Day Seven in Russia saw the hosts leave the competition and Portugal hammer New Zealand. Group A is now complete with Portugal topping it, followed by Mexico and Russia and New Zealand go out much to the despair of no one.
Both games were played at the same time 1500km away from each other in St. Petersburg and Kazan (providing that’s still in the same time zone). Portugal comfortably saw off New Zealand 4-0 and the Kiwis, who were already out, go out with a pathetic whimper. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring after half an hour with a penalty before Bernardo Silva, now of Manchester City, doubled the lead a few minutes later after a great cut-back by Eliseu. The goal came at a price for Silva who landed badly on his ankle and was forced off through injury, in a lot of pain.
AC Milan’s new signing, Andre Silva, finally got the goal he deserved at the tournament as he sent one back across the keeper from close range. There was still time for Nani to add a fourth in stoppage team, he skipped past a defender and rolled the ball into the far bottom corner to make it 4-0 and compound New Zealand’s misery. The Kiwis go home without a point and only one goal to their name – manager Anthony Hudson described the performance at the tournament as ‘incredibly disappointing’, and I can see why.
The gulf in class was much closer in the game between Mexico and Russia as both teams looked to progress to the semi-finals at the other’s expense. It was Mexico who prevailed, coming from behind to secure their spot as runners-up in the group with a 2-1 win over the hosts. Russia took the lead in the first half through Alexsandr Samedov who placed his shot into the far bottom corner from the right of the penalty area. A cool finish after a wild miss-kick by Alexsandr Yerokhin which made me laugh at least. The home crowd was bouncing for about 5 minutes until Mexico equalised.
Nestor Araujo sent a looping header that sailed over Igor Akinfeev in the Russia goal, who opted to let the ball go in instead of attempting a save but risk being clattered by a player or the post – not the bravest goalkeeping. But it got worse for Akinfeev, the CSKA Moscow keeper was certainly at fault for Mexico’s second goal. He came off his line to deal with a long ball but was beaten to the ball by Mexico starlet Hirving Lozano, who headed it into an empty net on the edge of the penalty area. Akinfeev understandably didn’t go to punch the ball because it was outside his area but some reason he attempted to kick it where it made much more sense to head it. His karate kick could only make contact with Lozano’s chest and Akinfeev went to pick the ball out of his net.
Germany and Chile will be looking to avoid any embarrassing slip ups as they seek to join Portugal and Mexico in the semis. Both need a draw to go through but they will be looking to top the group in order to avoid Portugal and Ronaldo in the next round. Germany play Cameroon in Sochi while Chile face Australia in Moscow.
Germany just need to better Chile’s result to top the group but Cameroon will be looking to cause an upset, they need to win by a considerable margin to progress at Germany’s expense but the African champions lack the defensive security and the attacking prowess to worry a young German side. If Australia beat Chile by 2 goals then they will replace La Roja in the semi finals so, if anything exciting is going to happen, that’ll have to be it.