Sport | Today's World Cup Preview
Group G is one of few groups where none of the teams have either gone through or gone out going into the final set of matches. Germany and the United States, the top two, know that they only need to draw against each other to go through. Conspiracy theorists have eagerly pointed out that that the Germans could collude with Team USA due to their coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, being German. Given the way Die Mannschaft have approached their previous games however, such generosity would seem unlikely. However, they do have concerns in defence, illustrated by Andre Ayew’s headed goal in their match against Ghana, followed by Philipp Lahm’s mistake that Asamoah Gyan capitalise. Miroslav Klose once again proved his worth to the national side, equalling Ronaldo’s 15 goals in the finals. Whilst their creative talents have shone in glimpses, they have been vulnerable when exposed to pace. The United States will be grateful to even be in this position, given the relatively recent popularity of the game there. They would have ensured qualification had they held on against Portugal, and given themselves a great chance of winning a group that many felt they probably would have been knocked out of. While there are far more talented squads left in the competition, the determination and togetherness in the United States national team has been clear throughout and they will need every ounce of that spirit if they are to progress and go far in Brazil. Led by their talisman Clint Dempsey and aided by the performances of players like Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson, anything is possible.
- Portugal need to win today to advance
- Picture: The Times
Ghana and Portugal both need a win, and even that might not be enough if the aforementioned match finishes all-square. The Black Stars’ performances have been exciting to watch, with their emphasis on attack resulting in open, end-to-end games. The tricky Andre Ayew has been particularly impressive, linking up exquisitely with Asamoah Gyan for his goal against the USA, before netting an unlikely goal with his head against Germany. Christian Atsu, Kevin-Boateng and Gyan have also stood out at various points. However, considering the pace of the team and the number of opportunities that they have carved out, they should have taken more of them. In addition, defensive lapses shortly after scoring in both of their opening games have cost them dearly and their inexperienced defence has been naïve on occasion. Much of Portugal’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo. After a year of incredible goalscoring feats, capped off by the Champions League triumph, the tournament has been a disappointment for the Real Madrid star, who is clearly being hampered by the tendonitis that bothered him at the end of the campaign. While their first match against Germany saw them utterly outclassed, the game against the United States saw them emerge with far more credit. The pacy Eder looked a threat, while Nani scored early on to lift his spirits after a poor season with Manchester United, and João Moutinho bringing creativity to the midfield. However, the injury to Fabio Coentrão is a major blow and the defence in general, despite being marshalled by experienced heads Bruno Alves and João Pereira, has struggled. This could be a cagey encounter, and I don’t believe either side will qualify.
Later on, Belgium will hope to take maximum points from Group H when they face South Korea. Despite being tipped by many as the potential surprise package of the tournament, the Red Devils, despite qualification being assured, have yet to hit top gear. They struggled to impose themselves against Algeria, and only won thanks to late goals from Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens. For most of the game, the array of world-class attacking talent struggled to break down a determined Algerian rearguard. Many of the youngsters heralded by the global media have struggled to make their mark so far. The notable exception to this is Eden Hazard, who provided key assists for the decisive goals against both Algeria and Russia, setting up Mertens and Divock Origi. The unknown Origi is something of a wildcard choice by coach Marc Wilmots, but has proven his worth, and could start in place of the unconvincing Romelu Lukaku. South Korea’s latest generation have been unable to hit the heights set by the class of 2002, who finished fourth in their own backyard. Their first match saw them arguably dominate against a poor Russian side. Son Heung-min was their greatest attacking threat in that game, but in general they failed to create many clear goalscoring opportunities. After an Igor Akinfeev blunder gifted South Korea the lead, Aleksandr Kerzhakov hit back quickly for the Russians. Their second game against Algeria was expected to be easier, but they ended up being dominated by the Desert Warriors. Son Heung-min was once again a prominent player in South Korea’s forays forward, while Koo Ja-cheol, who had gone close in the first match, also got himself on the scoresheet. However, it was their defence that set alarm bells ringing as Algeria (a good team, but far from a brilliant one), cut their defence to ribbons as they capitalised on a complete lack of organisation. These two performances suggest that South Korea will be on the plane home after their final encounter, while Belgium will need to improve markedly if they are to make the impact that everyone expected.
Rounding off the World Cup group games will be the match between Russia and Algeria. Algeria could never have dreamed that going into this match, qualification to the knockout phase of the competition would be in their own hands. They have provided some unexpectedly entertaining matches, including the 4-2 win over South Korea. Islam Slimani has been one of their most important players and he played in an instrumental role in that match, scoring the opener, before setting up Abdelmoumene Djabou for the third goal. Sofiane Feghouli, who plays his club football for Valencia, has also been a threat, while Rafik Halliche and Yacine Brahimi have also chipped in with goals. While it was expected that their opponents today were most likely to qualify, the North African outfit have shown that you don’t need a team packed with household names to stand out. Russia, by contrast, have been one of the most disappointing teams of the tournament. For a country who you would expect to be competitive at major tournaments, they have lacked invention and spark. Their first game against the South Koreans saw little in the way of attacking menace before Aleksandr Kerzhakov was introduced late on. Their goalkeeper Akinfeev had looked jittery throughout and cost his team with a disastrous blunder which saw him spill the ball into the net, having seemingly had the ball under control. Aleksandr Kokorin has failed to fire so far and Alan Dzagoev, who dazzled at Euro 2012, has been out of favour. Only a win will do for the Russians and despite a fairly strong defence led by the likes of Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich, it is up front where they will need to be improve drastically if they are to progress. I for one can’t see that improvement happening and believe that Belgium and Algeria will advance.
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