Another four days have passed, and the group stage of the World Cup draws to a close. The final sixteen teams have been determined, and the layout of the elimination rounds of the tournament has been set up. With a break from matches until Saturday, it’s now time to take a look back at the final games of the group stage.
In groups A and B, the matches were fairly predictable compared to the previous two rounds. The Dutch completed their dominance of group A with a 2-0 win over Chile. Meanwhile, Spain and Australia played for nothing but pride. Spain took a 3-0 victory out of that match, giving the Spaniards a slight consolation to take home from Brazil with them. Brazil also placed themselves at the top of group A with a decisive victory over Cameroon with 4 goals. However, Joel Matip did score the only Cameroonian goal in the tournament against Brazil. Meanwhile, Croatia fought with Mexico for second place in the group. Croatia needed a win over Mexico, and for the first 70 minutes the match remained fairly even. Unfortunately for Croatia, El Tri simply wore the Croatians down and finally scored three goals in the span of ten minutes toward the end. Mexico ultimately defeated Croatia 3-1, sending yet another European team home early.
Group C had Colombia already through to the round of 16, but the battle for second place was still being fought. Japan fell to the bottom of the group in a disappointing performance against Colombia. Ivory Coast, though, looked to be easily advancing, needing only a draw with Greece. Samaras gave Greece the lead just before half time, however, putting the Ivorian hopes in jeopardy. Ivory Coast equalized in the 74th minute, putting the Ivorians back on top. However, the hopes for Ivory Coast would be dashed in the final minutes. Ivorian Giovanni Sio fouled Samaras in the final seconds of the match, giving Greece a penalty kick. Samaras easily converted the penalty, putting Greece through to the round of 16 for the first time. In group D, the Costa Rica-England match ended in a goalless draw, and all eyes were on Italy and Uruguay. This match, with Uruguay needing a win to advance, proved to generate the most controversy of this round of matches. Uruguay defeated Italy 1-0 to advance with a goal from Diego Godín in the 81st minute. But shortly before the goal, Luis Suarez bit Italian defender’s Giorgio Chiellini in the third such incident involving Suarez. The referee did not catch the incident during the match and Suarez was not punished. After the match, however, a FIFA disciplinary committee convened. Suarez has now been banned for nine international matches, prohibited from engaging in any football-related activity for four months, and has been fined 100,000 Swiss francs (approx. $112,000).
Wednesday’s matchday did not feature too many surprises in groups E and F. France and Argentina fought to draw Ecuador and defeat Nigeria, respectively, and came out on the top of their groups. Switzerland defeated Honduras 3-0, with a stellar performance from midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri who earned a hat trick in the match, to secure their advancement to the round of 16. In group F, Bosnia, who had already been eliminated, could take some solace from their debut World Cup performance with a 3-1 win over Iran to avoid the bottom of the group.
Lastly, groups G and H rounded out the final group matches of the tournament. In the highly anticipated match between the United States and Germany, a goal from Thomas Müller was all that set the two sides apart after ninety minutes. Despite Germany holding the advantage for much of the second half, the United States nearly equalized late in stoppage time as they had two excellent chances on the German goal. Even with the loss, though, the USA’s previous performance was enough for them to go on as Portugal defeated Ghana 2-1. In group H, the main event featured Algeria and Russia fighting for second place in the group. Aleksandr Kokorin put Russia ahead early in the 6th minute off an excellent cross by Dmitry Kombarov. The Russians were unable to hold their lead though as Algeria pressed hard early in the second half. It finally bore fruit for The Desert Foxes in the 60th minute, as Islam Slimani headed a ball down close to the far post and past Akinfeev into the goal. Algeria doubled back as Russia piled on the attack for the remainder of the game, but held firm to a draw. That 1-1 draw was enough to send Algeria on to the round of 16.
Even at this stage of the tournament, the knockout round will feature a number of records for the World Cup. For a second consecutive tournament, only 6 of the 13 UEFA teams that qualified have advanced past the group stage. This has proven a boon for the other continental confederations. For the first time two African teams – Algeria and Nigeria – advance to the round of 16. Similarly, a record number of CONCACAF teams – 3 with the United States, Mexico, and Costa Rica – have moved out of their groups. The 2014 World Cup will have several firsts for individual national teams as well. Greece has advanced to the round of 16 for the first time, and as they will go up against Costa Rica, one of these two teams will make their first appearance in the quarterfinals. Algeria, meanwhile, has made their first appearance in the round of 16. For a team that has been building up from a defeat to Kenya in the first round of the 1998 World Cup qualification, the Algerians have come a long way in a scant sixteen years. Hopefully the tournament still has a few more surprises left in store. Undoubtedly, with the likes of Spain, Italy, and England already eliminated, there have been plenty already.