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FellainiDay Six was not the most scintillating day of football that we’ve seen in this World Cup, although after only a week, the bar has been set pretty high.  Today featured two games that likely would not have been close, had the managers of the favourites put out more dominant sides.

Mertens hearts something...

Mertens hearts something…

Algeria decided they would put 10 men behind the ball against Belgium, only making a serious break about 20 minutes in.  Jan Vertonghen took out Sofiane Feghouli, the referee gave the penalty and Feghouli put it away.   Then the Desert Foxes really started playing defensive.  After the break, Marc Wilmots put on Dries Mertens  — who probably should have started in the first place.  Romelu Lukaku’s performance was a shadow of his Premier League form… so off he came in the 58th.  Then Marouane Fellaini came on for Moussa Dembélé.  Five minutes later, Wilmots’ substitutions paid off.  Fellaini scored one of his trademark headers (where has that been all year?) and then Martens scored off Eden Hazard’s pass off the counter. It was a game that was exciting for 15 minutes… and that was enough for Belgium’s nervy World Cup return.  Belgium 2-1 Algeria

Uh-oh...

Uh-oh…

Meanwhile, the Russia-South Korea clash was less than satisfying… exactly as expected.  The South Koreans were quick, but the Russians played Fabio Capello’s cautious defensive tactics.    The South Koreans scored because of a clanger by Igor Akinfeev, probably the goalkeeper gaffe of the tournament.   It’s also interesting that Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev, and Aleksandr Kerzhakov — three of the better players on a dour Russian side — started on the bench, and that the goal came after their substitution.   Either side will fancy their chances of progressing.  Russia 1-1 South Korea

Brent P. Lanthier

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups G & H

Germans arrive
The last two groups could not be more opposite in quality and reputation.  While I don’t think Group G is the Group of Death, I do think that the four nations will have their work cut out for them.  Meanwhile, the young Belgians will have a chance to strut their stuff while the other three fight their way through.

GROUP G

Miroslav Klose-ing in on World Cup history

Miroslav Klose-ing in on World Cup history

Much has been written in recent days about the injuries to Joachim Löw’s Germany.  Marco Reus tore his ankle just days before the tournament, and potential starters Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are all either playing with knocks or coming off recent injuries.  Luckily for Löw, he suffers from an embarrassment of riches.   Half of Der Mannschaft (tee hee, Mannschaft…  still makes me giggle) plays for either of Germany’s two biggest teams: Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund.  The side also features Arsenal’s three prizes: veteran defender Per Mertesacker, as well as attacking midfielders Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, and Chelsea’s Andre Schürrle.  Löw’s Teutonic system (the newest rage in football, a melange of tiki-taka and counter-attacking) means all hands going forward, which explains why he only brought one striker: 36-year-old Miroslav Klose.  If Klose plays — and scores — Germany’s all-time record goal-scorer will tie Brazil’s Ronaldo for all-time World Cup goals (15).   SEMI-FINALS

Apparently, he's going to be okay...

Apparently, he’s going to be okay…

If there is one nation whose fans’ self-delusion rivals that of England’s, it’s Portugal‘s.  Every four years — two if you count the Euros — their fans believe they have what it takes to be world beaters.  But like England, they strive and fall short.  Portugal features a superstar player in Cristiano Ronaldo (just like Wayne Rooney) who is surrounded by a team of competent players that would never get a kick at the can in a side like Argentina or Brazil (just like England).  Portugal are also a nation whose FIFA ranking is absurdly high, boosted by a complicated formula (just like England).   Ronaldo has been fighting to be fit for this tournament.  If he performs like he does for Real Madrid, Portugal could go deep into quarter-final territory.  But their path is likely blocked by Belgium in the knockout stages and then Argentina.  ROUND OF 16

Bradley and USA in tough in Group G

Bradley and USA in tough in Group G

Jürgen Klinsmann says he will sing both Germany’s and the U.S.A.‘s national anthems, when the two teams square off in their very last group game.  By then, Klinsmann will have a pretty good idea whether his last three years of effort have finally elevated the USA into the elite pantheon of football nations.   A look at his side would suggest it hasn’t yet.   I don’t want to write off the Stars and Stripes: they are well organized and physical.  They feature a handful of players who are class: Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are great keepers; Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore have all cut their teeth in the Premier League, and Michael Bradley — despite his strange move to MLS — will be the lynchpin of Klinsmann’s side.  It’s a pity they are in a group with Germany and Portugal.  The building continues.  THREE AND OUT

Muntari and Essien: the Black Stars' two superstars

Muntari and Essien: the Black Stars’ two superstars

Everyone’s favourite in South Africa 2010, Ghana faces the plague of other successful African nations: inflated expectations.  The Black Stars’ midfield is still credible: Milan’s Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari will bolster the back line,  with Kevin-Prince Boateng playing in front of them.  But no one will be surprised by the Ghanaians, and that’s unfortunate in a tough group like this.  THREE AND OUT

GROUP H 

Just in case you're wondering who Hazard plays for...

Just in case you’re wondering who Hazard plays for…

The return of Belgium to the biggest international stage has excited many soccer purists.  After finishing fourth at Mexico ’86, the Belgians were disappointing, bowing out early in the next three World Cups.  The country’s football association then changed the way it trained young players, and it also changed its relationship with its big clubs.  Now the the Red Devils are in their first international tournament since Japan/Korea ’02 and what a line-up.  Thibault Courtois and Simon Mignolet are two of the most sought-after young keepers in the world right now.  Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were easily Chelsea and Everton’s best players, respectively, while Kevin Mirallas was no slouch either, and Dries Marten scored 13 goals for Rafa Benitez’ Napoli.  Marc Wilmots is bringing only one true fullback, selecting seven centre backs to play in his defence.  What’s more, that defence is expected to press high up the pitch.  Even if they don’t go far, this team will get a couple another kick at the can at the Euros in France and then Russia’s World Cup. QUARTER-FINALS

A rare smile from Capello

A rare smile from Capello

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has struggled to rebuild itself to the former power of her predecessor (that’s because most of the USSR’s great players were Ukrainian.  Shhh).  Save for a third place finish in Euro 2008, they’ve failed to make it out of the group stage.  However, Euro 2012 was a good showcase for them.  Too bad this is a different side with a different manager.  Capello has made this team more defensive, as is his way.  Captain Roman Shirokov had to bow out to injury, and exciting young Alan Dzagoev is in the Italian gaffer’s bad books.  Still, this is a weak group, and they should be able to get through… unless they can’t stand the heat.  Literally.  ROUND OF 16

Slimani sees who's waiting if they finish second...

Slimani sees who’s waiting if they finish second…

Algeria are currently the highest-ranked team in Africa right now, due in part to a new philosophy brought in by manager,Vahid Halilhodžić.  Most of his players are young men who were born in France but chose to play in the country of their parents’ birth, and most of them are bench players in the Spanish, French and English leagues.  One exception is Islam Slimani, who scored 10 goals in 31 appearances for Sporting Lisbon; another is Sofiane Feghouli who regularly starts for Valencia.  Anything has to be an improvement over the boooring football played in South Africa (ask England fans), but Algeria still have to grow.  THREE AND OUT

Hong Myung-Bo: the man, the myth, the manager

Hong Myung-Bo: the man, the myth, the manager

South Korea have also done a 180 with their tactics, after Korean legend Hong Myung-Bo made them more technical, with less kick-and-run and more passing.   British football fans will be familiar with Ki Sung-yeung, who was bought from Celtic by Swansea City, in a move that broke the Welsh team’s transfer record; he then spent this season on loan at Sunderland.   Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-min is probably S. Korea’s best player, which leaves a smattering of bit players in the Bundesliga, Prem and Asian leagues.   You want the Koreans to replicate the success they had at their own World Cup in 2002, but they won’t.  THREE AND OUT

 Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: The Bracket

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Uruguay, Ghana both score knockouts

After a somewhat subdued opening round, the first two games of the knockout stages did not disappoint. With sheets of rain sweeping across Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, Uruguay and South Korea both played with a sense of urgency… which was a treat for both partisans and neutrals alike.

Luis Suarez was magnificent, scoring both of Uruguay’s tallies. The first one came when Diego Forlan raced to catch a loose ball at the touchline, turning and sending a cross through the box. The Korean keeper missed it and Suarez was waiting. 1-0 Uruguay.

A miscommunication between Fernando Muslera and captain Diego Lugano resulted in a collision, and a gift for Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong. 1-1. By the way, there were four Diegos on the pitch during this game. Weird.

The winner came on what might be the goal of the tournament.  The ball was headed away from the pack in front of the net, after a Forlan corner. Suarez gets the ball, swings past his man at the edge and sends in a bendy ball that hits the post, deflecting into the net.  Awesome, as was his celebration. Uruguay’s win marks the first time since 1970 that a South American team other than Brazil or Argentina has advanced to the quarterfinals.

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Boateng celebrates after opening the scoring.

Ghana-U.S.A. was a repeat of a group match in 2006… and it produced the same result.  Kevin-Prince Boateng put the Black Stars on the board after only five minutes — Ghana’s first goal from open play in this tournament.  The U.S. coughed up the ball at the centre spot, and Boateng left-footed it past two defenders and the keeper.

The U.S. got back on the board on a penalty, after Clint Dempsey was brought down in the box. The game remained tied after 90 minutes, and so began the tournament’s first taste of extra-time.  Three minutes in, Asamoah Gyan scored his third of this World Cup — and it proved to be the winner. Ghana becomes only the third African team to reach the quarters, after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. Landon Donovan says his team was naive, by not putting Ghana away. For the second time in a row, the Black Stars knock out the Stars and Stripes.

Uruguay and Ghana play next Friday.

Brent Lanthier

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French are toast, while Yakubu’s howler burns Nigerians

It was a contrast in dignity. One team — lowly-ranked before the World Cup even began — put up a desparate last-gasp effort to remain in its own tournament. The other team made a mockery of it.  In the end, both France and South Africa are out… with Bafana Bafana winning 2-1, sending last year’s finalists home to face the wrath of their countrymen. Of course, there was a sending-off, and “Le Fou” Domenech couldn’t leave without one last petty gesture. From the Guardian: Not Everybody Loves Raymond.

In the other game, Uruguay won the group, after it beat Mexico 1-0, who have backed into second place. Before the tournament, many pundits talked about the strike force of Forlan and Suarez (who have both scored), but the Uruguayan defence has yet to concede a goal.

In Group B, Diego Maradona made seven changes to his team, yet they still won comfortably against hapless Greece, 2-0. Maradona has started talking sense, as well. That’s no fun…

The other game was South Korea-Nigeria. (Here’s where I admit my few shortcomings: I wrote Nigeria needed to win by more than a goal. Not true; they just needed a win). Lots of back and forth, with a nice first goal by Nigeria. But the Africans got caught on two set pieces and ended up down 2-1. Yakubu missed a goal that I could have scored drunk.  The Nigerians ended converting a penalty kick, making it 2-2, but it wasn’t enough.

So now it’s Uruguay vs. South Korea, and Argentina-Mexico. Note that three of the five South American teams have now qualified, yet three of six African teams are going home.

Brent Lanthier

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Fiesta time in Mexico as France sings Les Bleus

You know they’re gonna party like it’s Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, with people marching through the streets and even the chihuahuas waving au revoir to France, after El Tri saw off Los Tricolores 2-0 at the World Cup today, a huge result in Group A that puts Mexico and Uruguay on the front foot to move on. Manchester United-bound striker Javier Hernandez was sent in clean alone to nab the first, while Aztec Emperor Cuauthemoc Blanco converted the second from the penalty spot. Raymond Domenech looked awfully calm for a guy whose team is still scoreless at this tournament…maybe he’s finally read in the stars that he’s out of a job when the tournament is over, which could come after the final group game against South Africa. Could Bafana Bafana still have a shot against this lifeless French team?

Earlier, my Sports Guapa (she grew up in Buenos Aires) shook off a cold and got out of bed early to watch Argentina have their way with South Korea in a 4-1 victory, with Gonzalo Higuain picking up a rare Albiceleste World Cup hat trick . Maradona’s men looked sharp in this one, and made the coach happy enough to say sorry to Michel Platini, but not Pele.

Finally, there was drama aplenty when the so-called boring Greeks took on Nigeria, with Sani Kaita’s reckless red card in the first half proving disastrous for the Super Eagles, who watched a 1-0 lead become a 2-1 defeat as Greece did some work to control its debt crisis by scoring the nation’s first two World Cup goals, a feat sure to get the crowd hopping on the Danforth in Toronto.

Sara Carbonero

Sara Carbonero, girlfriend of Iker Casillas

Nigeria might well have suffered an even worse defeat if not for the superb effort by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, clearly the star of his position at the tournament so far. It took a deflection to beat him on the first goal, although he did have a bit of a Robert Green moment when he spilled the shot that led to the decider. Here’s hoping his girlfriend doesn’t get the blame, with Iker Casillas of Spain the latest to get that treatment.

Elsewhere, it seems Fabio Capello is coming under a bit of criticism for his team selections. There certainly are some options with Gareth Barry fit to start. But if Capello loses to Algeria, his decisions could prove as costly as they did to this fellow.

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group B

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor says about Group B:

Argentina:  Clear favourites in one of the easier groups of the tournament.  Questions persist over Diego Maradona’s appointment as manager, but consider this;  Argentina had only one victory in its first seven matches in South American qualifying and was struggling badly under then-manager Alfio Basile.  Maradona’s record, while not great, was still better than Basile’s.  Besides, with little Lionel Messi in the lineup (not to mention Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, or Diego Milito) , even crazy Maradona could be made to look like a genius.

South Korea:  Strong on technique and speed, but short on organization and aerial strength, the Koreans are a bit of a question mark.  They definitely have the ability to spring an upset but could just as easily go home without a point.  They come into the tournament full of confidence, however, having just knocked off bitter rivals Japan in their home stadium.

Greece:  The Greeks have never been the prettiest team in the world to watch, but they will definitely be tough to break down.  Ask any of their Euro 2004 opponents.  Completely opposite to the South Koreans, the Greeks use organization and strength to compensate for their lack of flair.  They will also rely heavily on striker Theofanis Gekas, who led all of Europe with ten goals in qualifying.

Nigeria:  Historically the most successful African team at the World Cup, and traditionally the most-feared team from the continent.  But make no mistake, this is not the same Nigeria people are used to.  They barely qualified for the tournament by leapfrogging Tunisia on the final day, as the Tunisians were upset in Mozambique and an 81st minute strike by Obafemi Martins sent the Nigerians through.  Nevertheless, under Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, the men in green should have the talent and support to do well in South Africa.

Results:

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

South Korea 0- 1 Greece

South Korea 1- 3 Argentina

Greece 0 – 0 Nigeria

Argentina 1- 1 Greece

Nigeria 2-1 South Korea

Group Standings:

Argentina 7 pts

Greece 5 pts

Nigeria 4 pts

South Korea 0 pts

Also: Find out who Hadi picks to emerge from Group A.

Alpha Inventions Ranking

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