The best World Cup in my lifetime continues, even if the USA-Portugal match took years off my already compromised life. If you are not watching this tournament, you are missing one for the ages.
With the final match day of the groups, the format shifts and the two group deciders happen simultaneously (to avoid any “strategic” results). Lots up for grabs. Monday June 23 is potentially epic, with important matches in both Group A and Group B.
Both of these teams have already made it through to the Round of 16, but who wins the group and who finishes second is very important with Brazil looming as a potential opponent. After sending Spain home with a very definitive 2:0 victory, Chile look like the team to beat in Group B. Alexis Sanchez is in great form and the team counter-attacks with blazing pace. Holland returned to earth against a surprisingly good Australia (Tim Cahill’s volley to equalize was one of goals of the tournament) but still managed to show some incredible quality. However, they will be without Van Persie who is suspended for yellow cards. At the start of the tournament, everyone was worried that the #2 team from Group B would get smashed by Brazil in the next round; at this point both Chile and Holland have looked better than Brazil and the Brazilians should be worried about playing either of them.
Assuming Brazil defeat the woeful Cameroon, this match will determine second place in Group A. Croatia come into the match with three points and a +2 goal difference; Mexico with four points and a +1 goal difference. So a draw puts Mexico through. Croatia probably deserved a point against Brazil and destroyed 10-man Cameroon. On the other hand, Mexico probably deserve to be ahead of Croatia on goal difference after two questionable referee’s decisions erased two of their goals against Cameroon, and they pushed Brazil to the wall in a nil-nil draw. Should be a very even match. I’d give Croatia a slight advantage, even though I am supporting Mexico (go CONCACAF!) — feels odd for me, because I usually hate their football team with passion.
With the absolutely shocking wins by Costa Rica against these teams, this match is for second place in the group (Costa Rica could actually rest players against England in their final match, secure in advancing and likely, although not certainly, the group winners — again, Go CONCACAF!). Both Italy and Uruguay beat England convincingly. Suarez looked sharp for Uruguay against England, and if he’s healthy he will be the danger up front. Italian magician Andrea Pirlo, who picked England apart from his deep midfield position, was effectively neutralized by Costa Rica, while the flamboyant Italian striker Balotelli was not very good up front. If Italy can regain a little edge in attack, I would give them the nod, but Suarez can change a close game in an instant. Should be a good one.
After France’s remarkable 5:2 destruction of Switzerland, and Ecuador’s narrow win over Honduras, France is pretty much assured a next round berth. However, the contest for second place is not remotely settled. Switzerland, who face Honduras, looks to be in the driver’s seat, with group rival Ecuador playing a very in-form France. But Switzerland’s match is in Manaus, in the Amazon jungle, which has not been kind to European teams. Even Honduras is not out of it; they could beat Switzerland by 2 goals and have France beat Ecuador by 3 goals and advance. Beyond the mathematically possible, the most likely outcome is the Swiss beating Honduras and France beating Ecuador, which will send Switzerland through.
While I will be watching the USA-Germany match, of course, this one is actually more relevant to the outcome of Group G. Sure, after the Gut Punch in the Jungle, the USA arguably control their own destiny on paper, but in reality I think the permutations are more difficult. Getting a point against Germany, one of the tournament favorites right now, will require a fantastic performance on short rest. The most likely result against Germany is a loss for USA, and because of the vagaries of the FIFA tie-breaking system for the group stage, that loss must be narrow. Meanwhile, Ghana face Portugal. While Portugal is still alive, Ghana is actually in a better position due to the goal difference tie-breaker. A draw here settles the group: regardless of what happens in USA-Germany, both will progress and both Ghana and Portugal will be eliminated. If Portugal wins narrowly, it’s the same story. But if Ghana wins, and USA loses to Germany by more than a goal, then we could see Ghana going through instead of USA. This group could literally come down to some craziness in extra-time if teams are needing goals to survive.