The predicted draw at this point in the group stages is getting really weird.
FiveThirtyEight currently projects that the round of 16 is on the path of looking like this:
- Russia Vs. Portugal
- France Vs. Argentina
- Brazil Vs. Germany
- England Vs. Colombia
- Spain Vs. Uruguay
- Croatia Vs. Denmark
- Mexico Vs. Switzerland
- Japan Vs. Belgium
Simply put, four of the top five in Elo's pre-tournament rankings are in one half of the draw. For the likes of Spain or Portugal, this is great news who could potentially make it to the final by just by facing only team currently ranked in the Elo Top 10. The other object of note that can be drawn for this is for England and Belgium. They face each other on Thursday and will likely to be better off by finishing second in their group. If either Japan or Senegal win Group H, the second placed team in Group G will come in as heavy favorites against them and then against the subsequent winner of the predicted Mexico Vs. Switzerland game. And then if the semi-finals and a couple of touches go their away, the team that finishes second in Group G between Belgium and England has a clear path to winning it all.
As things currently stand. England and Belgium are tied all the way up to the final tiebreaker - which team has the fewest cards - with England currently having two and Belgium on three. It is ridiculously likely that the draw does not play out exactly, or anywhere near as the projections. Nevertheless, a case can be made that is both sides rotate their squads, play out the game for a draw and pick up a handful of yellow cards, they can ensure a second place finish in the group and lay out an unlikely path to win it all. What would have been one of the most anticipated matches of the group stages could end up being a number of otherwise bench players fouling each other to no end. Unlikely, but it is food for thought.
Germany are treading water, but for how long?
Sweden had it their grasps, but for a stunning Toni Kroos freekick, the defending champions would have been knocked out in the group stages. He German midfielder has been all over the place for most of the past two games, somehow managing to misplace ore square passes at this tournament than the rest of his entire career in football. It is easy to say that he saved Germany's chance of repeating - or atleast a chance of getting through to the knockout stages. Every winner of the World Cup needs luck on their side and a moment of pure brilliance from their star. Kroos is not an obvious star coming out of Germany's team sheet but maybe this was it; this was the moment that could define Germany's campaign. Though this is likely a temporary solution for the defending champions have having to back their bags in the group stages.
Even the elite teams can have luck go against them: a keeper in the form of his life, poor decisions by a referee, or a bad day in front of goal, though this not the case for Germany. After being surgically dismantled by Mexico, they soon found themselves down a goal against a lackluster Sweden said and had to rely on a last second winner from a freekick to keep their hopes of repeating alive. Joachim Low made multiple changes to his ailing starting lineup for their rubber against the Swedish, most notably replacing the antediluvian Sami Khedira for a true defensive midfielder Bayern Munich's Sebastian Rudy (his night came to an end with an injury after taking a boot to the face) though this came after a drudging Swedish strike partnership found its way in the heart of the German defense. The Swedish should have gotten a penalty after Jerome Boateng took down Marcus Bergy. 18 minutes later, after a Kroos turnover resulted in a Sweden goal.
Despite pushing eight or nine of their players into the final third, the German attacking simply did not click and their defensive is left with the impossible task of covering over 50 yards of space. Kroos' goal may in fact be the defining moment of the World Cup so far - a laboring superstar saving his ailing superteam from the precipice of defeat. WIth Brazil projected to face the defending champions in the round of 16, there is not much for Germany to celebrate if they continue on their current path.
An Entire Nation Owes Juan Carlos Osorio An Apology
The manager of the Mexican National Team, Juan Carlos Osorio, is a Mad Genius. He is the hot commodity for all things tactical when it comes to International Football. Need a stylish, organized, and everlasting performance? The Colombian is the man for the job. So far in this World Cup, he surgically dismantled the defending champions, Germany. Against South Korea, he executed a calculated, somewhat inefficient but a dominating take down of their group rivals.
His master plan was set in stone months ago when their World Cup draw came out in December 2017. For months his technical department and scouts were instructed to watch as many and as much of their players they were likely to face in their group and beyond. All this, to create a massive database that offered Osorio as much insight as possible to prepare him.
His plan was in danger of falling apart as a result of its own fastidious nature. Just days before the start of a world cup, Osorio was booed by the El Tri fans after less than average performance against Scotland despite them winning the game. They had previously played out a goalless draw against Wales. The outrage grew exponentially louder after a 2-0 loss to Denmark. Coming in the World Cup, Osorio had to engineer the most impressive pair of wins of any team in this tournament.
Playing against Germany forced Osorio's side to give up possession and damage the defending champions on the counter attack. Against South Korea, Mexico would have to dominate the ball and bread down Korea's discipline with expansive and possession based football. Unlike many of the other teams featured in Russia. Mexico can seamlessly transition between two opposing styles of football.
Analytics has always played its part in sports though many of doubted the significance of it in beautiful game, especially at the World Cup. There isn't anyone who'd disagree with this more than Juan Carlos Osorio.
Colombia is Back!
They were looking to build off the remarkable run they had in Brazil four years ago but could not predict a red card in the opening minutes of their opener against Japan. That being said, this Columbia side is devastatingly frightening when at full strength. They lack the talent of the elite teams in this competition and are coming in as the outside favourites to win it all (their odds placed at 33/1), they are dark horse as their best players fit together in a harmonious fashion. A young center back pairing of Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez both offer pace and strength that provide them with incredible range that can allow them to sweep many defensive mistakes and lapses. Their attacking threat is amongst the best in the world. Versatile and balanced does not even to begin to describe them. James Rodriguez is a world class player that is routinely underappreciated by the football world. An attacking outlet, he drives their attack from the midfield, create chances for his compatriots and is just as capable as scorer himself. On the wings sprints in Juan Cuadrado who has improved significantly on his dribbling and decision making allowing for him to break down defences with this pace. Their attack is spearheaded by Radamel Falcao, who is playing his first World Cup at the age of 32. His near 150 goals in Europe's top leagues, El Tigre is still the best in the world and is a clinical poacher inside the box.
The final member of the fearsome foursome - Juan Fernando Quintero - is on a class of his own. In 2013, the then 200 year old moved to Portugal to join FC Porto; coming with a reputation of being amongst the most promising prospects in recent memory. In Columbia's 2014 World Cup campaign, Quintero scored a crucial goal in a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast. Things could not seem more prosperous but his career has taken a sharp turn since then. After loan spells in France, Colombia, and Argentina, he did not make an appearance for even a single of Columbia's qualification matches. He earned a call-up to the national side after a two-and-a-half year absence in international football after an impressive spell with Argentina's River Plate. He then did enough to make the World Cup squad and is now part of the nucleus of this Colombian side.
This England side is turning out to be something special.
Across all levels of football, game-to-game conversion rates fluctuate drastically. Case in point, this England national team. In their opening game against Tunisia. thay had 8 shots on target out of a total of 18. They salvaged a win from that game after Harry Kane grabbed the winner through an injury time header. A few days later, against a much inferior Panama side, England managed to take 11 shots with only 7 on target. This time, they managed to score 5 in the first half alone to win the game 6-1. If penalties are to be counted (and are worth 0.75 expected goals as they're scored 75% of the time), England's expected goals are virtually the same against Tunisia (2.93) and Panama (2.95). To further highlight this insanity, Kane only received 12 passes against Panama and he did not take a shot from open play... and somehow he ended the game with a hattrick.
No matter the streaky nature of this side's finishing, England Manager Gareth Southgate is showing shades of being Brad Stevens. Southgate has shown great interest in the nature of basketball. He is intrigued by a basketball players ability to create space around the basket and has studied footage about the timings of off ball runs, legal screens and more and has attempted to recreate this for his England side. In particular, Southgate has attempted in using similar strategies off set pieces with players carrying out dummy runs to confuse defenders. Each player receives a set of instructions and if carried out to perfection, the theoretical plan is a joy to watch when executed (Just watch England's fourth goal against Panama).
Set pieces are still massively underexploited in the modern game. Teams are often inefficient when carrying them out and have no clear strategy in place aside from booting the ball into the box. In open play. chances are created through a combination of coordination, creative passes and improvisational play. If this all manages to line up in the right way, this is a rare miracle. Set pieces is the one aspect of football where teams can create goal scoring opportunities through the coupling of prior planning and execution. It is much more efficient manner of playing the game and takes advantage of an underlooked part of the game.
Having just scored twice from open play, England has scored double that from set pieces. They not sit atop Group G ahead of their rubber against Belgium. Only time will tell if this is a trend or a dead end.