Group play at the World Cup through a week and change has provided some of the finest action in recent memory, a trend that will only continue thanks to the impressive slate that Day 11 touts.
Thanks to intriguing showdowns from Groups G and H that will have a ripple effect on the field, Sunday will feature more can't-miss matches.
Most notably, sides that have yet to lose, such as the United States and Belgium, will be in action. As the last few days have shown, more teams than those that actually take the pitch will have things hanging in the balance.
Let's take a look at each matchup and the overarching theme of both groups represented on Day 11.
Belgium vs. Russia
While both sides would like to obtain victory in this heavyweight bout of Group H, it is Russia that need it.
Belgium are a force that can essentially cement qualification for the next round with the win, whereas Russia would likely bow out altogether after drawing their first match against Korea Republic. That said, a triumph over the leaders of Group H would throw them into first place over the Belgians.
That sounds convoluted at first glance, but the match itself may truly come down to one thing: the fitness of Belgium's Vincent Kompany. Per the Red Devils' Twitter account, Kompany has been sidelined from training with a slight issue:
Coach Marc Wilmots elaborated on the condition of his 28-year-old star, as captured by FIFA's official website.
"Vincent felt something in the final few minutes and was not able to sprint 100 per cent," Wilmots said. "He hoped that resting it overnight would resolve the problem, but it wasn't the case and on Wednesday morning he still had pain in the left groin."
Don't expect to see Kompany if he is not 100 percent, meaning the floundering Russians will have a better chance to emerge victorious than they would if all things were equal. Still, other notables like Romelu Lukaku figure to give Belgium an advantage if the Russians come out full throttle.
Korea Republic vs. Algeria
The match with little fanfare on Sunday features two teams with everything to lose, as the Korea Republic enter off the draw with Russia, while Algeria have only a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Belgium.
Perhaps most interesting of all is how both defensive lines can recover from stunning lapses that occurred late in their previous matches. Algeria allowed Belgium to score a stunning comeback in the final 20 minutes, while South Korea's alignment stood strong until a late equalizer by the Russians.
While Algeria have some soul searching to do in that regard, don't expect much to change from the Korean side's 4-4-2.
Lee Keun-ho provided the firepower for the Koreans and will surely do so once more on Day 11, so it will be critical to discover if the volume-based offensive approach will overwhelm what is an Algeria defensive line on the mend.
United States vs. Portugal
It is easy to see why the United States are drawing inspiration from the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, as midfielder Jermaine Jones explained to ESPN FC's Doug McIntyre when asked if the Americans can learn anything from the Spurs:
A team is important, not just two or three players. The NBA Finals showed how it works. If you stick together like a team, and fight like a team ...you will win the game. The Spurs were the better team, and that is why they won the championship.
This, of course, has to do with the narrative that Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is akin to the Miami Heat's LeBron James. Conversely, detractors will point out that Ronaldo fell flat on his face in his side's 4-0 loss to Germany in Portugal's first match of Group G play.
The bigger story is a tad more complex—injuries. As McIntyre notes, two key cogs in the Portugal defensive alignment, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, will be out of action—as will U.S. striker Jozy Altidore.
In other words, the team that can overcome losses and slumps from key players will have an edge, although it's clear neither side lacks confidence.
Group G and H Predictions
It's hard to imagine the Group H fixtures won't play to form.
Russia have been in a rut since entering the fray and have little in the way of firepower to counter the Belgium attack, although there is something to be said for a side with its back to the wall. Then again, that won't really apply for a leaky Algeria defensive unit tasked with stopping the shot-happy (and accurate) Korean side.
The U.S.-Portugal dance in Group G has the look of a dealer's choice, but the latter's loss and Ronaldo being hobbled lie in stark contrast to the opposition's approach. Look for Clint Dempsey and Co. to pull away late.
Once again, another day of action will do nothing more than muddle the future outcome of the bracket. That's a good thing.
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