FIFA World Cup 2018: Group stage matches with interesting subplots

From geopolitics to culinary, there are more reasons to watch the World Cup than just football. Here are a few group stage matches with interesting subplots.

By: Express News Service | Updated: June 14, 2018 9:48:13 am
FIFA World Cup 2018 A presenter holds the official match ball for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia during an event. (AP)

From geopolitics to culinary, there are more reasons to watch the World Cup than just football. Here are a few group stage matches with interesting subplots

June 14

Group A: Russia vs Saudi Arabia
8.30pm I Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

The two countries might have agreed amicably on jacking up oil prices towards mutually profitable respectability. But the opener between the OPEC and the (not-so-transparent) non-OPEC biggies — both fuel fiends yet football’s foals — will see anything but love overflowing, with home fans packed like barrels into the 80,000 seater Luzhniki Stadium. Crudely put, this otherwise low-key game won’t need a hard-shale, sorry, sell.

June 15

FIFA World Cup 2018 There are more reasons to watch the World Cup than just football.

Group A: Egypt vs Uruguay
5.30pm I Ekaterinburg Arena

Group B: Morocco vs Iran
8.30pm I St Petersburg Stadium

Group B: Portugal vs Spain
11.30pm I Fisht Stadium, Sochi

FIFA World Cup 2018 The minor Iberian quibble though is over a pinpoint archipelago – a nesting sanctuary just over 1 square mile.

500 years after the Treaty of Tordesillas carved up the world into Portuguese and Spanish, their relations are in the pinkest of health currently. The minor Iberian quibble though is over a pinpoint archipelago – a nesting sanctuary just over 1 square mile. Spain contests Portugal’s claims and snorts that it’s no island, just a giant rock. Now, when Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Sergio Ramos and Pepe go about their thuggish mash-ups, the two European football powerhouses can settle the dispute – eponymously, the one for the rights to Savage Islands.

June 16

FIFA World Cup 2018 The young French attack is as succulent as a quiche and butter-smooth like a croissant, though they hope their defence won’t flake off like one.

Group C: France vs Australia
3.30pm I Kazan Arena

The original monsieur masters vs the modern masterchefs. Macaroons vs Tim Tams. Gateau vs Pavlova. Vs Mille Feuille vs Lamingtons. Pate vs Vegemite. It’s a fine-dine eat-off at Kazan: Deschamps’ Les Bleus against Bert van Marwijk’s Socceroos. The young French attack is as succulent as a quiche and butter-smooth like a croissant, though they hope their defence won’t flake off like one. No one wants their two centre-backs Varane and Umtiti – understudies at Madrid and Barca – to join the national debate over under-cooked baguettes. Meanwhile, Arzani is the ‘Roos’ Macadamia Nut.

Group D: Argentina vs Iceland
6.30pm I Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Group C: Peru vs Denmark
9.30pm I Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Group D: Croatia vs Nigeria
12.30am I Kaliningrad Stadium

This one’s for the fashionistas — Nigeria’s jersey for this World Cup has been voted the best whereas Croatia’s red-and-white checks is one of the most iconic t-shirts. This match will also be crucial in deciding who qualifies for the knockouts along with Argentina, adding spice to an already colourful encounter.

June 17

Group E: Costa Rica vs Serbia
5.30pm I Samara Arena

Group F: Germany vs Mexico
8.30pm I Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

The two teams with perfect qualifying campaigns – Germany, the defending champions won all 10 matches and ended with a goal difference of 30. Mexico dominated the Concacaf zone in a similar manner. Something’s got to give when the two sides meet.

Group E: Brazil vs Switzerland
11.30pm I Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don

June 18

Group F: Sweden vs South Korea
5.30pm I Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Group G: Belgium vs Panama
8.30pm I Fisht Stadium, Sochi

Group G: Tunisia vs England
11.30pm I Volgograd Arena

FIFA World Cup 2018 The last time the two teams met in a World Cup, back in 1998, English and Tunisian fans turned the streets of Marseille into a battlefield.

Speak of hooliganism, the last time the two teams met in a World Cup, back in 1998, English and Tunisian fans turned the streets of Marseille into a battlefield armed with bottle bombs and missiles. The clashes involving over thousands of fans and local North African migrants lasted for seven hours with the French police having to use tear gas. UK home secretary Jack Straw said the “country had been betrayed by their fans” and it became a seminal moment in how England’s travelling fans have been monitored.

June 19

Group H: Colombia vs Japan
5.30pm I Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Group H: Poland vs Senegal
8.30pm I Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Group A: Russia vs Egypt
11.30pm I St Petersburg Stadium

FIFA World Cup 2018 The highest number of tourists to Egypt used to once be Russians.

What came undone in Kiev – Mo Salah would like it patched back at St Petersburg when Egypt and the hosts are likely to battle it out for a place in the second round. The highest number of tourists to Egypt used to once be Russians. Then in 2015, a plane was shot down over the Sinai, killing all on board and sending Russians into a no-fly policy over the Egyptian airspace. Russia resumed its flights after two years, and thousands are expected to head to Russia this week. Who takes off on the field will be known in this Mummy of all Round 1 battles – or should we say Tsars vs Pharaohs?

June 20

Group B: Portugal vs Morocco

5.30pm I Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Group A: Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia
8.30pm I Rostov Arena

Group B: Iran vs Spain
11.30pm I Kazan Arena

FIFA World Cup 2018 Whether it’s Iranian khoresh (stew) or Spanish paella (rice), the saffron is a centrepiece of those heartbeating eats.

What puts Spain, Iran and India’s Kashmir into one frame? Football this summer, of course. But also, the gently aromatic spice — saffron which grows predominantly in the latitudinal belt between Spain in the west to Kashmir in the east, spanning the wide girth of Iran. Whether it’s Iranian khoresh (stew) or Spanish paella (rice), the saffron is a centrepiece of those heartbeating eats. Of course, expect title-favourites Spain to fiercely guard their citadel – like they fought for Protected Status of their La Mancha authentic saffron, pushing back Iranian imports. But Iran is Asia’s best at football – call it the Sargol variety of those red magic threads of saffron.

June 21

Group C: Denmark vs Australia
5.30pm I Samara Arena

All eyes this day will be on Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark – a Tasmanian who met Price Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark at a pub during the Sydney Olympics and after a long-distance relationship by phone, email and letter, married the future King in a fairytale wedding. Australia follows Danish royalty news gushingly, but in what will be a three-way race for a spot in Round 2 between Australia, Denmark and Peru, there’ll be lots that’ll be contrary about this Mary.

Group C: France vs Peru
8.30pm I Ekaterinburg Arena

Group D: Argentina vs Croatia

11.30pm I Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic versus Messi, Dybala and Aguero. Purely for quality of players on field, there wouldn’t be a better contest in the group stage. Unlike Argentina, though, Croatia look more settled. The question, though, is, can their galaxy of stars upset last edition’s runners-up?

June 22

Group E: Brazil vs Costa Rica

5.30pm I St Petersburg Stadium

Group D: Nigeria vs Iceland

8.30pm I Volgograd Arena

Group E: Serbia vs Switzerland

11.30pm I Kaliningrad Stadium

June 23

FIFA World Cup 2018 Sweden put on a veneer of neutrality during World War II, but it did not prevent them from helping both Germany and the Allies, depending on expediency.

Group G: Belgium vs Tunisia
5.30pm I Spartak Stadium, Moscow

Group F: South Korea vs Mexico
8.30pm I Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don

Group F: Germany vs Sweden

11.30pm I Fisht Stadium, Sochi

Sweden put on a veneer of neutrality during World War II, but it did not prevent them from helping both Germany and the Allies, depending on expediency. It allowed German soldiers passage during the Russian invasion and sold iron ore to Hitler’s regime. On the other hand, it helped rebels from German-occupied Norway and Denmark, also allowing the Allies to use Swedish airbases. It also provided refuge to fleeing Jews. Which Sweden will turn up against the four-time champions?

June 24

Group G: England vs Panama
5.30pm I Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Group H: Japan vs Senegal
8.30pm I Ekaterinburg Arena

Group H: Poland vs Colombia
11.30pm I Kazan Arena

June 25

FIFA World Cup 2018 Egypt’s Mohamed Salah waves for fans in Cairo international stadium in Cairo. REUTERS

Group A: Uruguay vs Russia
7.30pm I Samara Arena

Group A: Saudi Arabia vs Egypt
7.30pm I Volgograd Arena

Egyptian football fans are furious that their famous TV host Amr Adib – who had even interviewed their star Mo Salah – has shifted allegiance to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sports minister even paraded the new acquisition: “This is the most expensive broadcaster in the Middle East, an Arab Larry King.” When the two teams play in the Volgograd Arena, much to Egyptian outrage, Adib will be presenting for their Arab rivals.

Group B: Spain vs Morocco
11.30pm I Kaliningrad Stadium

In 2007, Morocco opened the ‘Superport’ Tangier Med, near the northernmost point of the country. Naturally, its location diverted traffic away from South Europe, particularly the Spanish port of Valencia. A year later, the European crisis struck and Spain nearly went under. Tangier Med now controls a route into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. Spain has its football.

Group B: Iran vs Portugal

11.30pm I Mordovia Arena, Saransk

June 26

Group C: Australia vs Peru
7.30pm I Fisht Stadium, Sochi

Group C: Denmark vs France
7.30pm I Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Group D: Nigeria vs Argentina
11.30pm I St Petersburg Stadium

Nigeria have lost all three encounters with Argentina in World Cups. But twice, pitted in the same group, they have progressed at the expense of the two-time winners (1994 and 2002). What’s more, the Eagles thrashed Argentina 4-2 in their most recent encounter, in a friendly last year. Just adds intrigue to the most competitive group.

Group D: Iceland vs Croatia
11.30pm I Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don

June 27

Group F: South Korea vs Germany
7.30pm I Kazan Arena

Group F: Mexico vs Sweden
7.30pm I Ekaterinburg Arena

Sweden have claimed two major scalps en route to Russia — Holland and Italy. Now, they’ll be keen to go deep into the tournament. This tie will be crucial in determining who’ll take second place behind Germany.

Group E: Serbia vs Brazil
11.30pm I Spartak Stadium, Moscow
Group E: Switzerland vs Brazil
11.30pm I Nizhny Novgorod Arena

June 28

FIFA World Cup 2018 Poland’s Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring their second goal. (REUTERS)

Group H: Japan vs Poland
7.30pm I Volgograd Arena

Japan did a Kevin Pietersen of sorts — only in this case they were the ones receiving messages — during World War II by using their good offices with Polish spies to get information about their own allies, the Nazis. It was a strange set-up considering the Japanese even backed the Polish government that had been exiled by Hitler & Co despite being in cohorts with him for all other things war. With qualification likely to be up for grabs in this final group encounter, will the incredible Japanese-Polish kinship come to the fore?

Group H: Senegal vs Colombia
7.30pm I Samara Arena

Senegal was the centre for slave trade during one of the lowest points in human history. Hordes of Africans were shipped out to the Americas from here. Incidentally, most of them, nearly 1.1 million landed up in Cartagena in Colombia, which during the 1500s became a bazaar of sorts for Spanish colonials from around South America to buy and trade in slaves. Afro-Colombian relations have remained tetchy ever since, and continue to this day in the many impoverished African settlements around Colombia, whose support is likely to be torn.

Group G: Panama vs Tunisia
11.30pm I Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Group G: England vs Belgium
11.30pm I Kaliningrad Stadium

FIFA World Cup 2018 England will face Belgium, which will feature numerous Premier League stars.

The royalty in both countries hail from the House of Windsor—originally the Saxe-Colburg. Leopold, the late King of Belgium, was married to heir-apparent Princess Charlotte, who unfortunately died at childbirth. But he remained an advisor to his niece Queen Victoria till the end. The exchange between the two countries has continued on to the football field too with most of Belgium’s golden generation plying their trade in the EPL—right from Vertonghen and Alderweireld at the back to Lukaku, De Bruyne and Hazard in the front.

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