Belgium grinds it out: Today we saw a different side of Belgium, the nation heralded by many as the darlings of this tournament. The glamour was gone—instead we witnessed a team capable of grinding out results. With a number of Premier League stars gracing their lineup—including Eden Hazard—the Red Devils were tabbed as the odds-on-favourite to win Group H quite easily. But Algeria frustrated the Belgians with their defensive shape and organisation (more on that later), allowing their opponents to keep possession in the middle of the park but not letting them penetrate. And when the Africans took the lead in the 25th minute on a penalty coming off a counter that caught Jan Vertonghen flat-footed, it looked as though all the hype about the Belgians was just that. Manager Marc Wilmots introduced Dries Mertens at the start of the second half, and the Napoli winger instantly looked dangerous, giving Belgium’s attack genuine width for the first time in the contest. To their credit, Belgium kept chipping away, staying true to its tactical plan, and was eventually rewarded by goals from Mertens and Marouane Fellaini, another second-half substitute.
Ochoca thwarts Brazil Guillermo Ochoa put himself in the shop window on Tuesday. A free agent after parting ways with relegated Ligue Un side Ajaccio, the Mexican goalkeeper came up with a performance for the ages, backstopping El Tri to a well-earned draw against hosts Brazil. Ochoa was the difference for Mexico, who made things very tough for Brazil by limiting their chances thanks to their solid defensive shape. When they did find a way through, Ochoa was there to slam the door shut in their faces. Mexico’s high pressing prevented the hosts from really penetrating, and as a result lone striker Fred didn’t influence the game at all and was withdrawn in the second half. Full credit to Ochoa and the rest of El Tri for a marvellous performance. Questions will be asked of Brazil, especially after a second laboured performance. The midfield lacked a creative edge—Oscar wasn’t nearly on his game as he was in the opening win against Croatia—and Fred has proven to be a non-factor in this tournament. Problem is, Luiz Felipe Scolari doesn’t have any quality strikers to call upon, unless he wants to radically change things up and shift Neymar from the wing to a more central position.
Kerzhakov comes to Russia’s rescue: What a dire game. Russia vs. South Korea was largely a snooze-fest, marked by a lack of quality in the final third from both nations and downright laughable finishing at times from the Asian powerhouse. How fitting, then, that it took Lee Keun-ho’s speculative shot to slip through the hands of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to break the deadlock in the 68th minute. Cue Alexander Kerzhakov. Russia’s most experienced forward wasn’t on the pitch from the onset—Fabio Capello started Yury Zhirkov instead—but he made up for lost time when he netted the equalizer with one of his first touches in the 74th minute, just moments after coming into the game. Really, the Zenit Saint Petersburg forward should have been in the starting lineup, and it shouldn’t have taken 71 minutes for him to enter the contest. His impact was immediate, as Russia looked far for dangerous and urgent as soon as he was introduced, and one wonders what kind of damage he could have inflicted and how he could have ran the South Korea defence ragged had Capello started him. Lesson learned for the Italian, you would think.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Game within the game
Belgium was very narrow in its attack against Algeria, attempting only six crosses into the box—all of them unsuccessful—in the first half (see map below). But the Belgians kept at it and their two second-half goals from substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens came off perfect crosses delivered into the box. Sometimes persistence pays off.
Marouane Fellaini’s glancing header in the 70th minute with his back to goal off a cross from Kevin De Bruyne was a beauty and set Belgium on its way to overturning Algeria.
Save of the day
Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made the save of the tournament so far in the 26th minute. Dani Alves whipped a cross from the right deep into the box that Neymar connected on with a powerful header. It was bound to nestle inside the far post but Ochoa made a fabulous diving save to palm the ball away and deny the Brazilian of a sure goal.
Match of the day
It didn’t produce any goals, but Brazil vs. Mexico was a dramatic affair, heightened by the boisterous crowd in Fortaleza and Guillermo Ochoa’s heroics.
Best moment of the day
Early in the first half, a FIFA official walked over to Belgian coach Marc Wilmots on the bench and told him to put his photo ID around his neck. No special treatment, Marc.
He said it
“We just missed a big upset, a victory. We were so close. My players have no reason to blush. They may be disappointed, but there is no reason to cry.” – Vahid Halilhodzic, Algeria coach
1) Guillermo Ochoa: The Mexican goalkeeper made a number of sensational stops to help El Tri earn a draw against Brazil. 2) Dries Mertens: The Napoli winger came on at the start of the second half and sparked Belgium’s attack with his bright play. Netted the winner against Algeria. 3) Alexander Kerzhakov: He breathed life into a dull game when he came on as a second-half substitute, and tallied the equalizer for Russia.