As another round of group stage matches comes to a close, the general feeling is that this World Cup continues to be one of the most thrilling in recent times. Those countries that will advance to the knockout stage and those who will go home early are starting to take shape. As of now, there have already been some surprise upsets in the group stage with who goes on and who goes home.
The biggest surprises of the tournament so far are undoubtedly Spain and Costa Rica. Spain, the defending champions, were expected to do very well despite the difficult group draw with the Netherlands and Chile. However, after the 5-1 defeat to the Dutch, the Spanish hopes of repeating their triumph from 2010 were quickly sinking. A draw against Chile would be enough to keep Spain alive mathematically, but in a shocker the Chileans earned a 2-0 victory over the Spanish. Eduardo Vargas put the Chileans up in the 20th minute, and Charles Aranguiz doubled the lead by halftime. Spain played poorly the rest of the match and confirmed their embarrassment in the World Cup by crashing out of the group stage. Tomorrow, Spain will only be seeking a small consolation in their game against Australia before they return to Europe.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica has earned a huge upset victory in the supposed group of death that is group D. Cost Rica’s upset win over Uruguay seemed a fluke, especially since Uruguay was playing without star striker Luis Suarez. Making the case even more was that Costa Rica’s next opponent was an Italian team that looked much stronger against England than they had in 2010 and went to the Euro 2012 final. The Ticos, though, were undeterred. For much of the match Costa Rica was able to shut down Italy’s attacking play. Just before half time, Ticos midfielder Bryan Ruiz lit up the stadium with a close header into the near post that put Costa Rica up 1-0. That was the only goal of the match, but it was enough to keep the upstart Ticos at the top of the group and confirm their advancement to the knockout stage. Meanwhile in group D, Uruguay, now with Suarez on the field, dealt a harried English side a 2-1 defeat to eliminated England. On the upside, Wayne Rooney finally broke his World Cup curse, scoring England’s only goal in the 75th minute.
Additionally, any thoughts of the goal tally settling down at all as we move further into the tournament have been thoroughly tossed aside. A new record for the number of goals in a match this tournament was set on Friday, as France beat Switzerland 5-2. Back in group B, the Dutch victory over Australia also featured several goals. Robben put the Dutch up first in the 20th minute, but barely a minute later the Australians returned in kind. In a superb judgement, Tim Cahill followed a long ball into the penalty area and without missing a beat, caught it on his left foot and launched it bouncing off the crossbar into the net. Early in the second half, the Dutch gave the Socceroos a golden opportunity when Daryl Janmaat gave up a penalty kick on a handball. Mile Jedinak converted the penalty for Australia. The Socceroos now had a miraculous lead over a powerhouse Dutch team that they never would have dreamed of. However, it was only a fleeting moment. Van Persie equalized for the Netherlands within five minutes, and the Dutch took away a 3-2, denying Australia a point. The match pitting Algeria against South Korea in group H, with Algeria earning a triumph with a 4-2 win.
So with the last round of the group stage beginning tomorrow, the important question is who is advancing and who is going home. Right now, the countries that will definitely be advancing to the round of 16 are the Netherlands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Belgium. The teams that have been knocked out of the World Cup after two matches are Cameroon, Spain, Australia, England, and Bosnia. Brazil and France are, while not assured, almost guaranteed to go through to the knockout stage. Brazil will go through with a win or draw against Cameroon. In the unlikely case of a loss to Cameroon, Brazil would still advance if the Croatia-Mexico match does not end in a draw. France would also go through if they get a point from the match against Ecuador. If Ecuador does defeat France, and Switzerland defeats Honduras, then the three of Ecuador, France, and Switzerland would be tied in points and it would go to goal differential. In that circumstance, France’s current goal differential of 6 would likely keep them at the top of the group.