World Cup Recap: Day 9

Brazil, Nigeria and Switzerland win in thrilling fashion

Harry Kane and England will be back in action on Sunday. Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Friday was a continuation of the spectacle that has been this FIFA World Cup, with thrilling matches in unexpected fashion. Neymar was among the stars that joined the scoring charts as we continue to see a tournament without a scoreless result.

Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica

Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg

Attendance: 64,468

Both sides came into this one looking for their first win as Brazil would look to inch closer to qualification and Costa Rica would play to stave off elimination. Costa Rica’s best opportunity would come in the 13th minute from a long range attempt by Celso Borges. Los Ticos would only generate three opportunities, none of those on goal, in the first half - a far cry from the Cinderella team at the 2014 World Cup. Brazil would generate seven opportunities, sprinkled around the likes of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, but the first half would end scoreless.

In the second half, Brazil was far away the more attacking side. Costa Rica would need a goalkeeper of the caliber of Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas to generate six saves in the second half against a bombardment from Brazil’s talented attacking corps. Costa Rica would only put up one shot during the half, defending for the most part and keeping it scoreless until the 90th minute. In stoppage time is when Costa Rica would come undone as tired legs could not hold back the constant urgency in Brazil’s attack. Philippe Coutinho broke through in the 91st minute and refusing to settle for the narrow win, Neymar would score Brazil’s second in the 97th minute.

Analysis: Brazil looked dangerous throughout 90 minutes and more to show why they are the odds on favorite to win the tournament. If they play with the confidence and determination shown today, there may not be any team that could stop them. In hindsight, the competition didn’t do much on attack so it is yet to be seen how they would react to a high-powered offense. Despite that, there are few teams in this tournament who can tango with Brazil. For Costa Rica, this is a bitter defeat after the successful 2014 campaign. The only thing left is to finish off strong and send their fans off with a win.

Notable stat: Neymar now stands alone as Brazil’s third all-time scorer behind the legendary Ronaldo (62) and Pele (77) after scoring against Costa Rica.

Nigeria 2-0 Iceland

Volgograd Arena, Volgograd

Attendance: 40,904

Fans of Nigeria, Iceland and Argentina (or just Messi enthusiasts) would be tuned in to this match because of the implications in Group D after Argentina’s 3-0 loss against Croatia. Nigeria would be looking to win to stay alive while Iceland would want to build a dream run into the knockout round. Iceland would generate six opportunities in the half, their best coming off set pieces, while Nigeria would register no attempts. It end nil-nil at halftime.

Needing the result, Nigeria found it’s attacking spark in the second half. Ahmed Musa gave the Super Eagles a sigh of relief by opening his account in the 49th minute. He would be denied by the crossbar in the 74th minute but just over a minute later he would dribble through the Icelandic defenders to score Nigeria’s second. Iceland would have an opportunity to find their way back via a penalty call in the 80th minute but Gylfi Sigurdsson would miss the mark. Nigeria would hold on to pick up the three points, leaving the qualification to be decided on the final day with Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria all in contention.

Analysis: There will be plenty of drama next Tuesday when the group will be decided. In all likelihood, the second spot will come down to the match between Nigeria and Argentina. Nigeria needed this win, so that was accomplished, as did Argentina to be in as favorable a position to undo their bad form. Nigeria could advance with a draw so their destiny is essentially in their hands. Iceland can still advance with a win or draw against Croatia, which looks like a far more difficult task than what was in front of them today. Argentina need to win and hope the result of Iceland-Croatia favors them. My advice: get your popcorn ready.

Notable stat: Ahmed Musa became Nigeria’s top scorer in World Cups and the only Nigerian to score at two different editions.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland

Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Attendance: 33,167

Thanks to the Brazil result over Costa Rica earlier in the day, Serbia would be looking to win and advance to the round of 16. Switzerland was looking to build on their 1-1 draw with Brazil, unable to clinch a spot into the next round or be eliminated. Each side would generate plenty of shots in the first half but Aleksandar Mitrovic didn’t wait long to open the scoring. The Serbian striker would head in a cross from Dusan Tadic in the 5th minute. The Swiss would press forward because of the deficit, keeping the Serbians in their own half at times, but would not be able to turn the tables. Halftime score would be 1-0 Serbia.

Switzerland came out and took the victory in the second half. Switzerland would double their offensive output while Serbia would do very little compared to their first half performance. The Swiss would need a marvelous goal to take the lead, provided by Granit Xhaka after hitting a spinning ball into goal in the 52nd minute. At 1-1, the momentum had changed towards La Nati. Xherdan Shaqiri was denied a potential goal of the tournament by the post in the 58th minute but would eventually score the game-winner in the 90th minute. Switzerland move up to second in the group, behind Brazil on goal difference, though both group berths remain up for grabs.

Analysis: This turned out to be one of the better games of the tournament and it was driven by the qualifying implications. Serbia missed a golden opportunity to be the first in the group to qualify and will now have to win against Brazil to advance. Switzerland put themselves in a great spot to move to the round of 16, needing only a draw against Costa Rica to clinch.

Notable stat: Switzerland became the first team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a come from behind win.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Saturday, June 23

7 a.m. - [Group G] Belgium vs. Tunisia (FOX, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group F] South Korea vs. Mexico (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group F] Germany vs. Sweden (FOX, Telemundo)

Sunday, June 24

7 a.m. - [Group G] England vs. Panama (FS1, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group H] Japan vs. Senegal (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group H] Poland vs. Colombia (FOX, Telemundo)

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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