World Cup 2014: Day 7
Day 6 produced several surprises in the 2014 World Cup. Belgian coach Marc Wilmots produced the first surprise of the day when he selected 36 year old former Manchester City defender Daniel Van Buyten alongside current City captain Vincent Kompany, at the expense of current Arsenal and potential Manchester United centre half Thomas Vermaelen, as his Belgium side kicked off their World Cup campaign against Algeria. The game started slowly in Belo Horizonte, as both sides looked to feel each other out in the opening 10 minutes, Algeria dominating the early possession without creating much in the way of a threat.
The breakthrough eventually came in the 25th minute, and it went against the form books. Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen was guilty of switching off, and as he hauled down Sofiane Feghouli, the referee had no option but to point to the spot. Vertonghen was booked for his part in the proceedings, while Feghouli stepped up to send Courtois the wrong way and give Algeria the lead. The goal spurned Belgium into life, with Eden Hazard trying his best to trick his way through the Algerian defence, while Axel Witsel then tested Algerian keeper Rais Mbolhi with a powerful long range effort that was pushed wide. Belgium were again reduced a long range effort when Nacer Chadli failed to hit the target, as Algeria continued to marshall and frustrate the European side. Eden Hazard fashioned a chance on the stroke of half-time, but as the ball fell between the defence and keeper Romelu Lukaku was unable to connect and make things all square at the break.
Wilmots was forced to switch things up at the break, sending on Napoli winger Dries Mertens for Nacer Chadli as he tried to get his side back into the game. The first chance to get back into the game fell for Belgium 4 minutes into the second half, when the keeper misjudged Merten’s corner, leaving Witsel with a free header at the back post, but he was unable to react in time and could only head over. Van Buyten and Mertens then whipped in free kicks, but this time Algerian keeper Rais Mboulhi was more than up to the task. At the other end Algeria almost doubled their lead when Carl Medjani flashed his header just beyond the far post.
Substitute Divock Origi then had a great chance to pull Belgium level as he outpaced the Algerian defence, only to fire his shot straight at the legs of the outrushing Mbolhi. 2 minutes later, the Belgians were back in the game. Kevin De Bruyne whipped in a fantastic pinpoint cross, and there was the Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini to rise well and flick the ball beyond the outstreched Mboulhi. The goal clearly renewed the belief of the Belgian side, as they continued to press in search of a winner, Van Buyten heading over while Algeria then did well to hack clear a cross from Jan Vertonghen. 10 minutes after drawing level, Belgium took the lead, deservedly so on the balance of the second half play. A sweeping move culminated in Hazard playing a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Mertens, who smashed the ball home in style.
Moments later the lead was almost even greater, as Fellaini rose well to power another header on target, only to see Mbolhi produce a fabulous reaction save to push the ball over the crossbar. Algeria were clearly out of steam by the end as they struggled to cope with wave after wave of Belgian attacks, as the Red Devils went in search of the third, but it ended 2-1. Belgium showed great resolve in coming back from behind to register a win in their first group game, and Wilmots can also be happy that he was able to shake things up and change the game when his initial plan failed to work against a well organised Algeria side. Refund for my prediction on this one.
It was a fiery start to the Group A clash between Brazil and Mexico, with both sides trying to enforce their physicality on proceedings from the off. 10 minutes into the game and Oscar curled in a ball for Fred, but the bulky number 9 fired his shot into the side netting, only to see the linesman had his flag up anyway. Brazil began to control the game, and dominated possession in the first quarter, but Fred continued to be guilty of straying offside, breaking down several Brazil attacks in the process. At the other end Mexico almost broke through in the 22nd minute after some fantastic skill from Peralta, who jinked and twisted his way into the Brazilian box, but was unable to create an opening. Herrera then fizzed a shot in from range, which Júlio César appeared to tip over in the eyes of everyone but the referee, who failed to award a corner.
At the other end Dani Alves whipped in a fantastic cross, and Neymar beat his man in the air to head goalwards, only to see Mexican shot stopper Guillermo Ochoa produce a wonderful one handed stop to keep things level. The remainder of the first half continued in much the same vein as the opening quarter, Mexico happy to try their luck from distance, while Brazil continued to toil away in search of an opening or telling set piece to break the deadlock. Brazil thought they had done just that when they fired in a free kick and several Brazilians seemed to be queueing up to slot home, David Luiz eventually connecting just yards out, but Ochoa again displayed fantastic reflexes in keeping the ball out.
Brazil were straight out of the blocks in the second half as they tried to gain advantage, substitute Bernard showing fantastic pace down the right, but Neymar was just short of connecting with the cross. Oscar then tried his luck, firing over the bar. The pace soon slowed down again, however, as the Brazilians continued to knock the ball around while the Mexicans seemed to set up to counter, continually trying to fire in shots from distance as in the first half.
On the hour, with the scores still level, frustration began to grow within the crowds, as Brazil were still unable to break down the opposition. Neymar tried his luck from a free kick but Ochoa had it covered and it was always going wide. Former Manchester City & Everton striker Jô was then thrown into the fray in an attempt to mix things up. There was almost an immediate reaction as Neymar had a wonderful chance, but Ochoa produced another world class save, before the second shot was dragged wide. Mexico then threw on Javier Hernandez as they too had visions of nicking the game, and he caused problems within 5 minutes when Thiago Silva was forced to haul him down as he looked to break free. The resulting free kick was poor though, and Brazil almost went up the other end and punished them, the ball from Neymar having just a bit too much weight on it for Jô to reach.
As a last throw of the dice, Brazil sent on Willian for his first appearance in the World Cup finals, replacing Chelsea team mate Oscar in midfield. Mexico were then again thankful to keeper Guillermo Ochoa as he produced yet another stunning save, this time denying Thiago Silva, who had a free header from just 5 yards out. It was a pure reaction save, one of the best of the tournament so far. Marcelo then threw himself to the ground in a poor attempt to win the penalty, but the referee was having none of it, the frustration being that if the Real Madrid star had stayed on his feet he would surely have had a shooting chance. Then Júlio César was called into action at the other end, denying Raúl Jiménez dipping low shot. It proved to be the last chance of note as the game ended 0-0. Man of the match was undoubtedly the Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, but that doesn’t mean Mexico were constantly under the kosh, and the whole team deserve credit for frustrating and at times out playing the host nation.
The final game saw Fabio Capello again cursing a goalkeeping mistake in his opening game,as Russia drew 1-1 with Korea Republic. Korean Republic started well, Bolton winger Lee Chung-Yong showing good feet in the middle evading two tackles, although he was unable to pick out a team mate with his final ball, whiel Russia seemed to be looking to break down the wings, Samedov in particular seeing a lot of the ball. The best chances of the first half all fell to Korea. Son Heung-min was unable to find the target either time when Park Chu-Young put him through, while Koo Ja-cheol also saw his effort deflected just wide.
After the break, Russia had several chances to break the deadlock, Fayzulin seeing his effort tipped over by Jung in the opening minute, while Russian skipper Vasily Berezoutski could then only head into the side netting from the resulting corner. It them seemed both sides were happy to try their luck from range, and it’s fair to say neither keeper looked convincing in dealing with the efforts. Few could have foreseen the error from Akinfeev, however, as he flapped at an effort from Lee Keun-ho, somehow allowing the shot to squirm through his hands and into the net. It was a cruel parallel for Capello, who saw England keeper Robert Green make a similar error 4 years ago in their opening game in South Africa 2010. That day England drew 1-1, but it was hard to see where Russia were going to get back into this game, until the Italian manager threw on veteran striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
The Zenit St Petersburg forward made an almost immediate impact, when he was on hand to spin in the box and turn in the ball after Jung had initially done well to keep out the an effort from fellow substitute Dzagoev. Russia then pushed to take all 3 points, but wasted several chances, with Aleksandr Kokorin the main guilty party with two headers. At the death Aleksandr Samedov then had a chance to seal the win as the ball fell to him from a tight angle with the goal at his mercy, but the Lokomotiv Moscow winger snapped at his chance and volleyed way over. In the end, the draw was probably a fair result, rounding off what was probably the worst day football wise so far in this World Cup, and definitely my worst day prediction wise.
Hoping to be back on the ball today, the first game of the day sees the Netherlands take on Australia in Porto Alegre. The Dutch were simply sensational in their first outing, taking apart current World champions Spain 5-1, and it could quite easily have been more. Both the victory, and the manner in which they achieve it, is bound to have boosted their confidence ahead of their second game in Group B, where they take on Australia, who lost 3-1 to Chile in their previous game. Van Persie and Robben both grabbed a brace on the opening day, and they must surely fancy their chances of adding to their tally against the unfancied Australia. To their credit though, despite the 3-1 scoreline, Australia gave a good account of themselves against Chile, with Tim Cahill especially causing all manner of problems. The Netherlands have now won 10 of their last 11 competitive games, and it’s hard not to see them continuing that run here. I think Australia have more than enough to nick a goal, so opting for both to score and Netherlands to win.
The second game sees Spain attempt to bounce back from that thrashing at the hands of the Dutch as they face Chile in Rio de Janeiro. Spain looked shell-shocked near the end of their 5-1 loss, but they have a great chance of getting their campaign back on track against Chile at the Maracana. Del Bosque is sure to ring in the changes as he demands a response from his side, and has plenty of fantastic options in reserve. Chile have kept just one clean sheet in their last five competitive matches, and Spain will be looking to exploit the defensive frailties to the full. Chile had several scares against Australia before eventually winning 3-1, and I think a side with the quality of Spain will be able to exploit their chances to the full. Hard to see beyond a Spain win in this one for me. The two sides met back in September last year, with the game ending 2-2, while back in 2011 Spain edged to a 3-2 win. The 2 sides also clashed in the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, and Spain were again winners, 2-1 on that occasion. Both teams to score may be worth a shout depending on the odds, while both teams to score and a Spain win could also offer decent returns.
The final game on Wednesday sees Cameroon take on Croatia in Group A, the first time these two nations have ever met. Croatia gave a good account of themselves in the 3-1 defeat against Brazil, and have also managed to find the target in their last 5 matches. With Mario Mandzukic set to return from suspension, they should be even stronger as they face a Cameroon side who were easily beaten by Mexico in the opening round. It’s fair to say the 1-0 scoreline flattered them, with Mexico also having 2 perfectly good goals wrongly disallowed by the referee. A recap on form, Cameroon have lost 3, won 3 and drawn 2 of thir last 8 games, scoring in all but 2, while Croatia bizarrely boast exactly the same record. Cameroon have also lost their last 5 World Cup matches, winning only 1 in their last 14, also never managing to score more than 1 goal in the last 12. Croatia again boast a similar record, having failed to win in their last 5 World Cup games, and failure to win would see them have the unwanted record of longest winless streak by any European team. I think the tide will turn for Niko Kovac’s side, and they will prove too strong for their African counterparts.
Both to score and Netherlands to win against Australia
Spain to win against Chile
Croatia to beat Cameroon
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