Belgium scrape another win
In the day’s opening game, Group H powerhouse Belgium met Fabio Capello’s Russia. Belgium struggled to claim a victory over Algeria in their opening game, so Russia was sure to be a stern test for Marc Wilmots’ men.
And once again, Belgium struggled to break down a resilient opponent. The game was ominously similar to Belgium’s first match, where they dominated possession but struggled to create quality chances.
It was shaping up to be one of the World Cup’s dullest fixtures, and the minutes dragged by until the referee brought the first half to a close. Belgium had a chance to regroup, and they needed to make the most of it.
But again, they struggled – the second half brought more of the same, with the Belgians growing increasingly frustrated at their lack of cutting edge.
With the game creeping towards a close, Belgium needed a moment of inspiration. It came from the unlikeliest of sources.
With just two minutes left of the 90, Belgian superstar Eden Hazard received the ball on the edge of the goal line and cut it back into the middle of the box. The ball fell to the feet of substitute Divock Origi, and the Lille man poked home to give Belgium a dramatic late victory.
The result means that Belgium has now qualified from the group, but they’ll be wary of the manner in which it happened.
Group H was supposed to be a cakewalk for this golden generation of Belgian players, but so far they’ve looked miles away from what they’ve shown at club level. World-class talent is scattered throughout the Belgian team, but they’ll need to figure out how to unlock that potential – and fast.
Credit to Belgium, the best teams know how to win even when playing poorly – that is the mark of champions. But tougher challenges await, and they’ll need to be at their best.
Algeria topple South Korea in six-goal thriller
Perhaps the greatest thing about an already incredible World Cup is the performances of the “smaller” footballing nations.
While great displays from Colombia, France and Netherlands definitely have added entertainment, it is sides like Costa Rica, Australia and Iran that have truly created an unpredictable, exciting tournament.
Algeria added their name to that last night, when a 12-minute barrage of goals exploded the game into life – first, it was Islam Slimani, who gave Algeria the lead in the 26th minute of play. Only two minutes later, compatriot Rafik Halliche added another.
And the scoring wasn’t done just yet – ten minutes after that, Abdelmoemene Djabou added a third goal, virtually securing the result after only 40 minutes of play.
After half, Heung-Min Son (his country’s best player) gave South Korea life, but Yasine Brahimi quickly restored a three-goal lead for the incredible Algerians.
Ja-Cheol Koo pulled another back for the Koreans, but Algeria’s explosive finishing in the first half meant that it was only to be a consolation.
The match ended 4-2, with Algeria picking up their first points of the tournament to move into second spot in Group H. The six-goal thriller was truly an advert for the beautiful game – what a fantastic match.
Varela goal leaves Portugal clinging to life
The day’s final match was a highly-anticipated clash between Group G opponents Portugal and the USA. Having heavily lost their opening match to Germany, the Portuguese needed a big response against a USA side that (luckily) picked up three points against Ghana.
Portugal started fantastically. Just five minutes in, Luis Nani gave the Portuguese the lead. A scuffed clearance bounced into the path of Nani, who couldn’t miss – he smashed the ball into the back of the net, and the Portuguese were on top.
The half played out almost in slow motion. The Portuguese were content with the 1-0 lead, and the USA showed no real urgency to get the scoreline back to level terms. The blistering heat probably had something to do with it, but both teams were simply building too slowly to pose any real threat.
Jermaine Jones shocked the game back to life in the second half – the American midfielder picked up the ball outside the box, cut in towards goal, and rifled an unstoppable shot past a static Beto. Portugal’s contentment quickly turned into nervousness.
And that nervousness turned into full-blown panic when American striker Clint Dempsey bundled an 81st-minute cross into Portugal’s net to give the USA the lead for the first time in the match. The Americans were in dreamland; the Portuguese living a nightmare, on the brink of World Cup elimination.
Knowing that a win would seal their progress, the Americans were content to take their time, slowing the game down and looking to kill a few seconds whenever possible. If only they could have killed just a few more.
In the final seconds of the match, with Portugal looking guaranteed to flop out of the World Cup, life was breathed back into Paulo Bento’s men.
An inch-perfect 95th-minute Cristiano Ronaldo cross met the head of a diving Silvestre Varela, and the substitute’s header flew into the back of the net. It was the last touch of the game, and one that keeps Portugal alive – barely.
But the Americans are still in pole position to advance from the group. A win or tie against Germany will see them through for sure, while Portugal need to beat Ghana heavily and hope for a Germany win to have any shot of progression.
With three points and a five-goal difference to turn around, “clinging” is truly the correct term for what the Portuguese are doing. It will take a minor miracle for them to advance, but at a World Cup this insane, you can never say never.