In what is turning out to be one of the best world cups in recent memory, TheHardTackle previews the 2nd round of crunch matches in Group G and H. Here we look at the top five things to look forward to in today’s round of matches:

Ronaldo to play “through the pain barrier”

With constant rumours circulating about his knee injury worries, Cristiano Ronaldo will have the world’s eyes on him as he takes the field against the Americans. The prolific striker has come in for fierce criticism following his performance against Germany where he looked out of sorts. Perhaps frustrated with service (or the lack of it), Ronaldo will be hoping that his teammates and himself put on a better show against the USA.

Former Tottenham striker and fellow Portuguese Helder Postiga was quoted as saying, “I personally think that the Cristiano Ronaldo talk is a bit too much, so I can only imagine how he must be feeling about that”. He added, “But regarding his physical condition, he’s been training at his maximum and if it’s not listed in the clinical information of the Portuguese federation, it’s because he’s fit to play.”

Wilmots v/s Capello

Marc Wilmots’ men had 67 percent of the possession in their last match against the Algerians and had to resort to two super-subs by the coach to register a win. Those who have followed Belgium for a while would know that the number is hardly surprising. Under Wilmots, the Red Devils came through unscathed in their qualifying campaign for the world cup. Usually, the matches would end up them steamrolling their opponents and more often than not, Wilmots had a big part to play. Known as a disciplinarian, Wilmots has given the players the freedom to play to their potential while also enjoying a close personal relationship with them.

On the other hand, we have the shrewd, master-tactician, professor-esque Fabio Capello. Russia – under Capello – have been defeated only twice and pulled off an 11-match unbeaten run since August last year. With over 27 years experience in managing top clubs all over Europe and handling the high pressure job of managing England, Capello is the undoubted winner when it comes to pedigree.

Whether it is the relative youth of Wilmots or the wily nature of Fabio Capello that comes out on top, we will just have to wait and watch.

South Korea v/s Algeria – A classic six-pointer

Both teams come into this match knowing that this is a do-or-die game for them. Having thrown away leads in their first matches, both teams will be hoping for a victory to ensure that their destiny stays in their own hands when it comes to qualifying for the round of 16.

Algeria ran the Belgians ragged with their astute defending and collective team-spirit. Although they have the least experienced squad in the tournament, it took Belgium 70 minutes to break them down and secure the three points. South Korea are appearing in their eight straight world cup and have pedigree on their side when it comes to this tournament.

The pressure will be on both teams to go for the win which will surely make it an entertaining affair.

Belgium’s “golden generation”

The Belgian Red Devils came through the qualifying campaign unbeaten with 9 wins out of the 11 matches they played. This sort of form made the world take notice of this emerging group of young and talented players. Boasting of names such as Vincent Kompany in defence, Eden Hazard in midfield and Romelu Lukaku in attack, the Belgians certainly are experiencing their best period in football history. Led by their top scorer in world cups – Marc Wilmots – the Belgians have shown remarkable improvement in all departments of the game. Many sections of the media are rightly calling this “the golden generation” of Belgian football.

Kompany Hazard

Kompany and Hazard: Part of Belgium’s golden generation

With their players spread across all the top leagues in Europe and with talent still waiting in the wings, the Red Devils will be the team to look out for in this tournament as well as in the near future.

Team USA v/s Ronaldo’s Portugal

Football or “soccer” as they like to call it, may not be their number one sport – it may not be even in their top three – but the United States of America have qualified for the past seven world cups and sit at a respectable 13th in the FIFA rankings. One common vein running through all of those teams was an indomitable team spirit led by veterans such as Landon Donovan, Brian McBride and more recently Clint Dempsey. Managed by former German international Jurgen Klinsmann, only a novice would count the US out when it comes to tough matches. The team might not be made of superstars, but they more than make up for it with sheer hard work and tenacity.

On the other hand, we have the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal team which is heavily dependent on the striker to provide the attack and for inspiration. It would be hardly fair to call any team at this world cup a “one man team”, but Portugal’s dependence on Ronaldo is bordering dangerously close to that. With their “golden generation” now gone, the Portuguese are looking to build a team around the Real Madrid star. This may not necessarily be a bad thing given that he has proved in the past that he is capable of doing so. Case in point being his two goals against Sweden to win Portugal the chance to play in Brazil at the finals.

All said and done, we have another exciting round of matches to look forward to as we approach the crunch time of the group stages. For us fans in Asia, time to bring out the cups of coffee and enjoy the late-night entertainment!