The World Cup’s action on Friday saw teams begin their second games of the group stage. Loads to unpack from the England-United States draw, and Qatar become the quickest host country to be eliminated from the tournament.
One surprise team looking to avoid the same fate is Argentina, who take on Mexico on Saturday in what essentially is a must-win situation for Lionel Messi and crew.
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Friday’s World Cup happenings.
– World Cup news, features, previews, and more
– Stream FC Daily and Futbol Americas on ESPN+
After draw with England, USA turn eyes toward Iran
There was so much banter and hype for Friday’s World Cup match between the United States and England that you could have mistaken it for the final itself. Ultimately, there were few big moments from the scoreless draw, but there was still plenty to look at.
The Americans performed credibly as their defense was solid and enough to nullify England’s midfield. Star forward Christian Pulisic had a rocket that careened off the woodwork, and keeper Matt Turner made a couple key saves. The youngest team in the tournament held their own against a squad that had big-time players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Harry Maguire all on their heels at times.
The bright side for USA coach Gregg Berhalter is that the game circled in bright red on the calendar is over, and they’re better for it. Now all eyes are on the upcoming game against Iran. There’s history between these two countries (obviously both sporting and political), but the USA knows that it controls its own destiny, and a win next Tuesday will see them onto the next round. Simply put, the USA is where it wants to be.
Oh by the way, England still hasn’t beaten the USA at the World Cup. The great « soccer vs. football » debate continues.
Mark Ogden says Phil Foden has to start vs. Wales after having zero playing time against the USMNT.
Mexico aim for ‘Memo’-able win over Argentina, Messi?
We have all heard the old saying that you shouldn’t let one game beat you twice. That’s what Lionel Messi and Argentina — losers to an unheralded Saudi Arabia side earlier this week — are hoping to avoid in Saturday’s pivotal match against Mexico.
Argentina is in a tricky spot. Lose and the team is eliminated. No World Cup redemption story for Messi, and one of the tournament favorites will pack up early. But old-school Argentina fans have seen this before. Back at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, it was the Diego Maradona-led squad who lost its group stage opener to Cameroon before correcting the ship and advancing to the final.
Mexico is also in a precarious position. El Tri played to a scoreless draw against Poland and are still aiming to find a reliable way to score some goals. With the point picked up against Poland, Saturday’s game isn’t do-or-die for Mexico but they’ll be on very thin ice if Argentina come out with something to prove.
A couple things are going in favor for Mexico. First off, the El Tri fans have arrived in force in Qatar. Expect a final-esque, raucous atmosphere at Lusail Stadium that could turn the tournament’s largest stadium in a proxy Estadio Azteca. Second, Mexico can rely on goalkeeper Guillermo « Memo » Ochoa to try and make more incredible saves against Argentina’s playmakers.
Today’s top reads
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England fans aren’t the only ones who will be dancing to 90s classic « Freed From Desire » when their national team scores a goal at the World Cup.
Adrien Rabiot talks to ESPN about France role, World Cup focus and his club future
The Juventus man is a man in form and anchors Blues‘ midfield in Qatar. What’s next for him?
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures.
Here’s what we have for the Saturday matches.
Tunisia vs. Australia (Tunisia +115, Draw +210, Australia +265)
Paul Carr: I lean Tunisia in this one, just because they looked better in the opener than Australia did, even factoring in the difference in opposition. Both teams faded in the second half, as Australia didn’t have a second-half shot, and Tunisia didn’t take a shot after the 53rd minute. But with France looming in the finale, this is a virtual must-win for Tunisia.
Poland vs. Saudi Arabia (Poland -130, Draw +255, Saudi Arabia +375)
Square: I like a draw here at +255. Under 2.5 goals is -135, so the game is expected to be low-scoring, and 0-0 or 1-1 seems very likely. The Saudis did well to limit Argentina’s scoring chances, holding them to 1.5 expected goals on 14 shots (excluding the penalty), and half of that xG came on Nicolas Tagliafico’s point-blank deflection. Poland were dreadful in attack against Mexico, with five non-penalty shots worth 0.15 expected goals, meaning their average shot was 50 percent worse than a typical shot. Given Poland’s struggles at major tournaments, I have no faith in them until proven otherwise, so I’ll play the draw. Parlaying it with under 2.5 is good if possible, too.
France vs. Denmark (France -125, Draw +240, Denmark +375)
Square: France sure looked like good France against Australia, at least after the first 20 minutes, and Denmark had a lot of chances versus Tunisia, despite the scoreless draw. Denmark have already beaten France twice this year in Nations League, and each team had at least 1.6 expected goals in each game. Denmark will want at least a draw to best position themselves for the group finale against Australia, and a draw isn’t the worst thing for France with Tunisia waiting in the next game, so I expect both teams to push for at least one goal. I’ll take even money on both teams to score (+100).
Argentina vs. Mexico (Argentina -170, Draw +280, Mexico +490)
Square: Despite the result, Argentina wasn’t terrible against Saudi Arabia. Everything just went the Saudis’ way, and nothing bounced right for Argentina. This feels like a get-right game for Argentina, against a Mexico side that still hasn’t solved its striker problem. Henry Martin started at center forward, but had six touches in the attacking third, tied for seventh-most on the team. Raul Jimenez doesn’t look like he’s ready for an extended run yet either. But I still think Mexico either scratches out a goal or gives up a bucketful to Argentina, which may need to run up the score for goal difference purposes. Give me plus-money on over 2.5 goals (+105).
News and notes
After yesterday’s 2-0 win over Serbia, Brazil’s Neymar was seen limping off the field. On Friday, the Brazilian football association confirmed that both Neymar and Danilo, the right-back, will miss the next game against Switzerland on Monday due to ankle injuries. Sources have also told ESPN that both of them could miss the last group game against Cameroon on Friday. Neymar has scored 75 times in 122 games for Brazil and is now just two goals away from breaking Pele’s scoring record for the men’s national team.
Lionel Messi is ready to face Mexico in Argentina’s key Group C World Cup match on Saturday, according to manager Lionel Scaloni. « He’s feeling well but more than ever we need everyone, » Scaloni said. « We have no questions over [Messi’s] physical level, and emotionally he’s feeling well so no problems there. » Argentina lost in a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and need a victory against Mexico to keep their World Cup hopes alive. Scaloni said Messi, 35 years old, trained with the rest of the team on Thursday and is ready for the challenge on Saturday.
On the second anniversary of Diego Maradona’s death, former teammates gathered at the World Cup in Qatar on Friday to pay tribute to the legendary player and reminisce about better days as Argentina recover from their loss to Saudi Arabia. Considered one of the greatest players in history, Maradona died aged 60 on Nov. 25, 2020.
Matches on tap for Saturday
– Group D: Tunisia vs. Australia (Al Janoub Stadium; 5 a.m. ET)
The Socceroos lost 4-1 to France in their opening match of the World Cup, while Tunisia played out a goalless draw with Denmark in their first game. This will be a tight game as there is little to separate the two sides who are looking for their first wins of the tournament.
– Group C: Poland vs. Saudi Arabia (Education City Stadium; 8 a.m. ET)
Saudi Arabia shocked the whole world when they beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Now the next question is whether this side are for real and if they can overcome Robert Lewandowski and Poland, who struggled in attack against Mexico and had a penalty saved.
– Group D: France vs. Denmark (974 Stadium; 11 a.m. ET)
France dominated Australia in a 4-1 win on Tuesday, and will look to do the same against Christian Eriksen & Co. Kylian Mbappe scored against the Socceroos and will have his eyes set on the Golden Boot. Meanwhile, Denmark will hope to bounce back from their poor draw against Tunisia. The Danes simply didn’t do enough against the Tunisians and face a big challenge against the French.
– Group C: Argentina vs. Mexico City (Lusail Stadium; 2 p.m. ET)
This is a must-win game for Messi’s Argentina. If they lose, they will go out of the competition. Meanwhile, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa performed heroics against Poland after saving Lewandowski’s penalty to get a point. If Mexico win, they will be in a good position to reach the round of 16 before facing Saudi Arabia.
What else caught our eye
Brazil striker Richarlison scored twice against Serbia on Thursday, giving us early goal-of-the-tournament candidate as he scissor-kicked his way to victory. With some help of an industrious set of Legomen, give it a gander once more.
Richarlison’s opener, as well as his acrobatic goal for Brazil against Serbia at the World Cup recreated in Lego.