We round up the key Fantasy talking points from Saturday’s World Cup action in our Scout Notes summary.
The graphics and numbers included in this article are from our Premium Members Area, which now includes all Opta player and team data from not just the World Cup proper but also qualifying.
FRANCE 2-1 DENMARK
- Goals: Kylian Mbappe x2 | Andreas Christensen
- Assists: Theo Hernandez, Antoine Griezmann | Joachim Andersen
France became the first and, so far, only team to qualify for the World Cup knockout stages with a game to spare, having seen off recent foes Denmark with a late Kylian Mbappe ($11.5m) winner.
While fine assists from Theo Hernandez ($5.0m) and Antoine Griezmann ($8.5m) deserve mention, it’s difficult to argue with the narrative that Mbappe was the difference between two fairly evenly matched sides.
He was again electric against Denmark and his brace saw his odds slashed in both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot races; he’s now the favourite for both accolades.
At the halfway stage of Matchday 2, he’s had twice as many penalty box touches as any other player in the tournament so far and is top for everything from big chances to shots on target. He’s even created six chances for others.
The ‘e’ word (essential) will be thrown in his direction after another starring display but just how necessary will he be for Matchday 3?
Les Bleus have not only confirmed progression to the knockout rounds but have also effectively sealed top spot, barring an unthinkable four-goal margin victory for Australia in the two nations’ clash in midweek.
Does Didier Deschamps rest some key players for Wednesday’s game with next Sunday’s round-of-16 tie in mind? If so, there are none more important than Mbappe.
The nature of the FIFA Fantasy game means that we can at least see the teamsheets from each fixture and still make transfers before kick-off (an admittedly limited number, unless on a Wildcard), so keeping Mbappe – if you already own him – and a free transfer back mightn’t be the worst idea for Matchday 3.
CREATIVE HERNANDEZ/ATTACKING RABIOT
With clean sheets spoiled for both sides, the well-owned Benjamin Pavard ($5.0m) and Andreas Skov Olsen ($6.0m) benched, and Christian Eriksen ($8.0m) and Olivier Giroud ($7.5m) blanking, there was little other joy for Fantasy managers in this fixture.
Denmark assets should remain in demand for Matchday 3, however, with an easier-on-paper test against Australia to come (more of whom below) and their World Cup fate hinging on a win.
There’ll be no ‘rests’, then, although whether Skov Olsen can break back into the starting XI after failing to even get off the bench in this match is another question.
ARGENTINA 2-0 MEXICO
- Goals: Lionel Messi, Enzo Fernandez
- Assists: Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi
A loss would have seen Argentina unthinkably eliminated from the World Cup before we’d even reached December but despite a wobbly first half from one of the pre-tournament favourites, class eventually prevailed.
There was no surprise that Lionel Messi ($10.5m) was involved in both superb strikes, although his assist for Enzo Fernandez‘s ($6.0m) stunner was generous given what the latter then had to do to score from that point.
The result means that all four teams in Group C can still qualify for the knockout rounds and ensures that starting XIs will remain strong on Wednesday evening, so there are none of the game-time questions over Messi that there are with Mbappe.
Just who – apart from Messi – is a part of Argentina’s strongest team is another question, as Lionel Scaloni made five changes to his line-up for this encounter and hooked one of his ‘remainers’, the anonymous Lautaro Martinez ($8.0m), just before the first goal.
There was precious little goalmouth action to report from this attritional encounter, with only nine shots in all and just three efforts from inside the box.
Probably the telling stat was that Mexico’s tallies of 19 fouls conceded and four bookings are the highest of Matchday 2 so far, the result of a deliberate and largely successful ploy to nullify Messi until the little magician conjured a yard of space just after the hour mark.
Mexico simply have to win their final group game against Saudi Arabia (potentially by more than one goal), who also might need a victory to progress – so we could be in for an open encounter between the two sides in midweek.
POLAND 2-0 SAUDI ARABIA
- Goals: Piotr Zielinski, Robert Lewandowski
- Assists: Robert Lewandowski
- Penalty Miss: Salem Al Dawsari
- Penalty Save: Wojciech Szczesny
- Penalty Culprit: Krystian Bielik
Robert Lewandowski ($10.0m) ended his World Cup hoodoo with a win-sealing goal against Saudi Arabia, having earlier teed up Piotr Zielinski ($6.5m) to break the deadlock.
It’s back-to-back clean sheets for Poland, the only team to achieve this feat at the World Cup to date, but as was the case against Mexico in midweek, they were again second-best for large chunks of this match.
Their shut-out owed much to Saudi wastefulness and the heroics of Wojciech Szczesny ($5.5m), who stopped a 45th-minute Salem Al Dawsari ($4.5m) penalty and superbly saved the follow-up effort from Mohammed Al Burayk ($4.0m).
Szczesny is now the highest-scoring goalkeeper in the FIFA Fantasy game.
Following on from their shock win over Argentina, this was another impressive – if not flawless – display from Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Kanno ($4.0m) saw a rising effort tipped over, Al Dawsari was again denied by his nemesis from close range, Feras Al Brikan ($5.0m) lashed off-target from just outside the six-yard box and Abdulelah Al Malki ($3.5m) fired narrowly wide late on.
They’ve more than held their own against two teams who were expected to brush past them in the group stage, so Mexico oughtn’t to strike fear into their hearts in Matchday 3.
“I’m proud of my players. But we weren’t efficient and Poland are strong. They have three fantastic players in Wojciech Szczesny, Piotr Zielinski and Robert Lewandowski. Congratulations to Lewandowski on his first World Cup goal … but we are still alive.” – Herve Renard, Saudi Arabia head coach
Poland will point to the fact that their presumed gameplan of soaking up pressure and riding the storm (they have averaged 37.8% possession in two matches so far) before striking late has worked like a charm, and they’re only a Lewandowski penalty miss away from being sat on six points.
With Saudi Arabia flagging in the closing stages, the Barcelona striker grabbed his goal, missed another glorious chance and struck the woodwork.
Given that only a point is needed to qualify against Argentina, we can surely expect to see another low block in operation from kick-off on Wednesday – so a defensive representative from La Albiceleste in Matchday 3 might not be the worst investment.
IMPRESSIVE KANNO + ABDULHAMID
TUNISIA 0-1 AUSTRALIA
- Goals: Mitchell Duke
- Assists: Craig Goodwin
Two $4.5m forwards combined to hand Australia an invaluable three points in a low-key curtain-raiser on Saturday.
Craig Goodwin‘s deflected cross was cleverly nodded in by Mitchell Duke to propel the Socceroos into second spot in Group D; a defeat would have seen Graham Arnold’s troops follow the hosts in bowing out of the tournament.
Goodwin has caught the eye in Qatar so far, on set plays and registering more crosses and chances created than any of his teammates, but the wider forward pool is bursting with talent – unlike the midfield crop – and it’s hard to advocate a move for any budget striker with modest points potential when most of the heavy hitters worth owning belong to this positional classification.
In truth, with these two sides facing France and Denmark in Matchday 3, they’re non-starters in Fantasy terms.
Harry Souttar ($4.5m) was a rock at the back for Australia but there was plenty to encourage owners of Denmark’s attacking assets, with the Aussies allowing their limited opponents 16 efforts on goal.
While Mathew Ryan ($4.0m) didn’t have to turn in any heroics to secure a clean sheet, the fact is that his side have allowed more goal attempts, shots on target and big chances than any other nation in the World Cup at the halfway point of Matchday 2.
Above: Teams sorted by goal attempts conceded at Qatar 2022 so far
Owners of France defenders will be confident of a clean sheet in Matchday 3, with Tunisia goalless in their two group games so far. It’s not for the want of trying, with profligacy rather than chance creation their main issue: their chief goal threat, Youssef Msakni ($4.5m), had six shots alone in Saturday’s defeat.
Their left flank, mainly Ali Abdi ($4.0m), was also a weak link defensively, which whoever France field down their right wing could exploit in Matchday 3.
The north African side looked better against Denmark in Matchday 1; consistency of performance seems like a tournament-wide problem after flaccid displays from England and the Netherlands yesterday.