Dustin George-Miller is a life-long soccer fan, a sports blogger and a Goshen College staffer. His community blog on The Elkhart Truth, The Corner Flag: World Cup 2014, will cover the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
First things first.
I watched USA’s 2-2 draw with Portugal last night with about 100 other soccer fans at A Constant Spring, my local smoke-free pub in Goshen, which graciously opened on a Sunday so the public could watch the match.
The atmosphere was electric. The match was pretty good too.
I screamed. I jumped up and down. I hung on every kick of the ball, every pass, every shot. When USA scored, I hugged strangers. When Portugal equalized in the dying seconds of injury time, if felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I came home with a hoarse voice and a crushing disappointment, but with a euphoria borne from a shared experience that was enjoyable on a number of levels.
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It was everything I had hoped for in a World Cup match. It was an emphatic statement that, at least in our little corner of Elkhart County, soccer has arrived. I also met a good number of people who read this blog and have enjoyed it. I’m enjoying it too. Thanks for reading, and for watching.
Best World Cup ever. Go soccer.
There’s only one round of matches left in the group stages of the World Cup, and they’re critical. In some cases, these matches will determine which teams will advance to the Round of 16, and which teams will go home. I thought it important to examine each World Cup group, look at the scenarios, and identify the key matches.
First, let’s review how the Round of 16 match-ups work. The groups are paired off A-B, C-D, E-F, G-H, with the first place team from each group facing off against the 2nd place team from the opposite group. For example, the first place team in Group A (A1) will play the second place team in Group B (B2). The pairings continue in this pattern: B1 vs. A2, C1 v. D2, D1 vs. C2, etc. Google provides a handy bracket for those curious about the layout.
From there, it’s single-elimination, and no ties — if there’s a draw after 90 minutes, they play two 15-minute extra time periods. If it’s still tied, they go to penalty kicks until a winner is decided.
Because of the importances of the final group stage matches, careful scheduling is essential to avoid collusion between teams. For this reason, starting Monday there will be matches going on simultaneously. The final two Group B matches (Australia v. Spain, Netherlands v. Chile) will be played today at noon, and the Group A matches (Cameroon v. Brazil, Croatia v. Mexico) at 4 p.m. This schedule will continue until Thursday, by the end of which we’ll know which 16 teams will move on.
But what happens when two groups end up tied for second place? Well, that’s where tiebreakers come in. The World Cup group stage tiebreakers are as follows:
- Goal difference for group stage matches (goal difference is # of goals scored minus # of goals allowed)
- Total number of goals scored in all group stage games
- Head-to-head results between the tied teams
- Goal difference between the tied teams
- Goals scored in games between the tied teams
- Coin flip
Let’s begin with the Group of Death, shall we?
The United States was on the verge of clinching a trip to the next round, but Silvestre Varela’s diving header in the last 10 seconds of the match gave Portugal a much-needed point and threw the Group of Death into chaos. With four points each, Germany and the USA are in the drivers seats; each team only needs a point to ensure that both teams advance. So, Jurgen? Joachim? Just pass the ball around the center circle for 90 minutes, yeah?
A) United States beats Germany
Beat Germany and the USA obviously advances. The Germans’ fates then hinge upon the Portugal-Ghana match, but Germany has a pretty decent goal differential, so they should feel fairly comfortable.
B) United States draws Germany
This is, ironically, the best scenario for both teams. Both sides need a point to advance. If this happens, Germany finishes top of the group, and the USA comes in second.
C) United States loses to Germany
This is where it gets really interesting and scary and, well, a little confusing. Even if the USA loses to Germany, they can still move on to the next round if:
- Ghana and Portugal draw, or
- Ghana beats Portugal by a single goal, the USA loses by only one goal and Ghana doesn’t score more than two more goals than the USA scores or
- Portugal pounds Ghana by enough to overcome the USA’s five-goal gap goal difference gap (i.e. beats Ghana 5-0 and USA loses 1-0)
See? I told you it was confusing. There are more detailed scenarios over at the Pro Soccer Talk blog at NBC Sports. Check it out. I say, however, that Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw should just agree to have the most boring 0-0 match ever and take chance out of it entirely, yeah?
Since we’re here, let’s take a look at the other World Cup groups, several of which are very interesting:
This group is tighter than anyone expected it to be. Brazil is still in the driver’s seat, but if they fail to take care of business against already eliminated Cameroon, the hosts could find themselves watching the rest of the tournament from the stands.
A) Brazil wins or ties with Cameroon
Brazil advances with a win or a draw vs Cameroon, which makes the Mexico-Croatia match a play-in game. Croatia must win to advance, regardless of the circumstance. Anything less, and Mexico will join Brazil in the Round of 16. If Brazil draws Cameroon, they still advance but may not finish first in their group; that could come down to goal differential.
B) Brazil loses to Cameroon
All bets are off at that point. Cameroon is eliminated regardless, but a Brazil loss could mean that Croatia could win the group if they beat Mexico, and with a Mexico and Croatia draw, Brazil could drop out of the tournament entirely on tie-breaker rules, and wouldn’t THAT be fun? For Croatia and Mexico, it’s still “win and you’re in.”
This is probably one of the least dramatic groups in the tournament. Both Chile and Netherlands have advanced, and they play each other in the final game. They’re playing for pride and for seeding purposes, so both teams will want to win. Nobody wants to come in second because that would probably mean that they play Brazil in the next round. However, that will depend on the wacky shenanigans in Group A.
The Netherlands has the edge in goal differential (5 vs. 4) so a draw won’t do Chile any good. They’ll need to beat the Dutch to come in first and (hopefully) avoid Brazil in the next round.
Colombia is in the driver’s seat in this group, but it’s an open question as to who will come with them out of Group C. Ivory Coast must take care of Greece in order to be assured of passage.
A) Colombia wins or ties with Japan
If Colombia takes care of business here, all Ivory Coast needs to do is draw against Greece in order to advance in 2nd place. Considering Greece’s stunning offensive acumen (zero goals), that might not be too difficult. And if Colombia draws with Japan, Ivory Coast could even win the group. However:
B) Colombia loses to Japan
Here’s where it gets interesting. If Ivory Coast beats Greece they’ll still likely finish second due to goal differential. Draw with Greece and Japan could sneak past them depending on the final score (Japan’s goal differential is -1; they’d need to beat Colombia by two goals to sneak in ahead of The Elephants). Lose to Greece and it’s all over.
In one of the most shocking set of upsets in World Cup history, Costa Rica has automatically qualified for the next round. England is eliminated. So it’s essentially a play-in game for Italy and Uruguay who are tied with 3 points a piece.
No complicated math here. A draw won’t do Uruguay any good due to goal differential — they have to beat Italy to make it. There’s an outside chance that if Costa Rica loses to England either Uruguay or Italy could win the group on goal differential with a win.
Strangely, this group is wide open. France has a commanding goal differential but ironically haven’t mathematically qualified. It would take a whopper of a loss to Ecuador combined with a whopper of a win for Switzerland for France to miss out, though. It’s not likely. All the other teams could mathematically qualify, even Honduras.
The various scenarios are too complicated to go through individually, but France qualifies with a win or a draw against Ecuador. Switzerland qualifies with a win and an Ecuador loss or tie. If both Switzerland and Ecuador draw, Ecudaor advances on goal differential. Honduras can still qualify with a win over Switzerland, though it’s unlikely due to Ecuador’s goal differential.
Argentina has qualified and is only concerned with seeding. Iran and Nigeria could both qualify in second if various things happen.
If Argentina beats Nigeria and Iran beats already-eliminated Bosnia, the two will be tied in every possible tiebreaker category and a coin will be flipped to see who advances. (I can’t tell you how exciting THAT will be!) Other score lines affect the goal differential, but if Iran loses or draws, Nigeria will advance even with a loss.
Belgium has qualified and Algeria is in prime position to qualify as well thanks to their win over South Korea on Saturday. Korea’s not out, though they have to beat Russia to have any chance.
A) Algeria beats or draws Russia, Belgium beats South Korea
Belgium finishes first, Algeria finishes second
B) Algeria beats Russia, South Korea beats Belgium
Algeria finishes in first place on goal differential; Belgium still finishes second
C) Algeria draws Russia, South Korea beats Belgium
With a big enough win against Russia, South Korea could pip Algeria for second on goal differential.
D) Russia beats Algeria, South Korea beats Belgium
Both Russian and South Korea finish on four points; advancing team is decided on goal differential.
Matches to Watch:
Netherlands vs. Chile, Group B, today, noon (Arena Corinthians, São Paulo)
This match has no bearing on anything but seeding, but they’ve been two of the most confident and exciting teams to watch thus far, and it’ll be a doozy. Both clubs want to win, because neither of them want to face Brazil in the next round.
Croatia vs. Mexico, Group A, today, 4:00 p.m. (Arena Pernambuco, Recife)
This match looks to be an elimination game if Brazil takes care of Cameroon. Two evenly matched teams with elimination on the line. Can’t beat it.
Italy v. Uruguay, Group D, Tuesday, noon (Estádio das Dunas, Natal)
Uruguay’s Luis Suarez has been scintillating in this tournament. He’ll need to be again -- Uruguay must win in order to advance to the next round.