This was probably the worst day of the tournament so far, because only one of the games was superb. The others were merely solid. And there was a stretch of about two and half hours where not a single goal went in! But that’s how good things have been for us.
Belgium 2 – 1 Algeria
Not the most convincing victory from the Belgians, but they successfully kicked things into gear for a 20-minute spell in the second half when they got both their goals. For all the skill in their attacking players, they seemed strangely lost for ideas for most of the match. Still, I think you have to give credit to Algeria who were a lot better than four years ago, and did a very nice job of stifling Belgium’s options while also posing enough of a threat going forward to keep them honest. At least for the first 50-60 minutes.
For Belgium: the lack of real fullbacks did seem like a problem. It meant Algeria could clog the middle of the pitch and deny the space for the creative players. Still: the doom and gloom about this performance is being overstated. They were clearly the better team and got their deserved three points. Both goals were good, and showed strengths of the team. Fellaini’s header reminds us of how many different impact players they have to call on. And their second goal was beautiful – winning the ball in their own box and then racing to the other end to score. If they get a lead and draw out the opposition, or if they play teams who look to play high defensive lines, you’ll see more like that. And they could have scored several others. I had them as 50/50 to make the quarterfinals and that still seems about right.
Brazil 0 – 0 Mexico
One of the more exciting 0-0 games you’re likely to see. And strong evidence that goals aren’t necessary to make a classic match. End to end stuff, shifts in momentum, powerful attacks, great tackles. And Brazil continue to be less-than-impressive. For a team that was supposedly as likely to win this thing as the entire rest of the field combined, they sure haven’t shown much yet. They were better today—results notwithstanding, and did create quite a few chances. But still not nearly as many as they would have hoped. In addition, they had to contend with a keeper who seemed to preternaturally always be in the right place. That said, and not to take away from Ochoa’s performance too much (he was very good), but a number of those saves were more a matter of Brazil shooting straight at the keeper and less about particularly great saves.
On the balance I would say that Brazil was better, but not by all that much, and a draw was a pretty fair result. And there were certainly periods where Mexico was rampant and looked far more likely to score. The first half was pretty chippy, with the ref allowing lots of fouls, but he clamped down a bit in the second half and the quality of play got even better. I also appreciate him not giving a penalty to Brazil for something similar to the one from their Croatia game. Marcelo was slightly more firmly touched than Fred, but it still wasn’t a penalty.
Russia 1 – 1 South Korea
If not for the Iran-Nigeria game, this would be the worst match of the tournament. But it really wasn’t that bad. It’s just that this tournament is spoiled for riches. Both goals were eminently preventable. Akinfeev was spilling shots the whole game, as if he didn’t know he was even allowed to catch the ball. But his mistake for the goal was really something else. He didn’t quite throw the ball in his own net, but it was pretty close. And then on the other side, the keeper let it spill loose as well and the Russian effort successfully bundled it into the net eventually. Speaking of which, I have a message for the Korean defenders: maybe instead of standing there with your arms in the air demanding a handball call, you should try to STOP THE GUY FROM SHOOTING. I have never, not once in my life, seen those demands change the ref’s mind. But I constantly see defenders switch off and fail to prevent goals. It’s maddening. Anyways, neither of these teams were very impressive. Group H certainly looks like the weakest group at this point.
Predictions for tomorrow:
- Australia 0 – 2 Netherlands
- Spain 1 – 1 Chile
- Cameroon 1 – 2 Croatia
I was reasonably impressed with Australia, but they’re still not a match for the Dutch, I don’t think. I’ve gone back and forth on the second game many times. I still think Spain is very good but I worry about their ability to bounce back from what happened in the first game. I didn’t see too much quality in Cameroon and thought Croatia was very good, which mostly confirms my pre-tournament expectations. So I’ll call that one a victory for the Europeans.