Netherlands eliminated? Spain and Germany, too? I have quite the rooting guide to the remaining group stage games for you. If you are reading this article, I am going to make a few assumptions. First, I assume you are a Sounders fan, or at least want to see them do well. I am also ignoring any other rooting interests besides Sounders’ players’ success. Now, I could assume that you want “Good Teams” playing “Good Games” featuring “Good Football”, but this is not that guide.
Instead, this guide is all about Team Chaos. Let’s look at the results that would feature the unlikeliest teams in the knockout stages. To get there, they will need heroic performances and insane luck. New stars will be born, expectations will be shattered, new moments will be carved into fans’ memories. Let’s get into it.
First, a reminder that tiebreakers are: (1) points; (2) goal differential; (3) goals for; (4) head-to-head; (5) disciplinary points.
Group A: 8/10 Chaos potential
Netherlands (4 pts) plays Qatar (0 pts), while Ecuador (4 pts) plays Senegal (3 pts). First off, this group features Xavier Arreaga playing for Ecuador, though he has not appeared in a match thus far. Let’s put him through in first place. Ecuador only needs a tie to advance, but they have a reasonable shot at first if they can have the higher margin of victory and Netherlands takes care of business against Qatar. Netherlands play what seems like a cakewalk of a game, and they also only need a tie to advance. But advancement is not guaranteed.
Chaos Scenario: Ecuador advances in first, Senegal advances in second. Netherlands is eliminated. How we get there: Ecuador and Senegal tie 1-1, Netherlands loses 2-0 to Qatar. Ecuador is on 5 points, Senegal and Netherlands tie on 4 points, Senegal goes through while even on GD with one more goal scored. Admittedly almost all of the chaos in this scenario would come from a multi-goal loss by Netherlands to Qatar, but what a wild result that would be.
Group B: 7/10 Chaos potential
England (4 pts) plays Wales (1 pt) and USMNT (2 pts) plays Iran (3 pts). With team Jorstian Mordan in this group, we have a clear goal: USMNT advances in first. It will take a bit to make sure that happens. But we can really go for it by having Wales eliminate England, just days after being outplayed by Iran.
Chaos Scenario: USMNT advances in first, Wales in second. England and Iran are eliminated. How we get there: USMNT wins. Wales wins by 4 goals. After posting 6 goals on Iran in the first match, England is eliminated on GD in a massive collapse while Bale runs wild on the English defenders. This is pretty far-fetched, but it seems more likely than Qatar beating Netherlands by two.
Group C: 7/10 Chaos potential
Poland (4 pts) plays Argentina (3 pts) and Saudi Arabia (3 pts) plays Mexico (1 pt). This is another group where every team has a reasonable chance of making it through. Unfortunately, we can’t send the two lowest ELO-ranked teams (Mexico at 24 and Saudi Arabia at 50, compared to Argentina at 2 and Poland at 20) through at the same time since Mexico and Saudi Arabia play each other. Instead we’ll go with a truly funny scenario: Argentina finishing last in the group.
Chaos Scenario: Poland advances in first, Mexico in second. Saudi Arabia and Argentina are eliminated. How we might get there: Poland beats Argentina 3-0, Mexico beats Saudi Arabia 3-2. Poland ends up on 7 points, Mexico on 4 points, Saudi Arabia on 3 points with -2 GD and 4 GF, and Argentina also on 3 points with -2 GD and 3 GF. All the GD/GF affects in this scenario is the meaninglessness of Argentina finishing fourth instead of third, but it would be amazing to see Messi and the reigning CONMEBOL champions exiting in the first round.
Group D: 6/10 Chaos potential
France (6 pts) plays Tunisia (1 pt) and Australia (3 pts) plays Denmark (1 pt). France is already assured of advancing, and largely has first place locked in, thanks to a pair of wins and great GD. I think there are two good potential chaos scenarios: Australia advances in first or Tunisia advances over Denmark on a tiebreaker, but I think Australia advancing in first would be the maximum chaos scenario.
Chaos Scenario: Australia advances in first, France in second. Denmark and Tunisia are eliminated. How we might get there: A 5-1 win for Australia and a 0-3 loss for France would do it. Australia would have 6 points and +2 GD while France would also have 6 points but a +1 GD. These would be two big upsets and by fairly large margins, screwing with everyone’s brackets. That’s what we’re here for!
Group E: 10/10 Chaos potential
Spain (4 pts) plays Japan (3 pts) and Germany (1 pt) plays Costa Rica (3 pts). Nothing too complicated here, but the chaos result would make for an incredible tournament. Let’s eliminate the two favorites.
Chaos Scenario: Japan advances in first, Costa Rica in second. Spain and Germany are eliminated. How we might get there: Any win for Japan and Costa Rica (unless Costa Rica wins by six more goals than Japan wins by, LOL). This would be a massive shock to the tournament and a major victory for both teams, quite surprising after Costa Rica’s tough start and Japan’s disappointment against Costa Rica. There is also an insane scenario where Costa Rica and Germany tie, and Costa Rica still eliminates Spain if Japan beats Span by 14(!) goals. I think we can safely assume that won’t happen under any circumstance. Japan and Germany could also eliminate Spain if Germany and Japan each win and the two combined results erase Spain’s net 8 GD lead.
Group F: 5/10 Chaos potential
Croatia (4 pts) plays Belgium (3 pts), and Morocco (4 pts) plays Canada (0 pts). This group is a little less interesting from a chaos perspective with Canada already eliminated off the back of their own hubris.
Chaos Scenario: Belgium advances in first, Morocco advances in second. Croatia is eliminated. How we might get there: Belgium wins 3-0, Canada wins 2-1. John Herdman gets the last laugh with Croatia joining Canada in the elimination zone, while surprise squad Morocco backs into the elimination rounds. Belgium is through with 6 points while Morocco finishes even with Croatia on 4 points but edges them with +1 GD to 0 GD. And a new rivalry between Croatia and Canada is born.
Group G: 6/10 Chaos potential
Brazil (6 pts) plays Cameroon (1 pt), and Switzerland (3 pts) plays Serbia (1 pt). While every team is effectively alive here, Brazil is already through to the knockouts, with the three other teams mostly fighting for second. But we’re going to get our man Nouhou through anyway.
Chaos Scenario: Brazil advances in first, Cameroon in second. Switzerland and Serbia are eliminated. How we might get there: Cameroon beats Brazil 2-1, Serbia ties Switzerland 2-2. Cameroon and Switzerland are tied on 4 points, but Cameroon is through with 5 GF to 3 for the Swiss. The same result could be achieved with 3rd and 4th swapped if Serbia has a 1-goal win. I could certainly see this happening if Brazil rests players in preparation for the knockouts and a motivated and feisty Cameroon come flying out of the gates.
Group H: 6/10 Chaos potential
Portugal (6 pts) plays South Korea (1 pt), and Ghana (3 pts) plays Uruguay (1 pt). This group is set up identically to group G, though we don’t have clear rooting interests. Ghana is the lowest ranked team in the tournament by a good margin under FIFA’s rankings and is only ahead of Qatar according to Elo rankings. And even that is because the rankings are continually updating during the tournament. Though Ghana has been playing well, they are still underdogs to top-15 ranked Uruguay. So, let’s go with Ghana!
Chaos Scenario: Ghana advances in first, Portugal in second. South Korea and Uruguay are eliminated. How we might get there: Ghana wins 2-1, South Korea wins 2-0. Surprise! We knock Portugal down a peg, as they take it a little easy against South Korea with very little on the line. South Korea has hope until a last-minute winner gives Ghana the full six points and the tiebreakers fall in Ghana’s favor.
One of the best parts of this year’s group stage games is that no third games are meaningless. Every game involves a team that is still alive and no seedings have been determined. Here’s a bracket I put together with our Team Sounders/Chaos predictions and a bunch of homer/upset picks on the way to an all-Sounders final: