As you will have noticed yesterday, the format on the last day of the group phase for each group has all four teams playing at the same time (fortunately, in pairs of two in different stadiums to avoid mass confusion). This is to reduce the chances for teams to game the system by knowing the results of prior matches that day, so they can tank, play for the draw, etc. to achieve a favored result for the knockout phase. This is in line with FIFA's emphasis on fair play, except for awarding World Cups (see Qatar, 2022).
The English Premier League follows a similar system, with all of the final league games kicking off simultaneously on the last Sunday of the season. If a coach wanted to game the system, what would he do? If this were college basketball, he could keep his highest pro potential player on the bench, and pair him with a weaker talent to suppress the star's ability to impact the game. If this were college basketball, he could play his son out of position to give him the spotlight. If this were college basketball, he could play his son despite his lack of defensive ability, and force the entire team into a single zone system to hide his weakness.
I do not mean to suggest for one second that TIARA does not want to win every game. He certainly does. But if you wanted to keep a team down, his coaching methods are a pretty good template. So to avoid this in the World Cup, the final matches in each group kick off at the same time. There is not as much potential intrigue along these lines today, because two teams have healthy leads in their respective groups. But we are already seeing story lines about the benefits of the US and Germany choreographing a draw for their upcoming match.
Today's schedule leads off with two matches in Group D, at 9 am Pacific time. Italy plays Uruguay (televised on ESPN), and Costa Rica plays England (televised on ESPN 2). Here are the implications for each paired outcome in Group D-
Italy wins or draws, Costa Rica wins or draws- Costa Rica wins the group with 9 (win) or 7 (draw) points and plays the 2nd place team in Group C, Italy finishes 2nd with 6 (win) or 4 (draw- goal differential) points and plays the Group C winner
Italy wins, England wins- Italy and Costa Rica finish level with 6 points. Costa Rica comes into today with +3 goal differential, and Italy comes in with a -0- goal differential, so absent routs by Italy and England, Costa Rica would most likely win the group and Italy would finish 2nd.
Italy draws, England wins- Costa Rica wins the group with 6 points, Italy finishes 2nd with 4 points (on goal differential).
Uruguay wins, Costa Rica wins or draws- Costa Rica wins the group with 9 or 7 points, Uruguay finishes 2nd with 6 points.
Uruguay wins, England wins- similar to the scenario if Italy and England win. But it would be even more likely that Costa Rica would win the group, because Uruguay comes into today with a -1 goal differential.
So Costa Rica is in the driver seat to win the group, Italy also advances with a win or a draw, Uruguay needs to beat Italy to advance, and England is left to wonder again what happened (as it has every year since 1966).
At 1 pm Pacific time, the Group C teams take center stage. Japan plays Colombia (televised on ESPN), while Greece plays Côte d'Ivoire (televised on ESPN 2). In terms of glamour, this pales in comparison to the Group D matches, but don't tell that to the fans of these teams. And there are way more possible permutations in this group, since there is no equivalent here to England. Every team has at least one point coming into today's matches, and every team can advance with a win, depending on results in the other match. Here are the implications for each paired outcome in Group C-
Japan wins, Greece wins- Colombia wins the group with 6 points and plays the 2nd place team in Group C (most likely either Italy or Uruguay). Japan and Greece finish level on points with 4 each. Japan comes into today with a -1 goal differential, while Greece comes in with a -3 goal differential. So unless Greece wins big against Côte d'Ivoire, Japan would finish 2nd and would play the Group C winner (most likely Costa Rica).
Japan wins, Côte d'Ivoire wins- Colombia and Côte d'Ivoire finish atop the group with 6 points each. Colombia comes into today with a +4 goal differential, and Côte d'Ivoire comes in with a -0- goal differential, so barring a complete meltdown, Colombia would win the group and Côte d'Ivoire would finish 2nd. Japan would go home despite winning their final game.
Japan wins, Greece and Côte d'Ivoire draw- Colombia wins the group with 6 points. Japan and Côte d'Ivoire finish level with 4 points. Japan has a -1 goal differential coming into today (1 for, 2 against), Côte d'Ivoire comes in at -0- (3 for, 3 against). If Japan wins by 1, they would be even on goal differential. We would then move to the next tiebreaker, which is total goals. This favors Côte d'Ivoire. So Japan needs to win a high scoring match or win by 2 to advance.
Colombia wins, Greece wins- Colombia wins the group with a perfect 9 points. Côte d'Ivoire and Greece finish tied with 4 points each, so we move on to goal differential. Côte d'Ivoire comes into today with a -0- goal differential, Greece comes in at -3. So Greece would need to win by at least 2 goals to advance.
Colombia wins, Côte d'Ivoire wins- Colombia wins the group with 9 points, Côte d'Ivoire finishes 2nd with 6 points.
Colombia wins, Greece and Côte d'Ivoire draw- Colombia wins the group with 9 points, Côte d'Ivoire finishes 2nd with 4 points.
Japan and Colombia draw, Greece wins- Colombia wins the group with 7 points, Greece finishes 2nd with 4 points.
Japan and Colombia draw, Côte d'Ivoire wins- Colombia wins the group with 7 points, Côte d'Ivoire finishes 2nd with 6 points.
Both matches end in draws - Colombia and Côte d'Ivoire advance with 7 points (1st place) and 4 points (2nd place), respectively.
So Colombia is in the driver's seat, barring a complete meltdown. Côte d'Ivoire and Greece will be battling for 2nd place, with Côte d'Ivoire having a slight advantage coming in. Japan is also in the mix for 2nd if they can win, depending on what happens in the Greece - Côte d'Ivoire match.
The identity of the survivors in this group will probably change throughout the afternoon, as points and goal differentials change with each goal. This could be very interesting.
We have glamour in the morning matches, we have intrigue in the afternoon matches. And we don't have to worry about TIARA playing Bryce at the expense of Zach. What more could you ask for?
This is your World Cup thread. Fire away with your comments.