BELGIUM 2-1 ALGERIA
Tuesday 17th June 2014
Belgium goals: Fellaini, Mertens
Algeria goal: Feghouli
Dark horses Belgium got their Group H campaign underway last night and brought the final group in the World Cup draw into action. Belgium have been a bit of a slow burner. On reading they’re involved and looking at their recent international history, you’d be right in not thinking much of them at first. Yet Belgium’s strong squad have slowly developed and really come into the limelight, with the likes of world-class players Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany producing some of their best form to get then where they are today. Not only have Belgium been tipped now for some time now to be the surprise package of the tournament but many are talking up their chances of winning the trophy outright.
An enormous ask for anybody after such a prolonged absence from the international scene but with the squad Marc Wilmots has at his disposal, you never what could happen. In order to win the World Cup though you’ve got to get out of your group, and in their opening game against Algeria on paper you’d think it was three points nailed on… But you couldn’t be anymore wrong. Like Belgium a few years ago it’s only when you delve deeper into the side and look at the players Algeria can call upon when you realise they shouldn’t be written off either. The likes of young starlet Taider from Internazionale, Ghilas of Porto and Feghouli of Valencia would stake a claim for a starting position in several European sides and the latter shown why he’s so highly rated.
After Axel Witsel went close for Belgium in the early stages, Algeria held their own and frustrated the Belgian in the early stages. And when Feghouli was brought down by Tottenham defender in the box, it was a penalty to the Algerians. The Valencia bright spark stepped up himself and slotted home past Courtois in the Belgium goal to put Algeria 1-0 up. At this point it looked like a shock was on the cards for the widely renowned Belgium. Algeria looked comfortable despite attempts from Hazard, Vertonghen and in my opinion an unfit Romelu Lukaku following a recent injury and the score remained at 1-0 as the teams went in at half time.
As Wilmots reeled in the substitutions, they proved to be the difference. Youngster Origi looked lively whilst both Mertens and Fellaini produced match changing moments. Belgium were looking the more likely to score and their continued attacking play eventually led to the equaliser. Algeria struggled to deal with the aerial threat posed by Fellaini and he powerfully headed Belgium back into the game. And ten minutes later after being on the back foot for most of the second half, Algeria’s resistance wore thin as they capitulated on 80 minutes as Napoli winger Mertens fired Belgium into a 2-1 lead with 10 minutes to go. By this point it looked clear that Wilmots’ side would hold on for three points and so they did as Algeria, albeit the defeated side on the day certainly made a great account for themselves and for the watching Russia and South Korea dad, they’ll certainly consider Algeria as strong competitors for qualification from Group H.
BRAZIL 0-0 MEXICO
Tuesday 17th June 2014
Nicely poised with both South American sides starting their World Cup campaigns with a win, the tie between Mexico and hosts Brazil had the makings of a classic. Two teams who evidently play with the ethos being attack is the best form of defence, you wouldn’t be wrong for expecting a goal-fest, especially considering the fast flow of goals we’ve had already this World Cup. But once again, all the build up, all the stats and all the attacking players on show produced something far, far from what we’d expect. Hosts Brazil named a similar line up to their opening Group A match against Croatia with Hulk missing out by injury and replaced by reliable Ramires of Chelsea. Mexico stuck to their guns and only subtly changed the set-up of the side after a solid win against Cameroon.
As both teams got underway, the electric atmosphere led to some early attacking exchanges from both sides. Fred looked to make more of an impact than in the first game whilst star man Neymar looked to grab the headlines once again. However as the first half progressed, the only real talking point was whether him and Dani Alves had dyed their hair as Brazil struggled to make any real impact against Mexico. Giovani Dos Santos looked threatening whilst Herrera and Vazquez came closest for Mexico in making any kind of breakthrough in the first half. The chance of the half fell to Neymar after a Dani Alves free kick was met powerfully by the head of Neymar only to be turned away by Mexico goalkeeper Ochoa. He was later called into action again in what would be the first of several saves which kept Mexico in the game throughout, saving a Paulinho free-kick just before halftime.
As Brazil still looked to find their best form after another unconvincing performance in their opening match to Croatia, Bernard was introduced for Ramires although on the grand scheme of things, his arrival did little to really change the game. But still, Brazil continued to press with Mexico happy to sit back, absorb the pressure and counter attack. Brazil went closest with a Neymar free-kick and drilled low shot which was once again superbly saved by man of the match Ochoa. Former Manchester City striker Jo was brought on to try and get the all important winning goal but throughout the game you always got the impression that Mexico were more likely to get a winning goal and that it just wasn’t Brazil’s night.
Guardado went close towards the end with a shot fired over the bar whilst Jiminez’s shot was saved by an out of form Julio Cesar in the Brazil goal. The chance of the half however fell to Thiago Silva in the dying embers of the game whose header was once again saved remarkably by Ochoa who rightly received all the plaudits following a fantastic performance on the world’s biggest stage. The draw between the two sides ultimately means either can still qualify or go out, depending on how other results fall, proposing an exciting final set of fixtures in Group A next week.
RUSSIA 1 -1 SOUTH KOREA
Tuesday 17th June 2014
Russia goal: Kerzhakov
South Korea goal: Lee Keun-ho
It was only four years ago since Italian Fabio Capello was leading out an England side that were tipped to achieve big things in South Africa. After an impressive qualifying campaign preceding the tournament where England looked indestructible, many had penned Capello as the saviour of English international football and perhaps the man who’d lead us further than in previous years. And despite two draws against the USA and Algeria, followed by a lucky 1-0 win against Slovenia, Capello had done the first part of the masterplan in qualifying. The only negative for him and for England was that not only were we facing an in-form Germany team, but one who eventually gave England a real lesson in how to play football on the world’s biggest stage.
Four years later, Capello is back – this time with Russia. And in a group where they face Russia, South Korea and Algeria, critics are once again suggesting the Italian should be able to work his ‘magic’ and help Russia qualify from what is deemed as a reasonable group. Not too easy, not too difficult. South Korea on the other hand slip under the radar a little, but one must not forget their recent form in the previous World Cup competitions. They always do seem to come good with the whole world watching and if their talisman Heung Min-Son of Bayer Leverkusen is a barometer of how good their style of play is, then there’s no suggesting South Korea can’t do well in this summer’s tournament.
With both sides naming similar sides to those used in qualification (despite Capello opting to leave CSKA Moscow midfielder Dzagoev on the bench) the game took a while to get going with both sides cancelling each other out in the early stages of the final game of the day. Striker Son of Bayer Leverkusen came closest for South Korea in the first half after linking well with Arsenal striker Park Chu-Young. Although he failed to make any of the chances count, it did show a sign that South Korea weren’t there to simply make up the numbers with captain Koo Ja-Cheol following the earlier good play by Son with a close chance of his own, a shot deflected wide past Akinfeev in the Russian goal. Russia didn’t threaten anywhere near as one would expect them too with long-shots seeming to be their only route to goal in the first half, testing South Korea goalkeeper Jung on several occasions.
As the second half got underway, both keepers looked rocky but who’d blame them after such a long period of inactivity in the first half with neither team really making any real goalscoring opportunities leaving both keepers unchallenged. Jung bundled a Viktor Fayzulin attempt over the bar in the early stages of the first half whilst Akinfeev struggled with a South Korea free-kick shortly after. And it was a goalkeeper gaffe which seen the first goal of the game. Substitute Lee’s shot was bundled in by Akinfeev and a real contender for goalkeeping gaffe of the tournament. So after South Korea were somewhat fortuitously handed a slender 1-0 lead, Russia needed to change something fast.
It was Capello’s substitutions which seemed to did the trick. Russia’s leading man in 2010 Alexander Kerzhakov was only on the pitch three minutes and after another substitute in the form Alan Dzagoev pushed forward, the Zenit St Petersburg striker Kerzhakov got the all important goal six minutes after South Korea’s opener and brought Russia back into the game. At 1-1 it was anyone’s to win and despite late attempts from both sides, on the contrary, a draw was probably a fair result for both sides. Both however will need to improve in their next group games where they’ll come up against a strong Belgium side and equally impressive Algeria.