Winners: Newcomers to the Tournament
Burkina Faso and Palestine are both 2-0 and are moving onto the knock-out rounds. Burkina Faso has a greater opportunity to be a top-6 seed, with a bye into the round of 16 if they can knock off Italy. Palestine will definitely be in the knock-out round, but their path to the Round of 16 goes through Ivory Coast, which if they win, would be one of the biggest upsets in the tournament to date. Also, don’t sleep on Iran; they are sitting at 1-0 in their group and have the speed on the outside to make some noise with another win.
Losers: Teams That Are 0-2
It happens every year—teams come in with high hopes, and two weeks in they are on the outside looking in. Some are officially eliminated, some need minor miracles to advance. Unfortunately, this year the honor goes to South Africa, Cameroon, Sudan, Lithuania, and Togo. All of these countries will certainly retool and come back stronger next year!
Winners: Last Year’s Final Four
Ireland, USA, Ivory Coast, and two-time champions Liberia are currently undefeated at a combined record of 5-0, outscoring opponents 37-1 in those 5 matches. Liberia seems to have dodged a bullet with their final five-minute penalty kick victory, 1-0 over Senegal. Ivory Coast will battle Palestine for the group and possibly a trip to the Round of 16. USA and Ireland seem to have a lighter go of it, but each should be wary in the group stage. Venezuela may sneak up on USA as they did on Lesotho, and Ireland cannot afford to take Congo lightly in their final group match.
Losers: Teams That Can’t Behave
For the second week in a row, this group finds its way into the losers end of the column. Digest this: the average number of cards per game over the first two weekends is 4. Teams that have more than 4 cards in their group to this point are 3-21-3, while teams with 4 or less are 29-10-6! Coincidence? Probably not… fewer fouls leads to cleaner play, a better rhythm, and in the end, better results for the less penalized team. Take 2018 Ghana, for instance: they had the lowest amount of cards in the entire tournament and entered the Round of 16 as the #3 overall seed. And while they would have loved to hoist the cup, they left with some hardware, as they received the 2018 fair play award!