So, now that the first set of Group Stage Games have concluded...here's the knockout bracket I had predicted and posted on the website over the last 5 days while looking through the groups(all those elite mini-previews that you all read????)....Each group letter and number (A1 or A2, for example) represent the winner and runner-up squads. Several potential L's already......
GROUP A: Russia has smashed its first two opponents in Saudi Arabia & Egypt. I hoped for more with Mo Salah and the Egyptians, but Russia sits with 2 wins and a +7 goal advantage. Good to be the hosts and have the draw slotted in your favor! Bad for business to root for Russia, hoping they don't win ever again. Uruguay should mow down Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and then the Russia/Uruguay tilt on Monday will decide whether I was correct or if the two teams will swap positions on the bracket. PUTIN IS WATCHING.
GROUP B: I'm still confident in Spain as my pick to win the tournament. Portugal cannot rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to score a hat trick in every match (or can they? He was legendary in the opener), and that makes them more likely to falter than the balanced Spaniards. However, I do believe both teams will win their remaining matches against the inferior Moroccan and Iranian teams, and goal differential will determine who wins. Spain wins the group, or my picks are dead...if Spain finishes 2nd in the group, they'll be on the other side of the Bracket and would face France in a quarterfinal instead of the final.
GROUP C: France is my other Cup Final selection. I think they learned a lesson of slow-playing lesser talent when they had trouble with Australia, while still coming out with a victory. I'm very disappointed for Peru with that L they took against Denmark, because I was hoping they snuck into the Runner-Up spot. If France win out, Denmark lose out, and Peru runs up the score on Australia in the final match day, Peru could advance. Which would be sweet since Peru hasn't been in the tourney since before I was born. I think France and Denmark are slotted in the right order. Whether it's Denmark or Peru, though, neither are getting by the Group D winner..
GROUP D: When I previewed Group D, I stated that I thought Argentina's squad might just not be fresh enough to make a run like they did in 2014. They showed it in the first match. I know Iceland is pesky and worthy of respect, but that's a legit flopping performance by Argentina, missed Messi penalty and all. Croatia just a more professional bunch right now, and that's why I picked them to win this Group. The two teams meet Thursday at 1pm, and that could either validate or prove me wrong. If Argentina beats Croatia, and Iceland beats Nigeria on Friday...suddenly you have Iceland and Croatia playing in the final match day to see who moves on! That would be awesome, and would hope Iceland gets it done. Still feel good about Croatia & Argentina moving on.
GROUP E: So far, not so good. I thought that Brazil would absolutely crush Switzerland on Sunday and create a goal differential L for the Swiss. Because of that, I picked the winner of Costa Rica/Serbia to be the Runner-up in the group. Serbia got the victory, so there you go. Except the Brazilians once again get the early goal and decide to chill for the next 70 minutes. Neymar got a hundred fouls, they had a few more A scoring chances...but once Switzerland equalized, they were more than happy to grind out a point. Brazil will still win this group, though. But I feel less confident in Serbia now. Costa Rica had ZERO punch in the opener, I don't think they'll be a factor...I think they'll lose to Brazil, draw with Swiss. What that means is that Swiss/Serbia will determine the Runner-Up in this group...I'd lean Switzerland here.
GROUP F: Germany looked out of touch in the opener against Mexico, and didn't adjust in time as Chucky Lozano scored the only goal of the game for El Tri, propelling them to an upset victory. They need to ditch their stupid idea of going with youngster Timo Werner up top. That sucked. Let the adults handle this and put Thomas Muller there to handle his business(they need to inject young talent and speed into the game, but Werner wasn't the answer). If Muller is front and center on the field, Germany win out and move on. And oh sure, root for Mexico...our border rivals. Did you know that Rafa Marquez, playing in his fifth World Cup(tied a record), was flagged by the US as potentially being involved with the Sinaloa drug cartel? I mean, hey, he'll do your laundry for you...as in laundering drug money. FOR A DRUG CARTEL. Sure, root for Mexico...Haha...Mexico is in the front seat to win this group. I love the way they play, but the Mexicans lack finishing touch and every game they play will be a grind. They can win this group. They're also primed to take this emotional high in beating Germany and completely blow it against South Korea, who doesn't score much but is tough to score on. As of now, I still feel good about Germany & Mexico finishing 1-2.
GROUP G: I probably got this wrong. Belgium's roster screams semi-final, but they rarely put it together. They destroyed Panama. Romelu Lukaku has two goals and will have at least a couple more by the end of the group stage. England deserved to beat Tunisia and they did, just not in as dominant fashion. Belgium will smack Tunisia, England will beat Panama, and the final match day will be Belgium/England fighting for the Group. Both teams move on easily. I have them in the bracket as both reaching the semi-final and then meeting each other in the 3rd place game. I suppose that's possible regardless of how they finish in the group. I really bought into England and I love their roster as a team that relishes the opportunity to play for their country, which is a level of passion I wonder if Belgium has. But through 1 match, Belgium is here to win. So my "England winning the group" thing might be ill-fated.
GROUP H: This group was turned on its head today! Colombia's Carlos Sanchez gets a red card in the 3rd minute and Japan goes up 1-rip after converting the penalty. Nice upset win for Japan. If Colombia aren't playing with 10-men for nearly the entire match, they win. Sometimes it's that simple. The attack was rendered useless as Japan did exactly what they needed to, keep the pressure on their defenders and wear them out. Japan win 2-1. Colombia still in the mix, but need help. So do Poland. They concede an own-goal, then a bad backpass combined with a player being waved on at the right(or wrong?) time resulted in a 2-0 lead for Senegal. Poland lose 2-1 as well. It is extremely unlikely that both of these losing teams move on now. If I had to pick, I believe it will now be Senegal and winner of Colombia/Poland. Senegal & Poland both beat Japan, Colombia gets result/draw against Senegal...meaning that Colombia would need to beat Poland to move on, while the Polish would need draw/victory to advance.