Two groups down, six groups to go.
After two days at the World Cup, we've learned a lot. The officiating is awful, Neymar is awesome, Mexico is revived, the Spanish empire might be fading away, Robin van Persie is better at headers than you are, and did I mention the officiating?
But how will each group play out? How did the first two days affect our perception of Groups A and B? And what of the remaining groups?
Let's break 'em down.
For a full look at the table and schedule for each group, B/R has you covered.
This group played out as expected, with a few controversies along the way. Brazil beating Croatia wasn't a surprise, even if they benefited hugely from a shameful Fred flop, while Mexico should have beaten Cameroon 3-0, but poor officiating instead left them with a 1-0 triumph.
Brazil always seemed likely to conquer this group, and little has changed in that regard. But the battle between Croatia and Mexico got a lot more interesting.
Croatia played Brazil much tougher than the final score suggested, and they'll get back striker Mario Mandzukic for their final two games. Mexico, meanwhile, looked like a far stronger team than the one that limped through CONCACAF qualifying.
But here's the rub for Mexico, per Grant Wahl of SI.com:
Cameroon was horrible.
Glass-half-empty Mexican fans may wonder if it was Cameroon’s abject performance that made El Tri look good. It’s hard to know what coach Volker Finke’s game plan was, since the Indomitable Lions were so often disjointed all over the field. Their problems weren’t for a lack of effort but more so an absence of efficiency. When Cameroon needed a goal in the second half, there just weren’t enough numbers moving downfield until very late in the game (when a couple chances finally came).
While Mexico looked excellent against a shoddy Cameroon side, Croatia looked quite good without their best attacker against arguably the tournament favorites. Had the ref not fallen for Fred's physical comedian routine in the box, Croatia looked poised to earn a point against Brazil.
Mexico's reemergence was impressive. But I still think Croatia has the better squad.
Prediction: Brazil and Croatia advance.
Okay, who saw that coming?
The Dutch eviscerated the defending world champs and two-time defending European champions Spain, 5-1, as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each notched a brace. It was a masterclass in beating the tiki-taka, while the Dutch attackers exposed Spain's vulnerable back line.
With the win, the Dutch have become the favorites in this group. They'll surely get three points against Australia, barring a huge shock, and their place in the knockout phase seems assured.
But will Spain recover? They had better—Chile is up next.
Still, the South American side didn't exactly shine against Australia. Yes, they won 3-1, but after a breathtaking start and 2-0 lead, they took their foot off the gas and Australia nearly pulled even. A late goal for Chile sealed things, but this wasn't the type of performance that gave me the confidence they can overcome Spain.
But the Spaniards need to fix a few things—and fast. Vicente Del Bosque certainly knows as much, as he told Tele 5 after the match, via Eoghan Macguire of CNN:
We must recognize our mistakes, but everyone fought for a better result. I am aware that it is a very delicate time for us. Together we have to try to solve it for the next match against Chile and look for the win.
No kidding. Spain still have the quality and experience to fix things, however, and Chile's non-stop attacking philosophy and shaky back line should play right into Spain's hands.
But it's a big "should" after Friday's performance.
Prediction: Netherlands, Spain advance.
With or without Radamel Falcao, this is Colombia's group to lose. They are a talented, dangerous and attacking side that will really test the questionable defenses of Japan and the Ivory Coast, and should have a goal or two in them against a tougher Greek defense, too.
This group is really wide open. The Ivory Coast have a ton of talent in the midfield and attack, led by Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Gervinho. Japan is a positive side that is very technically sound. The Greeks are traditionally strong in defense and have a good group of attackers in this generation.
It should be fun. And unpredictable. But I'll make some predictions anyway because that is why you are here.
Prediction: Colombia and Ivory Coast advance.
Good luck figuring this group out. The only certainty seems to be that Costa Rica won't advance, but they aren't pushovers, either.
But yes, this one seems likely to come down to Italy, Uruguay and England, and all three teams have major questions. Will Mario Balotelli be a superstar or a disaster? Uruguay are brilliant in the attack, but will they hold up in the midfield? And how fit is Luis Suarez really? Finally, will the young and less experienced talent for England step up?
If Balotelli shows up, Italy will win this group. And if Suarez is truly fully fit, I think Uruguay join them in the knockout phase. England will play well, but they won't survive this group.
And neither will Costa Rica. But you already knew that.
Prediction: Italy and Uruguay advance.
France will advance. Not only is that a nice little rhyme, but they are definitely the most talented team, at least on paper, in this group. And yes, that's true even without Franck Ribery.
So who will join them?
Switzerland, more than likely. They were brilliant in European qualifying and are a sneakily talented squad. Ecuador struggle mightily outside of the high elevation of their country, while Honduras are severely overmatched in this group.
Expect a European flavor from Group E.
Prediction: France and Switzerland advance.
Arguably the most cut-and-dry group of them all. Argentina should earn nine points without breaking a sweat, while Bosnia-Herzegovina seem a level above Nigeria and several levels above Iran. Behind Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia-Herzegovina are dangerous.
But Nigeria certainly didn't impress against the United States in their last friendly. While you can perhaps take friendlies with a grain of salt, on paper Bosnia-Herzegovina are also the stronger side. Both Nigeria and Iran could surprise us all, but I really think Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina will go through without much issue.
Prediction: Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina advance.
Everything, and I mean everything, in this group hinges on the health of Cristiano Ronaldo. If he's fit, they are good enough to win the group. If he isn't, Portugal will be hard-pressed to reach the knockout phase.
One way or another, Germany are the favorites. Losing Marco Reus hurts, and the midfield has its question marks, but no team in this group has the overall talent of the Germans.
But the United States and Ghana will make things interesting. The former have been excellent in both the hexagonal phase of CONCACAF qualifying and the lead-up to the World Cup. Ghana are loaded with talent and were a Luis Suarez handball away from reaching the semifinals in 2010.
Keep an eye on Ronaldo's health, though. The entire group will be affected depending on his status.
Prediction: Germany and Portugal advance (for now).
Another group that feels pretty cut and dry. Belgium and Russia are the class of this group, and either team could top it. Belgium are loaded with talent (much of it featuring in the Premier League), led by Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany. Russia are loaded as well, and all of it comes from their domestic league.
South Korea and Algeria aren't pushovers, but they aren't getting out of this group.
Prediction: Belgium and Russia advance.
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