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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 
No cherrypicking as final Group A and B
matches produce uncertain last 16 fixtures

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Monday sees the final round of matches in Groups A and B of the World Cup in which two sides are assured their place in the next round but where nobody knows who their rivals will be or where they will play.

In Group A, Russia and Uruguay meet in Samara having both won their opening games and assured of qualifying for the last 16.

Russia have impressed with their high-energy attacking play, while Uruguay have been solid in defense and have not conceded a goal, although coach Oscar Tabarez admits they are not playing as they would like in attack.

A draw or a win for the hosts would qualify Russia as group winners and mean they play the side that finishes second in Group B in Sochi’s 47,600 capacity Fisht Stadium on June 30th.

However, if Russia finish second in the group they would play their last 16 game in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, effectively their home stadium, where 81,000 fervent fans would be looking to cheer them to victory.

Winning is a good habit in major football tournaments, but if the Russians were to rest players and slip up against Uruguay, Monday could be the day to do so.

When Russia and Uruguay kick off on Monday afternoon they will have no idea who their possible rivals will be in the next round as Group B is finely balanced.

Spain and Portugal are favorites to qualify from Group B as they only need draws from their matches against Morocco and Iran to progress. Iran (led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz) need to beat Portugal and Morocco are already out after two narrow 1-0 defeats.

That situation means neither Spain or Portugal can take anything for granted and even if they were able to try and ‘choose’ their rival for the next phase, it’s tough to say which they would prefer.

Uruguay are always tough opponents and although in purely footballing terms, both would probably rather face Russia, who are ranked 65th in the World, opposed to Uruguay’s 17th, nobody will be keen to face a host nation whose players have looked inspired in their opening two matches and who will be backed by fanatical home support.

Spanish football fans still remember what happened the last time Spain faced a host nation in South Korea and Japan in 2002, when a series of controversial refereeing decisions saw them lose a quarter-final to the South Koreans and they would probably prefer to face Godin, Gimenez, Suarez and company, many of who play or have played in La Liga.

All of which points to a fascinating few hours on Monday in which everything will be decided.

           

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