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Five observations from the second round of World Cup group stage matches

Thirty-two matches full of unpredictable twists and turns leave us with 24 teams still in contention to lift the World Cup on July 15 in Russia.

Six teams have punched their tickets to the knockout round, with four coming from two groups.

Some of the favored teams to win the tournament have left their mark through two games, while others are forced to pick up the pieces in order to survive during the final matchday, which lasts Monday through Thursday.

Below is a look at some of the biggest stories created on the field during the second set of 16 matches.

Argentina Need To Make Changes In Order To Avoid Humiliation

There’s always one big favorite who implodes during the group stage, but no one thought it would be Argentina.

Although the Albiceleste struggled throughout CONMEBOL qualifying, they still bounced back and earned a spot in the 32-team field in Russia.

Argentina’s group isn’t particularly strong, but it has made the challenge of advancing to the knockout stage difficult.

Jorge Sampaoli’s stubborn tactics have left Lionel Messi and his teammates frustrated, which resulted in all sorts of drama ahead of their final group clash with Nigeria.

Argentina hasn’t been great by any stretch of the imagination, but if the right adjustments are made to surround Messi with Paolo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain from the start, it could salvage a poor group stage with a big win over Nigeria and second place in Group C.

However, if Sampaoli continues to pick the wrong starting XI, which would cause even more friction in the locker room, Argentina will cement its status as the World Cup’s most disappointing team.

Germany In Decent Shape, Still Needs To Improve

Germany was in the running for most disappointing team in Russia until Toni Kroos breathed life back into its repeat chances with a stoppage-time free kick goal against Sweden.

Not only did Die Mannschaft need the strike, Kroos personally needed an individual moment of brilliance to kickstart his poor start to the World Cup.

Germany isn’t in the clear yet, but it is in much better shape than Argentina, and in order to remain in the competition, Joachim Loew must make more changes to his squad.

Ideally, Loew would be able to phone Leroy Sane and magically add him to the roster for more creativity, but instead he has to choose from a collection of uninspiring veteran forwards, led by Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez.

Marco Reus might be the best option in the final third, while Timo Werner needs to generate more chances to be Germany’s lead man.

Re-introducing Mesut Ozil to the starting XI might not be a terrible idea either, as the Germans look to strum up as much creativity as possible over 90 minutes against a weak South Korea squad.

Hirving Lozano Is The Tournament’s Breakout Star

Mexico’s Hirving “Chucky” Lozano has followed in the footsteps of James Rodriguez as the breakout star of the World Cup.

Lozano, who plays for PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie, caught everyone’s attention with a goal in the upset victory over Germany, and he continued to shine his work on both ends of the field in Saturday’s win over South Korea.

The 22-year-old tracked back a few times in the first half to make a pair of key defensive interventions, and he threatened on a few occasions against the worst side in Group F.

A few more goals would do wonders for Lozano’s summer transfer window prospects, and he should have at least two more chances to do so if Mexico takes care of business against Sweden on Matchday 3.

England, Belgium Continue To Shine

England and Belgium have impressed against weaker opposition when some of the other big names in Russia haven’t delivered.

Belgium thumped Tunisia, 5-2, on Saturday, while England thrashed Panama, 6-1, on Sunday to set up a clash of the titans in Group G on Thursday for first place in the group.

Both European nations fueled by young stars of the game scored eight goals through two games and conceded on a pair of occasions.

If they decide to play a drab affair in order to set up a more favorable knockout matchup, we could go all the way to the drawing of lots to determine first place.

On the other hand, we could witness one of the most pleasing games of the group stage, as Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane challenge the opposing defenses with their skillful play up top.

Regardless of what the final result is, England and Belgium need a test to prepare for the knockout stage, where no one similar to Panama or Tunisia await.

Colombia Finally Looks Threatening

Colombia shook off a brutal start to the World Cup with a 2-0 win over Poland to set up a chance to win Group H on Thursday.

The attacking foursome of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Juan Quintero and Juan Cuadrado shined against Poland and produced a pair of impressive tallies.

Rodriguez, Quintero and Cuadrado put together wonderful interchange beneath Falcao, who was brilliant in the second half on Sunday and scored his first-career World Cup goal.

Sitting one point behind Japan and Senegal entering the final matchday clash against Senegal, Colombia could cause some major damage for the rest of the tournament.

If they live up to their potential, Los Cafeteros could easily run into the quarterfinals and further.



  1. Observations from my end is target forward is not dead. Or lack of a target forward in Argentina’s case. So many offenses are bailed out by passing over presses or chippy midfields with a target forward controlling or making a quick pass from a long ball or mid range pass. Giroud is a perfect fit for France and the big Russian has been their get out pressure guy in all their games.
    Argentina has no target in the middle and continue to dribble and hold the ball making the middle overrun with players and little width. Even when the ball is wide the players receive the ball already narrow or hold it allowing a trap. Needless to say Iceland formed a triangle of defenders around Messi and Croatia had a constant on the ball defender and off the ball defender shadow Messi. No space in the middle with no target forward playing off the shoulder of a CB or occupying two CB. All he attack in the final third needs to be played on the ground rather then a quicker over the top mid range balls. I know this is how Argentina wants to play but they are predictable with everything coming through the middle and most of all through Messi. One of their forwards needs to hold the ball and have Messi interchange and pick a side. The move the ball faster with switches side to side creating width.
    My biggest observation is the strength of teams really comes through the middle. With centerback who can make accurate passes and box to box midfielders. Combine those two and you can control the game. All the teams with offensive fire power are useless with no midfield. Goodbye Salah, Lewandowski ! Mid’s like Modric and Rakitic can take over a match.
    VAR works when used!
    Vive Le France!
    Martinez for USMNT and not the guy who drove Barca into the wall

  2. Could be up for grabs this year. Germany and Argentina looking shaky and France and Brazil unconvincing too. Can’t read too much into a route against Panama for England or the weak comp Belgium has faced so far but that England Belgium matchup is must watch now. If Belgium takes care of England I’ve got to give them the edge going into the knockout phase, if they win that game you would have to say they best in current form.

    Could be a year we see a new winner or an outsider make a semifinal or final.

  3. 11 key final group matches by date:

    group a final matches – mon. june 25 at 10 am
    uruguay- russia
    group b final matches – mon. june 25 at 2 pm
    spain vs. morocco
    group c final matches – tues. june 26 at 10 am
    denmark vs. france
    group d final matches – tues., june 26 at 2 pm
    nigeria vs. argentina and iceland vs. croatia
    group e final matches – wed. june 27 at 2 pm
    serbia vs brazil
    group f final matches – wed. june 27 at 10 am
    germany vs south korea and mexico vs. sweden
    group g final matches – thrs. june 28 at 2 pm
    england vs belgium
    group h final matches – thrs. june 28 at 10 am
    japan vs. poland and columbia vs. senegal

    i’m especially looking forward to the conclusion of group f. mexico – sweden will be hot!

  4. Having watched most of the key games, I’d say France right now is the favorite to win it all. While they do not score many goals, what has impressed me about France is they are solid at every position on the field, and mesh well as a team. Belgium also may surprise with their golden generation coming of age, but they lack depth.

    The surprise of the tournament to me so far is the minnow Japan. Expected to be crushed by Colombia, Poland and Senegal, they have a shot at the 2nd round, and their last group game is Poland, who has crashed out. The other semi-surprise is Mexico. It’s no secret this team in 2018 is skilled and experienced. But in years past they didn’t live up to expectations. It may come down to matchups in the knockout rounds.

  5. My thoughts. Most surprising team has to be Russia which is almost exclusively made up of players from a so-so domestic league. Going in, I thought Poland was overrated and they are showing it. I have liked Lozano since the first time I saw him in a CONCACAF CL game a couple of years ago. However, in the game vs. S. Korea he had several decent chances and didn’t come close to scoring. He’ll probably end up in a very good team, but we need not go overboard on the hype just yet. I did like his defensive work, though. Mention should be made of Vela, who has been consistently good and may end up as one of the best players in MLS by the time this season is through. At the beginning of the season I wrote that Vela is worth one and a half dos Santos brothers. He may be as good as those two put together. Before the last WC I wrote that Belgium is one of the best teams, but they will be hampered because none of their players have WC experience. Well, now they have. I think they are as likely to win it all as anyone. The match with England, if both go for it, could be titanic. Another thing, after watching almost all the games, the margin between many teams is so close that a lot of the times the difference is decision making. Two recent examples–in S. Korea v. Mexico, Mexico’s penalty kick was because of the inadvertent hand ball. When it happened, I didn’t understand why the defender went into a slide when I watched in real time. On replay it was clear that he didn’t have to, he was there in time to stand the attacker up, then no handball, no penalty kick, no lead for Mexico, and it’s a completely different game. In Germany vs. Sweden, watching Kroos with the ball near midfield I observed a German player wide open on the right wing. I was amazed that he tried to pass in between a couple of Swedish defenders, but he did, resulting in the turn over that lead to the Swedish goal. A stupid play from a veteran, world class player. One thing about Mexico is that their team passing is superb and they rarely make those kind of mistakes. Finally, an observation. English is clearly the international language. A dispute between a Korean player and a Mexican player and you could see clearly that the Korean told the Mexican to eff off. I suppose I should note, however, that the players were Ki and Chicharito and both play in the EPL.

    • Gary,
      Set pieces is where most goals have come from in the tourney but your take on the decisions leading up to them is spot on. Ronaldo was as if he wrote the script drawing that penalty and then putting the explanation point with the goal.


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