Thirty-two teams have now become 16.
With the conclusion of the group stages on Thursday evening, we now know the identity of the 16 countries that will battle it out to win this summer's World Cup. It is an eclectic bunch—the favourites are there, as are the outside tips, along with an intriguing collection of dark horses and even some perceived also-rans.
Brazil and Argentina, on opposite sides of the draw, remain the firm favourites to reach next month's final match, while France, Germany and the Netherlands are among those who appear set to go much further in the competition. But might we see a spanner in the works? Few expected Algeria or the United States to get this far, yet they are still alive and very much on a high.
They may prove difficult nuts to crack in the pressurised environment of the knockout rounds, when mistakes become magnified and producing your best football can be increasingly hard to do.
The United States showed their resilience on Thursday, even in eventual defeat to Germany. Thomas Muller's pinpoint finish was the only time their defence broke, as Jurgen Klinsmann's side held on to qualify for the knockout stages by goal difference. The defence was not perfect, but it was good enough.
They now face Belgium in the next round, after the Europeans beat South Korea to continue their 100 percent record in the competition. Yet Marc Wilmots' side have looked solid without being particularly impressive so far in Brazil, and the U.S. figure to be tougher opposition than anything they have faced so far.
It is the pressure of the knockout stages that might prove most important in all encounters now, though. In a one-off setting, anything can happen.
Brazil and Argentina might be the favourites, but they will have to earn it on the pitch like everyone else.
Results in brief, Day 15
Germany 1, United States 0
Portugal 2, Ghana 1
(Boye o.g., Ronaldo; Gyan)
Algeria 1, Russia 1
Belgium 1, South Korea 0
Germany and the United States qualify from Group G. Belgium and Algeria qualify from Group H.
Germany vs. Algeria (Monday June 30, Porto Alegre)
Belgium vs. United States (Tuesday July 1, Salvador)
1. Notes from Day 15
Bold decision pays off for Klinsmann... Received footballing wisdom is that you do not mess around with a settled defensive partnership, particularly ahead of a key, potentially decisive contest. But that is exactly what Klinsmann did on Thursday, as he swapped out Geoff Cameron for Omar Gonzalez in the heart of his defence.
But Gonzalez delivered with an impressive performance, as the U.S. snuck through to the knockout stages on goal difference. Klinsmann might have a few selection headaches for the next game.
Bad timing for Johnny Boye... Hours after being pictured on social media kissing his share of Ghana's reported $3 million participation bonus (a bonus that was flown over just before their last game), Boye was guilty of one of the most humorous own-goals of this tournament. Unfortunate.
A new star for the knockout rounds... Belgium changed their lineup considerably against South Korea, opting to play Kevin Mirallas, a winger, as a main striker in preference to other options. Then, when it became time to change things up, it was Divock Origi who came on, not Romelu Lukaku (who has disappointed so far in this tournament). Origi—who scored the winner in the previous game against Russia—caught the eye in his cameo, producing the shot that led to Jan Vertonghen's close-range tap-in.
Against the United States, might we see Origi start? For a 19-year-old who few expected to even make the squad, it would be a meteoric rise.
Ronaldo's summer to forget... Cristiano Ronaldo will not look back on this tournament with any fondness. Obviously injured throughout, even his winning goal against Ghana on Thursday could not lift Portugal out of Group G. At 29, he will likely never have another chance to make an impact on the biggest stage of all. Instead, he will now sit on the sidelines as Lionel Messi and Neymar fight it out for glory.
2. Quote of the Day
We have nothing to fear now. We have just come through the strongest group, and it’s great to be able to put the Group of Death behind us and concentrate on just beating a single team.
When you consider the quality that Ghana, Germany and Portugal bring to the table it was a huge achievement to escape that group. I don’t think many people gave us a chance.
— USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann (per Paul Wilson of The Guardian)
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
This really was a very good goal from Muller. Perfect technique, pinpoint direction.
5. A good day for...
FIFA. Swift action taken against Uruguay's Luis Suarez (although it looks like they might have a bit more work to do to make sure it is ensured), and the United States' progression to the knockout stages, which helps to further build enthusiasm for the sport in that country. All in all, a successful day for the game's governing body.
6. A bad day for...
Fans of Ghana. Thursday was a day full of possibilities for Ghana, with qualification for the knockout stages of the tournament not out of the question. Yes, they needed to beat Portugal handsomely and hope Germany did their bit, but it remained a feasible prospect. But then two of their most experienced players—Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng—got involved in a disagreement with staff in the build-up and found themselves heading home before the match even started, before John Boye scored an own-goal to put his side in an early hole.
Ghana tried to rally, but any further chances slipped through their fingers. Now they are going home, with rueful thoughts about what might have been.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Friday is the first rest day of this World Cup. No fixtures until Saturday. Go out, see the world again, re-connect with wider society!
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