MOSCOW (TNS) — Despite two victories in two games, Mexico's future in the World Cup is nearly as unsettled as it was when the team landed in Russia three weeks ago.
Heading into its final group-stage game with Sweden on Wednesday, Mexico is facing several scenarios that could send it to the knockout rounds as Group F champion or send it home. Here are the possibilities:
With a win or draw vs. Sweden, Mexico wins the group and advances to the second round.
Even with a loss to Sweden, Mexico still goes through if Germany fails to beat South Korea. Under that scenario Sweden would be the group champion and Mexico the group runner-up.
If Sweden and Germany both win — meaning Mexico loses — all three teams will finish group play with six points and goal differential will determine who advances. If Germany and Sweden's margin of victory is two or more goals each that would send Mexico home.
If Germany and Sweden both win 1-0, head-to-head results would break the tie atop the table, again sending the two European teams on and Mexico home, based on goals scored in head-to-head games between the three. In fact, if both Sweden and Germany win by one goal, the only way Mexico advances over Germany is if its game with Sweden has more total goals than Germany-South Korea.
Mexico can make all the scribbling irrelevant, by simply failing to lose.
"Against Sweden, it will be very intense," defender Miguel Layun said. "If they score first, they know how to defend. Hopefully we can be the ones who score first."
Through the first 32 matches of this World Cup, there have been 85 goals scored, an average of 2.7 per game, matching the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
But it's not so much the number of goals that have been scored as it is how and when some of them happened that's surprising, with 12 coming in stoppage time, either at the end of the first half or at the end of the game, and 13 coming on penalty kicks, one more than were scored from the spot in all 64 games of the 2014 World Cup.
Belgian coach Roberto Martinez, whose team is tied for the tournament lead with eight goals in two games, credits the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) protocol for the rise in penalty-kick goals.
"It's brought a good, honest assessment of what happens in the box," he said. "There are more penalties. There are more situations that they get a little bit more punished."
The only goals Australia and Egypt have scored in Russia have come on penalty kicks.
With a brace against Tunisia and a hat trick in Sunday's blitz of Panama, England's Harry Kane has five World Cup goals in 153 minutes. That's as many as Argentina's Lionel Messi has scored in 17 World Cup games dating to 2006.
Messi, who turned 31 Sunday, will get a chance to break the tie with Kane on Tuesday when Argentina, facing elimination, plays Nigeria. Argentina's surest path to the next round is to beat Nigeria and hope for an Iceland loss or draw against Croatia.