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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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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