The World Cup bracket is beginning to take shape after four days of scintillating action in Brazil, and we stand on the cusp of another day that is bristling with a myriad of captivating football.
Day 5 will allow us to run the rule over the "Group of Death" for the first time in the tournament and to take a look at two of the teams battling it out with Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina to make it out of Group F.
For the foursome of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States, a strong result in their tournament opener is imperative if they’re to stand a chance of getting out of a perilously difficult group. By contrast, Nigeria and Iran will be doing their utmost to cling onto the coattails of Argentina, who ran out comfortable winners in their opening game.
Let's take a deeper look into the Day 5 fixtures and a glance further down the line as to how these early clashes will affect the final group standings:
Argentina have set an early pace in this group after their 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Day 4, and now it’s up to Iran and Nigeria to try and keep up. It’s certainly not a glamorous fixture, but it’ll be a game between two sides that are steadily improving and tactically astute.
Iran are headed up by former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz, and he’s fashioned an extremely cohesive and diligent side. They are very difficult to break down and will look to sit deep and frustrate their opponents.
Which team is most likely to qualify from the group stage?
It’s a ploy that could definitely hamper an inexperienced Nigeria team, who like to sit deep themselves but spring forward quickly when winning the ball. Stephen Keshi has picked a young squad for this tournament, and they’re bristling with pace and power. But they do look as though they’re lacking a player with real guile in the middle of the park to prise open stringent defences like Iran.
Expect a tight game here, probably one of the tightest of all the opening matches. Nigeria should just have enough to sneak a narrow win, and that’d put them in pole position to qualify behind Argentina in the group.
The key match-up in Group F looks likely to come on June 21, when the Super Eagles take on Bosnia-Herzegovina, a game in which Keshi’s side are capable of nicking a result too.
Prediction to Qualify: Argentina (winners) and Nigeria (runners-up)
One of the most enticing of all of the group-stage fixtures will be played out on Day 5, as Germany take on Portugal in the Group G opener. That’ll be followed by the clash between Ghana and the United States, as the USMNT look to gain revenge on the Black Stars; the African side have knocked them out of the last two World Cups.
Germany have one of the strongest squads in the competition, and that’s been put to the test during their preparations for this tournament. They lost Marco Reus in the build-up, while concerns linger over the fitness of a host of key players.
German football writer Cristian Nyari thinks that could lead to Joachim Low naming a somewhat unfamiliar starting XI:
My projected Germany XI vs Portugal tomorrow. 4-3-3 with Özil up top and four center-backs in defense. pic.twitter.com/6CeINo56jL— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) June 15, 2014
They’ll be up against a Portugal side that looks as though it could cause real problems for this Germany outfit. The German back four is set to consist of four central defenders and, as such, they could be exposed by the pace of the Portuguese attackers; especially when up against Cristiano Ronaldo.
The clash between Portugal and Germany should be open but even, so expect a high-scoring draw. But the match between Ghana and the United States is set to be the complete opposite, with both Kwesi Appiah and Jurgen Klinsmann likely to pack the midfield areas of the pitch.
Here’s how those two teams look set to line up for that one:
With such a convoluted midfield, expect space to be at a premium for these two sides. And with neither team in possession of an intricate midfield player capable of picking holes in these congested areas, we look set for a low-scoring affair. The pace and directness Ghana have in their side—most notably through the Ayew brothers on the flanks—should see them edge it.
Overall, Germany and Portugal look the best bets to qualify. All the teams in this group are well-organised and defensively adept, but it’s the aforementioned pair that have the quality to open games up, score goals and bag vital results.
Prediction to Qualify: Germany (winners) and Portugal (runners-up)