Narrow Germany win puts both teams through
In one of the day’s opening games, Group G leaders Germany and the USA met knowing that for both teams, a draw would cement their progression to the next round.
But with top spot at stake, there was a big reward for the team willing to go for the jugular.
The USA had to look over their shoulder, as a loss to Germany could mean that Portugal or Ghana could leapfrog them, sneaking through to the knock-out rounds in second place.
As the first half progressed, it was clear that neither team was playing for the draw. Germany maintained control of the match, as expected, but the USA weren’t content to just sit back and bunker.
Despite six shots and the vast majority of the possession, the Germans couldn’t find the breakthrough, and they went into the half scoreless.
This suited the Americans, who knew that, despite a 1-0 Portugal lead in the other game, 45 minutes of the same would see them through to the next round.
But Germany finally took the lead in the 55th minute when star striker Thomas Müller struck a wonderful shot past goalkeeper Tim Howard and into the bottom corner of the net.
It was worrying for the USA, who learned minutes later that Ghana had equalized against Portugal, meaning that one more Ghanaian goal would see the Americans eliminated from the tournament.
But Portugal reclaimed the lead, and the Americans were clearly well-informed; Klinsmann’s men tried to kill time, knowing that even the narrow loss would put them through.
They were successful, keeping Germany at bay, and the 1-0 loss ended up being enough to see them through the group in second place.
This sets the USA up for a match against Belgium – one that they will be huge underdogs for. But they’ve shown that they are no pushovers, and the Americans have much to be proud of so far.
For Germany, they’ll play Group H runner-up Algeria, and they will be massive favourites to advance.
The Germans have yet to hit top gear, which is even scarier for their opponents. Germany advanced relatively comfortably, and with Algeria up next, it looks like they’ll go to the quarter-finals before they are truly tested.
Portuguese win not enough to prevent elimination
In Group G’s other game, Portugal and Ghana met in a must-win encounter. As well as needing a win, both teams were hoping for a USA loss – Portugal in particular were in a tough spot, with a five-goal difference to overturn.
It set the stage for an all-out offensive contest, and the teams didn’t disappoint. Ghana and Portugal competed in a first half of end-to-end action, trading shots frequently.
The deadlock was finally broken when makeshift Portuguese left back Miguel Veloso (usually a midfielder) delivered a cross that took an unfortunate deflection off of Ghanaian defender John Boye, bouncing into the goal off of both the crossbar and the post.
The half was filled with many other chances, included a fair few from Cristiano Ronaldo, but the referee brought a close to the half with Portugal in the ascendency.
Unfortunately for the Portuguese, their one-goal lead wasn’t enough – the USA were holding Germany to a 0-0 draw, so Portugal still needed a favour from the Germans, and a couple more goals against Ghana, to have any chance at going through.
Portugal were bolstered when they learned that Germany had taken a second-half lead, but any chance Portugal had of progression was snuffed out two minutes later when Ghana’s iconic striker Asamoah Gyan headed in a brilliant outside of the foot cross from Andre Ayew to restore parity.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who had enough chances to overturn the deficit on his own, finally scored in the 80th minute, smashing in after a defensive calamity from the Ghanaian back line. It was the half-fit superstar’s first goal of the tournament, but it came too late to have a significant impact.
Portugal ran out 2-1 victors, but a one-goal German victory wasn’t enough to swing the goal difference in Portugal’s favour, and both Portugal and Ghana were eliminated.
Both teams had 18 shots, making for an incredibly exciting (or nerve-racking, if you were cheering for either) 90 minutes. Portugal had the better of the chances, but rued their poor quality of finishing.
It was a disappointing campaign for Paulo Bento’s men, who looked void of imagination and too stubborn to see glaring weaknesses in the side. They go home early, and will need serious work ahead of Euro 2016.
Ten-man Belgium claim third one-goal victory
The group stages of the World Cup came to a close with two crucial matches in Group H – one of which saw top dog Belgium take on last-placed South Korea.
In order to advance, South Korea needed to claim their first victory of the group by beating Belgium. On top of that, they needed a Russia victory in the other match – and still, they would be relying on goal difference.
For Belgium, it was much more simple. Progression was already guaranteed, and a win or a draw would cement top spot.
But despite being bottom of the group, South Korea gave them a tough challenge. The teams battled evenly in the first half, but neither could find a way through.
A potentially game-deciding moment occurred with just seconds left of the opening half – Belgium’s Steven Defour received his marching orders after a tough challenge on opponent Kim Shinwook.
Even with a man down, the 0-0 scoreline suited Belgium at half time. With only 45 minutes to go, Belgium knew that holding on to the tie would be good enough to keep them on top of the group. For South Korea, they needed to capitalize on their man advantage.
But their World Cup dream was shattered when Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen powered home a header from a 78th-minute corner. It was the only goal of the game, and it sent South Korea packing.
For Belgium, it sealed their third straight one-goal victory and a perfect record as they head into a round-of-16 match against the USA.
However, it hasn’t all been peachy for the Belgians. They were expected to qualify from this group very comfortably, and instead, they’ve been run hard by three teams, relying on substitutes and late goals to see them through.
They’ll need to start playing to their potential if they are to do some serious damage in this tournament, but with a relatively easy next-round opponent in the USA, they might be able to get away not being at their best for just a little while longer.
Algerian equalizer sends them into dreamland
Group H’s other match saw Fabio Capello’s Russia come up against an Algerian side who had already put in two impressive performances against South Korea and Belgium.
Russia knew they would have their hands full – on top of needing a win against a surprisingly formidable opponent, the Russians would need to hope that South Korea couldn’t pull off an upset and defeat Belgium.
For Algeria, a win would guarantee them a spot in the next round, but a draw would likely be good enough (as long as South Korea didn’t smash Belgium).
It was the Russians, though, who were celebrating early.
Only six minutes in, Russian youngster Alexander Kokorin thumped in a powerful header to give his country something incredibly valuable to hold onto; if Russia could hold this scoreline, they would likely advance in second place.
And half time brought even more good news – Kokorin’s early goal was the sole goal of the match, and Group H’s other game saw Belgium and South Korea head into the break in a deadlock. With only 45 minutes of football to go, Russia were on route to go through to the round-of-16 for the first time in their history.
But only 15 minutes into the second half, they received a major blow to their chances of progression.
Poor defending from Russia saw them give away a series of dangerous freekicks, and in the 60th minute, Algeria finally capitalized. Islam Slimani scored a header (there’s been a lot of those this World Cup, hasn’t there?) from a set-piece cross to restore parity and put his country back in the driver’s seat.
They held on for the full time whistle, and suddenly Algeria was the name on everyone’s lips – they now move on to face powerhouse Germany in the next round.
Similar to Costa Rica and Greece, Algeria were predicted by many to finish dead last in their group. But instead, they’ve progressed in second place, putting in three admirable performances and giving the final piece of evidence of just how incredible this group stage has been.
What a World Cup!
This World Cup has seen giants fall and heroes rise – it is a true testament to the beautiful game, and it is only going to get better. With the group stages done and dusted and the do-or-die matches to start, the best is still upon us.