World Cup 2014 explainer: What’s left to play for in final group games

( | ABC AU – The 2014 World Cup is heading into the final group games before the knock-out rounds in one of its most intriguing stages.

The top two sides in each of the eight groups progress to the round of 16 as the tournament enters the first of its sudden-death knockout rounds.

Where teams finish on equal points placings are determined by goal difference. If teams are still level it reverts to goals for and then goals against. If even that is not enough to separate teams, progress is determined by the drawing of lots (watch out, Nigeria and Iran).

Each group plays its pair of fixtures simultaneously so as to keep other teams unaware of results until full-time.

Top spot can be a crucial placement, as it means a round-of-16 berth against the corresponding group’s second-placed side.

With plenty to play for in each group, look through each team’s prospects of progression and what their final fixtures mean to their World Cup fate.

Group A

Brazil: *a win over Cameroon should ensure top spot assuming Mexico either draws with Croatia or wins by a modest margin. A draw will also ensure progress to the next round but leaves the hosts exposed to conceding first place if Croatia beats Mexico.

Mexico: *if El Tri draws against Croatia, they are through to the round of 16. A win puts the Mexicans in with a shot of top spot, depending on Brazil’s result against Cameroon.

Croatia: *A simple equation for Croatia – beat Mexico and advance. A draw will be enough only if Brazil somehow slips up by any scoreline to Cameroon.

Cameroon: *Already out of the World Cup, but a shock win over Brazil could throw a spanner into the works at Brazil’s expense.

Group B

The Netherlands and Chile: *Both teams will be battling it out for top spot, with the Dutch leading the goal-difference tally by a single goal. Should the two sides fight out a draw, that goal-difference will see the Oranje top the group.

Australia: *They have no chance of progress after two brave losses, but a draw at the very least against Spain will see the Socceroos finish above the former world champions. No-one predicted that before the tournament, and neither did they predict an Australia win over the Spanish, which would provide the perfect send-off for Ange Postecoglou’s men.

Spain: *The dethroned champions have nothing but pride to play for after being found out against the Dutch and Chileans. Morale in the camp will be low and Spain faces a tougher-than-expected last game against the surprising Socceroos as it looks to avoid a Group B wooden spoon.

Group C

Colombia: *The South Americans have already booked their spot in the round of 16 and the vibrant team can secure top spot with what should be a routine point (or three) against an underachieving Japan side.

Ivory Coast: *The Africans are in the driving seat for second place and should have too much against Greece. A draw should also be enough, assuming Japan does not pull off a big shock against Colombia.

Japan: *Needs to win against Colombia and probably by a big margin. A win by any margin will be enough to secure second place if Greece gets its act together and beats the Ivorians, as long as Greece does not score too many goals.

Greece: *Still in with a major shout for the runner-up spot, even with a three-goal difference, if it can pull off a victory over the Ivory Coast. A narrow 1-0 win (a Greek speciality) could do the trick, assuming Colombia does not lose to Japan.

Group D

Costa Rica: *The supposed minnows of this group of death are flying high, and can secure top spot with a draw or win against dispirited England. A narrow loss may still be enough if Uruguay and Italy win by a tight margin.

Italy and Uruguay: *In a high-profile dogfight for the knockout rounds, Uruguay and Italy are facing off in what is effectively a round of 32 match. A draw will only suit Italy, which has a better goal difference than the South Americans. Otherwise, it’s winner takes all. A big win for either side could be enough for first spot if England plays to its ranking and delivers a big defeat for table-topping Costa Rica.

England: *Nothing to play for as the English prepare for their flight back home. A big win over Costa Rica could give one of Italy or Uruguay a chance for the number one spot, but the dynamic Costa Ricans will be looking to prevent that eventuality.

Group E

France: *Les Bleus have looked imperious in their two wins over Hondruas and Switzerland so far. France’s healthy +6 goal difference should be enough of a cushion to keep top spot should the worst happen against Ecuador.

Ecuador: *Needs to defy the odds and beat France and hope it is good enough to overcome whatever margin Switzerland gets over Honduras. Ecuador has a two-goal head start over the Swiss which will be crucial if it is to edge the French. If the Swiss are held to a draw by Honduras, Ecuador will only need a draw against France to advance.

Switzerland: *A big, healthy win over Honduras should secure progression assuming France does not slip up against Ecuador. Assuming the French do their job, a draw would even be enough for Switzerland, although it would not bode well for the upcoming rounds.

Honduras: *Still in with a chance, but it needs everything to come together just right against Switzerland. A big win to make a dent on its -4 goal difference will be the first step. Honduras will then hope France beats Ecuador, and preferably by a juicy margin.

Group F

Argentina and Nigeria: *Lionel Messi’s Argentina is already through to the next round, and a draw against Nigeria could suit both teams. A point for both sides secures top spot for Argentina and would see Nigeria move to five points, out of reach of Iran. A shock win for the Nigerians would see the African champions sneak top spot.

Iran: *A 1-0 win over Bosnia could be enough for progress, but if Argentina beats Nigeria by the same scoreline, both Nigeria and Iran will be all square and advancement will be determined by drawing lots. It would be the first time in World Cup history this has taken place, and whoever loses out could be considered the unluckiest team in history.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: *The World Cup debutants are out of the World Cup despite two excellent showings. Bosnia will be looking for a win over Iran as a fitting farewell from Brazil.

Group G

Germany and United States: *A draw for both teams will be enough to secure progress to the knockout stages, but the Americans will go for the result to grab first spot instead. Germany leads the group thanks to its 4-0 win over Portugal, but a loss for either team exposes them to both Ghana and Portugal.

Ghana and Portugal: *Both have a point and remain distant chances of progressing. There needs to be a result either way, with the winner hoping for Germany (with its likely insurmountable +4 goal difference) to deliver USA a sound beating. Portugal’s -4 goal difference puts it at a distinct disadvantage to Ghana, which is poised to strike if the Americans lose to Germany.

Group H

Belgium: *Progress is assured for the Red Devils as they gear up to face South Korea. A draw or win will be enough to secure top spot. A loss leaves it a chance of slipping to second if Algeria can get a convincing win over Russia.

Algeria: *Has an outstanding chance of progress if it can secure at least a draw against Russia. A win will guarantee a knockout berth, but a draw will mean it is relying on Belgium avoiding a heavy defeat against South Korea.

Russia: *A win by more than a goal over Algeria puts it in the driving seat for second place, assuming Belgium does its job against the Koreans. A draw will not be enough for second spot.

South Korea: *The Koreans need to pull off one of the shocks in the tournament, not only beating highly-fancied Belgium, but with a big victory margin to boot. Meanwhile, South Korea will need Russia to either draw with Algeria or win by a narrow margin, while putting enough goals past Belgium to erase its -2 goal difference.