It's judgment day for several 2014 World Cup teams on Day 15, as the results of today's fixtures will determine which sides are given the opportunity to compete in the knockout stage.
The round of 16 is where the intensity takes a whole new form. There's no longer redemption in consequent games following a loss. This is where winners are made.
In such a crucial format, the best players are often the ones who dictate the outcome of matches. This year we've seen multiple stars shine. They'll have to do the same in the next round.
Below we'll review all of the results from Day 15, and I'll provide updates on the race for the Golden Boot.
|Thursday Fixtures: Day 15|
|Group||Team 1||Result||Team 2|
Golden Boot Watch
|World Cup Goalscorers|
|Robin van Persie||Netherlands||3|
|Clint Dempsey||United States||2|
|Wilfried Bony||Ivory Coast||2|
|Avdija Vrsajevic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Bryan Ruiz||Costa Rica||1|
|Lee Keun-Ho||South Korea||1|
|Joel Campbell||Costa Rica||1|
|Oscar Duarte||Costa Rica||1|
|Marcos Urena||Costa Rica||1|
|Stefan de Vrij||Netherlands||1|
|Vedad Ibisevic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|John Anthony Brooks||United States||1|
|Edin Dzeko||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Miralem Pjanic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Son Heung Min||South Korea||1|
|Koo Jacheol||South Korea||1|
|Jermaine Jones||United States||1|
|Thursday scorers are highlighted|
Group G and Group H concluded on Day 15, the last day of group play. The Group G finale was thrilling, as were the first two rounds of matches in the group.
Germany got the win against the United States, ensuring that they would win the group. The United States weren't guaranteed a spot in the round of 16 until Portugal defeated Ghana 2-1.
The damage for Germany was done by Thomas Mueller, who now has four goals in three matches in this World Cup. After a fairly even first half that saw neither team get an edge, the Germans came out lightning-quick in the second half of play.
Following a header that was deflected by American goalkeeper Tim Howard, Mueller handled the loose rebound and struck a bullet that went to the opposite post. Howard, who was on the other side of the net following the deflection, simply was unable to get back in time.
Paul Wilson of The Guardian broke down the play perfectly:
Per Mertesacker produced a header from Özil’s cross that Howard did extremely well to reach, let alone beat out, only for his clearance to find an unmarked Müeller on the edge of the area and he thumped a shot unstoppably past the goalkeeper for his fourth goal of the tournament.
Muller, who netted a hat-trick against Portugal in the first game of group play, admitted that he doesn't usually score from as far out as he did in the second half:
ESPN FC's official Twitter account announced that Muller has been a historically effective scorer in the World Cup:
Both Germany and the U.S. will now look to advance through the round of 16.
In the other finale of Group G, Portugal were able to take care of Ghana 2-1.
Portugal got the advantage in the 31st minute when John Boye scored an own goal. Portugal midfielder Miguel Veloso launched a shot that went off the foot of Boye, and the ball subsequently cleared the goalkeeper and found the back of the net.
Ghana sought the equalizer early in the second half, and in the 57th minute Asamoah Gyan evened the score at one apiece. The goal made history too. You can see the goal below, courtesy of ESPN FC:
The match was rather tight heading into the final stretch. That's when Cristiano Ronaldo brought his A-game for Portugal. In the 80th minute, Ghana goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda batted the ball away from the net toward Ronaldo. Then, with the left foot, Ronaldo placed the ball in the far post to put his team ahead by one.
Ronaldo saved the United States after playing spoiler against them in the second game of the group schedule. His assist in the 95th minute tied the score at two against the Americans, keeping Portugal's hopes of advancing alive.
In this game, he ended up saving the Americans. Nick Schwartz of USA Today broke down how: "The goal gave Portugal a 2-1 win to finish the group with four points, the same as the United States. The U.S. advanced from the group with a superior goal difference, and will play the second-seeded team from Group H."
Group H action was equally as compelling.
Russia and Algeria played an extremely competitive match, though it didn't appear as if it would end in a 1-1 draw. Aleksandr Kokorin got the scoring started very early on, as he netted a strong header in the sixth minute to put the Russians up.
Strong defense followed by the Russians until the hour mark. Algeria equalized when the goalkeeper chose not to defend the free kick. This gave Islam Slimani the opportunity to head in the game-tying score.
The result held through extra time, giving Algeria their first berth into the round of 16 in history:
Belgium and South Korea also played a close match on Thursday, but it was the Belgians that came out on top. It wasn't easy, however. At the 45-minute mark, Steven Defour was hit with a red card:
Now with just 10 men for the rest of the match, Belgium were facing a hole. The first half ended with no score.
The South Koreans couldn't capitalize on the man advantage, leaving the game open for either side. For most of the game, they played like the team down a man.
Belgium took the lead in the 78th minute on a strike from Jan Vertonghen:
It's not often that a team down a man wins a game in international competition, but Belgium were strong enough to do so. They'll play the United States in the round of 16.
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