The 2014 World Cup is perhaps one of the most exciting World Cups in recent times. While previous editions had outright favourites, this one doesn’t have a firm one. Brazil, to an extent is a bit ahead of the rest, mainly due to their home conditions. Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Argentina – they all look good on paper, but the conditions in which most of their players play week-in, week-out in various leagues of Europe are far different from the ones in Brazil. And moreover, this is the biggest event on the planet, apart from fighting their opponents, they also have their inner demons to deal with.
World Cup in Brazil has finally put most teams on level playing ground.
Day 7 of the quadrennial event has in store for us six exciting teams. Belgium and Russia take on Algeria and South Korea respectively. And Brazil play their second against Mexico.
THT analyses these fixture and presents a few key points to look at.
Time To Undo Refereeing Incompetence
Both Brazil and Mexico have had winning starts to their World Cup campaigns. While Mexico had as many as 2 goals controversially ruled out in their opener against Cameroon, Brazil on the other hand were beneficiaries of as many controversial goals at the hands of Japanese referee Yuishi Nichimura.
It is highly likely that both Brazil and Mexico will go ahead into the Round of 16 after their winning start and this match will be of paramount importance. While Brazil’s priority will be to top the group, Mexico will be happy to qualify ahead of likes of Cameroon and Croatia and both teams won’t mind playing for a stalemate.
However, if Mexico gets a point from this match, and Croatia wins against Cameroon, then the final showdown between Mexico and Croatia will be as important as it gets.
Brazil on the other hand had only 2 stand-out performers from their first match. Neymar with a brace is perhaps enjoying the most celebrated status by any Brazilian footballer, at the age of 22, after Pele. And of course Oscar, who was relentless and perhaps covered every blade of grass on the pitch. Apart from these two, the rest were rather pedestrian.
The bad news for the host is that mercurial forward Givanildo Vieira de Souza, better known as Hulk, limped out of Brazil’s training on Sunday and his availability is a bit of a concern. In the match against Croatia too, Hulk had to substituted just after the hour mark because of a niggle. While the squad is competent enough to handle the absence of a force in offense as big (literally) as Hulk, the fact that they haven’t had to play qualification games might just go against them later in the tournament.
Match Trivia: The last time these two sides met in a World Cup was in 1950, Brazil. Aldemir (2), Jair and Baltazar scored the goals to give Brazil a 4-0 victory. Time for Revenge? Or Déjà vu?
The Golden Generation Of Belgium. And The “Football Crime” of 1982.
A lot of countries have a host of extremely talented footballers coming of age almost at the same time. Spain recently had one. So did Germany. Brazil. Portugal. Now it’s time for Belgium.
While Eden Hazard is by far the most popular face of the lot, they have no dearth of personnel who can be as decisive as the Chelsea winger/attacking midfielder.
In Vincent Kompany, Belgium has a more than able leader and perhaps one of the best defenders on the planet right now. While Marc Wilmots has himself enjoyed celebrity status in Belgium as a player, he is even more popular now after replacing Georges Leekens as the coach of the national team. Wilmots and Kompany will have their task cut out and anything less than a quarter-final will be underachievement for this pack.
While many managers around the globe would kill for a goalkeeper like Simon Mignolet (Vicente Del Bosque is perhaps a new entrant in the list of the managers), Wilmots can choose not to have in the starting line-up, with aplomb. Such is the quality of Thibaut Courtois!
Their offense is as good as it gets and it’s a shame that a talent as ruthless as Benteke had to be excluded due to injury. But Chelsea reject (sort of) Lukaku is no less and with players like Hazard, De Bruyn, Witsel behind him, he doesn’t have to worry about the supply.
Heck, they even have prodigious Adnan Januzaj, who can be more than a handful and a pain in thr wrong place. Even at the tender age of 19.
While a lot has been said and written about the Golden Generation of Belgian football, today the world will finally get a glimpse of what has been the most talked about topic, after Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
As for Algeria, former French youth team winger Sofiane Feghouli is the one who can exploit the only weakness in the Belgian ranks – their fullbacks (or the lack of it). However, even if Feghouli gets the better of Alderweireld and/or Vertonghen, he still needs Islam Slimani, who will be dealing with Kompany, to make it count.
Algeria however, is no stranger iconoclasm. If the current squad can repeat the feat of their ancestors in 1982, then there is a chance that they might make it to the next round.
Match Trivia: Football Crime. Nothing else can describe it better. In 1982, before the West Germany vs Algeria match, one of the West Germany players said, “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives and the eighth to our dogs.” The manager, Jupp Derwall said that he they lost the match they’d “jump on the first train back to Munich.”
Final Score: Algeria 2-1 West Germany.
Algeria then lost to Austria, 2-0 and eventually won against Chile 3-2. However, in the last game of the group, Germany and Austria realized that if Germany won 1-0 or 2-0, then both the European teams would qualify for the next round at the expense of Algeria.
In the match, around the 10th minute, Horst Hrubesch gave West Germany the lead. And then they literally stopped playing. Both sides stopped competing, there weren’t any crosses or shots or tackles or anything that is football.
Last Match Of The First Round.
While South Korea and Algeria are decent teams out there, Russia has a more realistic chance of reaching the Round of 16 along with Belgium. Strictly on paper.
Igor Akinfeev, one of the top goalkeepers in Europe is Russia’s biggest star. Despite having offers from a host of top clubs from Europe. Akinfeev chose to stay loyal to his childhood club CSKA Moscow with whom he has stayed for more than 2 decades now. Against an agile South Korean side, he has to lead from the front (of course, the goal isn’t exactly the front. But figuratively).
More importantly, for Russia another name is as prominent as it’s star players – perhaps even more. Fabio Capello. Italian managers are known for their guile and Machiavellian cunning. Fabio Capello isn’t much of an exception (do ignore his performance as the manager of England. Because that is one team even Jesus cannot lead to glory).
Russia has been impressive defensively under Capello and has conceded only 5 goals in the qualification rounds and despite having Portugal in their group they emerged as group winners to avoid play-offs. Certainly much better than what they had 12 years back, when they last played in a World Cup.
The absence of their captain Roman Shirokov will be a bid loss but Alan Dzagoev has it in him to dictate the tempo from the middle of the park.
For those who have followed over the years in club competitions will know that the Russians will not be pleasing to the eye with their brand of football, but they will be effective.
South Korea on the other hand had a difficult time during the qualifiers. While Belgium is surely expected to qualify for the Round of 16, the battle to secure the second spot will have to primary contenders – South Korea and Russia. Algeria, the only team in the group who are used to the hot and humid conditions of Brazil, does have an outside chance though.
While Russia is a strong side defensively, South Korea has a lethal attack with Son Heung-min among its ranks. Like Marc Wilmots of Belgium, Hong Myung-bo of South Korea enjoys a cult status among fans as the country’s most capped player and now as the coach of the national team. After leading the U-23 team to an Olympic Bronze in the London Olympics, much of his side comprises members from that squad and the chemistry shared is a vital part to their chances in Brazil.
Match Trivia: While South Korea have won all their opening matches in the last 3 World Cups (1-0 vs Poland in 2002, 2-1 vs Togo in 2006 & 2-1 vs Greece in 2010), Russia on the other hand will be playing their first World Cup in over a decade.