The final day of group-stage action at the 2014 World Cup features a number of extremely important battles that will decide the rest of the round of 16.
Of the eight teams competing on Thursday, only Belgium have secured a spot in the next round. However, each of the remaining squads can still advance to the knockout stage depending on the results from Day 15.
Obviously, this will create plenty of drama throughout the day, as fans will not only be watching their team's match but also the other contest in the group.
Here is a complete look at the standings heading into Thursday's battles as well as a prediction for each matchup in Brazil.
|2014 World Cup Standings (As of June 25)|
United States vs. Germany
If this match ends in a draw, both sides will advance to the knockout stage. However, United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has no interest in playing for a draw, per Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports:
Obviously, a win could be important for each team to possibly win the group and get an easier draw in the next round. Additionally, it would go against the competitive spirit of everyone on the pitch to avoid going for the goal when there is a chance.
The problem is that while both the United States and Germany have stated there is no agreement to finish in a draw, this could change near the end of the match. Ian Darke of BT Sport presents a realistic situation:
America have been very aggressive early in matches and have shown the ability to move the ball well in the attacking half. If players like Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi can move it up to Clint Dempsey, he can finish for a goal.
On the other hand, the back line has been prone to mistakes, something that the experienced attack of Germany will take advantage of throughout the match. Thomas Mueller is the biggest threat after a hat-trick in his first match and another solid performance against Ghana.
Still, this 1-1 score is something that both sides could be happy with as time ticks down in the final 20-25 minutes. They would not be actively trying for a draw, but a conservative approach will keep everyone happy to move into the next round.
Prediction: United States 1, Germany 1
Portugal vs. Ghana
Portugal were able to salvage a point in dramatic fashion against the United States, scoring the equalising goal in the 95th minute to finish with a 2-2 draw. Unfortunately, it does not seem like this will be enough to get the Europeans into the next round.
The squad will need to defeat Ghana, hope that Germany beats the United States and also make up a significant deficit in goal differential. Even superstar Cristiano Ronaldo told reporters, "We’ve all given our best. It’s virtually impossible now, but this is football."
Meanwhile, Ghana's path is not easy but not as impossible as Portugal's. They still need to win and hope for help, but they only need to make up a two-goal differential.
The important thing is that both sides still have a chance, but they will each need to be extremely aggressive in order to get goals. This will leave a wide-open pitch and plenty of counter-attacking from each side.
Ronaldo can be expected to put a few in the back of the net, while a Portugal defense that has had problems all tournament will continue to have issues as Ghana looks to score a few of their own.
However, Portugal have more overall talent and should be able to come away with the narrow victory.
Prediction: Portugal 3, Ghana 2
Algeria vs. Russia
With Belgium likely headed to first place in Group H, the second spot in the knockout stage will come down to Algeria and Russia. Algeria have three points already and would earn the spot with a win or a draw, while Russia need to come away with the win.
Based on what we have seen so far, it is hard to imagine Russia accomplishing much. They have not played an exciting brand of football, earning a 1-1 draw against South Korea while falling to Belgium 1-0 in an ugly match.
Kent Sterling of CBS Sports 1430 described the action in the past match:
For those looking for an illustrative look at the contest, Bleacher Report UK was there for that as well:
Algeria do not have as good a defense as Belgium, but it is hard to imagine Russia turning things around in the course of just a few days.
Expect Algeria to get an early lead and then stay as conservative as possible to earn a spot in the next round.
Prediction: Algeria 1, Russia 0
Belgium vs. South Korea
While Belgium can be happy about winning both of their opening matches, they have clearly been less than impressive in their two outings.
Seb Stafford-Bloor of Squawka Football breaks down the squad's struggles so far:
Belgium really aren’t playing well. They are a lumbering, slow, disjointed side at the moment who look vulnerable any time an opponent approaches their penalty-box. They may have won both of their opening group games and may have advanced to the knockout stages, but all things remaining equal they will be eliminated by the first good team they face.
The good news is there is a lot of talent on the roster, beginning with Eden Hazard. The attacking midfielder knows how to create opportunities for his teammates but has not been completely on his game so far. When he does get chances, the rest of the players on the squad are not finishing.
This should change in the upcoming match against an opponent that just allowed Algeria to score four goals. South Korea have not been good defensively and are likely to allow plenty of open space for Belgium to move the ball all match.
Despite the relatively poor start to the tournament, Belgium will be able to end the first phase with a quality victory to gain momentum heading into the round of 16.
Prediction: Belgium 3, South Korea 1
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