This is part 2 of the group stage games to look forward to. With two rounds of the group stages completed, many teams have already qualified—but for many, this final round will be a virtual knockout match. Brasil 2014 is heating up, and there has been an onslaught of exciting games, goals and upsets. So far, this has been the World Cup of the Underdogs, and traditional powerhouses like Europe and South America have not had it easy at all.
Can this final round throw up some more surprises?
Qualified teams: Netherlands, France, Belgium, Costa Rica, Columbia, Chile, Argentina
Eliminated teams: Cameroon, Spain, Australia, England, Honduras, Bosnia&Herzegovina
Teams still in it:
Group A: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia
Group B: None. Spain and Australia have been eliminated.
Group C: Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece.
Group D: Italy, Uruguay
Group E: Ecuador, Switzerland
Group F: Nigeria, Iran
Group G: All four—Germany, Ghana, USA and Portugal.
Group H: Algeria, Russia, South Korea
CROATIA v/s MEXICO
Led by veteran Marquez, Mexico have arguably been the most impressive team in Group A. Brazil have it easier in their last game against Cameroon for qualification—a match they are expected to win and there by top the group. But Mexico could do the same by defeating Croatia in a match that is a virtual knockout for both teams. Croatia needs a win, and a draw for Mexico will do to assure qualification. Mexico are yet to concede a goal after a 1-0 win against Cameroon and an impressive 0-0 against Brazil. Moreover, they will want to finish first to avoid facing Netherlands (who, in all probability, will top Group B) in the next round. Facing Chile isn’t a rosy affair either, but for now, 35 year old Marquez will only want to give it his all against a disciplined Croatian team who will be going for broke.
Prediction: Mexico to win 3-0.
ITALY v/s URUGUAY
Both these have beaten England narrowly and been stunned by ‘minnows’ Costa Rica—who have galloped ahead and sealed their spot in this Group of Death. With England out, these two top-10 teams will face one another in a do-or-die encounter. A draw will favour the Italians, who have a better Goal Difference. In their most recent encounter in the Confederations Cup last year, Italy won on penalties after finishing 2-2. Uruguay will have the tougher day, with captain Lugano unlikely to play because of a knee problem. Suarez will be everything to them on a day where they would love to wipe out memories of a shocking 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica in their first game. The Italians won’t make it easy, because they could play for a draw.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-0 Italy
NIGERIA v/s ARGENTINA
After finally winning a world cup game after a long draught, the Super Eagles will look to give a shaky Argentina—initial favorites for the title—a good run for their money. If they do well, they could lock up second spot in this group. But things look ominous for them and most other teams now that Messi has found the net in both games with wonder goals. Iran have been heroes of this group, and are technically still in it, but they will have to win their game against Bosnia handsomely while hoping for Argentina to defeat Nigeria. This is a real possibility though, with the giants only starting to wake up after struggling through their matches.
Prediction: Argentina 3-1 Nigeria
PORTUGAL v/s GHANA
Both these teams are in danger of being eliminated, and need a miracle to qualify after USA’s inspirational performances. Portugal barely managed a last-gasp 2-2 draw against USA, after being seconds away from being eliminated (scoring in the 95th minute). In doing so, they are still mathematically in it, while Ghana will rue losing a 2-1 lead against Germany to finish with a draw. After a loss to USA, Ghana will want to prove why they’re considered to be the best African team at World Cups. Ronaldo and co. may have other ideas, but Portugal are a far cry from the golden years of Figo, Deco and co, where they failed to win a major trophy despite the superstars. Whoever wins this will be hoping that USA lose to Germany so that they end up on the same points (4) as USA and it goes down to goal difference.
Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Ghana
USA v/s GERMANY
What a match this promises to be. USA are on a roll, and many will expect them to push Germany—who were held by Ghana—to the brink. Germany are still favorites to top this group as well as win the title, but their defense has been shaky. A draw here could put both teams through, eliminating Portugal and Germany irrespective of their result.
Prediction: Germany 1-1 USA
ALGERIA v/s RUSSIA
Capello’s sputtering Russian stars are facing elimination after going down to Belgium and drawing with South Korea. Algeria are in pole position to join Belgium in the next round after destroying the Koreans 4-2, and are favorites to repeat that performance after giving Belgium the scare of their lives before losing 2-1 to the favorites.
Prediction: Algeria 2-2 Russia.