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The Group stages of the World Cup have ended - and with it the hopes of several nations - and we now know the line-up for the knockout stages.

The Socceroos are already home, England are too, and so are champions Spain (they'll be champions until a new one is crowned on July 13). Italy and Portugal were two of the big names to exit the tournament in the Group stage's final games.

And what a tournament it has been. We've had 48 games, controversy (plenty of that actually), new heroes have emerged and we've seen some world-class goals (can Tim Cahill please stand up?).

Sadly, and we come back to the controversy, the biggest shock of the tournament so far has been the Luis Suarez biting incident.

The Uruguayan missed his country's first game against Costa Rica but re-affirmed himself as one of the world's best players with his two fantastic goals against England. Then he imploded and Fifa has banned the Liverpool hitman from all football-related activity four months and nine international games for his bite on the shoulder of Italy's Giorgio Chiellini. His World Cup is over, although Uruguay are appealing the ban and, despite his antics, you can't help think the tournament is a little bit less special without him in it (although millions will disagree).

Fans world-wide have been mocking the biting incident 

With that dealt with, let's get back to football shall we and look at the games in prospect? There are a few standouts - the first Round of 16 clash is an all South-American affair with Brazil against Chile, and Uruguay will take on Colombia, both looking like tasty matches on paper. Another interesting game in prospect is Holland against Mexico, and we wouldn't be surprised if the latter pulls off a shock.

Germany's route to the next round - and a potential clash with France - is the most routine (but this is football so we wouldn't take anything for granted). They face Algeria, one of two African sides left in the tournament, and will be strong favourites to progress without too much fuss.

Who'll be crowded world beaters in a few weeks is still anybody's guess, although, if we were playing, we'd fancy the second half of the draw featuring Argentina and Holland a lot more than Brazil, Germany or France's potential route to the final. 

Group A

Group A was won by - who else - Brazil and the performances of Neymar who seems to be revealing in all the attention/pressure heaped on his slender shoulders have been outstanding. He is the tournament's joint top scorer, tied on four goals with Messi and Germany's Thomas Muller. The other team to qualify was Mexico and their reward is a difficult clash with Holland. But the Mexicans have been impressive and have nothing to fear heading into that game. Croatia and Cameroon crashed out, Cameroon finishing on 0 points and -8 goal difference - the worst performance at these finals.

Group B

Group B was the one we all had our eyes on. It was won by Holland but the shock came when Spain crashed out after losing their opening games against the Dutch and Chile. The performances of the Socceroos were impressive but they went out without a point and a -6 goal difference. Those stats are unfair on a side that played some great football at times - definitely a victim of a tough draw. Chile were something of a surprise package, because everybody thought it would be Holland and Spain that progressed, but the South Americans were impressive in securing second spot.

Tim Cahill scored a wonder goal as Holland beat Australia 3-2

Group C

It was a bit of a duffer of a Group and, to be honest, nobody really cared what was happening. Colombia progressed as Group winners, James Rodriguez playing some brilliant football and chipping in with three goals. Greece, who were stuffed 3-0 by Colombia in the opening match, recovered to take second place with 4 points, overcoming Ivory Coast 2-1 in the final game to progress. Japan finished bottom, their point coming from the 0-0 draw with Greece.

Group D

England's Group. They disappointed and finished bottom without winning a game - it was their worst ever finals performance - but the less said about them the better. Surprisingly it was Costa Rica, the supposed whipping boys, who topped the Group with 7 points - it probably could have been 9 if there was an incentive for them to play in their final match vs England, but having already qualified they took it down a few gears and played out a goalless draw. Sadly for football, we can't mention Group D and not talk about him, you know, bitey man. Yep, Suarez pretty much overshadowed everything that happened in this Group when he decided to take a bite out of Giorgio Chiellini in their final (and deciding) game. Uruguay won it 1-0 and sent the Italians packing (Suarez is now the most hated man in football - Fifa definitely won't be sending him a Christmas card).

Group E

There has been some fantastic stuff played in Group E and France has really delivered. They followed up an impressive 3-0 win over Honduras with a 2-5 mauling of Switzerland and it meant they'd already qualified for the knockout stages before having to face Ecuador. Switzerland, who was unbeaten in qualifying, finished second. Ecuador was third and Honduras, bless em, went home without a point and a -7 goal difference.

Karim Benzema has been in fine form for France scoring 3 goals so far

Group F

There are footballers, there are world class footballers and then there is Lionel Messi and he is delivering the goods at this World Cup. He has four goals to his name - all of them were brilliant - and he has led his team into the Round of 16 single-handedly. If Argentina is to be crowned champs his team-mates will have to improve. They've really let the Barcelona man down with sloppy, under-par performances. Iran, who ran Argentina close in their second match narrowly losing 1-0, had a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages going into the final round of group matches but a 3-1 defeat to Bosnia who had already been eliminated saw those chances go up in smoke. Nigeria went through in second place.

Group G

The big shock here is that Portugal didn't progress. Yep, it means the World's best player as voted by Fifa, Cristiano Ronaldo, is no longer at the World Cup. He did get his goal in the last game against Ghana which his side won, but Portugal were taken apart in the opening match against Germany (4-0) and never recovered from it. That thrashing saw the USA - the best supported team at this World Cup apparently - qualify in second, despite the fact they finished with equal points, because it all came down to goal difference (the Germany result coming back to haunt Ronald and co). To see the Real Madrid star go so soon is a real shame.

Ballon d'or winner Ronaldo can't hide his disappointment

Group H

Much like Group C, this wasn't much of a Group. The only decent side in it, Belgium, won it with 9 points while Algeria came second with 4 points. Fabio Capello's Russia was predictably unimpressive. South Korea got the wooden spoon.

 

Images via Getty


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