Sunday, in Brazil we were treated to two exciting World Cup games at the polar opposites of the scoring spectrum.
The Belgian National Football Team defeated their Russian opposite 1-0 in a thrilling World Cup Group H game at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The young Belgians took the initiative and kept the Russians pinned for large spans of both halves, but the Russians defended well and kept counterattacking. It was the Russians who had the better scoring chances for much of the game. In fact the first Belgian shot that was on target happened six minutes from the end of the game when substitute Kevin Mirallas hit the post off a free kick.
The outstanding Belgian player today was Dries Mertens who kept bedeviling the Russian defense with his runs on the right wing. But it was star Eden Hazard who delivered the key assist to pull the win for the Belgians after several Thibault Courtois saves had kept their goal intact.
Hazard ran at the Russian defense on the left wing and into the box before crossing to substitute Divock Origi who blasted home from close range at the 88th minute. The win assures Belgium progresses and leaves Russia needing a win against Algeria to move on.
In the other game of the day, at the Estadio Beira-Rio, in Porto Alegre, the Algerian team outmuscled and outplayed the team from Korean Republic and notched a 4-2 win in a game that offered three goals a half.
The Africans built a 3-0 first half lead with a 12-minute burst of goals from Islam Slimani at the 26th, Rafik Halliche at the 28th and Abdelmoumene Djabou at the 38th. The taller and all around bigger Algerians seemed to reach most headers and contested balls and took their chances when they had them in a dominant first half.
The Koreans facilitated their early downfall with some passing miscues in midfield, a lack of creativity and continuity in attack, and some poor defending in the box. A case in point was the third goal wherein three defenders were easily defeated by two Algerians because the two trailing defenders kept their eye on the ball and its current handler rather than splitting up and having one mark the receiver, and eventual goal scorer, Djabou.
But the second half was another story. In the first 17 minutes of the half the team from Korea Republic dominated possession and built several goal scoring chances. Among the chances was Son Heung-min’s 50th minute goal a pretty finish off a long-ball breakaway. As the Koreans seemed ready to challenge, though, the Algerians reasserted themselves with what could only be described as a Spanish style tiki-taka goal that saw each Korean opponent surpassed by the brilliant short passing of the Algerians which culminated with a put-away by Yacine Brahimi at the 62nd minute. With the score line differential restored the Algerians defended.
Then, at the 71:44 mark Koo Ja-Cheol’s knee deflected Lee Keon-Ho’s cross and the Koreans were back in it again—Algeria 4, Korea Republic 2. The remaining game was intense as the Koreans believed they had a chance while the Algerians were intent on securing what they thought was their victory. Four substitutions to that effect took place in the last twenty minutes but did not produce any change in the score.
Algeria is now in the driver’s seat for a slot in the second round with three points, two ahead of Russia and Korea Republic. The game between Russia and Algeria, already critical for Russia, now looms as the decider as Algeria looks strong enough to challenge their European opponents while Belgium seems too strong to lose to the Koreans, their final opponents.