By RYAN TOLMICH
Despite winning their first two group stage matches with ease, France’s spot in the tournament’s knockout stages is still not technically sealed.
The French should easily clinch their advancement Wednesday when Les Bleus take on fellow hopeful Ecuador in their final group stage game at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro (4 p.m. ESPN).
Les Bleus have coasted through their first two contests, knocking off Group E counterparts Switzerland and Honduras 5-2 and 3-0, respectively. With a plus-6 goal differential to their credit, the French are all but assured a place in the tournament’s knockout round with only an astronomical loss paired with a Swiss win as a potential elimination scenario.
Ecuador, on the other hand, has everything to play for, as La Tri have their fate in their own hands. A victory over France will be enough to see them through, while anything less will open the door for Switzerland. Wingers Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia will be key to Ecuador’s potential advancement to the Round of 16.
Here are some more notes on today’s World Cup slate:
SWITZERLAND vs. HONDURAS
After entering the World Cup as one of the tournament’s top seed, Switzerland have their back against the wall entering their third and final group stage contest.
The Swiss advancement will come down to Wednesday’s clash with Honduras at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus (4 p.m. ESPN2), as Group E’s top seed will be fighting for its tournament life.
Switzerland enters Wednesday’s contest on the heels of a 5-2 humbling by the French, who have firmly positioned themselves at the top of the group. Switzerland will now have to rely on Les Bleus for a little help, as France’s opposition, Ecuador, currently holds the edge on Switzerland on goal differential.
Meanwhile, Switzerland’s opposition, Honduras, is still technically alive as well. A Honduras victory paired with a matching French triumph will see the Group’s second position come down to goal differential, and Honduras will need to make up for its minus-4 tally.
ARGENTINA vs. NIGERIA
Lionel Messi’s late-game heroics against Iran may have clinched his side’s advancement, but Argentina’s match with Nigeria at Estádio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre (12 p.m. ESPN) still has major implications for the fate of Group F.
Argentina has locked up a place in the next round, but its status as Group F’s top side is still up for grabs. A loss to Nigeria would see Argentina drop to second with a likely matchup with France looming rather than a more favorable clash with one of Group E’s less heralded sides.
Nigeria enters Wednesday’s clash fresh off a 1-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina that ended the European side’s tournament. Nigeria needs just a single point to secure a place in the knockout round and to become the first African side to move into the tournament’s next stanza.
IRAN vs. BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA
Despite being one of the tournament’s more unheralded sides, the Iranians have given themselves a chance to advance in the group’s final day.
Iran enters Wednesday with one point from a draw in their opening contest with Nigeria. However, a victory over the already eliminated Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador (12 p.m. ESPN2) will open the door for a space in the tournament’s knockout stage, although Iran will need help from Argentina.
Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in search of its first World Cup points to end its first World Cup on a positive note. Edin Dzeko and co. have struggled through their opening two games on their way to elimination, but the Dragons will be playing for a little bit of pride on their way out of Brazil.
What do you think of today’s World Cup slate? Who do you see making it out of Group E? Which of Nigeria or Iran do you believe can claim Group F’s second knockout round spot?
Share your thoughts below.