A Champions League match in Russia means Tuesday will have an early kickoff, though with no points through two rounds, Spartak’s provided little more to the tournament than staggered start times. Their early match against Benfica isn’t technically a must win, but it’s difficult to see how Spartak get out of Group G with a loss.
The game in Moscow is the day’s opening act, with Barcelona-Celtic – Group G’s other match – part of the seven-match slate that kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.
Spartak Moscow (Russia) vs. Benfica (Portugal)
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 11:00 a.m. Eastern
Spartak is in a mini-crisis, having lost three matches in a row for the first time since 2009. That may not sound so horrible, but there are a few augmenting factors:
Because of the international break, the losing streak means Spartak haven’t won since Sept. 29.
Once of the losses was a huge derby match with CSKA Moscow, a match Spartak lost 2-0.
Another was an embarrassing Champions League loss to Celtic, the game which looked like Spartak’s most likely victory when tournament groups were drawn.
This being Unai Emery’s first season as head coach, an early downturn naturally raises doubts about his fitness for the job.
That’s part of the reason Emery’s labeled Tuesday’s match as “crucial,” though that status has as much to do with tournament implications as it does mounting pressure. Having lost their first two games of the competition, it may be now or never time for Spartak, particularly considering they’re facing Benfica (the team directly above them in the standings). Another home loss and every other Group G team will be (at least) four points ahead of Spartak.
Benfica have their own reasons for urgency, sitting on one point after two rounds. They failed to take advantage of a Celtic team that couldn’t manage a shot on target, and while nobody expected them to win their second match (against Barcelona), they remain without a win or a goal.
Coach Jorge Jesus doesn’t seem concerned. While, like Emery, he conceded the match was very important to Benfica’s chance to finish second (nobody’s even faking a chance of besting Barcelona), Jesus also hinted at a wait-and-see approach. He expects Spartak to play desperately and take chances. He’ll adjust his tactics accordingly.
Read between the lines, and we may again see a Benfica team that’s more concerned with the other team’s attack than their own. While that makes sense for a team on the road in Champions League, at some point Benfica is going to have to be more proactive. If they’re waiting for the right place and time, they could return to Lisbon in fourth in their group.
From Spartak head coach Unai Emery:
“The coaching staff has conducted an internal review and we have an understanding and appreciation of why we have been losing.”
From Benfica head coach Jorge Jesus:
” The game is very important, because there are three teams battling for second place in the group. If we manage to get a good result, then it will be just us and Celtic bidding for that second qualification spot.”
Sitting on four points, Celtic is one of the surprises of the tournament, though their results require some explanation if we’re trying to assess the Bhoys’ quality. Celtic had more points than shots on goal after their draw with Benfica in Glasgow, and although they took an early look in Moscow, they needed a dismissal and an own goal to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win. Neil Lennon deserves credit for getting Celtic into a position to compete for the knockout round, but it’s unclear his side is much better than a team picked to finish last in this group.
We’re unlikely to get any clarity on Tuesday. Celtic are huge underdogs to Barcelona, though a loss wouldn’t damage their chances at second place. None of Braga, Celtic, or Spartak expected any points from Barça. Any result they get from the group favorites will be considered a bonus.
For Barcelona, focus will be the primary concern. Though they’re big favorites against Celtic, they can’t take anything for granted, as their matchday one struggles against Spartak showed. Late in the Russians’ visit to Camp Nou, Spartak held a 2-1 lead before a Lionel Messi double lifted Barcelona to victory. Coming off three weekend goals, Messi’s certainly in the right form to replicate that output, but if Barça comes into this match prepared, he won’t need to.
From Barcelona head coach Tito Vilanova:
“Maybe people didn’t take Celtic seriously at the start of the season, but we do … Celtic’s pace and the fact that they have tall players for set pieces are what worry me the most about them.”
From Celtic manager Neil Lennon:
” We’re not here on holiday or for the tourist attractions … We can try to stop balls reaching Messi. Better teams and better coaches than myself have tried to stop him and failed, so we shall see what we can do.”
Free-running England too much, as Gana gone = Senegal gone
There are not a lof of footballing nations outside of the very top, top sides that could handle the absence of Sadio Mane, and not many more could operate without Idrissa Gana Gueye.
Mane missed the entire tournament and Gana Gueye was suspended for this game against England. While that didn’t make the contest a fait accompli, it put a lot of extra pressure on Kalidou Koulibaly at the back as well as Senegal’s midfield duo of Nampalys Mendy and Ismaila Ciss.
But would England take advantage of the absences?
The answer is a resounding yes, and was exemplified by the opening goal. Senegal had played well for more than a half-hour of the match and even had the match’s biggest danger point, when Sarr was stopped by Jordan Pickford.
But let’s talk about England’s first goal: You’d be forgiven for wondering if the player arriving in the box to finish off midfielder Jude Bellingham’s cutback feed was Harry Kane but it was a slightly shorter Premier League player in Jordan Henderson.
Gana’s absence as disruptor allowed England to feel just a bit better about pushing forward, and it paid off.
Another note is the new headache in the forefront of Gareth Southgate’s mind as the usually conservative boss has to figure out how to situate two-assist Phil Foden along with Kane and the numerous England attackers who’ve begged for playing time with positive displays.
How to watch England vs Senegal live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET – Sunday, December 4 Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
When it comes to England they have so many wonderful attacking players that it’s so hard to get them all on the pitch at the same time. It is also tough for Southgate to get the balance of the team right. When England clicks up top they are almost unstoppable and Harry Kane is the chief creator as well as the biggest goal threat. But he’s yet to score in this tournament as Rashford, Saka and Co. have done the damage. Defensively John Stones and Harry Maguire have been excellent too and this will all be about if England are brave enough to come flying out of the traps and back their star forwards to have the win wrapped up by half time. England have no injury issues, although Ben White has flown back to the UK for personal reasons so the Three Lions squad now has 25 members who are all fully fit. That makes preparing to play England a nightmare as they could roll out so many different combinations and formations in midfield and attack. Southgate went with Saka, Foden and Kane up top against Senegal.
Senegal has nothing to lose which is very dangerous in a knockout game. They have great experience in their side with Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy holding them together defensively and at the other end of the pitch Ismaila Sarr has really stepped up in attack in the absence of their superstar Sadio Mane. If Mane hadn’t been ruled out of this tournament due to injury, we would probably be talking about this Senegal side as a potential semifinalist. If England make a mistake or underestimate them, Senegal will make them pay but they will miss Idrissa Gana Gueye in midfield for this game as he’s suspended. There are also a few other injury issues for Senegal to deal with as Cheikhou Kouyate has been missing after he picked up an ankle injury in the opener.
Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group B with 7 points (+7 GD)
Senegal quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Idrissa Gana Gueye, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished 2nd in Group A with 4 points (+1 GD)
This tournament is South Korea’s 10th World Cup, though all but two have ended in the group stage. South Korea famously went to the semifinals when it shared hosting duties with Japan, falling to eventual runners-up Germany before Brazil won the final.
How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5 Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?
South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.
Brazil quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker
South Korea quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong
The United States men’s national team had, if we’re honest, the sort of World Cup we expected in Qatar this winter.
Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks came out of the group stage before losing to a superior program in the Round of 16, delivering a performance that was always energetic, at times naive, and at no point a real disservice to the USMNT’s reputation.
But the devil’s in the details, and the federation will have to dissect not whether the team could’ve done better this month, but whether it should’ve provided better performances.
There were absolute successes, like how the team got better in each successive game of the group stage. And how it’s stars — Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams — were mostly utilized in the best manners possible for their talents. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Tim Weah all had arguably the best USMNT stretches of their careers. That’s all real.
But there were also pitfalls. A timid side was bossed by inferior Wales at times in the second half of the tournament-opening 1-1 draw. Weston McKennie was uneven and missed multiple chances to give the U.S. a lead against England. And the rotation Berhalter talked about so often during qualifying was almost non-existent, leading to a team that looked cooked and borderline burnt out at times of the tournament-ender against the Netherlands.
What does it all mean for the program? That’s down to the powers-that-be, but we’ll let you know how we feel each player did, by minutes played, in Qatar. And maybe, as an aside, we can stop worrying about “changing how the world sees American soccer” and just worry about tangible deliverables.
USA player ratings out of 10: How did USMNT do at World Cup?
Sean Johnson: N/A (0 minutes)
Ethan Horvath: N/A (0 minutes)
Joe Scally: N/A (0 minutes) — What could this team have done against the Netherlands by finding a little more rest for Dest and Robinson? Berhalter clearly didn’t think they could get to the knockouts without them, and they were great. But they were also dead by the end of it and Scally’s play for club said he could’ve sidled up to the sub’s table just fine.
Aaron Long: N/A (0 minutes) — Glad he got to a World Cup, and slightly surprised Berhalter didn’t plug him into the lineup instead of CCV vs Iran (The decision was good, just surprising).
Cristian Roldan: N/A (0 minutes)
Jordan Morris: N/A (14 minutes)
Shaq Moore: N/A (20 minutes)
DeAndre Yedlin:N/A (31 minutes)
Kellyn Acosta: N/A (40 minutes)
Jesus Ferreira: N/A (45 minutes) — It would feel cruel to grade Ferreira on his 45 minutes against the Netherlands, as he was asked to lead the line at center forward while making his World Cup debut in a match that would be his first in front of a crowd since his FC Dallas season ended on Oct. 24. Will Ferreira be able to rise above or along with Haji Wright, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, and a host of new faces to make it two World Cup rosters? His career in MLS has given him the base for it.
Giovanni Reyna: N/A (57 minutes) — The tournament had been crying out for a combination player like Reyna (or Aaronson) but Berhalter felt he was getting enough out of Tim Weah and a rotating cast of center forwards plus Brenden Aaronson off the bench. It’s a shame that we’ll have to wonder if he could’ve done something with Wales pressing for an equalizer and looking unthreatened in the opener, or starting with Weah at center forward versus the Dutch. If Gregg Berhalter’s going to remain in charge — and who knows if the coach is even interested in that? — he’s got a huge task in re-earning the faith of a player who should be Pulisic-level important in 2026 if he wasn’t already.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 (90 minutes) — The Celtic star did what he was asked to do against Iran: keep and move the ball, and bully someone every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if a new coach values the big back more than he’s been valued by Berhalter, as CCV was one of Celtic’s Player of the Season candidates in their SPL run last season.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5 (105 minutes) — The Leeds man wasn’t bad at all. You can see why he’s valued by Berhalter as a super sub but Aaronson also feels like a player who should be needling opponents from the opening whistle. He’s a card-conjurer. Could he be one of two Aaronsons on the 2026 team?
Haji Wright: 6.5 (135 minutes) — There were good moments and bad ones for the Antalyaspor center forward, the best clearly being his goal to bring the Yanks within one against the Netherlands. What is the future with the program for the 24-year-old Wright? You could see him starting another four years or dropping further back on the radar, but let’s celebrate a big, strong young man who went from LA Galaxy academy to New York Cosmos to Schalke to four other European clubs in order to make a World Cup roster.
Josh Sargent: 6.5 (163 minutes) — The argument’s there if you want it: Sargent’s better when he’s running around like a maniac at Norwich City and either helping wreak havoc with a Teemu Pukki type or doing the grunt work for Milot Rashica. But Sargent showed himself to be an adequate hold-up man for the USMNT and he’s certainly maturing by the game for club and country. It seems likely he starts against Netherlands if not for the ankle injury that hampered him all week. Where will he (and Norwich) be when 2026 arrives on Planet Earth?
Weston McKennie: 6 (275 minutes) — The enduring tournament questions for “What if” types will be how the Round of 16 game would’ve shaken out if Pulisic buries his chance in the 3rd minute, and how the 0-0 draw with England might’ve ended had McKennie not failed to convert two chances including an early one that was close to gimme status. McKennie, at times, has been the team’s heart and engine. His passion seeps into the room and onto the pitch. But fitness and sharpness kept him from being above his average and — perhaps — the Yanks from winning the group.
Walker Zimmerman: 7 (278 minutes) — Yes, the penalty conceded to Gareth Bale was poor. But Zimmerman has been shining on big stages at every stop of his career since he was running Dallas’ back line with Matt Hedges. His 15 clearances — what he was there for — rank Top 20 in the tournament and his 13 completed long balls show just how far his passing’s come since his early days in MLS.
Sergino Dest: 7 (309 minutes) — Again let’s not let the recency bias of his very poor defending against home nation the Dutch gloss over a sensational group stage. Dest had his two best games in a U.S. shirt versus England and Iran, keeping talented wings honest while also holding it down at the back. He finished just ahead of Robinson and Musah with the most successful dribbles on the team with five.
Christian Pulisic: 8 (315 minutes) — Fouled an almost absurd 11 times over 315 minutes, the Pennsylvanian Pulisic earned his moments in the sun and paid for them with a hospital visit to treat a pelvic contusion. Pulisic will lament having a third-minute shot saved by the Dutch, but he had a hand in three of the Yanks’ goals, which — checks notes — were all of their goals. Led the team in goal contributions, assists, and key passes, finishing behind only Adams in duels won.
Timothy Weah: 7 (320 minutes) — If Weah was playing center forward, we might have to ding him for a failure to convert some difficult chances. But the Lille wide man — often used as a sort of right mid by Paulo Fonseca — was explosive and his goal against Wales one of the finer in recent USMNT memory. Weah was especially tidy in the passing game for a winger, and his work on the right worked oh-so-well with Dest to give left backs a tremendous amount of headaches.
Yunus Musah: 7.5 (345 minutes) — Out of gas by the end of the Netherlands tilt, yes. But did any player do more for his transfer value in this tournament than Musah? The Valencia man will have certainly impressed clubs in his home nation of England, as his ball progression was exceptional and he snapped into eight tackles, too. By the way, he left his teenage years in the middle of the tournament. We may see him for another three World Cup cycles.
Antonee Robinson: 8 (359 minutes) — It’s going to be difficult for readers eyeballing this piece close to the final whistle of the Netherlands loss to see the ‘8’ and not think of Robinson completely losing his way on the third Dutch goal, but it would be a shame to shade the perception of his tournament. “Jedi” was a relentless and critical part of the program’s success in Qatar and looks very much like the best left-sided defender in the program since… Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley were jostling for ownership of the wingback position? His seven interceptions show a wise reader of the game who is now more than electricity and industry.
Matt Turner: 7 (360 minutes) — Not gonna lie: There were moments against Wales — mostly in ball control — that had us doubting the decision to leave Zack Steffen home (nothing against Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But that was a thing of the past as Turner’s skill as a shot-stopper, something we knew about, was joined by a vast improvement in distribution since we saw him leave New England for Arsenal. Love another college soccer player working his way to USMNT starter, too, don’t we?
Tim Ream: 8 (360 minutes) — He
Think about that. Fulham’s Ream combined with club and country teammate Robinson to make the left side a very strong side until the late stages versus Holland. His 274 passes led the team, his 16 long balls trailed only Adams and Turner, and his 11 clearances were only four fewer than Zimmerman’s team-best total. The U.S. has a long history of funny paths to the team and Ream’s career journey, long-term and short-term, is almost as good a tale as Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit.
Tyler Adams: 8 — 360 minutes — Made arguably one significant mistake over the whole tournament and it helped Memphis Depay score the Netherlands’ first goal, but don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment of the captain and player most likely to captain the side on home soil in 2026. The Leeds United man led the team in tackles with 11 and handled off-field controversy like a 35-year-old veteran. Health will be wealth for the MLS-grown wonderboy.
Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.
From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.