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As we enter the final pool of World Cup group matches, TNT reflects on the winners and losers so far, and those that still have a lot to prove (ahem, Germany...).

We are approaching the last set of matches in the group stages of a World Cup where a host of big names in the tournament have already been knocked out, with a good few others teetering on the brink of elimination.

So, it seems a good time to reflect on the big winners and losers so far, as well as those who have a bit to prove going forward...

The winners 

You don't have to look much further than lowly Costa Rica as a starting point. Drawn in a group of big names (and former World Cup winners) - Uruguay, Italy and England - they started brilliantly, catching a Suarez-less Uruguay cold in a 3-1 win and followed that up with arguably an even better result by beating the Italians to qualify for the last 16 and end England's hopes of progressing to boot.

For a nation of around five million people and little football heritage (Paulo Wanchope anyone?) it has to go down as a monumental achievement for Los Ticos.

That though may have been overshadowed by Chile, who were dark horses at the start of the tournament but hampered by being drawn in the archetypal group of death alongside European giants Spain and Holland. They too have already qualified with a brand of committed attacking football and determined defence where required.

Another team performing above expectations is France. Their phenomenal free-scoring football sees them top Group E with two wins from two, including a 5-2 victory over Switzerland, who were unbeaten in qualifying.

Holland too have been a bit of a surprise; they absolutely demolished Spain in their Group B opener and found a way to battle past a spirited Aussie side to qualify after two games.

It seems at present that Europe's best hopes of success lay with these two sides going forward - although if Holland fail to overcome Chile in the final Group B clash, they could meet Neymar's Brazil in the knockout stages.

(I am also going to make an honourable mention on an individual basis for Tim Cahill of the Socceroos too. It might seem a bit of a strange claim considering that Australia have lost both of their matches so far but they have acquitted themselves with aplomb and ran both Chile and Holland very close, led by example in both cases by the irrepressible Cahill who may just have scored the best goal in the tournament already.)

The losers

As for the big losers so far, two European nations head the list. Firstly, for all their recent historical success and squad of ‘Galacticos’, Spain have imploded in spectacular fashion this time around. Thrashed by Holland in their opening match, they had no answer at all to Chile in a game they simply had to win and now find themselves on the first plane home once they have played their final group game. It is hard to work out just went wrong for the Spanish who turned up with the majority of the squad that won them two European Championships and one World Cup - but something clearly wasn’t right. This tournament may signal the end for one or two (maybe more) of their squad but the majority are still relatively young in footballing terms and it will be interesting to see what changes they make going forward.

Talking of changes going forward, it seems like a good place to bring in the other big flop - England.

World Cup failure comes around every for years for them and they themselves going home after starting brightly against Italy but still losing, and then losing again to Uruguay thanks in the main to some terrible defending.

No-one realistically considered England one of the favourites for the tournament but when up against a team in Uruguay who were of a similar level to them but contained one truly world class player in Luis Suarez, they failed to contain him even when he was not fully fit and paid a harsh penalty for not doing so.

Still, it could be worse - at least  Fabio Cappello's not in charge. No, this time Russia has that misfortune. They have been dour and disappointing under his leadership and face a struggle to qualify after defeat to a less than impressive Belgium. 

Portugal, another pre-tournament favourite, face their own struggles after being thumped against Germany in their opening match and getting a scrappy point from the USA. That Group is wide open - Germany, Ghana, Portugal and the USA all still in with a chance of qualifying.

Away from European nations, Cameroon has been perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. They were very poor when losing both their matches and seemed more interested in assaulting both the opposition players and their own than playing much football.

What's next?

One of the things that has stood out at this tournament so far is the large number of teams that arrived at the tournament highly fancied but after opening wins have stuttered or failed to impress (Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy...). They all still have a bit to do if they are to fully convince their supporters, and the world, that they are the real deal as yet.

On the South American front, hosts Brazil have been less than convincing but have four points to their name from two games with a final match against Cameroon which should see them safely through. Argentina are already through but have not come remotely close to their best form as yet and have relied on the imperious Lionel Messi to bail them out at crucial moments.

Africa’s experience thus far has been mixed but the likes of Ghana and Nigeria are beginning to show signs of turning their fortunes and Algeria have a real chance of qualifying with a big win against South Korea which leaves their future in their own hands for the last game in their group.

For the Europeans, the highly fancied Belgians have progressed but have not looked like potential winners thus far, Germany started excellently against Portugal but were somewhat fortunate not to lose against Ghana at the weekend (see Gotze's knee/head goal if you haven't already) and still have work to do to go deeper into the tournament.

Italy too have spluttered after their good win against England and have a do or die match up against Uruguay and their talisman Suarez which will see one of them going home earlier than they would have expected.

There are many twists and turns to come from the final set of group games which start today but one thing is for certain – the 2014 World Cup has so far been one of the most intriguing and entertaining competitions for a long time and shows no signs of slowing down as yet.

Images via Getty


World Cup opinion: The Winners, Losers and Can-Do-Betters
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