With each team having played two games so far in the World Cup, here’s a look at what’s going on in each group:
[Earlier: A World Cup group-by-group breakdown: Favorites, sleepers and predictions]
(Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico)
What’s up with Brazil? The Selecao came in as heavy favorites to win it all, but Neymar and Co. have been unable to get out of third gear during the group stage. They needed a dubious penalty to take the lead against Croatia, and then were shut out against Mexico. Getting out the jitters? Figuring out what works? Not as good as we thought? Brazil fans hope it’s not the latter.
Best game: Brazil 0, Mexico 0. Though it finished scoreless, the Brazil-Mexico match didn’t fail to thrill. The CONCACAF side wasn’t intimidated by the partisan crowd, and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced save after save to frustrate Brazil.
What’s left? Brazil will likely steamroll crumbling Cameroon, but the game to watch is Mexico-Croatia — a draw will see the Mexicans through, but it will be no easy task against a Croatian side that saw striker Mario Mandzukic score twice on his return from suspension in a 4-0 win over Cameroon
Original prediction: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico
Current standings: Brazil 4 pts (1-0-1), Mexico 4 pts (1-0-1), Croatia 3 pts (1-1-0), Cameroon 0 pts (0-2-0)
Likeliest outcome: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon
(Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)
Tiki-taka is dead. That’s all anyone has been saying since Spain’s dynasty ended with a whimper in a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands and a 2-0 defeat to Chile. The short-passing, death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts style played by La Roja was exposed by the strength and speed of players like Chile’s Arturo Vidal and the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben.
Best game: Netherlands 5, Spain 1. This game sent shockwaves through the soccer world. In a rematch of the 2010 final, Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal set his team out to press high and play long balls to strikers Robben and Robin Van Persie, but even he couldn’t have expected his game plan to be executed so perfectly — or the once-invincible Spain to be cut apart so easily.
What’s left? A surprisingly entertaining Australian team will try to add to Spain’s misery in a meaningless third match, while undefeated Chile and the Netherlands battle to top the group — and likely avoid Brazil in the second round.
Original prediction: Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia
Current standings: Netherlands 6 pts (2-0-0), Chile 6 pts (2-0-0), Australia 0 pts (0-2-0), Spain 0 pts (0-2-0)
Likeliest outcome: Netherlands, Chile, Spain, Australia
(Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)
Who needs Radamel Falcao? The AS Monaco star striker hasn’t been missed, as James (pronounced HA-mes — don’t call him James!) Rodriguez has keyed a dynamic Colombia team that will be a handful going forward. Five goals and two wins have Colombia atop the group, and its energetic pressing has spawned thousands of bad cocaine jokes on Twitter.
Best game: Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1. Keisuke Honda scored a great goal in the first 10 minutes to get Japan started, but then Ivory Coast started to turn it on. Still, no goals came until 36-year-old superstar Didier Drogba came off the bench in the second half, after which Ivory Coast scored twice in five minutes.
What’s left? Greece will play in its usual boring, defensive style to try to hold Ivory Coast at bay and keep it from advancing, while Colombia looks to bring its winning streak to three against Japan.
Original prediction: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Current standings: Colombia 6 pts (2-0-0), Ivory Coast 3 pts (1-1-0), Japan 1 pt (0-1-1), Greece 1 pt (0-1-1)
Likeliest outcome: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
(Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)
Tiki-taka is dead, but Los Ticos are very much alive. In the “Group of Champions,” Costa Rica was the odd team out. After wins over Uruguay and Italy, few are taking the CONCACAF team lightly, despite its lack of star power. Joel Campbell has been a nuisance at striker and provided the outlet for the team’s dangerous counterattacking play.
Best game: Uruguay 2, England 1. Demonized by the English media for his (admittedly numerous) sins, Luis Suarez bit back against the Three Lions, scoring both goals in his return from injury in a must-not-lose game for both teams.
What’s left? Uruguay and Italy thought this game might decide who goes through — they just never thought it would be Costa Rica that had already advanced. A draw will get Italy through on goal difference. Costa Rica will win the group if it beats England, which has been entertainingly incompetent in this World Cup, compared to its usual incompetence.
Original prediction: Italy, Uruguay, England, Costa Rica
Current standings: Costa Rica 6 pts (2-0-0), Italy 3 pts (1-1-0), Uruguay 3 pts (1-1-0), England 0 pts (0-2-0)
Likeliest outcome: Costa Rica, Italy, Uruguay, England
(Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)
We’ve seen “Good France” so far in this World Cup. The team’s talent has never been in question, but fans feared (and neutrals hoped for) another off-the-field collapse like in South Africa, when some players refused to practice (seriously). This time around, the only question is how many ways will Karim Benzema be denied almost-certain goals in his quest for the Golden Boot.
Best game: Switzerland 2, Ecuador 1. It looked like it was petering out into a fairly boring 1-1 draw, before the two teams roared back to life in the closing moments. Stoppage time saw frantic, end-to-end attacking play on both ends, with the Swiss finding the winner with the last kick of the game.
What’s left? France’s goal differential means it’s likely to go through regardless of the result against Ecuador, while Switzerland will likely go through if it beats Honduras.
Original prediction: France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras
Current standings: France 6 pts (2-0-0), Ecuador 3 pts (1-1-0), Switzerland 3 pts (1-1-0), Honduras 0 pts (0-2-0)
Likeliest outcome: France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras
(Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria)
Like Brazil, Argentina has been unconvincing in its first two games. Unlike Brazil, Argentina has Lionel Messi. The diminutive attacker scored two brilliant goals that were the difference in otherwise “meh” performances against Bosnia and Iran. Bosnia is out in controversial circumstances after an Edin Dzeko goal was disallowed, incorrectly, for offside in its 1-0 loss to Nigeria.
Best game: Argentina 1, Iran 0. Iran found itself in an unlikely position as the country many on the world stage were rooting for as it stymied Argentina for 90 minutes. In extra time, however, Messi struck, reminding the world why he’s the best, and why Argentina is one of the favorites to lift the Cup.
What’s left? Argentina will top the group as long as it avoids losing to Nigeria. Iran could still sneak into the knockout stages with a win over reeling Bosnia and an Argentina win over Nigeria.
Original prediction: Argentina, Bosnia, Nigeria, Iran
Current standings: Argentina 6 pts (2-0-0), Nigeria 4 pts (1-0-1), Iran 1 pt (0-1-1), Bosnia 0 pts (0-2-0)
Likeliest outcome: Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran
(Germany, Ghana, Portugal, USA)
The Group of Death lives up to its name. All four teams still have a chance at getting out. Germany, which looked so invincible against Portugal, is still the favorite, but Ghana showed that Die Mannschaft isn’t invcincible.
What’s left? The U.S. and Germany are both safe with a draw, so it will be interesting to see how the teams approach the game tactically. Either Portugal or Ghana have to win to advance and hope they can best the U.S. or Germany on goal differential.
Original prediction: Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana
Likeliest outcome: Germany, USA, Portugal, Ghana
(Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea)
Is Belgium the real deal? On one hand, the team has arguably the most talent of any nation, and it has won both of its group stage games so far. On the other hand, Belgium had a hard time breaking down Algeria and Russia, not exactly top-caliber foes. Once the difficulty level raises during the knockout stage, will players like Eden Hazard raise their games to match?
Best Game: Algeria 4, South Korea 2. In a pretty boring group, this game featured a lot of old-school long balls and defenders that struggled to handle them. Algeria’s three-goal flurry in the middle of the first half meant the result was never really in doubt, but it’s always fun to watch goals fly in.
What’s left? Fabio Capello, the highest-paid coach at the World Cup, leads his Russia team into a do-or-die clash against Algeria, which shocked everyone with its drubbing of South Korea. The Desert Foxes are a clear step above the team the U.S. played in 2010. South Korea’s slim hopes hinge on an upset of Belgium, which has already wrapped up its place in the knockout stage.
Original prediction: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria
Current standings: Belgium 6 pts (2-0-0), Algeria 3 pts (1-1-0), Russia 1 pt (0-1-1), South Korea 1 pt (0-1-1)
Likeliest outcome: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
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