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World Cup Round Of 16 Preview


The group stage is over in the 2018 World Cup. It's on to the next round. Colombia beat Senegal yesterday, 1-0. Senegal still might have made it, but they are out now because of a tiebreaking rule. And for the first time in decades, no team from Africa is moving on. Let's talk about the Cup with Grant Wahl. He's in Russia covering the Cup for Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports. Hey there, Grant.

GRANT WAHL: Hey. How are you, David?

GREENE: I'm good. So no team from Africa moving on. Is that a huge blow to the sport of soccer?

WAHL: Well, it's disappointing because we've always talked about Africa's potential for winning the World Cup. We've been talking about that since the 1980s and '90s. And fortunes of African teams actually seem to be getting worse progressively over the years. And for no African team to get to the knockout rounds of this World Cup is something we haven't seen in a long time, and I think it's going to have people in Africa especially wondering. There's so much talent in the African continent, to see no teams advancing is really disappointing.

GREENE: Well, it sounds like Senegal went out an incredibly disappointing way, almost unfair, some would say. What is this tiebreaking rule?

WAHL: Well, it's on FIFA fair-play points, which is basically the sum of yellow cards and red cards, disciplinary cards, in the group stage. And it's, you know, the sixth or seventh tiebreaker after they could not break a tie between Senegal and Japan after three games. And so this is FIFA's way of doing things, and it's the first time we've ever seen it. I do wonder if there's going to be some changes in the future now that we've heard some complaints about it.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about some of the teams who are still there. Uruguay is going to be facing Portugal tomorrow, and this is where we'll get a look at Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a player who got a shout-out from President Donald Trump here in the United States. So what are you seeing from him in this Cup?

WAHL: Well, he's been really good. He's scored four goals in the tournament so far, had a hat trick in the first game against Spain, and missed a penalty in the last game as Portugal barely hung on. Iran nearly ended up beating them to advance in their plays. But Portugal hung on and is in the tournament here. The big stars are still in. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo. So in terms of star power, it's good to see him there. Messi and Ronaldo have been the world's two best men's players for the last 11 years now, but neither one of them has won a World Cup, and it's something they really want to have for their legacy.

GREENE: And what about England? They are still in it. I mean, this is a country that basically invented the sport. Is this finally their year?

WAHL: You know, this is a different England team. It's young. It's not a bunch of jaded millionaires from the Premier League. And they're pretty exciting to watch. Harry Kane is the captain and the leading goal scorer. He's in his early 20s still. And England has won one World Cup in 1966. And I think they're a long shot in this one, but, you never know.

GREENE: You never know. That's the fun of this sport. And all sports, I guess. Grant Wahl is in Moscow covering the World Cup. He's the author of "Masters Of Modern Soccer." Grant, thanks a lot.

WAHL: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.