By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua)
-- Monday sees the final round of
matches in Groups A and B of the World Cup in which two sides
are assured their place in the next round but where nobody knows
who their rivals will be or where they will play.
In Group A, Russia
and Uruguay meet in Samara having both won their opening games
and assured of qualifying for the last 16.
impressed with their high-energy attacking play, while Uruguay
have been solid in defense and have not conceded a goal,
although coach Oscar Tabarez admits they are not playing as they
would like in attack.
A draw or a win for
the hosts would qualify Russia as group winners and mean they
play the side that finishes second in Group B in Sochi’s 47,600
capacity Fisht Stadium on June 30th.
However, if Russia
finish second in the group they would play their last 16 game in
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, effectively their home stadium, where
81,000 fervent fans would be looking to cheer them to victory.
Winning is a good
habit in major football tournaments, but if the Russians were to
rest players and slip up against Uruguay, Monday could be the
day to do so.
When Russia and
Uruguay kick off on Monday afternoon they will have no idea who
their possible rivals will be in the next round as Group B is
Spain and Portugal
are favorites to qualify from Group B as they only need draws
from their matches against Morocco and Iran to progress. Iran
(led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz) need to beat Portugal
and Morocco are already out after two narrow 1-0 defeats.
That situation means
neither Spain or Portugal can take anything for granted and even
if they were able to try and ‘choose’ their rival for the next
phase, it’s tough to say which they would prefer.
Uruguay are always
tough opponents and although in purely footballing terms, both
would probably rather face Russia, who are ranked 65th
in the World, opposed to Uruguay’s 17th, nobody will
be keen to face a host nation whose players have looked inspired
in their opening two matches and who will be backed by fanatical
fans still remember what happened the last time Spain faced a
host nation in South Korea and Japan in 2002, when a series of
controversial refereeing decisions saw them lose a quarter-final
to the South Koreans and they would probably prefer to face
Godin, Gimenez, Suarez and company, many of who play or have
played in La Liga.
All of which points
to a fascinating few hours on Monday in which everything will be