A couple of shockers, late drama, clutch goals: the third round of the group stage did not fall flat. The biggest surprise was obviously Germany dropping the ball against South Korea: Die Mannschaft just had to win two-nil (or more) to be safe, but despite multiple good chances, they did not manage to score and eventually the Taeguk Warriors took advantage of their unbalanced tactics and punished them, much to the jubilation of Mexico.
The World Cup Champion curse continues, as also Spain in 2014, Italy in 2010 and France in 2002 also were not able to get past the first phase after lifting the trophy. In the other Group F fixture, Sweden throttled Mexico, which put El Tricolor in the danger of elimination, but the Asian Tigers came to its rescue.
The second main story was Argentina rallying and topping Nigeria after the reported mutiny against Jorge Sampaoli and two underwhelming performances. The Albiceleste pulled the strings in the first half, with Leo Messi netting a pretty one, but their verve died out after the Super Eagles tied thanks to a penalty. Marcos Rojo was the unlikely hero in the final minutes and solved the game with a fantastic volley. In the meantime, Croatia kept rolling and completed their sweep besting Iceland.
The group B had a very intense ending and a back and forth that could have had all sorts of outcomes, as Portugal was on the brink of elimination against Iran and Spain was messing around against Morocco. The Persians levelled the game in the stoppage time and then wasted a major scoring opportunity. The Red Fury had to come back twice, but in the end a late Iago Aspas goal gave them the first place.
Brazil fended off Serbia’s aspirations, soundly downing them two-nothing with Paulinho and Thiago Siva putting their name in the scoresheet. A result that allowed Switzerland to advance without sweating: their last match against Costa Rica ended 2-2.
It did not involve a big team, so it kind of flew under the radar, but the craziest situation went down in the Group H, where Senegal bowed out of the competition due to fair play points. They lost the final game against Colombia, with Los Cafeteros lifted by a fantastic header by Yerry Mina, and had a disadvantage in terms of yellow cards received compared to Japan, which was defeated by Poland. All African national teams have been eliminated, even though a couple of them, Nigeria and the Teranga Lions, had solid showings.
The other groups were pretty much already decided heading into the final fixture. Russia did not show up against Uruguay and La Celeste annihilated them, Denmark and France conveniently drew, which allowed the Dynamite to go through and Les Bleus to grab the first spot. The battle between Belgium and England was a low-wattage dud: the Red Devils topped the Three Lions thanks to a pearler by Adnan Januzaj, but they are now in the most challenging half of the bracket.
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