After three days at the World Cup, I found myself thinking one thing over and over again.
"Man, I hope this tournament never ends."
It's been brilliant thus far, hasn't it been? Amazing goals, tight matchups, teams really going for it rather than sitting back and playing like boring, cautious and nervous Nellies. That's the kind of footy I enjoy, and I hope it continues.
Speaking of, what will happen as we go on? Which teams are going to escape the group phase? Ask and ye shall receive, dear reader. Let's break down the groups.
For a full look at the table and schedule for each group, B/R has you covered.
No surprises here thus far. Brazil handles Croatia, albeit with Fred dropping like a sack of potatoes to help that result along, while Mexico took care of a pretty listless Cameroon side.
Brazil is going to win this group, but who finishes second?
I'll take Croatia. It played Brazil really tough and did so without striker Mario Mandzukic, who it'll have for its final two games. I was impressed with Mexico against Cameroon, but I'm still trying to figure out if it played wonderfully or if Cameroon was just that poor.
We'll find out. But I still believe Brazil and Croatia will advance.
Surely, the Dutch will advance. They earned three points against Spain, they are plus-four in goal differential and they'll surely earn three points against Australia. Getting to six points with that goal differential should see them through.
The real question will be Spain facing Chile. Chile will not shy away from the Spanish, but it also looked really vulnerable in the back against Australia and easily could have conceded more than one goal. On the other hand, when Chile revs it up it is something to be seen.
But there's no way Spain can be that bad again. It simply has too much talent and should be able to make the proper tweaks needed to get through this group.
Sergio Ramos certainly thinks all of the talk of Spain being over the hill is drastically premature, as he told Paul Logothetis of The Associated Press, via ABC News: "I think the majority of people have confidence in us. We accept criticism, but it's crazy to talk about the end of an era. Excuses are for losers and Spain has a winning mentality, and that will never change."
Preach it, brother. It's possible we could see three teams tie with six points atop the group, but I still like Spain and the Netherlands to advance.
I think Colombia made one thing clear—it is going to go out and win this group. Greece just never looked likely to slow it down.
I continue to think the Ivory Coast will advance as well. On paper, it is the next strongest team. But after Colombia, this group remains wide open.
For now, I'm sticking with Colombia and the Ivory Coast.
Just like we all predicted, Costa Rica sits atop this group. That's what we all predicted, right?
Can we really chalk up Uruguay's shocking loss to Costa Rica on Luis Suarez's absence, or does this team have more glaring holes that the CONCACAF upstarts unearthed? It sure felt like the latter, didn't it?
I think I'm going to change my prediction for this group. England played well against Italy; it just wasn't quite good enough. But the players went for it, something we haven't always seen from them, and I wouldn't be shocked at all if England took six points the rest of the way.
Strangely, the often cynical English press was generally pleased with the performance. Here's Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph:
Not many negatives to England performance, bar the result, which is a first. Still good chance to qualify.— Mark Ogden (@MOgdenTelegraph) June 15, 2014
Phil McNulty of BBC Sport thought England deserved a better result:
England 1 Italy 2. Lots for Roy Hodgson to be pleased about and deserved a draw - big scrap on the way against Uruguay.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) June 14, 2014
John Cross of the Mirror was coming up with his glass half full:
And the Men in Blazers put their always hilarious perspective to the match:
An England team that has learned how to lose without the nation turning on them. Progress— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) June 14, 2014
That pretty much says it all. I have less confidence in either Costa Rica or Uruguay taking all three points from Italy as this group progresses; that much is certain. England and Italy move on.
Barring a last-minute strike from the team, France should win this group easily. It really couldn't have asked for a much better group.
As for the remaining teams, we'll learn a lot on Sunday when Switzerland takes on Ecuador. I'll take the former—put simply, I don't trust Ecuador on foreign soil. The players enjoy their altitude advantage in their home country too much, while Switzerland was overrated by the FIFA rankings but was simply wonderful in Euro qualifying nonetheless.
France and Switzerland get through.
I think we can all agree that Argentina is in serious trouble in this group, eh? Wait, no, that's not correct. Argentina probably has the easiest draw of any of the top contenders. While you never like to assume a squad will earn nine points, simply because of how unpredictable the World Cup is, this Argentina side is probably going to earn nine points.
I was much less certain that Bosnia-Herzegovina would advance before the United States and Nigeria played in a friendly. Suffice to say, I was not very impressed with Nigeria. Granted, it didn't start all of its regulars, and you can often take friendlies with a grain of salt, but it was still mostly full strength and did not look impressive.
Every time I've watched Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, I've come away impressed. I think it earns six points from this group and moves on alongside Argentina.
You heard it here first—the United States will earn all nine points in this group.
OK, OK, so that isn't happening. Well, probably not at least. Germany is just too strong, and Portugal with a healthy Cristiano Ronaldo—he sure seems likely to play—is dangerous. Add in a very good Ghana side, and this group is stacked.
But Germany and Portugal are top teams. Anything could happen, of course, and both the United States and Ghana know they must earn three points when they face on Monday.
But I'll take Germany and Portugal to advance.
Belgium and Russia and everyone else—that's what I see when I look at this group.
I mean no disrespect to South Korea or Algeria, but I just don't think they have much of a chance of advancing. That probably means they'll both advance, inspired by Costa Rica's performance against Uruguay, but I'll believe it when I see it.
And maybe not even then. Belgium and Russia move on.