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US advance to last-16, Messi faces a must-win, Wednesday best bets: World Cup daily

Groups A and B came to an end Tuesday with four teams advancing to the last-16… you may have seen the United States defeat Iran? Maybe? Just checking. Wednesday, meanwhile, sees Groups C and D conclude and every option from group winner to early exit is on the table for Lionel Messi and Argentina. No pressure, then.

Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Here’s what you might have missed from Tuesday’s World Cup happenings, and a look ahead to what’s next on Wednesday.

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USA! USA! USA! (Also, England?)

Tuesday’s conclusion to Group B was full of drama and tension, as it had been in the days leading up to the game, but when the dust settled following two pulsating games, England topped Group B with a rather routine 3-0 win over Wales… AND THE UNITED STATES BEAT IRAN 1-0 TO ADVANCE TO THE ROUND OF 16!

That’s the only result you came here for, right?

In the end, Christian Pulisic‘s brave, close-range finish (more on him in a minute) proved enough to beat Team Melli, though the US were clearly on top for much of the match in a welcome change to their draws against the Welsh and the Three Lions.

Tyler Adams anchored the midfield in concert with Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah, rarely allowing Iran a chance to settle in possession. Matt Turner made some big saves when called upon, the defense of Tim Ream and Cameron Carter-Vickers held firm in their first time playing together, and Tim Weah had a goal disallowed for offside at the end of the first half that would have made for a much more comfortable viewing experience.

As for Pulisic, he came off second-best in a heavy collision with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand while scoring the game’s only goal in the 38th minute. After medical treatment on the sideline — US Soccer later informed the media he’d been taken to hospital for “abdominal scans” — he gamely re-entered the game to close out the first half, but was substituted at half-time given the extent of his injury. His status is one to watch heading towards Saturday’s last-16 clash against Group A winners, the Netherlands, especially if the injury proves serious enough to keep him sidelined.

But enough about that for now: the mood, and the vibes, in the US camp are sky-high following their deserved advancement to the knockout stages. (Weah even had a lovely rendezvous with his family, including father George, also the president of Liberia, after the game.) From here, truly anything can happen. In a World Cup that saw Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and Japan stun Germany, there are still plenty of shocks to come over the coming weeks in Qatar.

(Because we mentioned it, two goals from Marcus Rashford and one from Phil Foden were more than enough to keep England top of Group B with a rout of Wales, with all the strikes coming after half-time. Gareth Bale was withdrawn by Wales manager Rob Page at half-time, and their tournament is over. England face Senegal on Sunday in their last-16 clash.)

But enough about the English: it’s party time in the USA for a few days. Just remember to get some rest: Gregg Berhalters side kick off against the Dutch at 10am ET on Saturday.

Messi’s date with destiny

The incandescent Lionel Messi’s task is simple: score goals, be a menace up front and help Argentina advance out of Group C. Every option is on the table for the Albicelestes, who haven’t missed out on the knockout rounds since 2002.

Basically (though click here for every possible permutation and tie-breaker) the situation is as follows:

  • Guaranteed to qualify with a win vs. Poland, and will do so as group winners if Saudi Arabia draw/lose.

  • If Argentina draw, they are guaranteed to qualify if Saudi Arabia-Mexico draw.

  • If Argentina draw and Saudi Arabia win, Argentina are out (Saudi Arabia and Poland qualify.)

If they lose, they go home early and given that Messi said pre-tournament that this would be his last World Cup, that’s hardly how he’ll want to go out. That said, Poland (who currently top Group C with four points from two games) are no slouches and given that their all-world striker Robert Lewandowski finally broke his scoring drought at the World Cup with a late blast to defeat Saudi Arabia, they will be highly motivated to pull off a shock of their own.


Today’s top reads

Why France and Brazil remain clear World Cup favorites
Despite the 2022 World Cup churning out a ridiculous amount of upsets, drama and intrigue, one thing remains constant: France and Brazil still look like the best teams in the world.

World Cup group stage deciders: Teams in trouble, surprise packages
Who has surprised so far at the Qatar World Cup, and what drama will the final round of group stage matches bring? Here’s what the data shows.

Lisandro Martinez winning over Argentina just as quickly as he’s done at Man United
The defender faced plenty of questions when he joined Man United, only to become one of their key cogs. Now he’s doing the same with Argentina.


Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

If you’re looking to bet on the World Cup, ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff are here to give you key tips on odds, options and futures. Here’s what we have for the Wednesday matches.

Group C

Saudi Arabia (+390) vs. Mexico (-150), Draw (+290)

Dalen Cuff: I have no clue how the under is +110. Mexico are devoid of a striker and creating legit chances is so difficult for them. Mexico has to win to have any chance of advancing. Saudi Arabia does have to try to win, as a draw would not be enough on its own and things would likely come down to goal difference with Poland. So maybe this game will be open and more chances than I expect… but can either team actually capitalize? I don’t think so, I’ll take under 2.5 goals at +110.

Paul Carr: I don’t understand why the under is plus money either. Mexico’s defense has been good, allowing only 11 shots, and their attack has been poor, taking only 15 shots. There have been a total of 2.3 expected goals in Mexico’s two games so far, and this should be more of the same. Go with under 2.5 goals (+110), and I’m also tempted by the Saudi Arabia double chance (+115), considering Mexico’s attacking woes.

Daniel Thomas: Mexico have been so poor so far and I’m struggling to see any reason they might get any better. I’d take the under goals here, too. I don’t think this is going to be a game for the ages.

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1:43

Gab Marcotti examines the impact Argentina’s win over Mexico will have on Lionel Messi and his teammates.

Poland (+650) vs. Argentina (-215), Draw (+305)

Cuff: Robert Lewandowski finally scored for Poland in a World Cup. It was long overdue for one of the great strikers in the world, but I don’t see him scoring here. Argentina will dominate the ball, maybe needing more magic from Lionel Messi. In a tight one, I think they win to nil (+113).

Carr: Yes, Poland beat Saudi Arabia and scored twice, but that was far from a convincing performance, flattered by the gift of a second goal. Poland was outshot 16-7 and conceded more expected goals. I have Poland penciled in for zero goals, and Argentina will find a way to win, so I’m again going with Dalen on an Argentina win to nil.

Thomas: Well, then. Despite the two goals in the second half against Mexico, Argentina have labored so far in the tournament. I’m going to go for a shock Poland win.

Group D

Tunisia (+550) vs. France (-185), Draw (+290)

Cuff: France is flying and injuries have been no issue. They’ve already qualified (and are very likely to win the group, barring a loss and a huge Australia win) so I’m interested in seeing their lineup. If Kylian Mbappe starts, which I think he will, I’m going to play him to score anytime (+110). I’m also likely to lay the -1.5 spread (+145).

Carr: I’m also not playing this game until I see the lineup, although France is deep enough that it probably doesn’t really matter. Tunisia still has something to play for, but I don’t see France giving them a chance. I’m probably staying away from this one, but I lean toward France covering the 1.5 goals.

Thomas: France have looked like one of the best teams in tournament so far. I expect them to win this game 2-0.

Australia (+575) vs. Denmark (-205), Draw (+310)

Cuff: Denmark have been one of the more disappointing teams in the tournament. Their path forward is clear: win this game by at least two goals and they are through. After all, Tunisia isn’t beating France to complicate things. The Danes will push and the Socceroos will sit, believing a draw is all they need. I think this is going to be a tight, low-scoring affair. Take under 2.5 at -115.

Carr: Four years ago, Denmark needed a draw in the group finale against France, and the Danes scraped out a dull 0-0 draw that had a combined 0.6 expected goals. Yawn. I anticipate Denmark doing exactly what is necessary again this year. I think Denmark wins this to nil (+125).

Thomas: I’m going to take Denmark here, but not by much. Let’s go with Denmark to win by one goal (+210).


News and notes

  • A Qatari official involved in the organization of the nation’s World Cup has stated the number of worker deaths related to the tournament for the first time. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Hassan Al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said there were “between 400 and 500” deaths in the build-up to the World Cup. But that figure has not been previously discussed by Qatari officials, as the released number by the government has put the number of deaths at 40.

  • Match ball technology has proved conclusively that Cristiano Ronaldo did not make any contact with the ball in Portugal‘s opening goal against Urugay. FIFA and ball manufacturers Adidas confirmed to ESPN that the Connected Ball Technology which has sensors, showed no external force. “The 500Hz IMU sensor inside the ball allows us to be highly accurate in our analysis,” read a statement from FIFA. The goal was awarded to Bruno Fernandes, who said “I celebrated [the goal] as if it had been Cristiano’s goal. It seemed to me that he had touched the ball. The most important thing is that we achieved our aim, which is to be in the next round.”

  • The protester who invaded the pitch during Portugal’s game against Uruguay while carrying a pride flag has been released without being charged. Mario Ferri, who stopped the Group H match in the second half, was also wearing a T-shirt carrying the messages “respect for Iranian women” and “save Ukraine” before he was led away by security staff and was detained. On his Instagram page, Ferri wrote: “A message for Iran…..where women are not respected. The world must change, we can do it together with strong gestures that come from the heart with courage. FIFA banned rainbow captain bands and human rights flags in the stands, they blocked everyone but not me.”

  • France head coach Didier Deschamps has said that Karim Benzema‘s reported return from injury to play in the World Cup is “not something that’s in my mind.” The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner suffered a thigh injury in training a day before the tournament started, and reports suggested that the Real Madrid striker could make a return. “You’re looking for things,” Deschamps said on Tuesday. “It’s not something that’s in my mind, you know the situation. I spoke with Karim before he left, you know his situation and the time he needs to recover. I don’t know where you want to go with your question.” Deschamps’ side will look to complete a clean sweep in the group stage when they face Tunisia on Wednesday.


What else caught our eye

Belgium need a win on Thursday if their World Cup adventure is going to continue, and Eden Hazard was quick to clap back against criticism from teammate Kevin De Bruyne that their team is “too old” to make a deep run.

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1:03

Eden Hazard speaks on rumours about changing-room turmoil and reacts to Kevin De Bruyne’s comments on the Belgium  team being “too old” to win the World Cup.


Matches on tap for Wednesday

Group D: Tunisia vs. France (Education City Stadium; 10 a.m. ET)

The defending champions France have already booked their place in the last 16, while Tunisia sit bottom of the group and must beat the heavyweights to have any chance of making it through to the knockouts. Tunisia are still looking for their first win in the tournament, and even if they were to stun the French, knockout qualification will depend on Australia’s result against Denmark.

Group D: Australia vs. Denmark (Al Janoub Stadium; 10 a.m. ET)

Both teams are looking to book their place in the last 16 when they play each other. Australia are coming off a win against Tunisia after losing to France in their first game, while Denmark are yet to win a game in the tournament. A draw or win for Australia will send them through, and Denmark will need a win to qualify.

Group C: Poland vs. Argentina (974 Stadium; 2 p.m. ET)

Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski will go head to head to lead their country into the knockout stage. It’s been a topsy-turvy journey so far for both players, Argentina suffering a shock defeat to Saudi Arabia before winning against Mexico, and Poland coming off a 2-0 win vs. Saudi Arabia after drawing against Mexico. For Lewandowski and co., a win or draw will be enough to go through, while Argentina must win, a draw leaving them depending on the outcome of Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Group C: Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico (Lusail Stadium; 2 p.m. ET)

It’s all to play for in Group C on Wednesday. Fans are used to seeing Mexico in the round of 16, but El Tri are facing elimination in the group stage for the first time since 1978 ahead of Wednesday’s match against Saudi Arabia. Mexico will be through if they win and Poland draw Argentina, and if Argentina beat Poland, Mexico will need to win by five goals. Meanwhile, can Saudi Arabia produce another upset? They are guaranteed to qualify if they win.


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