Day 15 of the 2014 World Cup will bring the group stages to an end as the final eight teams left to play for the knockout rounds battle for supremacy.
Belgium are through to the next round, and Germany are nearly guaranteed to move on as well.
The United States, Ghana and Portugal will look to join Die Mannschaft in the round of 16 while Algeria, Russia and South Korea look to follow Belgium's path to World Cup glory.
Here are predictions for Thursday's games along with the knockout stage matches already set in stone before Day 15.
|June 28||Brazil vs. Chile||BRA 3-2 CHI|
|June 28||Colombia vs. Uruguay||COL 2-1 URG|
|June 29||Netherlands vs Mexico||NED 3-1 MEX|
|June 29||Costa Rica vs. Greece||CRA 1-0 GRE (OT)|
|June 30||France vs. Nigeria||FRA 3-1 NGR|
|July 1||Argentina vs. Switzerland||ARG 1-0 SUI|
|G||Germany vs. United States||DEU 2-1 USA|
|G||Portugal vs. Ghana||POR 2-2 GHA|
|H||Algeria vs. Russia||RUS 1-0 ALG|
|H||Korea Republic vs. Belgium||BEL 2-0 SKA|
Day 15 Preview, Predictions
United States midfielder Jermaine Jones is the player with the best shot at making Germany pay on Thursday.
Jones hit a scorching shot to bring the United States level against Portugal on Sunday and was all over the midfield, breaking up passes and urging his teammates forward in attack. ESPN has the highlight of Jones' goal:
It's definitely not too early to rewatch Jermaine Jones' brilliant goal -> http://t.co/7bLebzFk2w— ESPN (@espn) June 22, 2014
With Michael Bradley struggling, Jones has been the true driving force in midfield for the United States. He will be key to the United States' chances against a German squad he is eminently familiar with.
What will be the outcome of United Stats vs. Germany?
If the United States does have a weakness to exploit in this one, it is on the left side of defense. Left-back DaMarcus Beasley—who is not a natural defender—was run ragged by Christian Atsu in USA's match against Ghana. He was also tentative on Ronaldo's cross that led to Silvestre Varela's game-tying header.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, via a report from ESPN FC's Doug McIntyre, left center-back Matt Besler will be included in the lineup against Germany. His health could still be in question; Besler was subbed off with an apparent leg injury against Ghana and looked hobbled late in the match against Portugal.
If Besler isn't 100 percent, Germany could utilize Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos and an overlapping Jerome Boateng to pry apart the United States defense.
The United States put together one of their best performances against Portugal, but they just don't have the talent to keep up in this match. That being said, they should still move on to the next round with a favorable result from the Ghana-Portugal match.
Ghana and Portugal will both be gunning for victory; a draw won't do it for either team. This should make for a very entertaining match.
The Ghana squad could be a bit distracted heading into the match after a disagreement about bonuses, via The Associated Press (h/t USA Today):
Ghana's president has had to intervene to reassure agitated players at the World Cup that they will be paid their bonuses, apparently avoiding another strike over pay by an African team.The Ghana Football Association said in a statement that President John Dramani Mahama "personally spoke to the players" to assure them they will be paid by Wednesday afternoon and before Thursday's decisive Group G game against Portugal.
Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly not entirely fit against the United States; if he's any closer to full fitness, he should be able to score or create a goal against Ghana.
The Black Stars will look to Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan to spearhead the attack against Portugal. Goals will be a fairly common sight in this game, but neither team will be able to gain the upper hand.
Russia has a very clear, simple objective in their match against Algeria—win, and you're in the knockout stages (and probably facing Germany, but Russia fans can worry about that later). Algeria have three points after their stirring 4-2 victory over South Korea. The victory was a notable one for African teams, as ESPN FC points out:
Algeria are the first African team EVER to score 4 goals in a World Cup match.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 22, 2014
Yacine Brahimi will look to continue his role as a creative force in midfield for Algeria.
Belgium are playing for first place in Group H against South Korea. The Red Devils are already through to the next round and will stay atop the group if Algeria lose or draw against Russia. Belgium haven't been dominant so far in this World Cup, but that doesn't seem to bother coach Marc Wilmots.
"Pretty, pretty, pretty makes no one happy. We need to show efficiency. And we did exactly that," said Wilmots, via Raf Casert of The Independent.
South Korea are playing for respectability but could be a minor spoiler, as a big victory over Belgium combined with an Algerian win could drop Belgium to second place in the group.