It's hard to believe that the group stage at the 2014 World Cup has just one more day left. Over the past two weeks, we've seen incredible performances, outrageous actions (here's looking at you, Vampire Suarez), shocking finishes and some truly breathtaking displays of skill.
It's been glorious.
On Thursday, Groups G and H will conclude, with three of the possible four spots in the knockout phase still up for grabs (only Belgium has clinched their spot). It's going to be fun, folks. Let's break down everything you need to know as the group stage winds to a close.
|G||Germany vs. USA||12 p.m.||ESPN; WatchESPN||Germany (-173), USA (+1066), Draw (+233)||Draw, 1-1|
|G||Portugal vs. Ghana||12 p.m.||ESPN2; Watch ESPN||Ghana (+234), Portugal (+112), Draw (+304)||Ghana win, 2-1|
|H||Belgium vs. South Korea||4 p.m.||ESPN; WatchESPN||Belgium (-140), South Korea (+445), Draw (296)||Belgium win, 2-0|
|H||Russia vs. Algeria||4 p.m.||ESPN2; Watch ESPN||Russia (+105), Algeria (+277), Draw (+277)||Russia win, 1-0|
Odds via Oddsshark.com
It's all up for grabs in Group G and, namely, the United States. While the Americans face a daunting task against Germany, they also have a great chance of advancing to the knockout phase. Let's break down the scenarios:
- If the United States win, they win the group and advance to the knockout phase.
- If the United States draw, they finish second in the group and advance to the knockout phase.
- If the United States lose, they can still reach the knockout phase if Ghana and Portugal draw or if the Americans finish with a better goal differential than the winner of the Ghana vs. Portugal matchup.
There are so many storylines in this matchup, but one of the main ones is the German flavor to this United States team, which has five players with dual German-American citizenship and, of course, a German manager in Jurgen Klinsmann.
But that won't have much to do with what happens on the pitch. The truth is that on paper, the Germans are the vastly superior side. But three things seem to play in the United States' favor—they have played excellent team football thus far, they have proven to be fit and able when faced with tough weather and travel conditions, and they'll not only have a huge contingency of fans at the game, but the neutrals will likely pull for the upset.
They'll need any help they can get. While the United States have played solid team defense, the back line has been shaky, and poor mistakes cost them two goals against Portugal. With Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Mesut Ozil interchanging and attacking them from different positions, the Americans will be really tested.
On the other hand, the German defense had their hands full against Ghana and has looked vulnerable at times. The U.S., at the very least, can come away with a point in this game.
The Men in Blazers certainly think so:
Meanwhile, Portugal have looked like a defeated side at this World Cup. Germany trounced them. The United States should have beaten them, but Portugal saved a point by the smallest of margins. And even their top star, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, has gone out of his way to lower expectations heading into the match against Ghana.
Here are his comments to the Press Association, via The Guardian:
Maybe we're an average team. It would be a lie to say that we are a top team. We have a very limited team and we are not at the best level. This does not enable you to beat top teams.
There are no miracles. We knew we would have a tough group, with perhaps teams better than us. I never thought we could be world champions, we have to be humble and know our level.
I'm not a hypocrite, I never thought we could win the tournament.
How's that for a confidence boost? Don't be surprised when Ghana beat Portugal. The African side certainly gave the United States and Germany all they could handle, that much is certain.
In Group H, Belgium are already through and need only to draw with South Korea to win the group. Given how South Korea have played thus far, Belgium should get that result without much drama. Still, South Korea are in a position to advance with a victory, however precarious that position seems now, so they'll be gunning for the Belgians.
And while Belgium have won their first two games, they haven't been overly convincing in the wins. Don't be surprised if South Korea really builds their attack out wide, where Belgium lacks true full-backs.
It's all up in the air in the match between Algeria and Russia as well. The Russians have been disappointing thus far while the Algerians shocked everyone when they beat South Korea, 4-2. That result means they need only to draw with Russia to advance.
And it also was completely unexpected given their history at the tournament, as ESPN Stats & Info tweeted:
Yesterday, Algeria got its first World Cup win since 1982. No player on their roster was alive at the time of that win— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 23, 2014
For a Russian side that needs a win to move on, the fact that they've managed just a goal in their first two games is worrying. This squad just hasn't found a rhythm yet at this World Cup, and with Algeria likely parking the bus and playing to protect their point, finding the back of the net isn't going to get easier.
Let's all be honest for a second—the final round of games in the group stage has featured some stinkers. The World Cup has been amazing thus far, but the third slate of games has had its lulls.
Don't expect that on Thursday, however. With so much at stake, these games should be thrilling.