Argentina’s World Cup started in disastrous fashion. Now Lionel Messi and co. take on Mexico with an early elimination possible by the end of the day. Will Argentina bounce back or will Mexico pick up a famous victory?
Elsewhere, defending champion France takes on Denmark, a team that beat Les Bleus twice in the last six months. Groups C and D are back with their second round of matches on Saturday.
Tunisia vs. Australia
Tunisia (0-1-0, 1 point), Australia (0-0-1, 0 points)
Kickoff time: 5 a.m. ET/10 a.m. GMT
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
This is the most balanced match of the day on paper with Tunisia favored after getting a point against Denmark. Australia must get at least a draw to avoid elimination.
It’s hard to take away much from Australia’s match against France. Australia did take the lead and gave up tons of chances, but was that because France is really good or because Australia was really poor? Is it somewhere in the middle?
Tunisia did win a match at the last World Cup, beating Panama 2-1 after trailing at halftime. With a point already in hand, a win in this one would give Tunisia a legitimate chance to advance for the first time in the nation’s history. Australia is winless in its last seven World Cup matches, with one draw and six defeats in that run.
Poland vs. Saudi Arabia
Poland (0-1-0, 1 point), Saudi Arabia (1-0-0, 3 points)
Kickoff time: 8 a.m. ET/1 p.m. GMT
Venue: Education City, Al Rayyan
Saudi Arabia, you just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, what are you going to do next? The Saudi Arabian team won’t be going to Disneyland, but the country did have a national holiday the day after the massive win against Argentina.
That win will go down in history, but Saudi Arabia has a great chance to do something more than just win one game. At the pace of this World Cup, they won’t have long to enjoy it. Poland is also a completely different type of opponent.
Poland is far more direct than Argentina, which is a different challenge for the Saudi Arabia defense that lived on the edge with frequent use of an offside trap last game. Poland will likely still have a majority of the possession, but won’t prioritize it like Argentina did (or like Mexico also in Group C). Poland wants to get Robert Lewandowski as many touches in or near the box as possible.
Saudi Arabia leads the group and is expected to advance (-120), according to the odds. Even with the win against Argentina and first place in the group, that still feels hard to believe. If Saudi Arabia wins this match, qualification to the knockout round would be secured.
Saudi Arabia defender Yasser Al Shahrani had facial surgery after the Argentina win.
France vs. Denmark
France (1-0-0, 3 points), Denmark (0-1-0, 1 point)
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. ET/4 p.m. GMT
Venue: Stadium 974, Doha
For a brief time on Tuesday, it looked like France could also fall victim to a massive upset, but Les Bleus turned around an early deficit to look like the team that won the 2018 World Cup. Denmark is likely to provide tougher opposition than Australia though.
In fact, Denmark beat France twice this year, including a 2-0 win in Copenhagen in late September. The UEFA Nations League doesn’t represent the same intensity of the World Cup, but it does give the teams added familiarity with each other. It should give Denmark plenty of confidence and France plenty of motivation.
France is favored in this one, which was always likely to be the case, but feels even more justified after how both teams played in the openers. Denmark couldn’t score against Tunisia, but limited the North Africans to just one shot on target.
France would secure a spot in the knockout stage with a win. Denmark is still expected to advance (-225) despite the disappointing opening draw.
Argentina vs. Mexico
Argentina (0-0-1, 0 points), Mexico (0-1-0, 1 point)
Kickoff time: 2 p.m. ET/7 p.m. GMT
Venue: Lusail Stadium, Lusail
Argentina was one of the tournament favorites after going unbeaten for 36 straight matches. Now, Argentina is one loss away from elimination.
How worried should Argentina be after losing to Saudi Arabia? Argentina had 69% possession, outshot Saudi Arabia 15-3 and put the ball in the net multiple times in the first half only to see the offside flag go up. Was it a bad performance or was it unlucky that Saudi Arabia scored on both of its shots on target?
That will be answered when Mexico goes up against La Albiceleste. Argentina has won all three World Cup meetings with Mexico, including Round of 16 wins in 2006 and 2010.
Believe it or not, Argentina is still favored to not only advance, but to win Group C. Argentina is +150 to win the group, so it’s not an expected outcome, but it is viewed as more likely than any other team. Argentina is -200 to advance.
Mexico’s draw against Poland was more of the same from what El Tri has shown in recent years. There was a lot of possession and not a lot of chances. Mexico had 61% possession, but only four shots on target. Mexico won’t have as much of the ball against Argentina, but that might be a good thing for an attack that has struggled to score against deep-lying opposition.
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(Photo of Guillermo Ochoa: Alex Grimm / Getty Images)
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