Five burning questions for the final World Cup group games

The World Game takes a look at the five burning questions ahead of the final round of FIFA World Cup group games.

Will France spoil the Socceroos' World Cup hopes?

While the Socceroos still need to beat Peru, Australia’s World Cup hopes really rest in the hands of France.

The Socceroos need France to defeat Denmark to ensure the Danes don’t snap up second spot in Group C.

The Scandinavians have four points from their first two games, after a win against Peru and a draw with Australia, and will be confident of making it through to the knockout round.

France have already secured their spot in the round of 16 and will progress no matter what the result is on Wednesday (AEST).

Both France and Denmark would progress if things finished level, or if Denmark won.

Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk is confident Les Bleus will play to win but, with their form in the World Cup so far being less than convincing, it is sure to put Australian fans even more on edge come kick-off.

Is this the year of the dark horse?

The Netherlands’ long-awaited return in 1974, Cameroon in ’90, South Korea in ’02; improbable runs from lesser-fancied nations have long been a feature of the FIFA World Cup, but could this be the year one actually goes all the way?

Though Mexico’s path to the round of 16 requires at least one point against Sweden on Thursday (or Germany’s failure to defeat South Korea), they are in the midst of their best start to a World Cup since 2002 – highlighted by their stunning win over Germany in Moscow.

El Tri have progressed past the group stage in each of the last six World Cups but have routinely stumbled at the first hurdle. And while Juan Carlos Osorio’s men may potentially face Brazil first-up, their displays thus far have given fans plenty of confidence.

Croatia meanwhile have already booked their place in the last-16 and look certain to top their group for the first time since 1998 – their debut in the tournament. The shadow of ’98’s semi-final run has hung over the nation for far too long, but it seems Zlatko Dalic’s side are finally playing to their potential. With world-class quality across each position on the pitch, it’s not so much about who Croatia could face in the knockout rounds, but rather which Croatia will turn up.

Hosts Russia have been quite the surprise in 2018, however their return to the round of 16 for the first time since 1986 looks set to end in defeat as either Portugal or Spain await.

Belgium on the other hand – currently enjoying a ‘Golden Generation’ – are well equipped to emulate, if not better, their fourth-placed finish of 1986. Roberto Martinez’s men will face England to determine the winner of top spot but, judging by Martinez’s intentions to rest players, the Red Devils are primed to give tournament heavyweights a real run for their money.

Will Argentina progress?

After falling just short of World Cup glory in Brazil four years ago, Argentina now find themselves in unfamiliar territory.

Have faltered against both Iceland and group leaders Croatia with no sign of reprieve, Argentina, currently bottom of Group D with just one point, will need to beat Nigeria and hope Iceland fail to defeat Croatia if they are to make the round of 16.

With head coach Jorge Sampaoli seemingly out of sorts and his squad reportedly at odds with one another, La Albiceleste's hopes will once again rest Lionel Messi's shoulders.

The 31-year-old has failed to hit the target thus far in Russia but will take confidence from Argentina’s victory over the Super Eagles in 2014’s iteration; a game in which Messi delivered with two goals.

Barring any Icelandic miracle, Argentina’s future still lies in their own hands.

Can Germany avoid the champions' curse?

Germany’s below-average performances at this World Cup have been one of the real surprises of the group stage.

If not for an unbelievable goal from Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos to snatch victory deep into added time against Sweden, Germany’s world championship defence would’ve been over in a little over 180 minutes of football.

Victory against the Swedes has given Germany a lifeline, but they still need to get a win against South Korea on Friday (AEST) to secure passage to the knockout stage of the competition.

Joachim Low’s side will be determined to avoid the fate of 1998 winners France, 2006 winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain who were all bundled out in the group stage as they attempted to defend their title.

Is second the new first in Russia?

Finishing top of the group is usually rewarded at the World Cup with an easier opponent in the round of 16.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Russia with the struggles of a number of big teams setting up some potentially ominous match-ups for teams finishing first.

With first-place teams playing the second-place finisher of another group, the round of 16 could feature games such as Brazil against Germany, Uruguay taking on Spain or Portugal and France facing off against Argentina.

With such tough match-ups a possibility, a strategic loss or two wouldn’t be out of the question for the final round of group matches.

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Published 25 June 2018 at 6:22pm
Source: SBS The World Game