So here we are now, less than a week before the knockout stages begin next Saturday as the last round of do-or-die and dead rubber group games come thick and fast over the next few days.
If it was not for the terrible refereeing of Yuichi Nishimura in the World Cup opener , hosts Brazil could easily have been heading into the last round of games in third place in the group. The hosts did enough in the end against a Cameroon team who really have failed to turn up for the tournament. Brazil finished top of the group despite a late goal difference scare. It was make or break in Recife when Mexico faced Croatia for a place in the last 16. A draw was enough for the Mexicans to qualify, but they impressed with a 3-0 victory to qualify for the knock-out stages.
Qualified: Brazil and Mexico
With Spain and Australia eliminated , the only thing to be decided was the identity of the group winners. Netherlands and Chile met in Sao Paulo with the Dutch winning 2-0.The flying Dutchmen won the group and most importantly have avoided Brazil in the round of the 16. Mind you , both of these teams have looked better than the host nation so far and will hardly be losing too much sleep over them.
Qualified: Netherlands and Chile
A hotly tipped Colombia are already through to the last 16 and need just a point against a disappointing Japan to finish top. The much more important match takes place at 9.00 pm on Tuesday in Fortaleza. The unambitious and negative Greeks can still make the latter stages should they defeat the Ivory Coast. However , the Africans who have underachieved at past World Cups and have contributed a lot more to this tournament and should be good enough not to slip up again.
Group D :
The story nation of the tournament so far , Costa Rica, have already qualified and need just one point against minnows England to be sure of topping the group. Heavyweights Italy and Uruguay’s meeting in Natal should be one of the great dogfights of the tournament. The Italians looked set to win the group after the first round of games but they now find themselves having to recover from a severely limited performance against excellent Costa Rica. Uruguay have the momentum and game winner Luis Suarez so it would be hard to bet against them , but as they say never write off the Italians.
Group E :
Nobody has had a passage through to the knockouts as easy as the French who have eased though their group. The French have been arguably the tournaments most impressive team so far but the weakness of their opponents has made this the Group of Life. Ecuador are level on points with Switzerland and are ahead on goal difference after Friday night’s win over Honduras. But it is almost hard to see them bettering Switzerland’s result when they face France on Wednesday in the Maracana.
Group F :
This group has been defined by Messi’s magic so far as Argentina have stumbled their way through to the last 16 against a magnificent Iranian performance. Nigeria’s excellent win over Bosnia and Herzegovina has put the Super Eagles in the driving seat to qualify when they face Argentina in Porto Alegre on Wednesday evening. The plucky Iranians will be hoping for a massive favour from Messi and co against Nigeria as they look to recover from Saturday evenings disappointment by beating eliminated Bosnians in Salvador on Wednesday and sneak an unlikely place in the knockouts.
Group G :
Yet another classic as the USA just missed out on a famous victory over Portugal to go top of the group. That goal has given the Portuguese a lifeline but they will need a goal difference miracle to qualify now when they face Ghana on Thursday. As for Germany , after there own epic 2-2 draw with Ghana , they now face the USA and German legend Jurgen Klinsmann in a game in which a draw would do for both. But it is hard to see those plucky Yanks settling for second place despite their many German connections.
Group H :
Well , what about those Algerians and their marvellous 4-2 victory over South Korea on Sunday night. A game that was in total contrast to the dour meeting between Russia and Belgium at the Maracana , which Belgium won thanks to one moment of brilliance between Eden Hazard and Divock Origi. Despite Fabio Capello’s sides defeat , they can still qualify for the last 16 when they face Algeria in a do-or-die game on Thursday night in Curitiba in which a draw would do for the Algerians. While Belgium face South Korea who need a miracle to qualify now.
Predictions for Last 16 Draw :
Brazil v Chile – confirmed
Colombia v Uruguay
Netherlands v Mexico – confirmed
Costa Rica v Ivory Coast
France v Nigeria
Germany v Russia
Argentina v Switzerland
Belgium v USA.
Tadhg Creedon , Pundit Arena.