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Good gracious, what a weekend! I laughed; I cried; I almost vomited from the gut punch that was Portugal’s last-second equalizer. Emotionally, it was a very confusing time. Psychically, it was pretty straightforward: I’m not particularly good at this. Instead of beating Iran 3-0, Argentina were stymied until a stoppage time stunner from Lionel Messi (1 point). My pick for World Cup champion, Germany, couldn’t keep up with Ghana and were lucky to manage a draw (0 points). A horrible offside call pulled back a perfectly good Bosnia goal, and Nigeria added insult to, well, insult a few minutes later, knocking out the debutants (0 points). Another late goal, this one from Eden Hazard, put the Belgians overtop the Russians, sending the former on to the next round (1 point). I failed to follow my instincts—in my fantasy pick’em I have Algeria taking second in Group H—and called for a 1-1 draw in a game that became a 6-goal extravaganza (0 points). And finally, the United States out-passed, out-hustled, and generally out-played Portugal, but a but of 95th-minute magic by the reigning World Player of the Year brought the Iberians level (0 points). 2 points from 6 games is not very good, just ask Liechtenstein.

Brian’s Prediction Points Tally = 18

Today is an exciting day, because it begins the final series of group stage games. In order to avoid collusion/wonky qualification math, both of the final games in each group are played simultaneously. This means two things: 1) there will be 4 matches each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (PST, anyway); and 2) I will need to have two screens going at once. For the record, I am completely okay with both of these. Today’s matches decide the fates of the teams in Group A and Group B.

GROUP B

No, I’m not dyslexic. For some reason (probably global television rights, let’s be honest, though possibly common sense), the Group B games will be played first. This is helpful for fans in Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia, while fans in Chile just have to suck it. Aptly, this was the first group to be more or less decided, as Spain and Australia are already eliminated. Their game will be interesting in that the Spain squad will want to save face and not fly home with a negative 3 million goal differential, while the Australia squad will want to tell their grandchildren someday that they beat the reigning world champions. I assure you, Aussies, there is no better time than now to make that dream a reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spain play a completely different 11 than the ones that appeared earlier in the tournament, while Australia go for broke and attack the Spaniards like that boxing kangaroo from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. My prediction:

This game is meaningless : who cares?

Just kidding. Kind of. My actual prediction:

Australia 2 : 2 Spain

And this is if Spain play Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas and everyone else who didn’t get a chance, because then all the Spanish papers can say, “Maybe these guys should have started from the beginning,” which should fuel them at least through Euro 2016 qualification. If Spain play Xavi and Pique and Diego Costa and that lot, it’ll more likely be 6-0 in Australia’s favor. The other Group B game doesn’t really matter much either, except for the fact that the group winner is likely to face Mexico or Croatia in the next round, while the group runner-up will likely face Brazil. No matter how meh the Brazilians have been playing (you know, relatively speaking), Chile still probably want to avoid playing them, so they’re going to want to win this game. The Dutch only need a draw to win the group, so watch for Chile to attack the hell out of them. It worked for Australia, so who knows what’ll happen. I sure as hell don’t. My prediction:

Netherlands 3 : 3 Chile

That’s mostly wishful thinking. I want to see as many goals as possible.

etc. etc.

The Flying Dutchman

Group A

Oh hai, clusterfuck! Brazil were supposed to tear this group up, but it almost tore them a new one. If it weren’t for terrible officiating in the tournament opener, Mexico and Croatia, who meet each other to realistically decide which of them moves out of the group stage, could have been meeting to decide which of them won the group and which was runner-up. It’s still statistically possible for Mexico and Croatia to both advance, but it would require a draw and a Brazil loss to already-eliminated Cameroon. It’s not very likely. After an iffy two games, I’m thinking Brazil will want to end their time in this embarrassing group stage with a show of force. My prediction:

Cameroon 0 : 3 Brazil

Sorry, Cameroon, but Ghana/Ivory Coast/Algeria/fuck, even Nigeria, you are not. This Croatia-Mexico match is the game of the day. I wish they could both be moving on, because they’re both more fun to watch than Brazil, to be honest. Then we would get the “OMG BRAZIL LOST BURN EVERYTHING” riots out of the way early (they’re not winning this whole thing), and we could all move on with our lives. If Mexico win by more than Brazil win by (or if they win and Brazil tie/lose), they could actually win the group. I highly doubt that will happen, though. Honestly, I’m not even convinced that they can beat Croatia, but since they only need a draw, they don’t have to. It’s going to be heartbreaking, but I think Mexico are going to move on via their goalkeeper’s incredible ability to actually do his job. My prediction:

Croatia 1 : 1 Mexico

It hurts my heart to say it, because the Mexicans are only in the tournament thanks to Graham Zusi, but Croatia are screwed. There’s really no reason for Mexico to chase goals in this game. I would LIKE the game to end 2-1 to Croatia, I WANT that to happen, but I don’t think it will. I mean, but I guess it could…

No, that’s my prediction, 1-1. Although, knowing that they only need a draw, Mexico might tuck in once they have it, essentially inviting the Croatians in, and with Modric, Rakitic, and Mandzukic, it’ll be hard for the Mexicans to keep the ball out of the net… But then they have attacking options, too… But can they really hold off ANOTHER onslaught like the one they did against Brazil…? But Croatia’s midfielder duo is arguably better than Brazil’s at setting up their attack… But Ochoa… But Mandzukic… But Mexico have been playing so much better… But World Cup miracles…

Ugh, this is going to be a long week.

Through fire and water. From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth. Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside. Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead and everyday was as long as a life-age of the earth. But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I've been sent back until my task is done.

I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow.

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