After two weeks of intense action, half the teams at the 2014 World Cup have been eliminated. The excitement will only pick up with the tournament moving into the knockout stage.
The first set of matches featured the removal of a number of perennial contenders at this event like England, Italy and Portugal. Perhaps the most surprising were Spain, which lost their first two matches after coming in as the defending champions.
At the same time, a bunch of teams came through with impressive tournaments to either win their group or at least come in second place and advance. While there is still of lot of action left to be played, these squads should be satisfied in getting to this moment.
Here is a breakdown of the final standings from the group stage along with the most surprising squads still alive.
via FIFA.com; Highlighted Teams Advancing
Most Surprising Teams Remaining
There seemed to be some debate over which was the "Group of Death" in this tournament, but one region was deemed the "Group of Champions" with Italy, Uruguay and England battling for two spots.
To the surprise of many, it was the one team without a title that won the group as Costa Rica earned seven points in an impressive run to the round of 16.
The Ticos had one of the biggest upsets in the tournament right away when they earned a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Uruguay. They were then able to keep it up with a 1-0 victory over Italy. At this point, a scoreless draw against England was all they needed to win the group.
Costa Rica simply used a great team atmosphere to advance without star power in one of the more shocking results you will ever see, as pointed out by Mike Trudell of TWC SportsNet:
Easily the most surprising aspect of the #WorldCup so far: Costa Rica topping Group D as Italy/England go home in shame. Congrats, Ticos.— Mike Trudell (@MikeTrudell) June 24, 2014
The exciting part is that the run might not end any time soon. While Greece are talented, they are clearly not unbeatable with an offense that struggles to score. If Costa Rica plays the way they have to this point, they can at least reach the quarterfinals.
While the United States made it out of the group stage in 2010 and appeared to have an improved roster, few were expected them to reach the round of 16 this time around.
The Americans were drawn into Group G with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. This includes two teams that entered the tournament ranked in the top five of the FIFA rankings as well as a squad that knocked them out of the past two World Cups.
However, the United States did what was necessary to escape with a second-place finish. As ESPN's Colin Cowherd explains, this task was even tougher than originally seemed on paper:
Perspective. USA advanced in "Group of Death" w/out Jozy Altodore, w most travel, least rest & despite allowing 2 ugly goals early in games.— Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) June 26, 2014
Obviously it's a huge achievement by our team to come through that group and qualify for the knockout stage. We take a couple of good things with us and whoever we face we're going to take it to them. Now we really get started. Once the group is done, another tournament actually starts because the knockout stage is a completely different ballgame. So we can't wait to get that started next week.
Whether fans were confident in advancing or not, it remains an impressive achievement to get this far.
Africa has not generally had much success at the World Cup, but Algeria's strong performance has helped make this the most successful year for the continent, according to ESPN's Paul Carr:
Algeria started the tournament with a respectable one-goal loss to Belgium before turning it on with a 4-2 win over South Korea. Knowing that a draw was enough to advance, they were able to finish 1-1 against Russia to earn second place in Group H.
While many will point to the relatively easy group as a reason Algeria were able to advance, Dean Oliver of ESPN points out that the team has proven itself as a better squad over the course of the tournament:
WC: Algeria's SPI value has increased the most since World Cup began (~11 pts, mostly offense). If this were CBB, they'd be Cinderella.— Dean Oliver (@DeanO_ESPN) June 26, 2014
The squad is using great passing and teamwork to create the best opportunities around the net, and the players are coming through with strong finishes.
Although beating Germany will be a tough task, we have learned never to count out this exciting group.
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