Yesterday saw the end of the group stages for Brazil 2014, with sixteen teams already sent packing before the knockout rounds begin and the other half still dreaming of progressing to the final.
There were many permutations that could have arisen from group G before kick-off in the two matches; with no team definitely securing qualification before the start of play. Germany faced the USA in a match in which the winner was assured of at least one more match in Brazil, and a draw would see both teams through regardless of the result in the other match played. The conspiracy theorists among us were predicting a draw with German coach Joachim Low supposedly doing his old pal Jurgen Klinsmann a favour. The twenty two men on the pitch obviously had other ideas, as both teams came out fighting with efforts at both ends. Graham Zusi came closest for the Americans as his curling shot dipped just a second too late to trouble the goalkeeper, whilst Mesut Ozil had a shot saved by Tim Howard in a fierce first half.
With the score 0-0 at halftime the World must have been preparing themselves for yet another football scandal – another to add to what seems to be an ever growing list these days. When Thomas Muller opened the scoring ten minutes after the interval with a superb strike from just outside the area FIFA could draw breath once again, as it meant there was only one debacle to cover for the time being, isn’t that right Mr Suarez? Jurgen Klinsmann and his men fought valiantly to try and grab a goal themselves but after Clint Dempsey headed over from close range they knew it was not going to be their day. The win saw the Germans top the group and left the USA waiting for the result from Brasilia to know their fate.
In the end, it was the drubbing Portugal suffered at the hands of Germany in their first game that proved decisive in seeing the USA through, as they beat Portugal to second spot on goal difference. Ghana had qualification dreams of their own in this group, but they made life harder for themselves when defender John Boye ‘Kolo Toure’d’ cross past his own goalkeeper from a cross from the left hand side.
With this Ghana side you just don’t know what team is going to turn up; will it be the one that fell at the feet of the USA or the one that gave Germany a run for their money? However in this match we got both the Jekyll and the Hyde of the Africans as they drew back on level terms; Asamoah Gyan headed past Beto in goal but it was the pass from Kwadwo Asamoah that really stood out, a cross with the outside of the boot which curved directly into the path of the onrushing Gyan was a thing of beauty.
Not to be outdone, Mr Hyde had his time to shine later on, as goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda flapped aimlessly at a high ball which landed at the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo eight yards from goal, and the rest writes itself. 2-1 then, and if it wasn’t for the hot-headed Pepe in their first match Portugal could have been the ones celebrating at the final whistle.
Group H had the honour of closing out what has been a hectic group stage in Brazil, and in a somewhat unfitting send-off the goals dried up. Belgium had secured qualification with a match to spare after winning both of their games to date, and even with ten men they cruised past South Korea into the knockout phase. Belgium hasn’t looked overly impressive in their opening two games and so was the case here, and when Steven Defour saw red for a stamp-tackle on his opponent it almost seemed to open the game up more. The Koreans were allowed more room and time on the ball but failed to take advantage with poor finishing proving costly, the Belgians had only conceded a penalty in the competition so far and this record never looked under threat here. Instead, as has been the case against Algeria and Russia, they left it late to score and take the three points here. Divock Origi, an influential substitute in both other games once again made his mark as his parried shot fell at the feel of Jan Vertonghen to bury the rebound to see Belgium top the group, with an appetising round of 16 clash with USA awaiting.
The curse of Capello at a World Cup struck again as Russia were eliminated at the group stage after a 1-1 draw with Algeria. Things were looking good for Russia early on as Alexander Kokorin rose high to power a header home, and it stayed that way until halftime. It wasn’t until the hour mark that controversy struck; with Russia defending a free kick goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was targeted by laser pens in the crowd, this distraction was enough for him to lose concentration and be beaten to the ball by Islam Slimani who levelled and saw Algeria take their place in the knockout phase of a World Cup for the first time in their history.
The group stages have been entertaining from start to finish, and as the cream of the crop starts to rise to the top the matches are just going to get better and better. This may be the first day without a match in two weeks, but the rest of the tournament will be well worth the wait.
Picture: Daily Mail