With less than one week to go in the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, the field for the second stage is starting to take shape. We know for sure that there will be a new champion after Spain imploded from the get-go, but good luck crowning a new favorite.
The theme of this year's World Cup seems to be expect the unexpected. Brazil was a huge favorite coming in, yet Mexico stifled the host squad with a brilliant performance from goalie Guillermo Ochoa. England is done with two losses in its first two matches.
As we prepare to start the 10th day of World Cup action, with three matches from two groups, here are our final predictions for what to expect.
|World Cup Schedule - Saturday, June 21|
|Group||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Network|
|F||Argentina vs. Iran||11:30 a.m.||ESPN|
|G||Germany vs. Ghana||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|F||Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina||5:30 p.m.||ESPN|
Group F: Argentina (1-0-0, 3 points) vs. Iran (0-1-0, 1 point)
For a squad that seemed like a lock to play in the knockout stage of the World Cup, Argentina was pretty ordinary early in its opening match against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Alejandro Sabella's squad was giving up opportunities to Senad Lulic left and right, yet things never went so bad that they were forced to play catch-up before Lionel Messi provided the knockout blow in the second half.
We are Argentina and I think we need to concentrate on ourselves without fixating on who we are playing.
We feel more comfortable with two up front and me behind because it makes it easier to counter-attack and, because we have more people in attack, we have more possibilities.
With Argentina getting the three points it needed, now the focus can shift to an Iran squad that has to deal with the distraction of losing coach Carlos Queiroz after the World Cup.
The Iranians don't have the offensive firepower to keep up with Messi and Co. in this matchup, having scored more than one goal just once since the start of May (a 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago).
With Argentina hitting its stride in the second half against Bosnia and Herzegovina, expect to see a much stronger all-around effort for 90 minutes this time around.
Prediction: Argentina 3, Iran 0
Group G: Germany (1-0-0, 3 points) vs. Ghana (0-0-1, 0 points)
Germany will be riding high following that dominant effort against Portugal in its first game. It was the perfect storm of circumstance for the Germans, who got a hat-trick from Thomas Mueller and brilliant goaltending from Manuel Neuer.
It wasn't a completely spotless effort, as center-back Mats Hummels left the match with a thigh injury. He told Rob Bleaney of the UK Guardian that it's not a serious injury but will keep him out against Ghana.
"It doesn’t feel as if the injury is bad enough to end my World Cup but more like missing perhaps a game," Hummels said. "It looked worse than what it was."
Hummels netted the one Germany goal not from Mueller against Portugal, and his absence creates a hole in the middle of the defense that must be filled.
On the other side, Ghana has to claw its way back into the swing of things after a rough 2-1 loss against the United States. It was a match set up for Ghana to win, despite the Americans' quick 1-0 lead, because Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler both left with hamstring injuries and Clint Dempsey took a shin to the nose.
The fact that Ghana couldn't take advantage of a hobbled U.S. team doesn't speak well about its chances heading into a showdown with a German squad coming off a fantastic all-around performance.
Prediction: Germany 2, Ghana 1
Group F: Nigeria (0-1-0, 1 point) vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (0-0-1, 0 points)
Bosnia and Herzegovina had a chance to make a huge statement against Argentina on Sunday, but never got into a good offensive rhythm that would have put pressure on the opposition. Safet Susic's squad came out tight, generating an own goal in the third minute, and never recovered.
Susic admitted that he's going to consider making changes to the squad and how they attack, according to Benjamin Baer of MLSSoccer.com.
"I think I may change the squad, but it depends on the situation," said Susic. "Our players will train in different formations and combinations."
Baer speculated Vedad Ibisevic, who got Bosnia and Herzegovina's lone goal against Argentina, could be added to the starting lineup to get the offense back on track. Considering the ease which Ibisevic scored, as you can see in this highlight from the BH Dragons' Twitter feed, it would be a wise decision.
The good news is Nigeria looked sluggish against Iran in its opening match. Both squads excel on defense, but the fact that the Nigerians couldn't make anything happen despite controlling the ball 63 percent of the time doesn't bode well for what's to come.
"The boys were nervous and unsettled; you don't do that at this stage," Keshi said. "It happens in football. We really didn't perform as expected, but we have to move on."
That's not a great sign for a squad that has lost nine straight World Cup matches going against an opponent that packs a potent punch with the ball.
Prediction: Bosnia and Herzegovina 2, Nigeria 1
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