Each team has by now played one game (due to the scheduling, Brazil and Mexico will have already played their second by the time of posting, and we’ll get to that too.) It is not yet mathematically possible for any team to be out of the tournament, but there will now be teams with a heavy advantage, especially considering that of those 16 matches, only two(!) have ended in draws. So there are lots of teams on three points, and lots on none.
Group A: Brazil and Mexico both claimed victories, Brazil a 3-1 over Croatia (albeit with a hotly debated penalty) and Mexico with an unconvincing 1-0 over Cameroon. It’s no surprise that Brazil are in the driving seat for this group, being favorites to win the entire tournament, but who will take second place? I believe that Brazil will defeat Mexico this afternoon, and Croatia will overcome Cameroon, a scenario which will see the two teams enter the final game of the group phase with only goal difference separating them, if that. I still fancy Croatia to edge Mexico in that final game to claim second spot.
Group B: Well, the Dutch threw us quite a curveball, didn’t they? Oh – wrong sport. Robben, van Persie and their compatriots gave the viewers a masterclass to feast their eyes on as they crushed Spain 5-1, a game which will be long remembered. You could almost forget that there was another game in Group B, a comparatively ordinary yet nonetheless well-earned 3-1 victory by Chile over Australia. Spain come up against Chile next, and will be looking to redeem themselves. A convincing win would put them back in the mix, and a loss would probably put them on the next plane back to Madrid. Vital game there. The Netherlands also face Australia, and should be able to get a win. Maybe not as stylish and overpowering as the first game, but a win. That will effectively send Australia home, and leave Spain and Chile to fight it out for the right to face Brazil in the following round.
Group C: Is it just me, or is this group not very exciting? For some reason, I’m having a hard time getting all that interested in any of the teams drawn together in this group. Nevertheless, Colombia put on a convincing display to cruise past Greece, while Ivory Coast snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, coming back from 1-0 down to defeat Japan 2-1. The two winning sides will face off this Thursday, and I imagine Ivory Coast will be playing a much more attacking strategy than Greece. Look for another hard-fought victory for the Ivorian team to top the group outright, and for either a Japan win or a scrappy draw with Greece.
Group D: Oh, England. They fought harder for their 2-1 defeat against Italy than they have fought in many of their past wins. I can only hope that the same battling spirit blesses them in their next two games. England next face Uruguay, who will be smarting from their shock 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. The question is, will they be demoralized, and thereby easy prey, or will they strike back like a cornered tiger? The answer to that question may well determine England’s fate, since the disciplined Italian defence will probably be too much for even breakout Ticos star Joel Campbell to unlock. So in a major revision to my expectations from Group D, I’m going to suggest that Italy are now favoured to win the group, and any of the other three could yet take second (but of course I’m still holding out for it to be England.)
Group E: France got off to a flyer here, Karim Benzema netting the first of two hat tricks so far as France ran out 3-0 winners against Honduras. Switzerland became yet another comeback story with a goal in the dying seconds of the game to beat Ecuador 2-1. These two winners face off next, and you’ve got to fancy the winner of that game to take the top spot in the group, possibly with the other still taking second.
Group F: This group was always going to be about Argentina, and I think it still is. They started a little more slowly than they will have wanted, and Bosnia certainly gave them a scare late on, but they held on for a 2-1 win. A 0-0 bore draw between Iran and Nigeria will be a boost to a Bosnia team which certainly matched Argentina for firepower at times. My prediction here is unchanged, Argentina topping the group and Bosnia going through in second.
Group G: God Bless The USA, says the song, and it’s not hard to imagine that some benevolent entity was looking out for the American team as they found the net in the first half minute of the match, then survived a torrent of chances as Ghana outshot them by a factor of three to one. A late goal gave the Black Stars hope, but John Brooks sealed the three points and a 2-1 win for the USA. Ghana now face Germany, a tough fixture for any team.
And then there was Germany and Portugal. That game was a massacre, and but for some profligate shooting from the Germans, it could easily have ended 7-0 or even more. A needless red card for Pepe, an injury to Coentrao and a full 90 minutes for a star player struggling to stay fit only compounded Portugal’s misery. The Portuguese will face the USA next as a much diminished force, and if the Americans take that game too they will seal second place in the group behind Germany.
Group H: In the sixth (!) come-from-behind win of the tournament so far, Belgium outfought Algeria 2-1 while Russia and South Korea battled to a 1-1 tie. Belgium play Russia next, a clash which will very much determine the course of the group – a win will assure Belgium of qualification to the next round, but a loss would leave the group wide open. Similarly, a win for Algeria against South Korea would leave them very much in the mix, but a loss would effectively put an end to their World Cup.
Everything still to play for, but a hard road emerging for some teams.
And now that Brazil and Mexico have played again, let’s revisit Group A: the two teams scratched out a 0-0 tie in their second round to go level on 4 points at the top of the group. Brazil are ahead on goal difference by a solitary strike, which means that much will now come down to the final game, with another tie almost enough to automatically clinch qualification for either one.
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