was to prove a controversial afternoon as with Colombia ahead 1-0 against Sengal through Mina (74′) and Japan losing 1-0 to Poland through a Bednarek (59′) goal, the Japanese knew that if the scores remained the same that was enough to send them through. With Senegal and Japan having the same points and goals scored it came down to the number of bookings. It produced a final ten minutes of the game that caused such outcry in 1982 between Austria and West Germany when they effectively played-out time without any intend of going forward, that FIFA made final round games kick-off at the same time. The reaction some 36 years later is no less vociferous, but let’s consider a couple of things. Firstly, Japan did nothing wrong, what they did was within the laws of the competition and whilst some might argue it’s not in the spirit of the game, they were perfectly within their rights to finish the game as they did. Secondly, it was a risky strategy from Japan, as Senegal only needed to equalise and the Blue Samurai would have been eliminated. Something for FIFA to ponder once this World Cup finishes.
That just left Group G to be completed with England and Belgium competing for top-spot and Tunisia and Panama vying to avoid finishing bottom. Tunisia won the game 2-1 thanks to a second-half strike from Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri, condemning Panama to the bottom slot in the group. In the battle at the top, both sides rested players with England making eight changes and Belgium nine, so it was no surprise that it felt a somewhat disjointed game, that was ultimately won by a superb Adnan Januzaj strike six minutes into the second-half. Much of the debate wasn’t around the game itself, but which looked a better route to progression, which to me is all pretty academic if you don’t win your last sixteen game.
It left the final pairings as follows:
July 02 Belgium v Japan July 03 Colombia v England.
Today there are no games with the knockout phase beginning on Saturday with two Europe v South America clashes as France play Argentina in Kazan and later in the day, Uruguay play Portugal in Sochi. Both very difficult to call. Like the teams I’m resting for today and will pick up with previews tomorrow.