Contrary to most perceptions about the excitement quotient on display in the World Cups, this edition has come as a major relief for the fans of the game. Quality football has been on display all throughout the group stages and there are reasons to believe it should only get better from here. Let’s take a look at some of the things to look forward to as we head to the conclusion of the first round. Both Groups G and H are still pretty open and there could be a few more surprises in store on Thursday, the last day of the group stages in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Will the ‘Real’ Cristiano Ronaldo step up?
That Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are heads and shoulders above any of their contemporaries and among the greats to have graced the game is beyond the scope of argument. However, the culture of football bestows greatness to only those who deliver on the biggest of all stages – the World Cup that is. The Maradonas, The Ronaldos and the Zidanes of the world are celebrated the most for their heroics at this stage. After accomplishing nearly everything there’s to win at the club level, this World Cup was billed the perfect platform for both Messi and Ronaldo to redeem themselves at the international stage and immortalize their names in the history of the sport.
But while Messi has had a sensational start to the campaign and has singlehandedly taken Argentina to the next round, it’s Portugal’s talisman who’s struggling. Ronaldo came into the tournament with the world at his feet recently winning the Champions League title for Real Madrid. But the World Cup couldn’t have taken off on a worse note for the Ballon d’Or holder with his side failing to inspire any confidence. Not only has Ronaldo failed to score in the two games, his performance levels in general have been a big let down by his lofty standards.
Although his last minute assist against the USA has allowed Portugal to live another day, he’d surely need to do much more for Portugal to savour any hopes of qualification to the next round. His fitness has been of great concern even during the build-up to the tournament and he has certainly not appeared his usual self on the field. Ronaldo’s international career till date has been far from illustrious and the question that imminently arises is, does he have it in him to set things straight when it matters the most. Should the Ronaldo of Real Madrid step up, rule out the chances of a miracle for Portugal at your own peril.
Will Jurgen Klinsmann team up with the former disciples?
Mathematically, all the four sides from Group G can still make a progress to the next round. Jurgen Klopp’s United States have performed admirably in their games so far and have it in them to make a hipster’s darling. However, the last minute goal conceded to Portugal now puts them in a precarious position where a loss against the Germans could potentially eliminate them, depending on the result of the other game taking place simultaneously.
The Germans too on the other hand could face the elimination at losing the game, although that requires a far unlikelier event to take place in the other game. However, a draw is one result that sees both Germany and the USA to the next round and renders the other result quite pointless. We’ve seen two Scandinavian sides in the past take up this approach that minimizes the risk of losing but one might argue it’d be too much of pride to compromise on the Germans’ part. Could they possibly extend a favour for a former legend in Klinsmann who’s now pledged his loyalty to the Americans? A few more hours and the picture would be clearer.
Will Klose find a chance to create history?
Miroslav Klose is almost universally accepted as one of the best forwards of his generation and his consistency in the international arena has been truly outstanding. In the fag-end of his career, he has been chosen for the national side to compete for the biggest prize one last time and Joachim Low surely trusts him to deliver. At 36, Klose is surely not a starter for his side but has an important role to play nonetheless in Germany’s campaign.
Against Ghana, he was thrown in as an impact sub and what followed straightaway was hardly surprising for anyone having closely followed Klose’s career. With stakes being far too great during the knockout rounds and given the unpredictable nature of this sport, Klose will have to treat every game from here on as the last of his career with the national side and the last of the group games could very well be his moment to create history. Currently, Klose sits parallel to Ronaldo as the joint highest goal-scorer in the World Cup finals but he’s within touching distance from claiming the glory. Knowing how much this means both to Klose and his nation, one shouldn’t really be shocked to see Low giving him a rare start against the United States.
Will Belgium finally announce their arrival?
Belgium are the only side from Group H to have already secured qualification and unless things go dramatically wrong, they should top the group too. However, despite having won both their group games, they haven’t exactly set this tournament afire. Their performance in both the games has been pretty disappointing, given the reputation with which their ‘golden generation’ has entered the tournament.
Almost every member of Belgium’s first eleven garners considerable respect from some of the biggest clubs in Europe but the team still lacks cohesion and that element of fire in them. Given the competitive nature of the tournament, they’re bound to face hungrier oppositions in the knockout rounds and hence it’s extremely important for them to find the right momentum against the supposedly lesser opposition. The likes of Hazard, Mertens, De Bruyne and Lukaku are household names in European club football and it’s only a matter of time before this team starts to live to its billing. But sooner they find the right combination is in the best of their interests and the final group game is the perfect stage to experiment for one last time and get things going.
All to play for between Russia and Algeria
This could be the most intensely fought battle of the day. There’s everything to play for and a place in the final sixteen is definitely up for grabs for both the sides. A draw should seal it for the Algerians while the Russians must go out all guns blazing. Fabio Capello’s signature conservative approach will definitely not prove to be enough as his side heads for a must-win contest. Algerian attacking line was a treat to watch during their victory over South Korea but over here, they could possibly prefer to sit back and catch the Russians off the guard on a counter. A cracking contest is surely on the cards and a huge heartbreak is in store.