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We’re coming up on crunch time. By the end of Thursday, half of the teams in the World Cup will be eliminated. Let’s look at how things stand in each group – who will go through, and who will face the chop.

In Group A, Cameroon are out of the picture. They do have the potential to cause an upset, though, since the other three teams are very close together – Brazil and Mexico on four points apiece and Croatia right behind them on three. If somehow Cameroon were to beat Brazil by two or more goals, and Croatia and Mexico tied, Brazil would be eliminated.

In all likelihood, though, that won’t happen. I expect Brazil to get a win today, and then it comes down to whether Croatia can be the first to put a ball past the magnificant Memo Ochoa in the Mexican goal. Croatia need a win to join Brazil in the round of 16, Mexico can go through with a tie.

Personally, though, I’m betting on Croatia to find a way through, and progress in second. For this group, I’m standing by my original prediction of Brazil – Croatia – Mexico – Cameroon.

Group B provided the biggest shock of the tournament so far, with Spain being eliminated after only their second game. Sadly, but expectedly, Australia went with them. At this point, it’s just a matter of who goes through first and whom second. A tie will see the Netherlands through in first, whereas Chile have to win. I’m betting on the Oranje to come out on top, though, for a revised projection of Netherlands – Chile – Australia – Spain.

And so to Group C, where Colombia have already booked their passage, but any of the others could still join them. Ivory Coast are the next best placed, and a win over Greece will see them through regardless of the other result. Solid wins for both Ivory Coast and Japan could even be enough for Ivory Coast to claim the top spot – but I don’t see Japan prevailing over Colombia, so I’m going to call this one as Colombia – Ivory Coast – Japan – Greece.

*sigh* England are out. Group D offered up a surprise package in Costa Rica, who were widely expected to prop up the group, and are instead three points clear at the top with qualification to the next round already sealed. Italy and Uruguay are facing off tomorrow for the right to join them, which means at least one more footballing powerhouse will be getting an early flight home.

At this point, I think Italy are the more likely of the two, and the only question is whether they can score enough goals AND have England beat Costa Rica in order to move top. That doesn’t seem likely to me, so I’m giving my revised prediction as Costa Rica – Italy – Uruguay – England.

Group E has been unexpectedly entertaining, with France romping to two large wins and scoring eight goals in the process, a tally matched only by the Netherlands so far. It is still mathematically possible for Ecuador and Switzerland to take the two qualifying spots, but it would involve Ecuador beating France by at least four goals and Switzerland also beating Honduras by a similar margin. The latter seems possible, but the former is a tall order. I’m revising my original prediction and calling this as France – Ecuador – Switzerland – Honduras.

There is a possible wrinkle for the ages developing in Group F, where a 1-0 win for Argentina over Nigeria and another 1-0 win for Iran over Bosnia would leave the middle of the group so tightly tied that Iran and Nigeria would literally have to draw lots for the privilege of progressing to the next round.  Neither of those scorelines are all that unlikely, based on the results so far. I’m confident in calling an Argentina win, and thereby top spot in the group. Bosnia are eliminated at this point, and so it’s very much down to whether Iran can prevail over them. If either of those scorelines above is 2-0 rather than 1-0, that single goal would be enough to send Iran through. Lots at stake here, and I’m going to call this (also rather revised) as Argentina – Iran – Nigeria – Bosnia.

Group G has produced some truly amazing moments already – last night, in the 93rd minute, the USA were headed for an historic victory over #4-ranked Portugal to seal their own progress. They were sadly denied by a last-minute goal, but are still very much in the running, level on points with top-placed Germany.

A tie between Germany and the USA will see both teams through, and you could perhaps forgive the Germans if they did one final favour for a former World Cup hero of their own, USA boss Jürgen Klinsmann. Ghana and Portugal will be fighting to push their way up into second place, and while Ghana have by far the easier task of it based on goal difference, they would both be relying on the USA to lose as well as getting a win themselves.

My prediction – ultimately revising only the bottom two – is Germany – USA – Ghana – Portugal.

And last but not least, Group H sprung a surprise, with Algeria notching four goals, matching their all-time best tally at a single World Cup over the last two games. Two more goals in the next game against Russia would see Algeria eclipse their total goals scored in all previous World Cups combined. Belgium, favoured to win the group, have laboured to notch up wins over both Russia and Algeria, but those wins will see them through to the next round. They face South Korea next. The right results could see any of the other three joining Belgium in the round of 16, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Algeria will get the job done with at least a tie, making it Belgium – Algeria – Russia – South Korea.

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Rounding out the tournament are the four Group H nations. The only group without a South American – or even a Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking – nation, this group may have smaller audiences in the stands, but I expect some action nonetheless.

Team by team:

belgium

Belgium are definitely a potential ‘dark horse’ team this year. The Red Devils, while perhaps not yet reaching the quality of their 1986 side (when they reached the semifinals and lost to eventual winners Argentina), have a wealth of talent in almost every position, and indeed reached an all time high of fifth in the world rankings late last year. One to watch will be Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, a player gifted with the ability to make defence-unlocking runs and create space for teammates.

algeria

On paper, Algeria look like the whipping boys of the group, but their FIFA world ranking of 22 suggests more quality than they are often given credit for. Sent home from 2010 without a single win, the Desert Foxes have been quietly improving, boosted by a much-strengthened domestic pro league and the iron will of coach Vahid Halilhodzic. Argentina legend Diego Maradona, not often a man given to praising anyone other than himself, recently predicted that Algeria ‘will cause a surprise.’

Russia's Samedov, Kerzhakov and Glushakov celebrate a goal scored by their team mate Shirokov during the 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Azerbaijan in Baku

The last time coach Fabio Capello took a team to the World Cup, it was England in 2010. Now he’s back, this time at the helm of Russia. Capello’s authoritarian style seems to suit the Russian team, enough so that his contract has already been extended to cover the next World Cup. Built almost entirely from CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia’s domestic league, this team will not be familiar faces to their upcoming opponents, and this may be advantageous.

korea

South Korea, co-hosts of the 2002 tournament, have also been quietly improving. Now making their 8th consecutive World Cup appearance, the Taeguk Warriors will be viewed as genuine challengers within the group. Coached by 2002 golden boy Hong Myung-Bo (who also led them to Olympic bronze two years ago) and boasting Bayer Leverkusen’s club-record signing Son Heung-Min, they certainly won’t be pushovers.

Predicted group standings:

Belgium
Russia
South Korea
Algeria

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