After each of the 32 teams involved in the World Cup completed their second game, we stand on the cusp of one of the most enthralling features of the tournament: the final group-stage matches. Four games a day, two sets of two games kicking off simultaneously and a plethora of sides battling to make it into the knockout stage of the competition.
Drama is guaranteed and split screens imminent for supporters across the globe. If the next 16 games continue in the same vein as the previous 32, we’re in for a phenomenal climax to the group stage.
So let’s take a look at how things are set to pan out during the final round of group-stage fixtures, predicting the likely fixtures for the round of 16 matches.
Knockout Stage Bracket
|Costa Rica||vs.||Ivory Coast|
The hosts haven’t quite guaranteed their spot in the second round yet, but a point against bottom side Cameroon would be enough to see them progress; a win would guarantee top spot. The only way Brazil could potentially go out at this stage would be if they lost to Cameroon and Mexico and Croatia drew their game.
Don’t expect any butterflies for the Brazilian supporters though, for they should beat Cameroon—who have been deplorably poor in the tournament so far—with ease.
El Tri can guarantee their place in the next round should they avoid defeat against Niko Kovac’s Croatia team, but given the enterprising manner in which Mexico have played so far, they will not be resting on their laurels in this one; they'll be looking for a win.
In Mario Mandzukic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have the players to breach this Mexico defence, but they’ll find it difficult to attain any kind of rhythm against their opponents, who operate with a ferocious intensity. The stylistic principles of both teams should yield goals, but expect El Tri to get the result needed to progress behind Brazil in second place.
The two qualifiers are already confirmed in Group B, but top spot is up for grabs when Chile and Netherlands lock horns.
Both of the aforementioned teams have been extremely impressive in the tournament so far, disposing of a gritty Australian side and the current holders Spain. And while both will have been delighted to qualify, finishing top of the group would seriously help the chances of either side.
Louis van Gaal’s team currently lead Chile on goal differential, meaning a draw would be good enough for them to secure top spot in the group. But they’ll be without suspended skipper Robin van Persie for this one, and that will give La Roja the edge in what looks set to be a wonderful game.
Colombia are almost certainly guaranteed top spot in the group. Anything other than defeat in the third game for Jose Pekerman’s team against Japan would be enough to see them go through as group winners; given the quality they’ve showcased so far, they should be too strong for the Blue Samurai.
Colombia aside, all of the remaining three teams can still make it through if results go their way. A win for Ivory Coast against Greece would guarantee their passage into the last 16, but if Greece were able to nick a victory, they’d qualify should Japan fail to beat Colombia. Japan can qualify if they beat Colombia by a two-goal margin and the other clash finishes in a draw or a Greece win by two goals or less.
In truth, Ivory Coast should have enough to get past the Greek team. Sabri Lamouchi’s men were a little unlucky to lose against Colombia, and a bit more composure in the final third should see them through against the Greeks, who are defensively sound but toothless in attack.
Costa Rica have shocked us all in this competition, guaranteeing their place in the knockout stages after successive wins over Uruguay and Italy. They need a point against England to top the group and, given the mood in the Three Lions camp after their elimination, Los Ticos should have enough to avoid defeat.
It was a disappointing tournament showing from England, who have put in their worst World Cup performance in 56 years, as noted here by Squawka:
The focus will be on the other game from this group though, as Italy and Uruguay square off in what is essentially a winner-takes-all contest. A win for either side would see them progress, while a draw would be good enough for the Italians given their superior goal differential.
The momentum is with Uruguay ahead of this one after Luis Suarez inspired them to a 2-1 win over England last time out. If the Liverpool forward can replicate that kind of ruthlessness in front of goal, then it’d be tough to see the Italian back line coping with him particularly well, especially when you consider the manner in which Costa Rica ran them ragged last time out.
After their remarkable 5-2 over Switzerland, the French will top the group barring an extremely unlikely sequence of goals and results. Didier Deschamps' team look in superb shape at the moment, putting together a prolific run of goalscoring form, as noted here by OptaJoe:
They will take on Ecuador in their final game, with La Tri knowing that a win would see them through to the latter stages. Despite France's qualification secured, it’s difficult to see Ecuador getting anything from this game, especially when you consider the manner in which they struggled to a 2-1 win over Honduras in their last match.
A draw could be enough for Ecuador to progress, provided that Switzerland lose to Honduras. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side are usually a very capable and cohesive team, but they suffered an off day in their humbling by the French. Expect them to get their act together and dispose of the Hondurans, booking their place in the last 16 at the expense of Ecuador.
Argentina are through to the next round after they scraped by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran in their first two games. They go up against Nigeria in their final group game and need a point to progress as group winners, which they should get despite the Super Eagles still harbouring their own hopes of qualification.
A win for Nigeria in the final game would see them top the group, and any kind of positive result would guarantee their progression into the knockout stages. They can still qualify if they lose, but they would be relying on a favour from a pointless Bosnia-Herzegovina against Iran.
The Iranians need to win if they’re to progress and hope Argentina can beat Nigeria by more than one goal. Bosnia-Herzegovina have disappointed so far, but they should have enough in the tank to notch their first-ever World Cup win against the Iranians, who tired badly towards the end of their game with Argentina.
Intriguingly, if Argentina and Iran both win by a scoreline of 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2, then Iran and Nigeria will draw lots to determine who makes it through.
The United States and Germany will square off knowing that a draw between the two would be enough to see both teams progress, with Joachim Low’s men in first place and Jurgen Klinsmann’s team in second. Naturally, a win for either side would guarantee their progression as group winners.
It'll be tough for the United States to get one over a fine Germany team though, especially when you consider their record in the World Cup group stages, as note here by OptaJose:
1 - #GER have been beaten in one of their last 19 group stages games in the World Cup, 0-1 against Serbia in 2010. Sovereignty.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 21, 2014
Ghana can progress if they beat Portugal, Germany beats the United States and they overcome a two-goal swing. Portugal are clinging on in the tournament after they scored an injury-time equaliser against the United States, and they know they need to win if they’re to go through. But they too would need a German win and a five-goal swing against the United States if they were to do so.
Neither Ghana nor Portugal—unless Cristiano Ronaldo has a stormer—look capable of putting together a performance that would see them achieve the result required, meaning that Germany and the United States should progress into the next round regardless of what happens in their match, in which, admittedly, a draw is not out of the question.
Belgium have been pretty unconvincing so far, but they’ve managed to grind out two wins and secure their safe passage into the next round. Belgium manager Marc Wilmots has made some astute substitutions in the two games played, with substitutes scoring all three of the Red Devils’ goals up to now.
The match-winner against Russia was from Divock Origi, who became the first teenager to score at the World Cup in eight years, as noted here by Infostrada Sports:
They will top the group provided they avoid defeat against South Korea in their final game, which should be comfortable for this crop of players. In the other clash, Russia face Algeria, where the winner will progress unless the Koreans can record a hugely unlikely big win over Belgium.
Algeria were excellent in their 4-2 victory over South Korea, showcasing that they have some flair to complement their defensive cohesiveness. They should have enough to grab at least a point over Fabio Capello’s Russia and progress to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.