Uruguay stalwarts Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez are fighting for their World Cup survival while Ghana will have revenge on their minds on Friday.
With Portugal already qualified from Group H, Uruguay, Ghana and South Korea are battling for the other last 16 place in Qatar.
The key match will be a repeat of the infamous 2010 quarter-final in South Africa where Suarez broke Ghanaian hearts in one of the World Cup’s most notorious moments.
Suarez prevented a certain goal with a deliberate handball on the goalline to deny Ghana an extra-time winner.
He was sent off but Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting spot kick and Uruguay then won the penalty shoot-out to prevent Ghana becoming the first ever African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.
Suarez said Thursday he had no regrets.
“I don’t say I apologise about that because I take the handball but the Ghana player missed the penalty, not me. It’s not my fault because I did not miss the penalty,” he said.
Ghanaian fans have not forgiven or forgotten.
“They gave us a very powerful defeat. We have never forgiven Suarez,” Ghanaian ruling-party lawmaker Collins Adomako-Mensah told AFP in Accra.
“Just as we cried 12 years ago, he will cry on Friday.”
But Ghana coach Otto Addo has played down talk of revenge, saying his players would have acted in the same way — and he would want them to.
“This is what I wish from every player, to do all he can to help his team qualify, sacrificing himself with a red card,” Addo said.
The permutations are simple for Uruguay — they must win to have any chance of progressing, while Ghana know a draw could be enough, depending on the result between Portugal and South Korea.
Like Uruguay, the Koreans must win and then hope for a favour in the other match.
They will be without Portuguese coach Paulo Bento after his red card in the 3-2 defeat to Ghana when he raged at the referee.
In Group G, already-qualified Brazil play Cameroon, who must win to stand a chance of progressing.
Brazil coach Tite is set to make a raft of changes to rest his first-choice players as he eyes the next round.
“It is a risk, yes, but it is an opportunity for (other players) to show their quality,” he said.
Serbia must also beat Switzerland — who could qualify with a draw — to reach the last 16.
Germany crash out again
In a nailbiting night Thursday, Germany suffered a second straight group-stage exit at the World Cup as Japan stunned Spain 2-1, a result which sent both teams through to the last 16.
The Germans were the reigning champions when they crashed out in the first round four years ago in Russia and they were eliminated in repeat fashion in Qatar despite beating Costa Rica 4-2.
Germany fell behind after Serge Gnabry’s opener and despite two goals from Kai Havertz and a late strike from Niclas Fuellkrug, the four-time champions finished third in Group E behind Spain on goal difference.
“It is unbelievably bitter for us because our result would have been enough,” forward Thomas Mueller said.
“It’s a feeling of powerlessness.”
Japan surprisingly advanced in first place with six points after coming from behind to topple Spain.
Alvaro Morata headed Spain in front, but Japan dramatically hit back at the start of the second half.
Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did in a shock opening win over Germany.
Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by the finest of margins to set him up.
Japan will play Croatia, the beaten finalists in 2018, in the next round while Spain face Morocco.
It is the fourth time Japan have reached the last 16 but they have never progressed beyond that stage.
“The players are showing us a different and new view of being able to fight on the world stage,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.
“I would like to set a new record of the last eight or better.”
Second-ranked Belgium were also sent packing after a goalless draw with Croatia.
Belgium’s exit was painful, with their players slumping to the turf after substitute Romelu Lukaku failed to capitalise on a string of chances.
Instead it was Luka Modric’s Croatia who celebrated qualifying for the knockout stage as the second-placed team in Group F, with five points.
Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to top the group with seven points, reaching the last 16 for the first time in 36 years.
The Belgians poured forward in the second half in frantic search of a winner but fell agonisingly short.
With just moments remaining Lukaku seemed certain to score from close range but could only chest the ball into the arms of the Croatia goalkeeper. The 2018 semi-finalists head home after an embarrassing campaign in which they scored just one goal.
In the aftermath, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez announced he was leaving his job.
Morocco made it through thanks to first-half goals from Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri although Canada cut the deficit with an own goal.