Dubai: Calculators at the ready? Then we will begin.
The Fifa World Cup 2018 group stages draw to a close in four days’ time and we will finally know who is in and who is out of the last-16 knockout stages of the world’s biggest sporting tournament.
Right, let’s start with the easy bit. The teams already through to the next phase after two matches are hosts Russia, Uruguay, France, Croatia, England and Belgium. The departure-lounge bound sides that we know are Egypt, Saudi, Morocco, Peru, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Panama and Poland.
While there are a few surprises on those lists — who expected lowest-ranked Russia to cruise through their matches? — the biggest eyebrow raisers are the absentees.
Watch: Where we stand going into the last round of group stage matches #FIFA2018
Where are Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Spain? How can Croatia be through already when the supposed big guns’ fates are still in the balance?
Well, basically there are all in a quandary due to their own failings.
To save confusion, let’s go through each group and see where we stand.
It’s an easy one to start as unlikely Group A leaders Russia are aiming for maximum points when they take on Uruguay on Monday after being written off as no-hopers before the event. The winners of that will top the table (a draw is enough for Russia), while Egypt and Saudi clash with only pride at stake.
Heavyweights Spain and Portugal can secure spots on Monday. Despite sacking their coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament, Spain need a point against Morocco in Kaliningrad.
Portugal meet former coach Carlos Queiroz and Iran in their final Group B game in Saransk. Cristiano Ronaldo’s side will advance with a draw, but a win for Iran would see the European champions or Spain suffer a shock exit.
Despite a wobble against Australia, France are safely through in Group C, but the Socceroos and Denmark are still in the fray for the other slot. Didier Deschamps’ side will clinch first place with a draw against the Danes in Moscow, a result that would also send Denmark through as runners-up irrespective of Australia’s result against Peru. But a France win will open the door for the Aussies.
Somehow, the desperately poor Argentina are not yet out of the tournament. A dire draw with tiny Iceland — with a saved Lionel Messi penalty thrown in for good measure — was followed by a 3-0 humiliation by Croatia. But still they cling on. Anything less than a win against Nigeria on Tuesday will knock them out. They must beat Nigeria and also hope Croatia do them a favour against Iceland in order to progress.
Brazil have steadied the ship after their opening draw with Switzerland, but needed two late goals to send Costa Rica home. However, they still have a little work to do as questions remain over star player Neymar’s fitness and performances. A win over Serbia will see them through, along with Switzerland, if they defeat the departing Costa Rica. But a Serb victory and Swiss success will send Brazil home — unthinkable!
Group F: The complicated one. Despite two victories in two games, Mexico are not yet guaranteed a spot in the last 16.
With a win or draw against Sweden, the Mexicans are good — even a loss will be sufficient if Germany fail to beat South Korea. However, if Sweden and Germany both win all three teams will finish on six points and goal difference will determine who advances. If Germany and Sweden’s margin of victory is two or more goals each, that would send Mexico home.
Group G: The easy one. With both England and Belgium already through with two wins apiece under their belts, they clash on Friday to determine who tops the table. If only all the groups were as easy to work out…
And finally, Japan have defied the odds and go into their final Group H game needing just a draw against already eliminated and altogether entirely disappointing Poland to reach the last 16. It will be winner takes all in the other tie as Senegal take on Colombia. However, a draw combined with a loss for Japan with see the Asians miss out.
So hang on to your hats as the next four days will be sure to have more upsets and plenty of drama.
AT A GLANCE: GROUP BY GROUP
Russia and Uruguay have clinched berths in the round of 16. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been eliminated.
Morocco have been eliminated, leaving Portugal and Spain (four points each) and Iran (three) to compete for two spots.
France are through with two wins, Denmark are second with four points, Australia third on one point and Peru are out.
Croatia through with six points. Nigeria will advance with a win over Argentina, while Iceland play Croatia. But Iceland or the last-place Argentines could survive with a win and a Nigeria loss or tie, depending on goal difference.
Brazil and Switzerland are on four points, Serbia have three, and any of them could grab one of the group’s two spots in the knockout stage. Serbia meet Brazil on Wednesday. Switzerland play Costa Rica, who have been eliminated.
Mexico lead with six points but are not yet safe. If Germany defeat South Korea on Wednesday and Sweden defeat Mexico, three teams would finish with six points, and goal difference will come into play. If Mexico and South Korea win, Mexico win the group and the other three teams would be tied.
Belgium and England both through. They play each other on Thursday to determine who wins the group. Tunisia and Panama have been eliminated.
Japan and Senegal lead the group with four points apiece. Colombia are on three. Poland eliminated.