Did you see that? What a comeback! No, I’m not talking about Ecuador’s win over Honduras, although that was a pretty good comeback, too. After completely whiffing on Thursday, I somehow managed to correctly predict all three matches yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve done that so far in the tournament, and it gave me the confidence to remove the quotation marks around “Crystal Ball” in the title. It’s 3 points I desperately needed in this meaningless competition with no actual prize or consequences.
Brian’s Prediction Points Tally = 16
Huge. Okay, so we’ve got a BIG weekend ahead of us, with some really fun games. Let’s take a look at Saturday first.
The opening match of the weekend features Argentina and Iran. Messi is probably going to run all over this team, but they’ve actually got a pretty decent defense, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept it from being a completely rout. Still, Argentina managed 2 goals against Bosnia, so I figure they’ll get at least that many against Iran. Sorry Iran. My prediction:
Argentina 3 : 0 Iran
The midday match on Saturday is likely to be another exciting one: Germany v. Ghana. Germany will clinch a berth to the knockout round with a win and a US win or draw, but Ghana will be eliminated with a loss and a US win, so they’ll be looking to salvage at least a point. In another group against another team, maybe Ghana get their shots on target and pull out some kind of upset, but not against Germany this year. My prediction:
Germany 4 : 1 Ghana
The final match of the day is an important one for Group F, as Nigeria take on Bosnia-Herzegovina. Despite losing their opener, Bosnia are still favorites to take second in the group behind Argentina, but Nigeria is sitting on a point after their draw with Iran, and assuming Argentina win, Nigeria will be in second place with anything other than a loss. They weren’t able to put anything past Iran, but Bosnia will be attacking a bit more, so they might slip one through. Still, though, the Bosnians should take this relatively easily. My prediction:
Nigeria 1 : 2 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Some people somewhere in the world will likely care about the first two matches on Sunday, but almost everyone in the US will be waiting patiently for that final game of the weekend. We must soldier on through these less exciting match ups anyway, though. The Sunday morning games features Belgium and Russia. Despite having to come back from an early goal against Algeria, I think Belgium are going to dominate this game. They have an incredibly young squad and hadn’t been to the World Cup as a nation since 2002 I believe, so there were always going to be jitters in that first half. Now that they’ve built up some confidence after their win, I think they’ll execute their game plan a bit more confidently. Russia, on the other hand, didn’t look convincing at all in their 1-1 draw with South Korea. Granted, the Russians should have won that game (it was a horrible goalkeeper error that gave the South Koreans their point), but it’s not like they were dominating. My prediction:
Belgium 2 : 0 Russia
The second game, South Korea v. Algeria, pits two teams that scored unlikely goals in their respective openers. Of the two, though, only Algeria looked threatening, and despite their loss to Belgium, I think they’ll feel that they played rather well in that game. The South Koreans looked terrible, but they really can only go up, so I imagine that this game might turn into a deadlock. My prediction:
South Korea 1 : 1 Algeria
No matter what happens on Sunday, though, Group H is likely going to come down to the wire either way. Only Algeria can be eliminated tomorrow, and only if they lose and Russia win or tie. One of those things could certainly happen, but I don’t think both will.
Finally, the big one: USA v. Portugal. The US’s opener against Ghana gave me my first correct scoreline prediction, but I don’t feel confident predicting another 2-1 victory for the Yanks. Half of me thinks that Cristiano Ronaldo either won’t play or won’t be his usual self, but after seeing an injured Luis Suarez score two goals from two shots to send England packing, the other half of me firmly believes that a Ronaldo playing at even 40% might be too much for the US’s defense. After all, as we saw in the Russia-South Korea game (and the England-Italy game…and the England-Uruguay game…and the Switzerland-Ecuador game…and the US-Ghana game…and…), it only takes one mistake when you’re playing against world-class opponents. Losing Jozy Altidore was a huge blow to the US, and I’m not sure that they’re going to be able to fill the tactical gap that is created by his absence. I would genuinely love for the US to beat Portugal—and it’s happened before in the World Cup, so it’s not such a stretch to imagine it happening—but I don’t think that this team right now can withstand an assault from a squad that doesn’t squander their chances by constantly firing over the bar (sorry Ghana). Even if Ronaldo doesn’t play, it’s too much to expect Nani and the rest of Portugal to miss that many shots. It doesn’t matter, though, because it looks like Ronaldo probably will play, and he DEFINITELY won’t miss that many shots. I would love to be wrong about this. It would be the happiest losing a bet could ever make me. The win over Ghana was too ugly, though, and you need more than luck to win consistently in the World Cup. My prediction:
USA 1 : 2 Portugal
Honestly, a draw is almost as good as a win for the US, because assuming Germany win their game, a draw would guarantee that the Germans qualify, which would likely mean that they rest some of their starters for the final match against the US. They’ll want to make sure they take first in the group, so it won’t be a complete B-squad, but if they’ve got any slight injuries or yellow card concerns, they might bench players so that they won’t miss the Round of 16. Even if the two teams are equal on points, Germany would likely only need a draw against the US anyway because of goal differential, so there would be no need to send out the big guns to score 4 goals and risk injuries or suspensions.
Anyway, despite my prediction, I still obviously want the US to win, preferably by some kind of World Cup record number of goals. I’ll settle for whatever the football gods give me, though. In the meantime, this is what happened the last time these two teams met in the World Cup.
God, I miss Brian McBride.