All dates are based on EST.
Spain – Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, *Andres Iniesta
The early match-up with Portugal certainly lived up to its lofty billing, with all three Barcelona players (plus Andres Iniesta) playing major roles, for better or worse. Gerard Pique’s involvement in Antoine Griezmann’s “decision” video coupled with the foul on Cristiano Ronaldo that led to Portugal’s third goal translates to a rough day for the Catalan defender. Busquets and Iniesta helped Spain to dominate the tempo of the contest and Jordi Alba came alive in the second half, but it wasn’t enough on the day. Even after a disappointing result against their Iberian rivals, Spain didn’t have the kind of performance that would question their standing as a tournament favorite.
Group Stage Matches: 3-3 v. Portugal, June 20 v. Iran, June 25 v. Morocco
Argentina – Lionel Messi, *Javier Mascherano
Germany lost, Brazil and Spain drew and France and England needed late winners, and yet, so much of the attention throughout the first round of games has landed on Messi. Plenty of credit is owed to dentist and Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrimsson and his fantastic defensive game-plan, but Messi’s penalty miss may haunt him worse than any other (Copa America final versus Chile) if Argentina cannot get out of the group. Iceland’s tactics were just what the dentist ordered, but Messi and company still look far from a team that could make a deep run.
Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Iceland, June 21 v. Croatia, June 26 v. Nigeria
Brazil – Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho
It may not be the result that they wanted, but Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho aren’t receiving anywhere near the type of criticism that Neymar is in the defeat, and rightfully so. The world’s most expensive transfer didn’t look completely healthy or close to his best against Switzerland, and while he was winning his team plenty of free kicks, it may have been at the expense of any bit of rhythm and flow that the Selecao hoped to create. Coutinho’s long shot may have been a shock for a lot of fans unfamiliar with his work, but both he and Paulinho showcased many of their most infamous traits in the tie, most notably Paulinho’s late runs into the box.
Group Stage Matches: 1-1 v. Switzerland, June 22 v. Costa Rica, June 27 v. Serbia
France – Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti
France didn’t perform their best and narrowly escaped a resourceful Australia; and if Les Bleus didn’t pull out the three points, Samuel Umtiti would have certainly been partially to blame. While he may have been his usual savvy self on the ball, his hand ball in the box led to the opponent’s only goal of the game and summed up a partnership with Raphael Varane that looked bizarrely shaky. Meanwhile, Dembele was unable to bring his fine form from the friendlies into the game and Didier Deschamps has already indicated that he will be replaced in the starting line-up by Olivier Giroud for their match-up with Peru.
Group Stage Matches: 2-1 v. Australia, June 21 v. Peru, June 26 v. Denmark
Germany – Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper predictably didn’t get the start for Germany as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer. Neuer had a few moments that reminded fans of his greatness, but his timing clearly wasn’t up to his herculean standards. Nevertheless, Neuer can’t take much of the blame if any at all for Hirving Lozano’s goal for El Tri and unfortunately for ter Stegen, Germany won’t be able to even advance to the next round until the final matchday and his chances of a start at the World Cup have gone from slim to microscopic.
While former La Masia and first team talents Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos remained on the bench, the treble-winning Rafael Marquez became just the third player to appear for his national team in five consecutive World Cups when he came on in the 74th minute to help see the game out. The jubilation of the Mexican trio may not warm Cules hearts too much, but the nostalgia of Champions League winning players may distract from difficult first matches for most of Barcelona’s starters.
Group Stage Matches: 0-1 v. Mexico, June 23 v. Sweden, June 27 v. South Korea
Uruguay – Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez didn’t have the kind of game that he would have wanted, particularly with the shadows of his past World Cup appearances and incidents remaining in the public consciousness. He had four shots in the game, with his one shot on goal saved by Mohamed El-Shenawy, and neither he nor strike partner Edinson Cavani looked anything close to clinical. A late header by Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez secured the three points and the bright side for Suarez should be the two remaining matches against a Saudi Arabia side that has had a less than stellar experience in Russia both on the field and off it and a final group stage date with the hosts. With the chaos in other groups, Uruguay could face a tournament favorite in the next round.
Group Stage Matches: 1-0 v. Egypt, June 20 v. Saudi Arabia, June 25 v. Russia
Croatia – Ivan Rakitic
A yellow card for a rash tackle in the first half was the only noticeable blemish from an all-around tremendous game from the Croatian. Luka Modric gets the headlines for his goal from the penalty spot and the consternation between him and the Croatian supporters, but Rakitic has an argument for being even more influential in the victory. The Barcelona man completed 55 passes, one more than that of his famous midfield partner, but his three key passes to Modric’s zero are more indicative of the vision and long passing prowess that he put on display.
Group Stage Matches: 2-0 v. Nigeria, June 21 v. Argentina, June 26 v. Iceland
Colombia – Yerry Mina
Yerry Mina’s absence against Japan is a mystery after it looked like he would be the partner for Davinson Sanchez. Rumors were circulating that he may have picked up a minor knock, and now with their backs against the wall against a Poland that is also sitting on zero points in the group, it’s unlikely that Jose Pekerman will change up his back-line.
Group Stage Matches: June 19 v. Japan, June 24 v. Poland, June 28 v. Senegal
Belgium – Thomas Vermaelen
Along with fellow experienced centre-back Vincent Kompany, the injury bug is reportedly affecting the two often-maligned men and neither featured against Panama.
Group Stage Matches: 3-0 v. Panama, June 23 v. Tunisia, June 28 v. England
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