World Cup Recap: Day 6

Wins for Japan, Senegal and Russia as host nation continues to score big

Russia is now 2-0 as hosts of the World Cup. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The final games in the first round of the group stage would be played on Tuesday as Russia vs. Egypt would kick off the second wave of group matches. A lot of the attention would be the stars of European leagues like Colombia’s James Rodriguez, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Senegal’s Sadio Mané and Egypt’s Mohamed Salah.

Colombia 1-2 Japan

Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Attendance: 40,842

Colombia are one of the teams considered a “dark horse” in this World Cup, but Los Cafeteros could not have gotten off to a more nightmarish start. A handball in the third minute not only conceded a penalty in favor of Japan but it also left Colombia to battle the remainder of the 87-plus minutes with 10 men after the red card to defender Carlos Sanchez. Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa converted from the penalty spot and Japan was up 1-0 early. Colombia reorganized themselves in midfield but their best opportunity would come on a dead ball after Radamel Falcao won a free kick in the 37th minute. Juan Fernando Quintero sneaked the ball through the ground as the players on the wall jumped and - with confirmation from the goal-line technology - Colombia tied the score.

Japan was able to rectify their form in the second half, they took control of possession and made use of the man-advantage. Both teams generated five shots in the first half but Japan had the better second half, outshooting Colombia nine to three. After their persistence in attack, Japan finally broke through on a corner as Yuya Osako headed in the game-winning goal in the 73rd minute.

Analysis: Colombia will be disappointed not to have gotten off to a better start but better to have this setback in the first match while they still have time to rectify their form. They will play their most important match yet against Poland, who will not be an easy outing. Japan pick up a big result that could see them advance to their first round of 16 since South Africa 2010, if they are able to capitalize on this result. Group H is wide open.

Notable stat: Japan is the first Asian side to beat a South American opponent at a FIFA World Cup

Poland 1-2 Senegal

Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Attendance: 44,190

Senegal are the first African team to pick up a win at the 2018 FIFA World Cup after defeating Poland. Both sides had opportunities to take the lead but the opening goal would come off an own-goal from Poland in the 37th minute. A shot by Senegal’s Idrissa Gueye rebounded off the leg of Polish defender Thiago Cionek to make it 1-0. That was the clearest scoring opportunity as neither teams generated a shot on goal in the first half.

The deficit would open up the game and bring out a more attacking Poland in the second half. Robert Lewandowski had a good opportunity from a free kick that was saved by the Senegalese goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye. Senegal would increase their lead in a bit of controversial fashion as forward Mbaye Niang re-entered the match from injury to sprint and score in the 60th minute. Poland had a high line in defense and were caught off guard of Niang re-entering the field. Poland finally got on the board in the 85th minute with a header from Grzegorz Krychowiak but were unable to get the draw or the comeback.

Analysis: This is a big win for Senegal considering the success of European countries at this World Cup. The Teranga Lions have a good chance to finish top of the group - depending on what happens from here, of course - but their biggest focus should be on bettering their form as a round of 16 match will likely come against Belgium or England. Poland now stares at a possible elimination match against Colombia on Sunday, depending on what happens between Senegal and Japan.

Notable stat: Senegal have yet to lose a group stage match at a FIFA World Cup (now 1-3-0)

Russia 3-1 Egypt

Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg

Attendance: 64,468

After finishing as the top scorer in the Premier League and guiding Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League Final, Mohamed Salah made his awaited debut for Egypt at the World Cup. The Egyptian star, coming back from a shoulder injury, would have a quiet match with only one shot in the first half. Neither side did much in the first half, for that matter, as tensions grew with each passing minute. Unfortunately for Egypt, the game would be blown wide open with an own goal off defender Ahmed Fathi in the 47th minute. Denis Cheryshev would add to his tally - and tie Cristiano Ronaldo in the Golden Boot race - with Russia’s second goal in the 59th minute. Artem Dzyuba scored Russia’s third in the 62nd to extend the lead to 3-nil. Salah would convert a penalty in the 73rd minute to open his account but Egypt would not be able to reverse the momentum.

Analysis: Russia picked up a huge result to all but secure their passage into the round of 16, which would be the farthest they have advanced since the fall of the Soviet Union. An Uruguay win would set up for a battle for the top spot of the group. Egypt, on the other hand, depends on a miracle win from Saudi Arabia to keep their hopes alive. Mo Salah’s debut may have come too late for the Egyptians as they stare at an early exit.

Notable stat: Egypt’s last goal at a World Cup also came off a penalty, converted by Magdi Abdelghani in a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands at Italy 1990.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, June 20

7 a.m. - [Group B] Portugal vs. Morocco (FS1, Telemundo)

10 a.m. - [Group A] Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - [Group B] Iran vs. Spain (FOX, Telemundo)

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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