World Cup Recap: Day 7

La Liga stars power Portugal, Uruguay and Spain to narrow wins

Cristiano Ronaldo scored again. Photo courtesy of Nike, Inc.

World Cup Recap: Day 7

Wednesday was a day for difference makers as Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Spain’s Diego Costa scored to give their respective countries a 1-0 win. Two countries have booked their pass to the round of 16 while three nations learned the heartbreak of elimination.

Portugal 1-0 Morocco

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Attendance: 78,011

Cristiano Ronaldo picked up where he left off against Spain by scoring in the 4th minute against Morocco. The play came off a corner in which the reigning FIFA Men's Player found open space and headed in his fourth goal of the tournament - reclaiming the top spot in the goalscoring charts as his alone. Ronaldo almost found the back of the net in the 9th minute but things would stay 1-0 Portugal. Morocco would have two headers, in the 10th and 12th minutes, but could not equalize. Portugal’s other best opportunity came in the 40th minute when Ronaldo lobs in a ball for teammate Goncalo Guedes to capitalize on to no avail. Morocco actually outshot Portugal 8-5 in the first half but could not translate their chances on the scoreboard.

Morocco would again be the more attacking side in the second half, driven by their desperation to avoid elimination. They had the better chances, some coming off free kicks, pressing higher with their 4-3-3 formation. Morocco simply lacked the quality to score and, in the end, Ronaldo’s goal in the 4th minute was the difference.

Analysis: Many fans watching felt gutted to see Morocco walk away with the loss given their performance in contrast to Portugal’s. The difference was in which team had a keen goalscorer and there is no doubt Portugal have that. In some ways, Portugal resembled their form at Euro 2016 but they won’t care about playing pretty as long as they keep grinding results. Morocco was the first nation in this tournament to be officially eliminated and will play their final group match against Spain on Monday.

Notable stat: Cristiano Ronaldo passed the legendary Ferenc Puskas to become the European with most international goals (85) and now ranks second on the all-time list of international goalscorers behind Iran’s Ali Daei (109 goals).

Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don

Attendance: 42,678

Uruguay entered this match looking to book a round of 16 berth while Saudi Arabia entered this match facing elimination. For the better part of 20 minutes, the Saudis were able to avoid the lethal attack of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. That is until a corner in the 23rd minute found Suarez with enough space in the box to kick it home for the Uruguayans. Like in the previous match with Portugal-Morocco, Saudi Arabia would look to answer to the goal with a more attack minded approach. The Green Falcons generated at least two good opportunities within the next five minutes, including one forward Hattan Bahebri will wish he had back. Ultimately, Suarez’s strike was the game-changer in a fairly even first half.

Uruguay would be the side with better opportunities in the second half as more of their quality players tried to extend the lead. Martin Caceres and Carlos Sanchez where among the names that had the better chances but, unpressured by a Saudi Arabia score, Uruguay could not find the second. Uruguay won 1-0 for the second consecutive match, qualifying to the round of 16 with the top of the group to be decided in the next game against host Russia. Saudi Arabia looked a more organized side from from their 5-0 defeat to Russia but are eliminated from advancing. Egypt is also eliminated as they needed a Saudi win to stay alive.

Analysis: The win was expected from Uruguay but, especially with their attack, so it was a heavy win. Their best competition of the group will come in their final group match against Russia, another match in which Uruguay will be favored. Needing a direct win against the host to top the group, this is where we will see how potent Uruguay is. They haven’t needed their firepower on all cylinders but scoring goals in bunches will relieve some pressure as they advance to the next stage. Like Morocco in the earlier match, Saudi Arabia didn’t have the quality to win and that was the difference.

Notable stat: Luis Suarez became the first Uruguayan to score at three different World Cups (2010, 2014, 2018) in his 100th appearance for the national team.

Iran 0-1 Spain

Kazan Arena, Kazan

Attendance: 42,718

With Portugal’s narrow win against Morocco earlier in the day, the opportunity was open for Spain to top the group with a win by multiple goals. They certainly looked motivated to do just that, absolutely bombarding Iran’s defense. The Spaniards generated 10 shots in the first half but only one would find its way on target. Iran, on their end, only shot twice at David De Gea.

Diego Costa finally broke through the Iranian defense with a 180-degree turn inside the box in the 54th minute to give Spain the lead. Iran would pick up their attacking efforts and thought they had equalized in the 62nd minute before that score would be called offside. Iran would continue to press, especially throughout the final 15 minutes but the equalizer would not come and Spain would leave with the three points. Portugal and Spain sit top of the group with four points while Iran has three, meaning qualification will come down to the final matchday.

Analysis: Spain got the result they needed and will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they have time between know and their next game to work out their shortcomings. They are favored to top the group as their final match will be against Morocco - what looks like the least quality side in this group. Iran have hope to still advance if they can produce a win against Portugal, a side who didn’t look their best against Morocco. The Iranians will have to play a game that mirrors their final push against Spain, leaving much intrigue for next Monday. Remember, all final group matches are played simultaneously meaning there should be drama in store.

Notable stat: The win comes as the Spanish national team’s 400th all-time victory.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Thursday, June 21

7 a.m. - [Group C] Denmark vs. Australia (FS1, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group C] France vs. Peru (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group D] Argentina vs. Croatia (FOX, Telemundo)

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Willson Contreras could give the Astros some extra pop in the lineup. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

“The Hot Stove League” is the nickname given to Major League Baseball's offseason. In particular, the free agent signing period in late November/early December. Trades are also made during this period. Now that Astros' owner Jim Crane has ousted all opposition to his idea of how things should be run, he's free to do things the way he sees fit.

He opened it by not hiring a general manager to replace James Click. Instead, he opted for a committee of assistant GMs. Those guys are assisted by some special advisors, like former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Crane likes and wants to take a big swing at things. He'd probably hit about .250 with 30-plus home runs every season. Can't leave out his guaranteed 80-100 strikeouts. Typical power hitter. It's all or nothing, except Crane has been making great contact and knocking some things out of the park.

Signing Jose Abreu was an example. Yuli Gurriel looked as if he was losing the battle with “Father Time” during the regular season. This was an insurance policy at first, and designated hitter. Another prime example is their reported interest in C/DH/LF Willson Contreras. His bat would be a major upgrade over past Astro catchers. Although Martin Maldonado may not be going anywhere, having a quality bat to relieve him is key. Add the fact that he plays some outfield, and he's almost a “two birds with one stone” type of signing.

Abreu may be 35 years old, but he's coming off a year hitting .304 with 15 home runs. Contreras may be the younger of the two at 30, but his .243 average hurts the fact that he hit 22 home runs. Both sport an OPS above .800 for their careers. Bagwell said he wants Yordan Alvarez to play left field 45% of the time. The other 55% can be Contreras, Chas McCormick (assuming Jake Meyers is still in the mix for center field), and whoever else they sign or bring up from Sugar Land. When Contreras isn't in left, he needs to be behind the plate or hitting DH. I'd really love the idea of him sitting under Maldonado's learning tree for a year and taking over catcher long-term. Not many can be the catcher "Machete" is, but hitting 50 points better than him has its advantages.

Then there's the reported interest other teams have in Justin Verlander. Supposedly, the Mets have met with him via Zoom. The Dodgers are interested and are seemingly the leaders in the clubhouse to sign him. However, I wouldn't count Crane and crew out. He may come to JV last minute and offer him something comparable in order to keep him around. He strikes me as the type of guy who'll keep his plays close to the vest, then make a Godfather type of offer. He negotiated Verlander's last deal with the team himself. Coming off a World Series win, Cy Young win, and opting out of said deal, Verlander is most likely looking to get one final payday that'll also land him on a contender.

Having a winner is one thing. Having a winner committed to winning long-term is another. Crane wants to strike while the iron is hot. Sure, he wants his franchise to be sustainable. But he also wants to keep the World Series window open as long as possible. Kyle Tucker's next deal will be one to watch. Having an embarrassment of riches on the pitching staff means you have trade bait. Keep an eye on old Jimmy Crane. I think he might be the best thing to hit Houston sports in quite some time.

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