Japan vs Poland (28 June, 2018 3:00pm)
Japan have only one job, pick a point at least against Poland who have their bags packed and have absolutely nothing to fight for here, it should be a stroll in the pack for the Asian side who would look to do their continent proud and progress but if you saw Germany against South Korea you would have a change of mind. Robert Lewandowski and the entire Polish team have let their country down massively, they were tipped to top the group but managed to lose their first two games, the second in an embarrassing manner and now face a flight home after just the group stages, talents and power without ambition is a baggage of liability. Japan did their nation huge favours when they fought back twice to pick a point against Senegal in their second group game and now have to complete it with a similar display and advance. Poland might want to be a spoiler, just like South Korea; an European team might look to return the favours of yesterday by an Asian team to an European team so Japan must be up for it, the Polish haven’t really established any known style of play, they are disjointed and have never played as a unit, it’s up to Japan to dominate with their high pressing style and hit them hard, should Japan lose here, they could still crash out depending on the dynamics at the other end, they should not forget that Colombia beat Poland by three sleek goals, goals difference can be an albatross sometimes.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Senegal vs Colombia (28 June, 2018 3:00pm)
Come on Senegal, the weight of an entire Continent rests solely on your shoulders, after the harrowing exit of Nigeria in the hands of usual suspects Argentina, Senegal are the last hope of Africa and they are well positioned to progress, just a point and they are through to the second round for the second time in their adventurous history. Colombia lost their group opener to Japan but went on to destroy Poland in what remains their source of hope at this tournament, the manner in which they dismissed the Poles would send cold shivers to any team and that dangerous forward line of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Cuadrado will trouble any defence any day, but if they don’t win here, they would need Poland to win elsewhere for them to stand a chance of progressing to the next stage of the competition. Senegal could have qualified had they held on to their lead in the second group game against Japan, twice they led and twice they gave it up, a loss to Colombia and a point for Japan at the other end effectively ends the hopes of Africa at this competition, coach Allou Cisse must be wary of the dynamics of the group and go for it, don’t aim for the stars, aim for the moon, if you miss, you could land among the stars, don’t fight for draw, go for it and top the group, such that worst case scenario, you’ll get a point to progress and live another day. Who wants it more here?
Verdict: Colombia to win or draw
England vs Belgium (28 June, 2018 7:00pm)
Tunisia and Panama haven’t offered anything meaningful to worry about so Belgium and England can breathe, and because both teams are through, this fixture won’t hold the fire that would have been expected. Roberto Martinez already hinted that he would rest key stars, Manchester United forward, Romelu Lukaku and mesmerizing Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard were said to have picked minor injuries in their last game and are very much likely to be rested, Dries Mertens has been impressive too and likely not to feature, this makes this game a bit academic. England have scored eight times in two games with Harry Kane bagging five of the lots, impressive for one of the best goal poachers in the world, love him or hate him, he’s better than your striker, he has another opportunity to shine if called on to spearhead the 3Lions attack. Gareth Southgate will ring changes too, returning Dele Alli should play parts in this, Ruben Loftus-Cheek didn’t disappoint in his absence but the Chelsea midfielder can rest, Jack Butland could be called on to stand in for Jordan Pickford and a few names could appear for the first time, the result won’t really have any huge bearing on either side as they would be billed to play either of Senegal, Japan or Colombia in the second round, beatable if they actually have any business being rated at all.
Verdict: Full time draw
Panama vs Tunisia (28 June, 2018 7:00pm)
Let’s talk about two teams that just came to make up the numbers, two teams with different stories and different aims, Tunisia actually pressed the self destruct button, they were inches away from getting a deserving point against England, then Mohammed Ben Amor opted to be foolish, he had time to clear the ball, he wasn’t under any obvious pressure, yet he dragged the ball to the corner flag and conceded a corner from which Harry Kane headed home; they didn’t have too many hopes in the second game, Belgium blew them away but they still managed to prove interested with two goals, now they have to do something for pride, nothing more. Panama’s story would be told differently, a team coming to a major tourney for the first time, they celebrated their goal against England like they won the World Cup, they achieved a great feat and can be proud of that, they were piss poor against England that didn’t even need to hit third gear before heaping goals on them. Panama wants to score again, they love the feeling and won’t mind one more step which is a point, or even better, a win but what does Tunisia want? The African nation wants to win, for their fans, for their continent, they can but they first must shore things up at the back, take chances when they come and give nothing away. Panama would be without key players who got suspended after second cautions, but it’s a fixture meant to test new legs, no intensity, just two broken nations trying to find positives, such that when they get to their respective airports, they would be welcomed by genuine pats on their backs.
Verdict: Tunisia to win
Strictly the writer’s opinion