The Group Stage of Valorant Champions 2022 in Istanbul concludes on Thursday with a pair of blockbuster matches that will determine the final two playoff teams at the season-ending tournament.
We have already lost EDward Gaming, ZETA Division, XERXIA Esports and FURIA from the tournament and several other heavyweights will join them in the coming days.
FunPlus Phoenix have been a revelation on the global stage to end this year's Riot circuit, winning VCT Masters: Copenhagen in July despite having to fight their way through the lower bracket.
It looked like business as usual for the Europeans when they began the tournament with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over KRU, but they were unable to leave the group at the first attempt after a shock 2-1 defeat to XSET.
That was a game FunPlus Phoenix were expected to take with something in hand, but with XSET surprisingly opting for Pearl in the opening map, they quickly put FunPlus Phoenix on the back foot.
FunPlus Phoenix struck back with a dominant 13-4 win on their pick of Fracture, but Breeze would swing to XSET, who established an unassailable 11-1 lead on their defensive half.
That shock defeat will have stung FunPlus Phoenix and to make matters worse, they now face a KRU side hungry for revenge.
The Chilean roster lost 2-0 to FunPlus Phoenix in the opening match of the group, but they struck back in no uncertain terms with an eyecatching 2-1 victory over XERXIA, a win that showcased their incredible teamplay.
They were dominant on their map pick of Icebox, securing a 13-4 victory, and despite losing out on Haven 7-13, they put in a superb attacking display to take Ascent 13-6, winning six of the seven attacking rounds they played.
The win also put keznit's fragging potential on show, as he left the series with a 57-35 K/D ratio, and that sort of performance would make KRU a very dangerous proposition.
On a normal day, FunPlus Phoenix would be heavily favoured in this match, as their -600 odds suggest. This is unlikely to be straightforward for the Europeans, however, and that defeat to XSET will surely have left a dent in their confidence.
This match is likely to hinge on the duel between FunPlus Phoenix's Zyppan and KRU's keznit, who have showcased devastating impact on duelists throughout the group stage.
Whoever comes out on top in that particular skirmish will play a crucial role in deciding the fate of this game and as a result, there is upset potential, with KRU available at +350.
This match would not look out of place as the Grand Final, which makes it all the more frustrating that we will lose either 100 Thieves or FNATIC at the end of this skirmish.
Both these teams have the potential to win Masters tournaments on their day and FNATIC showcased that with a flawless VCT EMEA S2: Challengers run that saw them go 15-3 in map score across that tournament.
That made their early lower-bracket exit at VCT Masters: Copenhagen all the more puzzling and they continued their on-and-off form with a 2-1 defeat to 100 Thieves to kick off this tournament.
Despite another setback, they were expected to make easy work of FURIA to advance into this decider match, but it proved anything but simple.
The match went the distance and the deciding map on Haven also went the full 24 rounds, with FNATIC edging over the line thanks to a series of clutches by Enzo.
That sort of performance does not instil much confidence and 100 Thieves, who defeated them in that aforementioned opening encounter, will take plenty of heart from their opponents recent struggles.
100 Thieves dropped into the decider match after a 2-0 defeat to DRX, but there is little disgrace in that result, given how strong the South Korean roster have looked at this tournament.
Prior to that, they made a remarkable lower-bracket run come to fruition at the VCT NA Last Chance qualifier for this tournament, dropping just one map on their way past Sentinels, FaZe and The Guard.
On paper, this should be an explosive match-up between two of the best Valorant sides North America and Europe have to offer. In reality, this may turn into a slog, with neither side wanting to relinquish their spot at the tournament.
FNATIC are slight favourites at -138, but you could easily make the case for 100 Thieves being that price, rather than at odds of +100. Both teams are capable of magic on their day and it is ultimately difficult to split them.
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