Portugal, with a relatively fit Christiano Ronaldo, would have expected to cruise past the United States in their second-to-last match in Group G, but instead could only scrape a riveting 2-2 draw.
England’s hopes of progression were snuffed out as Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 on Friday, and France proved their worth as former world champions by hammering Switzerland 5-2.
The Korean Republic would also have fancied their chances against Algeria, but were instead soundly beaten 4-2 in their Group H encounter.
Elsewhere Belgium narrowly beat Russia 1-0, while Nigeria are poised to progress to the knock-out stages following a slim 1-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Shock results have been a long-standing World Cup tradition and it’s the weekend’s Portuguese result that shocks the most. I stated in my previous piece that Portugal rely far too heavily on Ronaldo to provide their spark, and though it would sound harsh to label them a one-man team, Portugal are simply not at the races without their prized Ballon d’Or.
Of course the USA have had a fantastic tournament thus far, beating Ghana and following the weekend’s unexpected draw, but I would still have expected Portugal to have too much for them. Facing Germany on Thursday will undoubtedly prove their sternest test yet, but you cannot rule out a result for the USA given their current form.
Group B sets the scene for the World Cup’s first dead-rubber match. A dead rubber it may be, but it is likely to offer a good deal of entertainment as the never-say-die Australians take on a dejected Spanish outfit hoping to salvage at least some pride as former champions.
Tim Cahill, as always for club or country, is in fine scoring form and it is something that can be expected to continue.
At the other end, the technical prowess of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandes, Diego Costa and a host of others should prove too much for the Aussies to match … but then I’ve thought that before this year. In fact, though I never thought Spain would repeat their performance from 2010, I certainly didn’t think they’d bow out in the group stages.
Regardless, Spain should do enough to secure a 2-1 victory over Australia when the teams meet on Monday evening.
The Netherlands come up against Chile in what promises to be a nail-biting final Group B clash. While the Dutch have plenty of marauding goal-scoring talent to call upon with the likes of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Chile have been in sparkling form mainly thanks to Alexis Sanchez driving the team forward.
Aside from their vivacious attack, The Netherlands also have a rear guard that is the envy of many. Couple this to the fact that Louis van Gaal has his men performing like a solid unit, I think The Dutch should run out comfortable 3-1 winners on Monday.
Cameroon performed dismally last time out as a red card and poor team play saw them slump to a 4-0 loss to Croatia last week. They face current Group A leaders and hosts Brazil on Monday and could well suffer a similar fate, especially given the fact that they are yet to even score a goal at this year’s tournament.
Goal-scoring machine Samuel Eto’o is unlikely to feature in the match, which is certain to add to their woes. Though if Cameroon do find themselves trailing, he may well put in a cameo appearance as a last throw of the dice for coach Volker Finke.
Even so, I’m predicting one-way traffic here as Brazil aim to make amends for their 0-0 draw against Mexico last time out – this one will finish at least 2-0 in favour of the hosts I think.
Given that Brazil vs Cameroon is – as far as I can tell – a foregone conclusion, Mexico face Croatia in a decider for the runners-up spot in Group A. It has to be said that while Mexico have performed well thus far, if not punched above their weight, Croatia are only a point behind the Central Americans in the group.
So I expect this to be a hotly contested affair from the first whistle to the last as Croatia cling to their slim hopes of progression, while Mexico will look to maintain their momentum. Mexico only need a solitary point to advance to the first knock-out stage, but I wouldn’t expect them to sit on a lead if one is gained – especially given their second half showing against Brazil in their last match.
The Mexicans. Croatia are being forced to attack from the off, so Mexico will be presented with opportunities to hit on the break – something they are more than capable of doing given the pace at their disposal.
While Croatia do sport a number of star players in their line-up with Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic to name a few, Mexico are not shy on the talent front either, bearing in mind that Javier Hernandez was only a substitute against Brazil.
I don’t think there will be much between the sides on the night, but there will be goals – 2-1 in favour of Mexico.