World Cup Recap: Day 15

Dynamo’s Adolfo Machado makes World Cup debut, knockout stage matchups confirmed

The Dynamo's Adolfo Machado made his World Cup debut. Houston Dynamo

The final day of group matches would have plenty to play for as two spots remained for the round of 16. There was also a local element present in the final match of the day as the Houston Dynamo’s Adolfo Machado awaited the moment to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Japan 0-1 Poland

Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Attendance: 42,189

Japan had destiny in their hands - win or tie and into the round of 16 they would go. Already eliminated Poland had the role of spoiler as they looked to give their fans a worthy effort for their travels. Japan immediately went on the offensive, looking to secure their place in the last 16 as soon as they could. Poland would be no slouch as they created harmful chances of their own. As the match wore on, Poland would take control and solidify it on the scoreboard with a Jan Bednarek goal in the 56th minute. The 22-year-old Southampton defender pushed up the field and made his presence felt on a free kick opportunity. Another goal by Poland was close but Japan did what they could to avoid it - knowing two goals against would’ve left them out. Japan would end up on the losing end but would still advance thanks to the fair play points tiebreaker.

Analysis: Japan were lucky to not have been eliminated, and qualified by the slightest of technicalities. They live to fight another day but will be matched against a strong Belgium side. Japan Manager Akira Nishino made six changes to the line-up against Poland, perhaps gambling to rest players. Against Belgium, they will need to play their best yet and hope to catch their opponents by surprise.

For Poland, this has to be a disappointing World Cup. Boasting one of the world’s most lethal strikers in Robert Lewandowski and the fact that this tournament took place in Europe, Poland was a pre-tournament pick to get out of their group. Bednarek’s goal - his first with the national team - bodes as a good sign for a player on the rise and perhaps an omen that Poland should move towards more youth as they now look to qualify to Euro 2020.

Notable stat: Japan advance to their first round of 16 since South Africa 2010.

Senegal 0-1 Colombia

Samara Arena, Samara
Attendance: 41,970

This match would not disappoint because both sides would be looking for the win that would secure their passage into the next round - and potentially the top spot in the group. Senegal were the more attacking team in the first half. Colombia only mustered up one shot in the opening 45 minutes and were left without their midfield maestro after 30 minutes as James Rodriguez exited the match with an injury. Yerry Mina would put Colombia up in the 74th minute, becoming the third defender to pick up two goals in this tournament. Goalkeeper David Ospina would have important saves in this match to deny Senegal and assure Los Cafeteros a spot in the next round.

Analysis: Senegal will feel cheated from advancing because of the tiebreaker that puts Japan through but they have no one to blame but themselves. This was a play-in game and the way things played out, even a draw would have seen them through. They never found a way to really incorporate their superstar Sadio Mané and ride him into the next round. The Liverpool forward only found the back of the net once. Wasted chances against Japan and Colombia are what see them bow out.

Colombia suffered to advance maybe more than people expected them to. A side that went to the quarterfinals and looked more promising this season have had their difficulties, as any team in this tournament. The uncertainty of James Rodriguez’s injury will be the storyline to follow because this is a very dangerous side with their #10 firing on all-cylinders.

Notable stat: Colombia advances past the group stage for the first time in consecutive World Cups.

England 0-1 Belgium

Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Attendance: 33,973

This match was interesting because the potential winner would win the group - something both sides may have actually been looking to avoid. The way the knockout stage is set up, the winner would be placed in what many consider the toughest side of the bracket. This may have been the reason why both managers decided to sit out some of their stars. Ultimately, it gave both managers an opportunity to give minutes to players that hadn't seen the field yet. Adnan Januzaj would be the one to take hold of his opportunity by putting Belgium in the lead in the 51st minute. The goal would be the only score of the match and the decider in the group.

Analysis: Belgium go perfect by winning all three of their group matches for a second consecutive World Cup - marking what is arguably Belgium’s greatest generation. That statement will mean nothing without silverware to back up the claim but the Red Devils look as good as anyone to get the job done. They may have made life harder for themselves by taking the “tough” side of the bracket but at least if they win out no one will say it’s not deserved.

This young England team could have used free minutes of World Cup experience, having already accomplished their mission to get to the next round. They won’t have it easy against Colombia, though they may catch them at the best time if James Rodriguez is unable to play. If they get past Colombia, this could be an English side poised for the semifinal and then the sky’s the limit.

Notable stat: Belgium was victorious over England for the first time since 1936.

Panama 1-2 Tunisia

Mordovia Arena, Saransk
Attendance: 37,168

This may be looked at as a consolation match for some but it meant everything for two eliminated teams wanting to give their fans a win. Tunisia’s last World Cup win was 40 years ago while Panama were looking for their first ever win in their debut campaign. Not having featured in the first two matches, it was also a debut opportunity for Houston Dynamo defender Adolfo Machado.

The Panamanians would take the lead in the 33rd minute after Tunisia’s Yassine Meriah scored an own-goal. The Asian nation would not be downed by their mistake and pushed to attack Panama with speed. Ben Youssef would tie the match in the 51st minute before Wahbi Khazri would secure the three points in the 66th minute. Panama would make several last-gasp attempts to not leave Russia in winless fashion but were unable to overturn the result.

Analysis: In a match were both teams were already eliminated, taking a win and learning from their downfalls was the only positive left. These two were always underdogs in the group because of the talent of England and Belgium. The positive is that they matched up against two potential champions in the highest level of competition. Tunisia and Panama can use these matches as a barometer of where they stand against the world’s elite players. Returning in 2018 may be a taller task for Panama than for Tunisia but that is where the execution of bettering their future talent will prevail. Both these sides leave $8 million richer - how they invest that money will determine the advancement of the sport in their countries.

Notable stat: Tunisia obtained their first victory at the World Cup since Argentina 1978.

Round of 16 Matches (All Times CT):

Saturday, June 30

9 a.m. - France vs. Argentina (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Uruguay vs. Portugal (FOX, Telemundo)

Sunday, July 1

9 a.m. - Spain vs. Russia (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Croatia vs. Denmark (FOX, Telemundo)

Monday, July 2

9 a.m. - Mexico vs. Brazil (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Belgium vs. Japan (FOX, Telemundo)

Tuesday, July 3

9 a.m. - Sweden vs. Switzerland (FS1, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Colombia vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)

 

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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