Just like that, the group stage of the 2014 World Cup is nearly complete. Six of the eight groups have finished up play, with Groups G and H closing out the round on Thursday.
Among the eight teams scheduled to play on Day 15, only Belgium have secured passage to the knockout stages. The other three spots are up for grabs, with plenty of teams prepared to fight until the last whistle to get to the round of 16.
Thursday will be a bittersweet day for football fans because it means the daily barrage of action will stop in favor of fewer, yet more important matches.
So enjoy what's left of the group stage while you still can.
|2014 World Cup Group Tables|
Day 15 Predictions
Portugal vs. Ghana
Just when you thought everything was going right for the Ghana national team, this whole mess about appearance fees comes up. According to BBC Sport, the players demanded that the football association fly over to Brazil $3 million in unpaid appearance fees.
If you're Kwesi Appiah, this is the exact opposite thing you want your players focusing on ahead of a crunch fixture with Portugal.
The Portuguese have problems of their own—namely Paulo Bento. The Seleccao have too much talent to be as average as they are. Bento's dull, unadventurous tactics don't help matters.
This match will hinge on the performances of Ghana's wide players. Andre Ayew has scored twice in as many games, while Christian Atsu has more than enough speed to burn Joao Pereira down the right. If Atsu and Ayew are constant threats, it will also prevent Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo from getting the ball in attacking areas.
Thursday will likely be the end for Portugal and Bento's last match in charge.
Ghana 2, Portugal 0
United States vs. Germany
As NBC Sports Soccer tweeted out, the United States have been in this kind of position before, and they beat Panama to offer Mexico their World Cup lifeline. There's no chance of any sort of World Cup collusion:
With that said, don't be surprised if the Americans play a defensive, pragmatic style. Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't have many other options. The U.S. will be without Jozy Altidore once again, per Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl:
Klinsmann may also concede the battle in midfield. As good as Jermaine Jones has been, he and Kyle Beckerman will struggle against Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos.
What the United States will want to do is defend and then counter down the flanks to expose the German back line, which has been using four centre-backs. Fabian Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya will be the biggest keys to making that happen.
The United States have shown themselves to be a bit vulnerable at the back, so it's unlikely that they keep a clean sheet. But, if they can snatch a goal back, they'll have the point they need and can slow things down from there.
Germany 1, United States 1
South Korea vs. Belgium
Marc Wilmots has a bit of a conundrum on his hands. With Belgium's place in the round of 16 secured, he could choose to rest key players for the knockout stages. However, de Rode Duivels haven't looked their best through two games, so he may want to play his usual guys to ensure they're hitting on all cylinders for their next match.
Belgian football journalist John Chapman ventures that Wilmots will make some changes to the starting lineup against South Korea:
This match will likely play out similarly to France's 0-0 draw with Ecuador. Belgium will look the better side, but they won't set the world ablaze.
Although South Korea aren't mathematically eliminated yet, they're all but assured a group-stage exit, and, if their performance against Algeria is any indication, their shaky defense is a major worry.
Neither team will take many chances in this match.
South Korea 0, Belgium 0
Algeria vs. Russia
Russia need a win in order to advance. That should help them come out of their defensive shell. However, Algeria's four goals against South Korea will make Fabio Capello a bit wary when it comes to stretching his team defensively thin.
Scoring one goal in two matches is a bit of a concern, but their strength at the back can't be ignored. They should've kept a clean sheet against South Korea, were it not for the most ridiculous of howlers by Igor Akinfeev. Then, they were six minutes away from keeping Belgium off the score sheet.
This match has 1-0 written all over it. Capello will look to score an early goal and deploy the rearguard from there. He'll hope that the centre-back pairing of Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski will be enough to keep the Algerians out of goal.
They've been steady so far, so there's little reason to expect anything different on Thursday.
Russia 1, Algeria 0
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