It has been a wonderful two weeks in Brazil thus far. After 48 games in league phase until June 26, time has now come for the play-off games in the FIFA World Cup. On the last day, Portugal went out of the competition despite beating Ghana. In Group G, they tied with USA on 4 points, but lost out on goal difference. Portugal’s 4-0 drubbing by Germany in the first game became a deciding factor. The second game on Thursday was played between Germany and US, at the end of which, the Germans finished as table toppers and despite their 1-0 loss, US qualified for knock-out stage on goal difference with Portugal. Algeria made history, when they reached the round of 16 after drawing with Russia in a Group H league match. In another Group H match, Belgium defeated South Korea to finish their league campaign with 9 points.
Their last match against Ghana was an acid test for Portugal, who needed to beat the black stars with a huge margin to be able to surpass the loser of Germany-USA match on goal difference. Having conceded 4 goals in their first match against Germany, Portugal had already made their job too difficult. In addition, Ghana were not an easy side to be crushed like that. But Portugal wanted to take their chances at Estadio Nacional Brasilia against the spirited Ghanaians. Finally, Portugal’s 2-1 victory was not enough and they crashed out of the FIFA World Cup to join Spain and Italy, the two former champions, who suffered the same fate early on. On last day, all Group G teams had their chances on paper. Ghana could also have qualified on goal difference if they had beaten Portugal with a big margin. With such possibilities, the match stayed in high gear until the final whistle. Unluckily for Ghana, John Boye’s own goal in 31st minute put Portugal ahead 1-0 ahead, until a superb header from Asamoah Gyan leveled the score in 57th minute. There were at least two close occasions, when Ronaldo would have enhanced their lead but his luck wouldn’t hold. Portugal’s winning goal came in 80th minute as another gift from Ghana. Nani sent a cross for Jonathan Mensah to head into the goal but the Ghana goalkeeper pushed the ball to where Ronaldo stood ready. The Portuguese captain shot the rebound back into the goal but lost his chance to take Portugal into the next round.
At arena Pernambuco Recife, Germany beat USA 1-0 and that strike took both sides into the round of 16. In a match played in rain, Germany was superior to USA, keeping a higher percentage of ball possession. But both teams had their chances, despite USA being dispossessed by Germans at crunch moments. Germany finally got ahead in the 55th minute and kept that lead until the last minute.
In Curitiba, Algeria drew with Russia to make their maiden entry in the round of 16. Russia began with an early goal by Alexander Kokorin in 6th minute, when he received a fine cross from Dmitry Kombarov. Kokorin was nine yards away from the goal but his powerful and accurate header found the top corner of the net. Russia’s 1-0 lead was enough to take them in the round of 16 but Algerians fought hard and had several scoring chances to get the crucial equalizer that would put them ahead of the Russians in the points table. Their great work in the field was finally rewarded in the 60th minute, when Islam Slimani jumped high to a Brahimi corner, producing a header that went downwards into the goal. The pace of the game quickened after the goal and Russia mounted relentless attack on Algerian goal albeit without success. It was a lost cause for Russia at the final whistle. They made their heavy-hearted exit but there were wild celebrations in the Algerian camp as their nation made it to the knock-out phase in the fourth attempt.
At Sao Paulo, Belgium played South Korea without pressure, after winning both league games. But their style was not designed for spectator entertainment. In the third game too, the Belgians gave a lackluster display and in one ugly incident, lost Steven Defour on red card shortly before the break. But Koreans couldn’t exploit the depleted Belgian side, which looked dangerous in counter attack. Finally, Belgium finished winners with a late goal. The unimpressive pattern of the Belgians’ game didn’t change in the last league game as well. Koreans left the World Cup disappointed, despite their spirited performance. In the play-off stage, Belgium take on USA while Algeria will play Germany.