Being the final day of the group stages this summer, Day Fifteen was always sure to throw up some surprises, drama and goals.
History was also made, as for the first time ever, a team was eliminated from the World Cup by nature of the fact they had received more yellow cards than their group rivals over three games.
Some were left ecstatic, others devastated, but the competition is really starting to take shape and heat up as Day Fifteen completed our line-up for the knockout stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Mina goal sees Colombia top group
Senegal become the first team to crash out of a World Cup on the fair play rule, as their accumulation of yellow cards ultimately cost them, whilst Japan advance.
Despite this, it could be said Senegal’s loss was on the pitch as Colombia won in a game that the African side were the better team.
Aliou Cisse’s side were denied a first half penalty when VAR judged that Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham had made a legal lunge on Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.
The referee originally pointed to the spot but VAR replays worked again, showing that Sanchez had won the ball in spectacular fashion, with one of the tackles of the tournament.
In truth, Jose Pekerman’s Colombia struggled to maintain possession at all, with their only chance of the half being from a set play which Juan Quintero forced a good save. The River Plate man has been one of Colombia’s brightest stars in Russia.
A blow for Colombia was to follow, when star-man James Rodriguez limped off with a muscle injury. The 2014 golden boot winner entered the tournament with a niggle and it would seem he has not been able to shake this off.
A Poland goal in Volgograd meant both Senegal and Colombia were going to progress to the last 16, but this wasn’t one for peace treaties, with the Colombians looking to add to their chances of progression, not relying on elsewhere.
Pekerman opted against sending on defensive minded players, doing the opposite.
His decisions paid dividends in the 74th minute when Barcelona’s Yerry Mina towered high and headed the ball into the net.
As it stood, Senegal were out by virtue of their yellow card tally.
This is how the game ended, with Senegal’s six yellows to Japan’s fourth ultimately costing the African side. They will also rue their impotency in front of goal in a game which they dominated.
Colombia celebrated in front of many travelling Colombians in good voice. Pekerman’s side will play England in Moscow on Tuesday.
Japan lose but progress via fair play rule
Japan lost to Poland but qualified for the knockout stages of the World Cup by virtue of a better disciplinary record than Senegal.
The Japanese looked to be heading home after Poland opened the scoring in Volgograd, but events elsewhere changed this – namely Yerry Mina’s goal for Colombia, which put Japan back into the qualification spots on the fair play rule.
Nishino of Japan rested four players for Japan – all four have scored at the tournament so far. In fact, every Japanese goal scorer at the World Cup thus far was rested. That list included star-man Takashi Inui, who had been talked about as Japan’s greatest hope of success should they progress – an outcome that was very realistic pre-match, but also an outcome that could have easily not come to fruition.
It was a first half which Japan dominated. Muto ran the show and had to force a couple of saves from Lukasz Fabianski in the Poland goal.
Despite this, the best chance of the half fell the way of Poland, when Kamil Grosicki headed an effort at goal which was spectacularly saved by Eiji Kawashami in the Japan goal. The save was a fantastic sprawling dive to claw the ball out, with goal-line technology confirming it was saved on the line.
Rafal Kurzawa delivered a well measured free kick that the Japanese defence stood and watched. Southampton’s Jan Bednarek arrived and passed the ball home with a powerful volley.
At that point, Japan were out.
The damage could have got worse, but for Lewandowski who could not hit the target as he went through on goal. The Bayern man has had a nightmare of a tournament and played like a man ready to pack his bags and go home.
The final stages of the match were played at walking pace, with both teams happy with their stakes despite Japan being wary of the other game.
Japan qualify via the fair play rule, being the first team to do so, with the rule being introduced for this World Cup as a tiebreaker.
Japan now play Belgium on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.
Januzaj lifts Belgium to top spot
Belgium topped Group G with a narrow win over England, in a game which saw both teams make a combined 17 changes to their starting line-ups.
With both sides already through and dead-level on identical points and goal difference, it appeared that Gareth Southgate’s men would finish in top spot by virtue of their better disciplinary record.
But Adnan Januzaj’s curling effort early in the second half won it for the Belgians, who will now face Group H runners-up Japan in the last 16.
In truth, it was Belgium who looked the more likely throughout, and the Red Devils came close on a number of occasions in the first half.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had to be on his toes to tip away a long-range effort from Youri Tielemans, and he was nearly left with egg on his face minutes later after letting the ball slip away from his grasp, but Gary Cahill was on hand to spare his blushes and clear off the line.
First half bookings for Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker appeared to show Belgium’s intentions, but that was blown out of the water early in the second as Januzaj lit up Kaliningrad.
The ex-Manchester United winger picked it up in space on the right hand side before playing a one-two with Tielemans. He then cut inside onto his left foot by bamboozling full-back Danny Rose, before curling a beauty past the unfortunate Pickford who got his fingertips to it.
England’s best opening came with a quarter of the game to go as Jamie Vardy held the ball up well before playing his strike-partner Marcus Rashford in one-on-one, but the attacker’s effort brushed Thibaut Courtois and went wide.
Both sides had chances here and there to add to the game’s tally, but ultimately Januzaj’s strike was enough for the three points in what was a largely uneventful match.
Belgium will face Japan on Monday night in Rostov, whilst England will take on a dangerous Colombian side in Moscow on Tuesday, in a game which will conclude the round of 16.
Tunisia end 40-year wait for win
Tunisia recorded only their second ever World Cup win with a come-from-behind victory against tournament debutants Panama.
The North Africans’ first success came in 1978 in a 3-1 victory against Mexico where they also trailed, but their second came at the expense of minnows Panama who go home from their maiden World Cup without picking up a point.
Panama took the lead for the first time in a World Cup game after just half an hour thanks a slice of good fortune.
After a good spell of pressure, captain Roman Torres teed up Jose Rodriguez, whose shot from distance took a wicked deflection off the unlucky Yassine Meriah and spun in past the wrong-footed goalkeeper to spark wild scenes on the pitch and in the stands.
Fakhreddine Ben Youssef came close to a quick response, glancing a header inches wide, but he got his side’s equaliser early in the second half.
A nice move saw the ball go wide for Wahbi Khazri, and the Sunderland man played a neat first-time ball along the floor for Ben Youssef who fired in from six yards.
Khazri then swapped roles from provider to scorer as he put the Tunisians in front 15 minutes later with his second goal of the tournament.
Another nice passage of play culminated in full-back Oussama Haddadi crossing along the floor, taking the goalkeeper out of the game, and captain Khazri was able to side-foot home from a couple of yards out to ultimately win the game.
Panama did think they’d levelled it up five minutes later, but referee Nawaf Shukralla had already blown for a foul by the time Edgar Barcenas had fired a brilliant 25-yard effort in.
The Tunisians held out for a historic win, but for Panama, the wait for a World Cup victory goes on, and it may do for quite some time.
Player of the Day – Davinson Sanchez (Colombia)
On another day, a day without VAR, the ‘Player of the Day’ may have gone the way of a Senegalese player.
The African nation dominated, especially in the first half, but stern defending from Colombia thwarted their chances.
At the heart of that defence was Tottenham Hotspur defender Davinson Sanchez.
Whilst Yerry Mina will get the headlines for the goal, it was his defensive partner Sanchez who was the better defensively, which ultimately saw Colombia over the line into the Last 16.
The talking point of the first half was when Sadio Mane danced through on goal, only to be tackled by Sanchez. The referee pointed to the spot and it seemed as though Senegal were going to be rewarded for their dominance.
VAR reviews said otherwise. They showed a phenomenal recovery pace, culminating in a lunge that defines the term ‘last-ditch tackle’.
It wasn’t just the tackle though, as Davinson Sanchez kept the Senegal attackers at arms length all afternoon, which saw Colombia over the line to advance to the knockout stages.