Today marked the last day of the group stages in the 2014 World Cup, as after today the sixteen nations who made the knockout stages will be known. Going into today three places were yet to be decided from Groups G and H. In Group G, Germany and the USA went head to head with both only needing a point to progress to the next round whilst a defeat would leave their fate out of their hands. The other two nations were three points behind the top two, so a win was a necessity for both Portugal and Ghana to have a chance to qualify for the last 16. In Group H, Belgium’s place in the last 16 was already confirmed following wins in their opening two group matches, whilst their opponents South Korea had to win to have any chance. The same was true of Russia, who arguably had disappointed up to this point, with just one point from their opening two matches. Their opponents Algeria had surprised many, particularly after the attacking flair shown against South Korea, and went into the match knowing that any kind of result would put them through to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

USA 0-1 Germany

A Thomas Muller goal was the difference between the two sides as Germany scraped past USA, which still meant both teams progressed to the last 16. In very wet conditions, that led some fans to miss the kick-off, it was the USA who had the first opportunity on the break but Graham Zusi’s shot whistled over the bar from the edge of the area. Mesut Ozil then cut in on the right for Germany and produced a shot that, despite being straight at the USA keeper Tim Howard, couldn’t be held by him and had to be scrambled away.

The second half started with Germany on the front foot and they nearly scored; after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shot was blocked by a USA defender and fell to Jerome Boateng, whose cross to the far post was headed over the bar by a retreating Omar Gonzalez with German shirts lurking in the six yard area. But from the resulting corner Germany scored. Ozil played a short corner and following a one-two whipped a cross into the box, Per Mertesacker unleashed a powerful header towards goal that forced a diving save from Howard but the ball was pushed out to Muller on the edge of the box, and his shot was clinically placed into the corner of the net with the goalkeeper beaten. The USA were not beaten yet though, and a brisk counter-attack from one end of the pitch to the other finished with Alejandro Bedoya’s shot being brilliantly blocked by Philipp Lahm. Clint Dempsey then had a late chance to equalise but his header from close range went over the crossbar when he probably should have at least got it on target. That proved irrelevant though in the greater picture, as the result of the other match meant that the USA progressed to the knockout stages as runners-up of their group behind Germany.

Portugal 2-1 Ghana

A Cristiano Ronaldo winner ten minutes from time was not enough for Portugal who crashed out of the World Cup in the group stages along with their defeated opponents. From the early stages, Ghana were finding it hard to get the ball, and the many runs and breaks from Portugal were causing them problems. Ronaldo nearly scored a spectacular goal from a cross that was possibly intended as a shot, as it smashed off the crossbar with goalkeeper Fatau Dauda beaten. Dauda then did brilliantly to palm away Ronaldo’s close-range header from a Nani cross as Portugal remained on top. The game was end to end though and Ghana nearly scored with Asamoah Gyan being found by a long ball but his low shot was saved by the legs of Beto. Portugal’s crosses were causing Ghana problems and a cross from Miguel Veloso was sliced into his own net by defender John Boye to give Portugal an arguably deserved lead. Ronaldo then had yet another opportunity but his deflected shot was well saved by Dauda as Ghana kept the deficit down to a single goal.

Those saves by Dauda seemed crucial on 57 minutes when an absolutely world-class cross from Kwadwo Asamoah curled towards the far post and Gyan was there to meet it with a header to pull Ghana level. Then they had a golden opportunity to take the lead that would have seen them progress to the knockout stages at the expense of the USA, but Gyan’s great cross across the penalty area was headed wide by Majeed Waris at the far post when arguably he should have done better. That miss would prove crucial though and a cataclysmic error from Dauda gifted Portugal the win when he flapped at a high ball from an attempted clearance from Mensah and could only palm the ball out to Ronaldo on the penalty spot, and he duly dispatched to end Ghana’s hopes of progressing. Portugal were chasing the USA for the runner-up spot on goal difference, and Ronaldo had yet another opportunity when he was put through with just the keeper to beat but yet again Dauda remained firm. With the last kick of the game, Joao Moutinho lashed over the crossbar from the edge of the area as both teams went out of the tournament in the group stage.

Group G Final Standings

Country  W  D  L  GD  Pts
1) GER      2    1  0    +5   7
2) USA      1    1  1      0    4
3) POR     1    1  1     -3   4
4) GHA    0    1  2     -2   1

Algeria 1-1 Russia

Algeria progressed to the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time in their history after coming from a goal down to draw with Russia. Russia took an early lead though in the sixth minute when a looping cross from Dmitri Kombarov on the left wing was met with a great leap from an unmarked Aleksandr Kokorin, whose header went straight into the top corner. Russia were going all out to snatch that runner-up spot from Algeria and remained on top after the goal, with Oleg Shatov’s shot following a good run just wide of the post. Algeria nearly found an equaliser from a corner but Igor Akinfeev made a brilliant save to tip Islam Slimani’s header over the bar. Slimani then had another opportunity from a corner but his header was straight at the Russian keeper.

Russia started the second half looking like the team more likely to score and almost doubled their lead through Aleksandr Samedov following a good one-two with Kokorin but his shot was well saved by the shoulder of Rais M’bolhi in the Algeria goal. But on the hour mark, Algeria were level again and were on course to progress to the last 16, in easily the most controversial moment of the match. Yacine Brahimi put a free kick from just outside the left side of the penalty area and Akinfeev tried to reach the ball but couldn’t get there, which allowed Slimani to put his header into an empty net. However when the free kick was taken, TV cameras showed a laser was being shined in Akinfeev’s face, to which the referee did not notice before resuming play, and could possibly have had an impact on the result of the free kick. Russia’s best chance to get the win they needed came from Aleksandr Kerzhakov, but M’bolhi just held on to the low shot. There was ecstasy at the final whistle though with this result marking a historic milestone in Algerian football, as their national team progressed to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

South Korea 0-1 Belgium

Belgium topped Group H after being bottom side South Korea despite playing most of the match with only ten men. However South Korea could have conceded a goal right at the start of the match but the referee considered Kim Young-gwon’s risky block on Anthony Vanen Borre to not be a foul despite not reaching the ball as both players fell just inside the penalty area. Dries Mertens then had a glorious chance to score for Belgium after being put through on goal following a block from a Kevin Mirallas shot, but his shot was scooped over the bar from eight yards out. Ki Sung-yeung then tried a sneaky low hard shot from distance that was tipped around the post by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before Steven Defour cleared a goalbound ball off the line as South Korea suddenly found momentum. Then the face of the match changed completely when Defour was sent off for a stamping tackle on the leg of Kim as the first half finished goalless.

The sending off meant that the second half was more stretched and end-to-end, and Mertens unleashed a low powerful shot that keeper Kim Seung-gyu palmed away to safety. Son Heung-min then put a cross in that inadvertently hit the top of the crossbar with Courtois stranded to the spot. Then in the 77th minute Belgium took the lead when Divock Origi’s long-range shot was parried away by the keeper into the path of Jan Vertonghen, who slotted home with ease. Eden Hazard then whipped in a shot that Kim saved to keep the deficit at one goal before South Korea had their best chance to equalise; Lee Yong hit a long-ranger that Courtois parried. From the resulting corner Lee Keun-ho tried a cheeky flick-on at the near post that the keeper was again equal to as Belgium finished top of Group H and will play the USA in the last 16.

Group H Final Standings

Country  W  D  L  GD  Pts
1) BEL       3    0   0   +3    9
2) ALG      1    1   1   +1    4
3) RUS      0    2   1    -1    2
4) KOR     0    1   2   -3     1

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