The group stage comes to a close with four matches today.
This group has the potential to be decided in the final minutes of each match. Expect dramatic moments in this group that neutral fans will love. Germany and USA would go through with a draw. They would also both go through if Portugal and Ghana draw. Germany is in a good position because of their +4 goal differential. Portugal needs to win big and hope for some luck. USA controls their own destiny to advance but Ghana has played very well this tournament.
Match: Portugal vs. Ghana in Brasilia
What to watch for: There’s a lot of negativity in the Portugal camp going into this match. They got a last second draw against the USA after losing 4-0 to Germany. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t look healthy at all and the Portuguese haven’t gotten enough from other players. Ghana earned a draw against Germany and tested the German back line all second half. They are the more motivated team in this match. If Ghana scores an early goal, Portugal might not put much effort in this match knowing the mountain to climb will be even higher. However, Ronaldo has seen players like Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and Neymar have great World Cups and he might want at least one more match to impress on the world stage. I think there will be plenty of scoring chances in this match and end-to-end action.
Prediction: Portugal 2 (Ronaldo, Eder), Ghana 2 (Gyan, Atsu)
Match: United States vs. Germany
What to watch for: There is a high sense of familiarity in this match. USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for and coached Germany. Current German coach Jogi Low was an assistant under Klinsmann in the 2006 World Cup before Low took over the reigns. Both teams would advance with a draw but you can’t expect that’s what both teams will play for. The beginning of the match might start slowly as both teams get comfortable by passing the ball around. I think the tempo of the match will pick up after the first 30 minutes as both teams want to win the group. I think the Germans will make the USA pay for mistakes in the midfield and back line. However, both teams will be happy after the match when they hear the news about the result in Brasilia.
Prediction: Germany 3 (Muller, Ozil, Kroos), United States 1 (Bradley)
Belgium haven’t played to their potential but have showed signs of brilliance in their two wins. They are through to the knockout stage and would win the group with at least a point. The question is which team will join Belgium in the next round. Algeria could join Costa Rica as one of the tournament surprises if they get at least a draw and South Korea doesn’t win. Russia needs to get three points to have a chance. South Korea must win and require some help to make it.
Match: South Korea vs. Belgium in Sao Paulo
What to watch for: Belgium has been very average for the first 70 minutes on each match. Maybe it was because they played defensive-minded sides in Algeria and Russia. They have elevated their play late in matches. Eden Hazard had a special 15-minute stretch where he took over the contest against Russia. He set up 19-year-old Divock Origi for the game winning goal. A possible change to the starting 11 for Belgium could be Origi for striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been poor this tournament. South Korea defended very poorly against Algeria. They did create a few scoring chances in the end but need to play more organized against a more lethal Belgium squad. I think this game will be high-scoring and Belgium will turn in a much better first half.
Prediction: Belgium 3 (Hazard, Kompany, Witsel), South Korea 1 (Chung-yong)
Match: Algeria vs. Russia in Curitiba
What to watch for: This surprisingly becomes the game of the group. Second place is likely on the line. Algeria are probably the most improved team from the 2010 World Cup. They didn’t score a goal that tournament and have five in two matches in Brazil. Russia has benched two of their best offensive players because they aren’t fits in Fabio Capello’s organized system. Playmaker Alan Dzagoev and striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov have been relegated to substitution roles. Capello might want to start one or both of them in a must-win situation.
Prediction: Russia 1 (Dragoev), Algeria 0