World Cup Recap: Day 15
Dynamo’s Adolfo Machado makes World Cup debut, knockout stage matchups confirmed
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
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
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
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
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)