Portugal 1 Uruguay 1
Uruguay played their best football in dismantling hosts Russia 3-0. European champions Portugal are yet to set the tournament alight. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, I can’t see Portugal bettering Uruguay. Extra time looms.
Spain 2 Russia 1
Home advantage has taken Russia as far as it can get. Following their lackadaisical, assumptive display against Morocco, I expect La Roja boss Fernando Hierro to read his super star studded team the riot act. Skipper Sergio Ramos will have his hands full.
France 1 Argentina 1
France are not yet operating at full throttle. Neither are Argentina. Though Lionel Messi showed glimpses of his mercurial self when he scored a worldie against Nigeria, I fancy France to match the South Americans. Draw!
Brazil 2 Mexico 1
Was a tad caught unaware by Mexico’s 0-3 capitulation at the hands of Sweden. Juan Carlos Osorio’s boys were jaded, which doesn’t bode well for a clash with record champions Brazil. Neymar Jr is bound to convert at least one of the chances falling his way.
Sweden 1 Switzerland 1
This all European affair promises goals. Switzerland are always good for a goal or two. Powerfully built Sweden are also proving a handful. Topping a group including ousted champions Germany was quite a feat. I am sitting on the fence.
Croatia 1 Denmark 0
Although their approach play borders on turgid, Denmark qualified for the knock out rounds without conceding. Croatian midfield maestros Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic will thus need to be on top of their wits.
Africa’s World Cup representatives scored C- overall
Before Aliou Cisse’s Senegal squared up with Jose Pekerman’s Colombia in a crunch Group G match up and Tunisia met Panama in a World Cup dead rubber, Africa’s representatives at Russia 2018 had played a total of 13 matches. This translates into a 15 percent win rate - dismal even by our not so lofty standards.
Egypt’s Pharaohs lost all three Group A matches, reducing some of their star players to tears. A fan with whom I was watching the Egypt versus Saudi Arabia highlights was perplexed that Greek footballer of the year Amr Warda was sobbing inconsolably. He wanted to know why Warda was disconsolate yet Egypt had already been eliminated.
The explanation I hazarded was multifaceted. I told him that for Egypt’s Pharaohs, a loss to Saudi Arabia was a huge slap in the face. The equivalent of taking a beating from your grandson. Egypt is 4,000 years old. Saudi Arabia hasn’t celebrated a century. Egypt played at the 1934 World Cup. Saudi Arabia first featured in USA’94. Egypt is also the largest and militarily strongest Arab country. Warda and many of his cohorts could countenance losing to such Johnny come latelies. Egypt rating D-
Morocco C-: Herve Renard’s Atlas Lions fared a lot better. Despite only picking up one point against Spain, they played with verve in all three group matches. An own goal denied them a share of the spoils in their opening match with Iran in a game they dominated whereas they bossed possession stats in a narrow 0-1 loss to Portugal. The building blocks for an assault on next year’s African Nations Cup title do exist. Morocco did well.
Tunisia D: The Carthage Eagles were worse for the loss of creative inspiration Youssef Msakni who failed to recover. Tunisia were the first African team to win a World Cup game when they beat Mexico 3-1 in 1978. A whole 40 years later, they’ve not progressed. In their 1-2 loss to England, Tunisia played like rabbits caught in bright lights. Performance levels dropped even lower in a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Belgium.
Nigeria B-: Hadn’t it been for poor officiating by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir Nigeria would have won a place in the knock out rounds. The Super Eagles were denied two stonewall penalties against Argentina. First, Kelechi Iheanacho was felled by a kung-fu kick in the forbidden area. Then Marcos Rojo handled with his hands in an unnatural position. Cast iron. Again nothing given. They win a B- for pushing Argentina to the brink.
Senegal B: Lions of Teranga boss Aliou Cisse is a lesson to all African federations. They must learn to trust their own. Senegal are already Africa’s best. Cisse has proved his worth by unleashing hitherto little known talent like Moussa Wague, Ismail Sarr and Youssouf Sabaly onto the world stage. Regardless what happens to them, Senegal have lit the path for African football with their exuberant, extravagant displays.