The Longshot: Foldin’ Generation in Belgium are now past their best 

Our picks of Argentina and Belgium are hanging in there at the World Cup, but still might be gone by the weekend
The Longshot: Foldin’ Generation in Belgium are now past their best 

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates with Angel Di Maria after scoring the vital first goal of the game against Mexico.

SO FAREWELL then 10am and lunchtime starts. It was nice entertaining you in our homes for just over a week and you entertaining us for some of that time too (yesterday deserving a special mention with 11 goals).

From hereon in our football hits will be taken at 3pm and 7pm only.

Our choices before everything kicked off the Sunday before last were Argentina, and Belgium as outsiders. Both remain dicey about getting through to the next round with the former now floating around 9/1 for outright victory and the latter ballooning to 70/1.

Roberto Martinez’s previous outings in tournaments saw his team saddled with the label ‘Golden Generation’. While they have obviously moved past that now, I didn’t foresee them turning into a Foldin’ Generation this time around. Two of their most talented players have publicly stated they are over the hill (the players in question being 31) in comments since the tournament began so you’d have to question morale among the group at this stage.

I can’t jettison them as my outside pick just yet but they’ll need to beat 2018 finalists Croatia to get through, and I don’t really see that happening , despite Group F looking very poor. If Croatia do win the match and group they could be on a collision course with Serbia in the quarter-finals.

I prefer doubling down on Argentina. Their boss Lionel Scaloni (could two Lionels lift the World Cup, maybe defeating three Lions on the way?) was unhappy with the emotional release triggered by the win over Mexico. Assistant Pablo Aimar was in a flood of tears after Messi scored their first goal. The team then apparently spent 90 minutes afterwards celebrating in the dressing room. (Footage of Messi inadvertently stepping on a Mexico shirt while kicking off his boots prompted Mexican boxing great Canelo Alvarez to threaten to KO him if they ever cross paths.)

Scaloni cautioned: “We should have a little more common sense, and think that it is just a football game. we need to maintain balance.”

The rest of us are happy to continue riding the rollercoaster.

They actually weren’t great against Mexico bar the two excellent goals, but overcoming adversity after the first result might embolden them. I even think tangoing with France again in the second round might be no harm for them if they don’t top the group. The bigger test might suit them. There’s a fairytale feel to thoughts of them getting all the way to another final with Messi leading the charge and I usually don’t buy into such things, but we’ll suspend disbelief for another few days at least.

To get through they must either beat Poland or draw and hope Saudi Arabia draw or lose by fewer than three goals against Mexico.

They can win the group with a victory and a Saudi Arabia draw or loss.

Where do things stand heading into the final round of other group games?

Qatar and Canada are the only teams out; France, Brazil and Portugal the only teams through.

A far-from-inspiring Netherlands should breeze past Qatar to make the next round.

They enter their third game with the same points and goal stats with Ecuador, who only need a draw against Senegal to ensure a second-round clash, most likely against England.

Brazil are in 13/5 tournament favourites after beating the Swiss for the first time at World Cup.

Portugal have narrowed to 15/1 having got through a tough group.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes of Portugal celebrate the 2-0 victory over Uruguay. 
Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes of Portugal celebrate the 2-0 victory over Uruguay. 

Social skills on display as critiques are disputed and Klinsmann dives on lobbed grenades

FRANCE are 6/1 second favourites retain their trophy and the only team other than Brazil on maximum points so far (we’re ruling out Portugal having down likewise last evening here).

France look strong, even with exits of high-profile players before the tournament. Having one of the two best forwards on the planet is a help, but I still have reservations about them.

It was quite alarming that no major cracks appeared in squad spirit prior to the tournament beginning, but perhaps the short run-up and the withdrawal of Benzema and Pogba helped there.

The lone slingshots came from the WAG corner when back-up goalie Alphonse Areola’s wife Marrion took to social media to announce her disregard for number one No. 1’s wife Marine Lloris.

“Do I get on well with Marine Lloris? Not at all! For the simple reason that this is the kind of person who will come to speak to you only out of [her own] interest. I can’t stand people like that.” Followed quickly enough afterwards by: “Regarding the story with Marine Lloris. We had a long conversation and now everything is back to normal. Lots of misunderstanding between her and me... Indeed, with hindsight, the timing was not appropriate, I am wrong and I apologise.” A late save by the keeper’s wife.

Elsewhere on social media, Carlos Queiroz took umbrage at Jurgen Klinsmann’s take on Iran’s win over Wales.

The German suggested gamesmanship and cynical fouling was endemic in Iranian football on BBC, which Queiroz perhaps overreacted to by seeing as an attack Persian culture as a whole.

He labelled Klinsmann’s remarks a “disgrace to football” and calling for the German to be removed from his role on FIFA’s Technical Committee. And then invited Klinsmann to the team’s camp to meet the players and learn about the country and its culture and “listen from our players how much they love and respect football”.

Klinsmann responded by saying: “There was stuff really taken out of context. I have never criticised Carlos or the Iranian bench. All I described was their emotional way of doing things, which is actually admirable in a certain way. The bench lives the game. They’re jumping up and down and Carlos is a very emotional coach, he’s constantly on the sidelines trying to give his players all his energy and direction.” Iran and the US (Klinsmann lives in California and managed the US at the 2014 World Cup) are now in a shootout for a place in the last 16, a showdown that hardly needed more spice but Jurgen Klinsmann added some more on anyway. Iran are evens to go through with the US 10/11.

Gun matched to DNA

JURGEN Klinsmann got in trouble by drawing attention to what he believes is a nation’s football culture.

His words were echoed by German player Ikay Gundogan, who discussed Teutonic tactics in a newspaper interview last weekend: “I don’t do the things Ronaldinho. But they don’t suit me, nor would I feel calm if they were done by my teammates, even if dribbling works well for them. This is part of the German DNA. Here everything revolves around the team, never the individual.” He also had a pop at other players not showing for the ball.

Germany can qualify for the last 16 with a win and a loss by Spain or Japan. They can also advance with a win by more than one goal and a Japan draw. It’s all still to play for in Group E with whoever wins their final game getting through. Initial outsiders Japan are 5/1 and Costa Rica 9/1.

Wales must win big

WALES and England’s last meeting at a major tournament was a thriller as Daniel Sturridge’s last-gasp strike secured a 2-1 win at Euro 2016. Both qualified for the knockout stages then, the Dragons as group winners (a 20/1 shot). They need to beat England and hope the other match ends even steven if they are to progress. Gareth Southgate’s men’s dire display in the goalless draw with the US has tempered expectations, but they already have one foot in the last 16 as only a hefty defeat will see them crash out.

The Bet

OUR 90/1 shot last Friday began well before crumpling. Let’s chance another longshot this time before getting more sensible for the knockout stages next weekend. How about an insane five-timer that will net you over 500/1. Ecuador to beat Senegal, France to beat Tunisia, Ghana to beat Uruguay, South Korea to beat Portugal and Austalia to draw with Denmark will give you odds north of that.

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