With the second round of group games complete the World Cup is still surpassing all expectations. Sunday’s matches gave us late drama in two games that had big consequences.
After the first round of games it was group H that failed to deliver, as South Korea and Russia played out a drab 1-1 draw whilst Belgium squeezed past Algeria 2-1. The Belgians did nothing to lift the reputation of the group after another unconvincing victory; this time a scrappy 1-0 over Russia.
This year Marc Wilmots’ side seem to have taken the stereotypical English role at major tournaments; there has been much talk about what they can do and they’ve won a couple of games against weak opposition in the groups. The third and final box to tick will be when they exit at the early knockout stages at some point in the near future. With an abundance of Premier League stars in the ranks Belgium were expected – somewhat naively – to be sticking three or four past all-comers in their group; at the moment they seem to be another example of skilled individuals not making an entirely great team.
The English based Belgium players have taken much of the limelight in the build up to Brazil, but it is a Ligue 1 striker who has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the Belgian line up; 19 year old Divock Origi had only two international appearances before the tournament, but in his third and fourth caps the pace and height of the gangly frontman has caused problems. It was Origi who came off the bench to steal a late victory this time out against Russia, after great work from Eden Hazard on the left flank the Chelsea man found the teenager to score his first international goal.
The Belgians have reached the knockout stages with that victory but will do well to progress further once they face teams with stronger defences than what they have gone up against. With Champions League experience all across their backline they could prove difficult to break down. Russia’s performance may have seemed familiar with England fans – cagey football and poor play in the attacking third must be Mr Capello’s forte in World Cups. Algeria is next up for Russia and we all know how Capello loves them.
Algeria themselves have improved greatly from the team that held Rooney and co. to a stalemate in South Africa. They now have the firepower to worry teams, as South Korea will testify, after a 4-2 victory over the Asian side. Both Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani proved difficult customers throughout and gave the Africans there first World Cup victory since 1982. It was Slimani who opened the scoring with a determined run to latch onto a long ball through the centre of the defence, with a deft lob to finish.
Quick fire doubles have been a story of this tournament and once again Algeria scored a hasty brace as Rafik Halliche extended the lead just two minutes after with a powerful header. Once the Algerians made it three they could begin dreaming of that elusive World Cup victory, and even when the Koreans pulled one back they simply went down the other end and scored again themselves with a slick passing move. Koo Ja-Cheol added another but it was ultimately in vain as the Algerians saw the game out comfortably. Avoid defeat against the Russians and Algeria will reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history. South Korea are left needing snookers to qualify after two disappointing, lacklustre performances.
The final game on Sunday was from an entertaining group G, where USA faced Portugal. The Americans went into the game in high spirits after their victory over Ghana whereas Portugal were looking for redemption after their 4-0 by Germany. USA had opened the scoring after just 30 seconds against Ghana and we saw another early goal here; this time it was Portugal who scored it with Nani capitalising on an error from Geoff Cameron to put Portugal in the lead after five minutes. Portugal looked rampant for the rest of the half but also wasteful, with Cristiano Ronaldo looking frustrated as his teammates failed to deliver. Their profligacy soon proved costly as Jermaine Jones scored a strike that CR7 would be proud of himself from all of 25 yards.
For all of Portugal’s might they just couldn’t carve an opening and against all odds Clint Dempsey chested home what looked like an American winner. As fans worldwide were starting to fill in their World Cup wall charts with a USA victory Ronaldo finally had his say on the game as he put the ball on a plate for Varela to head home, causing heartache in the American camp. With a tough match against Germany in their final game Dempsey et al. may now find it hard to progress, especially having to overcome the psychological barrier of just having qualification stolen from under their noses. Portugal however could undeservedly sneak through with a heavy victory over Ghana, although that 4-0 drubbing to Germany could come back to haunt them.
Today sees the group stages draw to a close for groups A and B, and therefore the end of four teams World Cup dreams. Cameroon saw their hopes fade after defeat to Croatia in their second game, leaving them pointless at the bottom of the group. They will therefore be playing for pride when they face hosts Brazil, who have thus far been faltering on home soil, with the African side looking shaky in defence the Brazilians will be looking to put on a show for the fans in Brasilia. Neymar will be hoping to add to his brace in the opener in his pursuit of the Golden Boot.
The expected win for the hosts will leave a winner-takes-all affair between Mexico and Croatia; Mexico will hope goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is in inspired form once again to thwart the Croats, after a flawless performance that earned a draw against Brazil. That point won means Mexico can afford a draw whilst Croatia will be hunting the victory. This is sure to start a tense affair, but an early goal for either side could see the game stretched. Luka Modric has been impressive so far and could once again prove the difference with his vision and technical ability in the middle of the park.
Group B has already seen its fair share of action, with Spain being sent packing early doors. They will, therefore, be playing to avoid the wooden spoon in the group when they face the group’s other pointless team, Australia. The Socceroos have been involved in two exciting games against Chile and the Dutch but could not pull of the upset either time. With the pressure off both teams there could well be a goal fest in store, with neither team likely to hold back. Australia will be missing Tim Cahill through suspension which will be a big loss when going forward.
Although both teams have secured qualification, Chile and the Netherlands will be fighting it out for top spot in the group, and therefore the chance to probably avoid Brazil in the round of 16. The high pressing game of the Chileans has proved effective in their first two games as well as the pace up front. The Netherlands have proved clinical in attack scoring eight goals in two games with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie in superb form. With both teams looking impressive this match could well be one of the best of the group stages, although it would face a lot of competition in that department. The lack of height in Chile’s backline, especially Gary Medel, could be the weak link that the Netherlands capitalise on. Whichever way this one goes, either team should have enough to see off their respective opponents in the next round.
So we are getting down to the nitty-gritty, teams are being sent packing and knockout matches are being decided. With Brazil in action the whole country will be hoping for a comprehensive victory to give the team confidence going into the next round.
Picture: Daily Mail