The group stage is two-thirds over and while this World Cup has lacked any truly significant upsets, it has been a blast to watch. Several giants have wobbled and a few new stars have emerged already with the knockouts on the horizon.
Atlético Madrid supporters in particular have to have enjoyed this World Cup so far, as teams with at least one Atleti player are 8-2-0 to this point in the tournament. What’s more, those teams went 5-0-0 last week with five clean sheets.
Uruguay 1-0 Saudi Arabia
An industrious, Atlético-esque performance from Óscar Tabarez’s team, which secured a place in the knockouts thanks to a Luis Suárez goal. José Giménez and Diego Godín played the full 90 minutes — the former completed 97 percent of his passes but picked up a thigh injury in training this week which will rule him out for the final group match against hosts Russia.
Iran 0-1 Spain
Fernando Hierro got his tactics all wrong — seriously, Lucas Vázquez? — and Spain were generally unimpressive even with 78 percent possession. But Spain had Diego Costa, who scored his third World Cup goal with a fortunate deflection.
Andrés Iniesta’s assist was absurd, by the way, and just one more example of how badly Spanish football will miss him.
Anyway, Spain will qualify for the knockouts with a draw against eliminated Morocco on Monday — Spanish radio has reported that Saúl will start that match. Koke replaced Iniesta for the final 20 minutes and he is expected to retain his place on the bench Monday night.
France 1-0 Peru
While we’re on the subject of “unimpressive,” Didier Deschamps’ France took off the entire second half and secured a spot in the last 16 anyway. Peru played well but lacked a little luck — Kylian Mbappé’s goal was essentially all luck.
Antoine Griezmann played 80 minutes — he registered two shots and two key passes. Griezmann took nearly a third of his touches in the center circle or his own half as France ended the match with around 44 percent possession. Lucas Hernández started again at left back and — along with converted winger Blaise Matuidi — was tasked with slowing down the speedy Luis Advíncula. Thomas Lemar did not play, but it’s anticipated he starts against Denmark in the final group game. A draw against Christian Eriksen and co. would clinch top spot for les Bleus.
Argentina 0-3 Croatia
Janey. Opportunistic, disciplined Croatia jumped all over error-prone, crisis-consumed Argentina in a terrific second stanza to just about wrap up first place in Group D. Šime Vrsaljko was not involved in the goals but played well throughout the night — he ended up with a game-high six interceptions, won three aerial duels and got credit for two key passes.
Croatia have the potential to go very far in this tournament. It remains to be seen whether Vrsaljko can put together that breakout game or if he will remain a passenger (not that that’s a bad thing when Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić are in your midfield).
Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica
Filipe Luís was an unused substitute as Tite’s side left it late — two stoppage time goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar pushed the World Cup favorites to a win over los ticos.