The 2014 World Cup has saved the best for last when it comes to the group stages, with all eight teams playing on Thursday still alive for a spot in the round of 16.
The entire world will be looking forward to the conclusion if Group G, with Germany and the USA each only needing a single point from their fixture to advance to the next round. Belgium are the only team guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages, but they'll still be playing for the right to avoid the Germans in the round of 16.
Let's have a look at every one of Thursday's fixtures and make predictions for how the day will play out:
|Time (ET)||Time (BST)||Match||TV Info||Live Stream|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Portugal v Ghana||ESPN||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||USA v Germany||ESPN2/BBC1||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
|9 p.m.||4 p.m.||South Korea v Belgium||ESPN/ITV||WatchESPN/ITV Player|
|9 p.m.||4 p.m.||Algeria v Russia||ESPN2/ITV4||WatchESPN/ITV Player|
Portugal vs. Ghana
Both teams need to win, and both teams need to score goals. Ghana haven't kept a clean sheet in their last six World Cup matches; Portugal have conceded six in just two matches. This match promises to be a spectacle like no other, with the stakes as high as they get.
Winning might not be enough for either team, depending on what the USA and Germany do in their match, but it's the only way they'll even have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. More importantly, goal difference could be vital, and with the USA holding a tiebreaker over Ghana, both teams should focus on attack first and foremost.
Pepe will return from his suspension to help solidify Portugal's back four, but the team will still be without the injured Fabio Coentrao. Via Selecao Brasileira, youngster William Carvalho refused to give up on his team's chances:
William Carvalho: "Mathematically talking, Portugal can still qualify. We won't surrender."— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 23, 2014
However, via ESPN Numbers, their chances are fairly bleak:
Soccer Power Index pct to advance (Group G): Germany 99.7% #USMNT 75.8% Ghana 19.1% Portugal 5.4%— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 23, 2014
The Ghanaians can't be too focused on what happens in Manaus, but the nerves and the current goal difference will have their impact on how the team performs.
Prediction: Portugal 2-2 Ghana
USA vs. Germany
One point will do for either team, but don't expect these proud nations to just play the ball around for 90 minutes and call it a day. Die Mannschaft will be eager to show the world 1982 is ancient history and press forward from the very first minute.
Meanwhile, the USA have gone completely football crazy, with celebrities and fans believing the team shouldn't fear the Germans at all. Hulk Hogan, for instance, is very optimistic:
Watcha gonna do Germany when the USA runs wild all over YOU!!! Brother,USA Soccer,Lets Do It!!!!! HH— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) June 25, 2014
The Yanks have to avoid a similar scenario to the one they faced against Portugal. An early deficit would be lethal against a team as deadly in space as the Germans. The battle in the centre of the pitch will be a hard one, but it is one the USA have to win at all costs.
If the team can avoid an early goal, time will be on their side. Germany's push for a goal will lessen the closer the teams get to the final whistle, knowing they simply can't afford to take any unnecessary risks.
Die Mannschaft need to avoid letting Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman grow into the match. The duo have been pivotal so far for the Yanks, and their physicality is something both Ghana and Portugal struggled with. Putting pressure on Michael Bradley strips the USA of much of their creativity, and that's what Germany should look to do.
Prediction: USA 1-2 Germany
South Korea vs. Belgium
Belgium have already qualified for the knockout stages, but they'll take a long, hard look at the midday matches and the final standings in Group G as they try and avoid a date with Germany.
South Korea can still qualify for the next round, but they'll need to make up some significant ground on both Russia and Algeria in goal difference. This means attacking football and a high press, something the Belgians will love to exploit.
The Koreans don't have a choice, however. In the best-case scenario, they'll still need to beat Belgium by at least two goals. Via Bleacher Report's Robbie Dunne, history isn't on their side:
@ReverschPass Belgium haven't lost with Courtois between the sticks, impressive.— Robbie Dunne (@bobdonadini) June 22, 2014
That's right—Belgium have never lost a match with Thibaut Courtois in goal. The Red Devils may not have looked like world beaters so far in the 2014 World Cup, but one thing they have done well is limit the chances of their opponents.
The Belgians will wait for the space the Koreans will eventually have to give them, using their quick wingers on the counter. Korea will use their excellent short-range passing in an attempt to keep the ball away from the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, but against Axel Witsel, that's easier said than done.
Prediction: South Korea 0-2 Belgium
Algeria vs. Russia
In two matches, we've seen two sides to this Algerian team. There was the tentative, defensive unit that hardly crossed into Belgian's half during their opener, and the unleashed, athletic group of players who looked like they didn't have a care in the world in their 4-2 win over South Korea.
If the first team shows up on Thursday, there's a good chance they'll fall victim to a single flash of brilliance from one of the Russian players. If it's the latter, there's no reason Algeria couldn't take care of a struggling Russian side.
Fabio Capello is an experienced, veteran manager who deserves a ton of respect, but his work during the 2014 World Cup has been awful. Just ask the Daily Mirror's Oliver Holt:
Capello's having another good World Cup then— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) June 22, 2014
He continues to ignore Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, despite the fact the duo effectively saved his skin in their opener against the Koreans. Both are two of the team's most consistent offensive contributors, and without them the Russians have lacked any kind of flow around the box.
The Algerians can defend as one, and they're deadly on the counter. The individual brilliance of Dzagoev, Kerzhakov and Aleksandr Kokorin will be needed to break down this unit, and much will depend on Capello and his ability to admit he needs his game-changers.
Prediction: Algeria 1-1 Russia