As the group stage in the 2014 World Cup starts to come to a close, there are still a few remaining fixtures to watch before the knockout stage begins.
After Tuesday's action, only eight matches remain, which will take place on Wednesday and Thursday. Once those matches are over, the round of 16 will begin on Saturday, starting with an exciting matchup between Brazil and Chile.
With group play nearly over, below is a look at the remaining fixtures on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a breakdown of a few star players to watch out for.
Group Stage Fixtures
|Wednesday, June 25||Group||Time (ET)||TV|
|Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran||F||12 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Nigeria vs. Argentina||F||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Ecuador vs. France||E||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Honduras vs. Switzerland||E||4 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Thursday, June 26|
|Portugal vs. Ghana||G||12 p.m.||ESPN2|
|United States vs. Germany||G||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Algeria vs. Russia||H||4 p.m.||ESPN2|
|South Korea vs. Belgium||H||4 p.m.||ESPN|
Top Players To Watch
Lionel Messi, Argentina
As one of the best players in the world, expectations have been high in this year's World Cup for Lionel Messi, and so far he hasn't disappointed.
Argentina have won both of their games so far, and Messi has been a big reason for that. After coming in with just one career World Cup goal, he's added two so far, including a huge game-winner in stoppage time against Iran. Because of the win, Messi feels confident his team is beginning to reach its potential.
“Today’s victory was really important because now we’re confident and we have peace of mind,” Messi told Paul Hayward from The Telegraph. “If we hadn’t won today the game against Nigeria would have been different. We know we must keep improving so we can reach our potential.”
While Argentina have already locked up a spot in the knockout round, they still have to at least get a draw against Nigeria to grab the top spot in Group F. Messi will be called upon to step up again, but Nigeria thrives on defense, as they haven't allowed a single goal through two games.
However, with the attackers that Argentina have, that could change.
Karim Benzema, France
France have been dominant in their first two matches, winning by a combined score of 8-2, and as they prepare to sweep their group with a third win against Ecuador on Wednesday, Karim Benzema will be the player to keep an eye on.
In two games so far, Benzema has been one of the most productive players in the World Cup, recording three goals and two assists. According to WhoScored.com, he has the highest match rating of any player at the World Cup with a 9.3 rating. Their Twitter account also noted that during the game against Switzerland, he created more chances than anyone else has in a World Cup match this year.
Benzema will have an opportunity to keep pouring it on against Ecuador. After not even making the World Cup roster for France in South Africa in 2010, Benzema has finally become the team's star who will try to carry them to the finals.
Thomas Muller, Germany
Group G has featured plenty of drama already, and with a final match against the United States in group play, Germany will be trying to take the top spot on Thursday. Considering what he's done so far, Thomas Muller could play a big role for Germany, and perhaps even come up with another goal.
Muller started this year's World Cup by posting a hat trick against Portugal in the dominant 4-0 victory. After that, he recorded an assist in Germany's 2-2 draw against Ghana. He received a nasty head injury in the draw, but will play on Thursday. The talented 24-year-old feels good coming into this next match, but he also realizes that Germany have to be careful.
“We want to play well, try not to concede goals and win the group, but you have to be very cautious,” Muller told the Associated Press. “The tournament can be over very quickly.”
After winning the Golden Boot in the 2010 World Cup, Muller is well on his way to doing so again, especially if Germany can make a deep run. They're currently one of the favorites to win it all, and Thursday's match will be a great opportunity for him to add another goal or two.
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