By Tim Stannard
Higuain called into action to cancel out past sins
Oh, to be lurking inside Gonzalo Higuain’s head on Tuesday, ahead of Argentina’s clenching clincher against Nigeria.
Normally by this stage of any major tournament, the Juventus big-chance blower would be withdrawing into his mental shell like a timid tortoise, having become the center of the country’s ire due to sticking at least ten gilt-edged chances past the right post of the opposition’s goal.
But despite a calamitous World Cup so far for Argentina, Higuain has largely been off the hit-list of easy targets for fuming fans of the Albiceleste. That’s mainly because Gonzalo has featured for about 40 minutes so far in Russia 2018. Less chance to really stuff things up.
All that could against Nigeria, with Jorge Sampaoli putting the names of his 23-man squad into a scrabble bag once again, choosing eleven and then scattering them around the locker room floor to work out his tactical formation. Higuain is expected to be leading the line alongside Leo Messi, once the Barca man is coaxed out of the bathroom cubicle in which he routinely locks himself before every World Cup match.
“I am sure Lionel Messi will be touching the ball a lot more than in our previous match," was the enthusiastic prediction from Sampaoli who also has to make the key decision on whether to go for the tight black t-shirt with tats look for Tuesday’s showdown in Saint Petersburg or something more sedate.
Unfortunately for Argentina, the hat-trick heroics of Higuain that Sports Burst is predicting may not be enough, as if an already qualified Croatia lose to Iceland by a big enough margin then it will be the Vikings going through to the Last 16.
Tune into the XTRA at 7PM ET / 4PM PT for a full breakdown of what is set to be another zany day at the World Cup.
Australia with chance to sneak in through World Cup fire escape
Argentina’s agony or ecstasy is the main dish of the World Cup platter on Tuesday, but the appetizer is more than tempting with group C being wrapped up. France have already qualified – all be it by limping over the line – but one space is still up for grabs.
That is currently occupied by Denmark which plays France at 10AM ET. A point for the Danes will be enough to move to the Last 16. However, a defeat and a win for Australia would see the Socceroos going through, if a narrow gap in goal difference can be overturned. Although the Peruvians will be looking to get at least some kind of victory from Russia 2018 after a bit of a let-down so far, the Aussies are prickly pears when it comes to winning.
Peru’s game against Australia could well be the last for coach, Ricardo Gareca, who has spent much of the World Cup being compared to either Iggy Pop or Steven Tyler. “Once this World Cup is over, yes I'll have to make a decision,” noted Gareca when quizzed on if he still has a lust for life.
Head to our beIN SPORTS USA Facebook page for the best halftime and fulltime analysis in our special World Cup Watch Party, which is a 360-degree punditry experience.
Russia World Cup pays penalty – as well as Swiss fans
Elsewhere in Russia 2018 and the tournament has produced the most number of penalties in the history of the World Cup with 20 awarded so far (18 was the previous record for a whole competition), and that’s even before the group stages are over. VAR is a large contributor to an increased number of penalties given.
Swiss fans have begun a crowdfunding appeal to pay for the fines handed out by FIFA to Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner for their 'double-headed eagle gesture' celebrations in the win over Serbia, judged to be of a political nature. The fines ranged from $4000 to $10,000.
Tuesday will see the coaches and players from the next day’s play fronting up before the media. And that means Mexico, a team that could still face a World Cup exit despite having six points already and Brazil, who are also by no means secure in the Last 16.
Inter have made the signing of Radja Nainggolan official. The spikey Belgian midfielder has made a move from Roma for a fee in the region of $28 million.
Maurizio Sarri has reportedly cancelled a trip to London where talks were Chelsea were planned on Tuesday. Apparently, a deal with Napoli over the Italian’s severance has yet to be reached, despite Carlo Ancelotti having already taken over as Napoli boss. Then again, Antonio Conte is still Chelsea manager, technically speaking. So that’s not a mess at all.
The Paul Pogba leaving Manchester United story has developed a little with talk of a swap plus cash deal with PSG in a move involving Marco Verratti. And Wayne Rooney is edging closer to his DC United move, where the Everton striker could well be earning up to $400,000 a week. A week!
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The life philosophy of Sports Burst is that if you are not upsetting someone, then you are not trying hard enough. Sports Burst is a daily trawl and troll through the morning's sports news to bring you fact-nuggets to make you both smile and swear. Hopefully at the same time.