A topsy-turvy end to Group C saw top team Zambia humbled by struggling Costa Rica and Iran denied a place in the knockout rounds by a late match-winner for Portugal.
Three teams are heading to the round of 16 from this group: Zambia, Portugal, and Costa Rica.
Costa Rica 1-0 Zambia
Los Ticos became the first third-placed team from the group stage to be certain of qualification for the knockout rounds with this result. 'Keeper Erick Pineda has played very well for Costa Rica in this tournament to date, and this game was no different. He made multiple important stops, and when Patson Daka did finally find the net - the offside flag eliminated what would have been Zambia's equalizer.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Costa Rica won two penalties - and managed to miss them both. But Jostin Daly buried the rebound of the first stopped kick, and that 15th-minute goal stood up as Los Ticos' winner.
The win, combined with Portugal defeating Iran, gave Costa Rica third place in Group C. Further, it gave Los Ticos a better record in the group stage than the third-placed teams in Groups A and B (Argentina and Germany), meaning they are definitely among the top-four best third-ranked sides in the groups: Costa Rica is in the round of 16.
Zambia will be disappointed with the loss, which had some resemblance to its can't-score first half against Iran earlier in the group stage. But the team will also note that it created a lot of chances; if this was Zambia's worst day in front of goal at this World Cup, it can still expect to flourish at this tournament.
Costa Rica will have some concerns: mostly, the fact it hasn't scored from open play yet at this World Cup. Its goal against Portugal was scored from the penalty spot, and it goal in this game was off the rebound from a penalty. On the more positive side, 'keeper Pineda's performance was no fluke: he has kept Costa Rica alive in all three of its group stage games at this World Cup, and the team finally repaid his efforts with a win.
Los Ticos have been given a lifeline in this tournament. It isn't often a team wins two penalties, has its 'keeper play a blinder, and has the good fortune of catching its opponent on an off day in front of goal. But Costa Rica now has a few more days to work on being less reliant on Pineda and more effective in attack.
Despite the loss, Zambia advances as the winner of Group C. It will have to wait a while longer to find out exactly which third-placed team from the group stage it will play in the round of 16, but it already knows its opponent will be either Argentina, Germany or the third-best team emerging from Group F.
Portugal 2-1 Iran
Reza Shekari put Iran a goal up in the fourth minute, and it seemed increasingly likely that Portugal was heading out of the World Cup.
The early goal set the tone for the match: Portugal would relentlessly pursue a way back into the game; Iran would seek to defend. The Iranians were successfully holding the Portuguese at bay until the 54th minute, when 'keeper Shahab Adeli's attempt to swat away a corner found Diogo Goncalves - and the Benfica prospect curled a shot to the far corner.
The draw still favored Iran, and Portugal survived a penalty shout that might have ruined its comeback chances (the Video Assistant Referee reviewed and rejected the referee's PK call).
The match-winner came late. In the 86th minute, substitute Xande Silva saw his cross deflected past 'keeper Adeli.
Minutes away from moving on the second round, Iran was suddenly on its way out of the tournament. Costa Rica's victory over Zambia took even the possibility of third place in Group C away from the Iranians. They head home with every right to curse their luck.
For Portugal, much like group-mate Costa Rica, the chance to play in the knockout rounds is also a chance to take a little more time to figure out whatever it is that has been ailing the team so far at this tournament. The Portuguese are fortunate to be playing in the round of 16, since they have consistently struggled to find goals in the group stage.
They have a difficult game ahead: Portugal is up against World Cup host South Korea. Maybe the big-game atmosphere provided by playing the home team will help the Portuguese find the attacking punch that has eluded them so far in this competition.
|Position||Team||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
- Zambia will play the third-placed team from either Group A (Argentina), Group B (Germany), or Group F (which could any of the teams from the group - Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, or the USA).
- Portugal will play South Korea on May 30 in Cheonan.
Costa Rica will play
either Venezuela orEngland, as results have already ensured that no combination of third-placed teams qualifying for the knockout rounds is possible other than one that matches the winner of Group A (England) with the third-best from Group C.