Four of Europe’s big guns face potential World Cup elimination on Thursday as Groups E and F are settled.
Germany are the side with most work to do as they head into their final Group E game against Costa Rica with just a point to their name. Group leaders Spain still have a job to finish against Japan, whose hopes are also still alive.
Belgium, one of the tournament’s big disappointments so far, have a tough task as they take on 2018 runners-up Croatia. There is a strong likelihood only one of those sides will progress as Morocco are well placed and need only a draw against already-eliminated Canada.
Here, we look ahead to the action and reviews the games on Wednesday which included notable wins for Argentina and Australia.
Crunch time for Germany
Germany are still alive thanks to Niclas Fullkrug’s late equaliser against Spain last time out.
They will be strongly fancied to get the win the they need against Costa Rica but even then their fate is not in their hands. With Costa Rica also having their own last-16 aspirations, there can also be little room for complacency.
Germany failed to get out of their group four years ago but coach Hansi Flick said: “I’m normally an optimist – I’m not considering anything like that for now.”
Spain take on Japan
As group leaders, Spain’s task is more straightforward but Japan are just a point behind them and have already shocked Germany in this tournament.
Coach Luis Enrique is not taking anything for granted and has no intention of resting players.
He said: “Some of the 26 may end up not playing at all – we all know how it works. Any of the four nations can still go through and that is very telling.”
Japan boss Hajime Moriyasu is hoping to make his country proud.
“I hope this will give the Japanese public something to talk about,” he said.
Two from three in Group F
Croatia lead their group but only on goal difference from Morocco, who may actually be in the box seat as they come up against Canada.
A lot will come down to Croatia’s clash with under-performing Belgium, who are a point behind the leaders.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said of Belgium: “This is a great team and if we had to choose, we could not have selected this to be the decisive game.”
Belgium’s tournament has so far been a fraught one, with subdued performances coupled with negative headlines and reports of disharmony.
“Some outlets in Belgium are quite happy to jump on fake news,” said manager Roberto Martinez. “There is more desire to find negative news around this team rather than get this nation together, support this team and enjoy the talent of the best generation that we have ever had in Belgian football.”
History to be made
There will be a notable first on Thursday when France’s Stephanie Frappart becomes the first women to referee a match at the men’s World Cup.
The 38-year-old will oversee the clash between Costa Rica and Germany at the Al Bayt Stadium as part of an all-female on-field officiating team.
The tournament looks to be over for England’s Ben White.
The Arsenal defender, who missed Tuesday’s win over Wales through illness, has returned home for personal reasons and is not expected to return.
“We ask that the player’s privacy is respected at this moment in time,” read a Football Association statement.
Argentina find groove but Poland scrape through
Lionel Messi’s World Cup dream is still alive after Argentina dispelled fears of early elimination by easing to a 2-0 win over Poland.
Messi could even afford to miss a penalty before goals from Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez finished the job.
That was not the end of the drama, however, as the goals conceded put Poland in danger of going out. Losing 2-0, and with Mexico beating Saudi Arabia 2-0, they were clinging onto second place in Group C for a long time thanks only to their disciplinary record being better than Mexico’s.
Another Mexico strike would have put them out on goal difference but the Saudis grabbed a late consolation to change the equation, much to Poland’s relief.
Socceroos through after edging out Danes
QUALIFIED for the #FIFAWorldCup Round of 16 for the second time ever!
No better time than our CENTENARY year! 💯#GiveIt100 #Socceroos pic.twitter.com/GLtSJhmr3n
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 30, 2022
Australia made the headlines in Group D as they reached the knockout stage for only the second time in their history with a stunning 1-0 defeat of Denmark.
Mathew Leckie finished a brilliant counter-attack on the hour to score the only goal at the Al Janoub Stadium and secure second place in Group D behind champions France.
That capped a miserable tournament for the world’s 10th-ranked side Denmark, who ended with just one point from three games.
The result also meant that Tunisia’s famous 1-0 win over already-qualified champions France, secured with a fine individual goal from Wahbi Khazri, was not enough for them to go through.
Picture of the day
Tweet of the day
Scenes in @FedSquare after the #Socceroos goal! #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/CRZKqIvQak
— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) November 30, 2022
Who’s up next?
Group F: Croatia v Belgium (3pm)
Group F: Canada v Morocco (3pm)
Group E: Japan v Spain (7pm)
Group E: Costa Rica v Germany (7pm)