The second set of group games is now completed, half the matches have been played, and already there have been cataclysmic exits and consolidated statements of intent and deep ambition. Six national squads, The Netherlands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina and Belgium have booked a place in the knockout rounds, while six others, Cameroon, Australia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Japan, and even mighty (hyped) England and defending champions Spain have booked flights home after their game three.
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Much was made by ESPN pundits of the ‘Second Game Syndrome,’ specifically with regard to Germany, who has traditionally seen significantly inferior results following world-beating openers (and had to come from behind this time to gain a 2-2 draw with a record-tying 15th career World Cup goal by Miroslav Klose against a very talented but unfortunate Ghana), yet this ‘syndrome’ could be applied to a number of teams in this tournament, not just the final collapse of the big boys Spain and England but also Italy, who lost to Costa Rica, the previously high-flying Dutchmen, who almost ran aground on Australia’s barrier reef, Argentina, who needed an injury-time goal from Mr. Messi to escape with a victory against Iran, host Brazil who failed to score in their 0-0 draw with Mexico and even the ‘surprise’ script-following United States, who almost lost control of their destiny to Portugal and lost a chance to clinch a knockout place to a last second CR7-created goal.
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Meanwhile, South and Central American teams Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica marked themselves as teams to avoid in the knockout rounds, with impressive wins over Spain, Ivory Coast, and and Italy respectively. France impressed, but against obviously inferior opposition, while form for Mexico, Belgium, Croatia, Ivory Coast, Uruguay and even host Brazil has remained fairly unpredictable, and Algeria surprised everyone by setting a record for goals scored in a game by an African side in their 4-2 victory over South Korea.
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But for Algeria, like many of these other teams, we now come to the part of the tournament where seemingly bizarre tie-breakers and methods of ‘scoreboard watching’ can loom over and influence performances on the field. The World Cup tournament does not take head-to-head records into account, so tiebreakers come down to various permutations of goal differential and goals scored (of which again there have been more than in any other World Cup to this point). Algeria has built a positive goal differential, but if it fails to tie Russia in its last Group H game, it goes home. Despite its players, fans and media’s confused disappointment at the last-minute draw with Portugal, the US Team also only needs a tie to advance, as does its third game opponent Germany, leading many to suspect an ‘Anschluss’ peace pact may be tacitly agreed between American coach Jürgen Klinsmann and his friend, German coach Joachim Loew, eliminating Ghana and Portugal and rendering their potentially scintillating third Group G game ‘pointless’. In Group F, there is apparently a scenario where Iran and Nigeria could end up drawing lots to advance. The most obviously attractive matches will be those with everything to play for, essentially ‘play-in’ games: Mexico-Croatia, Ivory Coast-Greece, and Italy-Uruguay. The Netherlands-Chile match also qualifies, as neither greatly want to face Brazil in the second round.
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