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U.S. needs win, help in group E finale

Three more teams can book spots in the World Cup's Round of 16 on Thursday as the group stage nears completion. All four teams in Group E, including the USA, still have a chance to advance. Defending champion Brazil has already secured passage and Japan, Croatia and Australia are all battling for the other Group F berth.

The U.S. must beat a tough Ghana side to have any chance of moving to the knockout phase. Should Bruce Arena's team be able to secure three points against the Africans, whom they meet at 9:55 a.m. ET on ESPN, they will need Italy to beat the Czech Republic in a simultaneous match, which can be seen live on ESPN2. The U.S. is not mathematically eliminated with a Czech draw or win, but will need a big victory over Ghana to avoid being eliminated on goal difference.

Italy currently sits in the top spot in Group E with four points after a win over Ghana and last Saturday's 1-1 draw with the U.S. A second draw will be good enough for the 'Azzurri' to advance as the winner of the group. The Czechs are also on the cusp of glory and a victory over Italy will extend their stay in Germany. The two most dangerous Czech strikers, Jan Koller and Milan Baros, are both out with injuries, while the Italians won't have Daniele De Rossi, who is suspended after picking up a red card for his elbow on Brian McBride.

Brazil will take the field for the third time on Thursday in a match vs. Japan (2:55 p.m. ET, ESPN), knowing that only a draw is necessary to win Group F. There's more at stake for the Japanese, though, as they find themselves at the bottom of the group but still not eliminated. Only a victory will give Japan, which is coached by Brazilian legend Zico, a second consecutive Round of 16 appearance.

In the day's other Group F match, Australia faces Croatia with a spot in the knockout round on the line. Australia has the advantage going in with three points to Croatia's one, thanks to the 'Socceroos' come-from-behind win over Japan on June 12. Croatia's lone point came in a scoreless draw with Japan, while they were beaten 1-0 by Brazil.

The group stage of the World Cup will conclude with four more games on Friday, with the Round of 16 kicking off Saturday.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.