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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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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