Cristiano Ronaldo picked up his yellow card during Portugal football team's FIFA World Cup group match against Iran (Pic: IANS).
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has reached the Round-of-16 stage and there is another variable which the teams have to deal with -- in addition to threat from injuries and opposing teams. The threat of an unwanted card.
The World Cup final in Moscow on July 15 is still a long way away and threat of suspensions are looming over some of the big stars, whose teams would definitely suffer without their presence in the middle.
FIFA World Cup rules say players will be suspended for a game if they pick up two yellow cards before the quarterfinal stage. The booking will be wiped clear after the quarters. However, if a player receives a second yellow in the last-eight stage, he will have to sit out the semi-finals in case his side progresses.
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The rule (amended in 2010) gives a respite for players who can play freely in the semi-finals without worrying about picking up an additional yellow and miss out on the final, a big occasion for any footballer’s career.
Teams are not yet thinking that far ahead though. The risk of missing the quarterfinals or semis exists right now for the biggest names of the game -- Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar -- all of whom are critical for their side’s success.
Messi could end up regretting the yellow card he picked up for time-wasting in the closing stages of the match against Nigeria. A yellow against France in the pre-quarters would see him miss out on a quarterfinal against Portugal or Uruguay.
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Ronaldo is in a similar situation. The Real Madrid star was booked for elbowing an Iranian defender and he needs to tread carefully against Uruguay. Portugal have five other players on yellow cards.
Brazil have a bigger problem -- their key trio of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro are also a booking away from suspension, and their last-16 match against Mexico in Samara on July 2 -- expected to be a fast, passionate and physical encounter -- could spell trouble for them.
Messi is one of six Argentine players who have seen yellow so far, but that is nothing compared to the problems Croatia could face.
The Balkan side are unbeaten in the tournament. However, their 'committed' style of play has exacted a toll -- eight Croatians, including key midfielder Ivan Rakitic, right-back Sime Vrsaljko and striker Mario Mandzukic are one silly foul away from a suspension.
England, meanwhile, have full-back Kyle Walker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on a booking, while Belgium will have to be careful about defenders Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Meunier, and attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne.
Spain and Uruguay are the two sides who can breathe easy as far as suspension danger is concerned -- both the teams have only one player on a yellow card.
(With inputs from IANS)