As we enter the final round of Group Stage games, we already that both winners of some groups have been decided. However, those are only a set few, while many others have more than one spot to decide. Last week I highlighted five games to watch. But, there are too many matches to choose from this time around.
So, here are the five groups to watch as the matches begin today.
With Morocco eliminated, Spain have the easier team to deal with on the final match day. A win from them would secure qualification for the Round of 16. However, this Morocco team has always put up a good fight and have the potential to play spoiler.
Portugal-Iran could be one of the more intense games of the final match day. Iran need to win in order to advance, and while that involves stopping Cristiano Ronaldo, this Iran team could be up to the task. Portugal advance with a draw, and judging by CR7’s goal-scoring abilities, they may be able to clinch more than that.
Since Group A is pretty much wrapped up, this is a battle to finish in second place as the group winners would have to face Uruguay in the next round.
Iceland v. Croatia; Rostov-on-Don; Tuesday 2:00 ET/11:00PT FS1
This is the most volatile group at the World Cup, as every team still has a realistic chance of qualifying.
The bottom two teams, Iceland and Argentina, need to win. A draw or loss eliminates them automatically.
Iceland face the tougher task as they play a Croatia team that is very strong in the center of the field and hasn’t conceded a goal all competition.
Meanwhile, Lionel Messi leads a disorganized and uninspired Argentina team to take down Nigeria. Not only do Argentina need the win, but if Iceland wins, they need to beat them out on goal difference. Argentina is already down one goal, so they would need to beat Nigeria by at least two goals after scoring only one all tournament. This could be the first time that Argentina fail to qualify for the knockout phase since 2002.
Nigeria is also feeling the pressure. The youngest team in the field know that a win would seal the deal. But, a large enough win from Iceland could be enough to knock them out of the tournament.
Repeat after me: Serbia could knock Brazil out. All it takes is a single win. This Brazil team has bent but not broken during this group stage, appearing weak and disorganized at times. It took two late goals for them to beat Costa Rica. With a tall, strong Serbia team standing between them and the Round of 16, advancing could be harder than many thought. It has been 52 years since Brazil failed to advance in a World Cup. There could be some history in Moscow.
If Brazil lose, they need to hope that a scrappy Swiss side fail to pick up points against Costa Rica. Even with a loss, the Swiss have the potential to beat the Seleção on goal difference, as they are only one goal behind Neymar and Co.
There are a lot of factors at play in this group.
South Korea are still technically alive at this point. A 2-0 win over Germany and a Sweden loss sees them qualify for their third knockout round in their World Cup history.
Sweden also have a heavy workload. They face a Mexico team that have been firing on all cylinders this tournament, and a win would help their chances.
After a last minute winner, Germany seems to have found their footing. Manager Joachim Löw knows this team still has a lot of errors it needs to correct, and without veteran Jerome Boateng (red card suspension), major defensive changes are on the horizon.
Die Mannschaft and the Blågult are in similar situations. Sweden has an advantage if South Korea pull off the upset (Sweden needs to have a better goal difference to advance). Otherwise, losses knock them out, and both teams need a better goal difference in the case of two draws or two wins.
Senegal v. Colombia; Samara; Thursday 11:00 ET/ 8:00 PT Fox
If you watch one game on Thursday, make it Senegal-Colombia.
Yeah, I know Belgium-England is later, but they have both already qualified. Senegal played a hard-fought game against Japan and drew 2-2; their win against Poland earlier let the tournament know they were ready to play.
Meanwhile, Colombia goes into the game with a better goal difference but one point less. Still, the 3-0 thrashing they gave Poland should give Colombia enough momentum going into this game. A win for either team confirms advancing.
There’s another scenario. Colombia are third in the group but have the best goal difference at +2. In the case of a draw and a Japan loss, Colombia can still advance to the next round. However, Japan face a deflated Poland team that started the tournament as favorites, only to find themselves already out of the World Cup.