It's a game of mathematics now.
The World Cup in Russia has reached an exciting phase. Except for eight teams, the fate of the rest hangs in the balance. Wins alone in the remaining group matches are no longer enough for teams to qualify into the round of 16. Complex mathematics comes into play. Permutations of points, goal difference, head-to-head records, fair play points or even the drawing of lots may decide their destinies.
The eight nations of Portugal, Spain, Russia, Uruguay, France, Croatia, Belgium and England are relieved, and eight others -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Peru, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Panama and Poland -- are packing their bags to catch a flight home.
The tournament's top favourites -- Brazil, Argentina and Germany -- are yet to make it to the next level. Eight spots are up for grabs, and one stumble or a better showing by also-rans can get any of these world giants out of this World Cup.
Tensions run high in three out of eight World Cup groups -- D (Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland and Argentina), E (Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica) and F (Mexico, Germany, Sweden and South Korea). The race is wide open.
A few of the superstars sparkled, but most others are still a pale shadow of their famous selves. Stars shone, teams won: that's the story of the World Cup so far. Notwithstanding yesterday's missed penalty against Iran, Cristiano Ronaldo is the only superstar who showed no dip in the superb form he has been displaying for his club Real Madrid. For him, it was just a change of jersey from club to country. He started off with a hattrick against Spain and scored one goal in the next, against Morocco.
England striker Harry Kane topped the list of goal-scoring stars with 5. Romelu Lukaku (4) and Eden Hazard (2) spearheaded Belgium's exciting journey forward. Denis Cheryshev (3) of Russia, Diego Costa (3) of Spain, Ahmed Musa (2) of Nigeria, Luka Modric (2) of Croatia and Philippe Coutinho (2) of Brazil are among the goals.
But Argentina's greatest goal-machine Lionel Messi is still hibernating and Brazil's big hope Neymar not up to the mark yet.
So, for fans of this beautiful game, it's time to live with nerves frayed and keep fingers crossed for their big stars to come out firing on all cylinders!
As records go, Europe plays best on European soil. And in Russia, there is no exception to that yet. European nations are dominating and American countries struggling. Japan and Nigeria are however carrying the lights of Asia and Africa quite commendably.
England are the latest of the European countries going great guns with a thumping 6-1 win against Panama that included a hattrick, the third in their World Cup history, from Harry Kane. The mercurial skipper also struck twice in England's 2-1 victory in their opener against Tunisia, including a header in injury time.
This English side look completely different than that seen in Brazil fours back. In 2014, England, with survivors of its so-called Golden Generation in the team, bowed out from the group stage winless and blamed it all on the heat, particularly the humidity of the Amazonian jungle.
Those were older, more experienced and celebrity-obsessed. These are younger, hungrier and goal-obsessed. The second-youngest in Russia, England's players of below-26 demonstrated joyous display of togetherness in the sweltering heat of Nizhny Novgorod.
In my view, momentum is everything in football.
Fortunately for Gareth Southgate, his men picked the momentum at the start. Now the challenge is to keep the momentum going all the way. And England fans have every reason to be pumped up this time. Fifty-two years went by after the father of modern football won the cup in 1966.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star