As we enter the final day of this year's World Cup group stage, only three spots remain unfilled in the round of 16, with hopefuls from Groups G and H poised to clash one last time.
The beauty of Thursday's action is that all eight sides have something to play for, with Group H's Belgium the only outfit guaranteed to progress, but still to seal top spot and a likely easier last-16 draw.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter confirmed the current line-up in the next stage of the tournament:
Returning to Rio after seeing matches in Natal & Manaus. 13/16 teams through to Round of 16. Just Group G & H to go! pic.twitter.com/0EB3ggwODL— Joseph S Blatter (@SeppBlatter) June 25, 2014
Germany, USA and Algeria are the current favourites to join Belgium in the knockout stages, but with their tournament hopes on the line, we analyse all possibilities and requirements of each side before moving ahead with the competition.
|Team 1||VS.||Team 2|
|*Fixture already determined|
Not only can every nation residing in Group G still advance to the round of 16, but it's also mathematically feasible for any of Germany, the United States, Ghana or Portugal to take first place as their own.
Logic is another argument entirely, though. For example, Portugal head into their deciding fixture against Ghana three points away from pool leaders Germany and eight worse off in terms of goal difference.
That means Paulo Bento's side would not only need the USA to give Die Mannschaft an unexpected battering, but they themselves would also have to heap a considerable defeat upon Ghana, who looked impressive in their 2-2 draw against the Germans.
Joachim Low's side need just a draw to not only guarantee their progress as Group G victors, but also to ensure the United States come second. However, Bleacher Report's Will Tidey details a particularly interesting storyline that may yet unfold:
It would be easy for Germany to shut up shop, play for the draw and take their spot in the second round by these means, their 4-0 opening win over Portugal putting them in a very fortuitous position.
However, playmaker Mesut Ozil is quoted by the Daily Mail in guaranteeing his side will come out against their Thursday opponents guns blazing: "I believe that as a player we do not play for a draw. We play 90 minutes to score. Our purpose is to do our utmost to win, and that is what we will do. We want to finish top of the group."
Ghana would be particularly happy to see such motivation in Germany's play, as it would then mean a victory over Portugal would be all the more likely to book them a place in the round of 16.
At present, the Black Stars are level on points with the Portuguese but far superior in goal difference, just two behind the USA.
That means if Germany can beat the Americans by a margin of two goals or more, Ghana need to overcome Portugal by just a one-goal margin to advance. Alternatively, a USA defeat by one goal would mean a more convincing victory over the Portuguese is then required.
As far as group possibilities go, this year's Group G is easily one of the most open—and entertaining as a result—that one is ever likely to see.
United States 2-4 Germany
Ghana 3-2 Portugal
Marc Wilmots' men have left it late on both occasions, but two pool-stage triumphs so far in Brazil means Belgium need just a point to wrap up top spot in Group H.
They meet South Korea in Sao Paulo later on Thursday, but while their wins have come by margins of just one goal each, OptaJohan shows a more encouraging aspect of their performances so far:
4 - Belgium have conceded four shots on target in the 2014 World Cup, fewer than any other team. Bastion.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 23, 2014
Should the Red Devils lose, Algeria are the only other team still within reach of first place in the group. And considering they're currently just one inferior to their Belgian adversaries in the goal-difference stakes, things could all so suddenly turn in favour of the North Africans.
Sky Sports' South American correspondent Paulo Freitas believes Algeria can hold up their end of the bargain when they take on Russia, too:
@SofianeMCFC Algeria to win 2-1.— Paulo Freitas (@Cynegeticus) June 26, 2014
For Fabio Capello's men, things are far more desperate, and after drawing against the South Koreans, they remain level with the Asian representatives on one point apiece.
All Russia require to make it into the round of 16 is a win; there's nothing else to it. They meet the Fennec Foxes in Curitiba's Arena da Baixada, and The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson tells us that Capello has been preparing for the fixture with new innovation:
Capello seems to be loosening up. Ahead of must-win game v Algeria he allowed a group of Latin American dancers to perform to his players— Jeremy Wilson (@JWTelegraph) June 25, 2014
The possibilities are a little more open for Algeria. They could place their faith in Belgium beating South Korea, which would mean all they need is to avoid defeat against the Russians and second spot would be theirs.
The other option is to open up and play for the win, which would guarantee them progress regardless of the group's other simultaneous kick-off. The best-case scenario in this instance is that South Korea beat Wilmots' outfit and top spot would be theirs.
Draws in both fixtures would see Belgium and Algeria head through in their current positions of first and second, respectively.
South Korea 0-2 Belgium
Algeria 1-1 Russia