Preview: Final games in Groups G and H
Well, this is unexpected. Just as the pundits were tallying up their predictions of just how many goals Spain would score en route to topping its group, the tournament co-favorite opened its tournament with a loss and put into doubt that La Roja would even progress to the knockout rounds.
Now Spain faces a must-win game against a talented Chile side if La Roja wants to guarantee progression and not rely on a result from Friday's other matchup. In a group where Switzerland, Spain and Chile beat each other up in the first two games (and everyone beat up Honduras), suddenly Spain's future is looking slightly less certain.
A loss or draw for Spain would lead to a stunning collapse (a la Italy or France) and would only reiterate Spain's reputation for caving under the pressure. Its players will be desperate to avoid that distinction and to reach the knockout rounds with some good momentum.
After dominating the world stage for well on two years, Spain was expected to do the same in a Group H that included no real standouts as threats to its crown. Of course, that just served to make La Roja's opening 1-0 loss to Switzerland that much more embarrassing for the European champions.
The group favorites regrouped with a 2-0 win against Honduras, though they will rue several missed chances that could have bettered their goal differential. Now they face a must-win game against first-place Chile, with Switzerland expected to win its game and reach six points, as well.
Chile, too, will not be content to sit back and play for a draw -- with a loss to Spain, the winner of Group H could come down to goal differential and Chile will want to avoid Brazil in the round of 16. The South Americans were considered a dark horse of the tournament even before they excelled so strongly in Group G, and their first two games displayed a rock-solid defense and a resourceful attack.
But Spain is the ultimate test in this group. David Villa refound his scoring touch against Honduras (and no doubt wants more after missing out on a hat trick with his boffed penalty), and Fernando Torres looked slightly more promising, though still needs work on finishing. Spain's midfield improved tenfold between the first two games and no doubt will be more impressive now with a bit of confidence.
Ironically, Spain has not missed out on the knockout rounds since 1998 -- also the last time Chile reached the round of 16.
In Group H's other matchup, Switzerland takes on bottom-feeder Honduras. Switzerland can leapfrog Spain with a win and an improved goal differential, though the squad would need a bit of help from the other matchup. With Spain's 2-0 win against Honduras, La Roja improved its goal differential enough to take over second place, meaning Switzerland no longer controls its own destiny.
The Swiss have the talent to beat a poor Honduras side, and they certainly showed their worth in the win against Spain, but it still might not be enough to put them through. After relying on its defense in its previous two games (to no avail, in a 10-man, 1-0 loss to Chile), now Switzerland must put its offense on double-time to make up any goal differential Spain or Chile could earn. The Swiss likely will win, but they simply don't have the firepower to overtake the two favorites.
Who will win out in Group A
Spain 2, Chile 1. Spain's offense continues in the rhythm it found against Honduras, but even the mighty Roja can't keep Chile out of the net completely.
Switzerland 1, Honduras 0. The aging Honduran side ends its World Cup campaign without a goal, but Switzerland -- despite its win -- is kept out of the knockout rounds by goal differential.
In Group G, there is far less intrigue and much more space in the standings -- likely nothing here will come down to the wire. Brazil and Portugal are almost certainly through, unless the Ivory Coast can make up a nine-goal differential against North Korea and hope for some help in the other match.
Brazil is looking to complete a perfect group campaign against a rather intriguing opponent -- the "Selecao B Team," as Portugal once was known (and as Dunga refered to the team after the World Cup draw). Both teams need only a draw -- Brazil to win, Portugal to advance -- though neither likely would be satisfied with that. Brazil and Portugal, who have both a shared language and a shared history in colonization, have developed a rivalry over the years due to their combined pasts.
So Friday's group match is for all the marbles, as the squads meet for the first time since 2008. And this time, there's even more to the connection -- three Portuguese players, including star defender Pepe, actually were born in Brazil, and one other comes from Brazilian lineage.
But Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz sounds as though he might not be placing as much into this "blood match" as the fans perhaps are. Queiroz spoke before the game of considering "what is to follow in the finals and not just one match," perhaps suggesting that Queiroz will in fact play for a draw (or simply an unembarrassing loss) and allow Brazil to top the group. Of course, a round of 16 match with the Group H winner -- potentially Spain -- follows for the runner-up in this group, which could provide incentive even for Queiroz.
Brazil also will be missing its primary playmaker in Kaka, who is serving out a red card suspension, so Portugal might see an opportunity for a newly rejuvenated Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates to take advantage. But Robinho, another hugely talented attackman, steps in to serve alongside Luis Fabiano, so Portugal still will have plenty to worry about on offense.
In the other Group G matchup, Ivory Coast takes on North Korea with a prayer to reach the knockout rounds. Technically, the Elephants are still alive, but Portugal's plus-seven goal differential against North Korea left a huge mountain for the Africans to climb. The Ivorian offense has impressed overall in this Cup, but its finishing has been suspect, and that kind of differential is just too much to make up. Didier Drogba and his teammates likely should end the tournament on a good note with a win against North Korea, but they will surely be disappointed after hopes of so much more.
Who will win out in Group B
Brazil 2, Portugal 0. The original Selecao simply will be too much for the Portuguese to handle, and Robinho and Dunga's other less-frequently used players will shine.
North Korea 0, Ivory Coast 3. The Elephants put on a clinic against North Korea, whose impressive performance against Brazil was completely nullified by the disastrous second half against Portugal.
Rachel Ullrich is an editor for ESPN.com.