6 Players to Watch on Day 11 of the 2014 World Cup
Day 11 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup sees three more intriguing group clashes from Brazil, with a whole host of eye-catching players on display for us to savour once again.
In Group H, leaders Belgium get proceedings underway as they take on Russia, while in the game after, both South Korea and Algeria will be hoping for their first wins so far of the tournament.
Finally, in the last match of the evening, the U.S. entertain Portugal in Group G in what looks like the day's standout fixture.
So these are the six players to watch on Sunday at Brazil 2014.
Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard will take centre stage on Sunday at the Estadio Maracana as Belgium look to book their place in the knockout phase of the World Cup by beating Russia.
The 23-year-old turned in a performance worthy of Man of the Match on Tuesday as the Red Devils came from behind to overcome Algeria 2-1. Hazard was particularly influential in the second half as Belgium scored twice in the last 20 minutes, including creating Dries Mertens' winner.
Now, though, the little attacking midfielder has another chance to prove wrong some of the doubters back in his homeland by guiding Belgium through the group stages in what is their first appearance in the finals of a major international tournament in 12 years.
Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots has described Hazard as one of the top five footballers in the world, as Ed Malyon of the Daily Mirror noted, but the player believes he needs to score more to justify that accolade, saying:
I never like to talk about myself in that way because, to be honest, I don't think I deserve it at the moment.
To be thought of as one of the best five in the world, I would need to score more goals for a start.
I would really need to score almost every game because that is what the best players in the world, like Messi and Ronaldo, do every season.
Against the North Africans in Belo Horizonte, Hazard was utilised on the left of a three-man forward line supporting lone frontman Romelu Lukaku. Wilmots is expected to go with the same formation against Russia.
Wilmots will therefore be hoping that his team can get the ball to last season's Premier League Young Player of the Year as often as possible, given Hazard's world-class dribbling skills and his ability to produce the unexpected at times.
Michael Cox of ESPN FC described the player who created an astonishing 92 chances in the Premier League last season this way: "Capable of assisting and scoring, passing and dribbling, Eden does everything with tremendous speed and manages to combine trickery with efficiency too."
And with the wide man's confidence surely sky-high after his World Cup debut, Russia could be in for a long evening in Rio de Janeiro.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov (Russia)
Russia manager Fabio Capello caused more than a few raised eyebrows after opting not to include the attacking duo of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrey Arshavin in his 23-man World Cup squad.
And the experienced Italian coach must surely have been wondering if he had made the right decision as his side trailed South Korea 1-0 with just 15 minutes remaining in their Group H clash Tuesday.
That is until second-half substitute Aleksandr Kerzhakov popped up to drive home a vital equaliser and earn Russia a point. Now, the ever-reliable Zenit St. Petersburg striker is set to start Sunday's massive showdown with Belgium at the Estadio Maracana as a result.
Kerzhakov, 31, will be expected to give Russia’s forward line more of a focal point in Rio de Janeiro than they managed against South Korea, with his country's joint all-time leading goalscorer likely to partner golden boy Aleksandr Kokorin up front.
However, having appeared at the 2002 World Cup, as well as both Euro 2004 and Euro 2012, Kerzhakov is a real big-game player who can be relied upon when the pressure is on, as we saw Tuesday.
And as the London Evening Standard stated, the frontman is "one of the best players to play for his country," as well as "the most dangerous forward under Capello."
Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)
If Algeria are to somehow make it out of Group H, starting with their must-win encounter against South Korea on Sunday, then you really feel that it will be influential midfielder Sofiane Feghouli who will once again be called upon to produce the goods in Porto Alegre.
The 24-year-old, who is widely recognised as being his country’s best player, was impressive as Algeria kicked off their 2014 World Cup campaign with a spirited 2-1 loss to Belgium last Tuesday.
In fact, for 70 minutes in Belo Horizonte, Vahid Halilhodzic's men appeared on course for a win against the Low Countries outfit with Feghouli running the show. That was especially the case in the first half when his pacy breaks, tough tackling and willing running from midfield caused the Red Devils all manner of problems.
However, anyone who has watched La Liga during the past four years will not have been surprised at all to see the Valencia winger standing out among such a stellar cast of players, with Feghouli even showing great composure when coolly converting a first-half penalty to give Algeria a deserved half-time lead.
And while both the player and his team-mates then ran out of steam in the second half, expect Feghouli to again be Algeria's main driving force and inspiration at the Estadio Beira-Rio.
As the Guardian stated about the Algerian star:
Critics insist he should score more often but his many admirers point to the number of chances that he creates for team-mates thanks to an immaculate first touch, excellent passing and knack for producing the unpredictable. Manage to stifle him and opponents will have gone a long way to neutralising Algeria.
Son Heung-Min (South Korea)
South Korea golden boy Son Heung-Min will be looking to improve on a disappointing display against Russia when his country take on Algeria in their pivotal Group H clash in Porto Alegre on Sunday.
Much had been expected of the young forward, who was making his first-ever appearance in the finals of the World Cup last Tuesday, ahead of the contest with Fabio Capello's men.
However, despite having South Korea's two clearest openings in the first period against Russia, Son was unable to even hit the target after combining well with Arsenal frontman Park Chu-Young on both occasions.
Those misses, though, will not have affected the confidence of the hugely promising Bayer Leverkusen forward. If a chance does come his way at the Estadio Beira-Rio on Sunday, then expect Son to grab it with both hands.
But do not be surprised at all if South Korea also rely heavily on the 21-year-old to be their main creative influence against the North Africans. Squawka has no doubt at all about the starlet’s potential:
Son Heung-Min is the current darling of South Korea football and, along with Lee [Chung-Yong], plays a key role in this team. Operating on the opposite flank to Lee, he is the polar opposite of his more experienced team-mate. Son will look to cut in from the left and get himself into goal-scoring opportunities on a regular basis, it is up to the rest of his team to find him.
This is why the whole of South Korea will be looking to the attacker to provide inspiration and goals against Algeria that will keep their World Cup dream alive.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
However fit Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo may or may not be heading into Sunday’s massive Group G encounter with the U.S. in Manaus, the forward is still the man his country will most be expecting to get their World Cup campaign back on track.
Ronaldo, 29, began Portugal's opening contest against Germany on the left-hand side of a front three as head coach Paulo Bento set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation.
However, with striker Hugo Almeida ineffective playing through the middle as 10-man Portugal lost 4-0, there must now be every chance that the prolific Real Madrid star will be switched to a more central role at the Arena Amazonia.
Whatever position in attack Ronaldo does end up occupying against Jurgen Klinsmann's well-drilled unit, though, the pressure will very much be on the player's broad shoulders to replicate his stunning club form from last season on the international stage.
And so surely Bento will have worked hard in training all last week on trying to get the ball as quickly as possible to his star man in areas that can hurt the opposition Sunday. It's something Portugal significantly failed to manage in their opening fixture, as noted by Alan Smith in the Daily Telegraph:
Over on the other flank Ronaldo, that left knee strapped up, was a passive observer, desperate to get involved. When the ball did come his way, Germany reacted very quickly to crowd that area of the pitch and get in a tackle.
But as the former England international also went on to warn about the clash with the U.S.: "Given better service, the World Player of the Year, knee permitting, could still be in business."
Clint Dempsey (USA)
The whole of the United States will be praying that inspirational captain Clint Dempsey has fully recovered from the nose injury he sustained in his country's 2-1 win against Ghana last week in time to take his usual place up front against Portugal in Group G on Sunday.
That is because the experienced Seattle Sounders forward represents the Americans' most likely route to goal in Manaus, especially given the hamstring tear that fellow frontman Jozy Altidore sustained last Monday.
In fact, it took Deuce all of 29 seconds to open the scoring in his side's opening victory over the Black Stars, the fifth-fastest strike in the history of the tournament. It also made Dempsey the first American to net in three World Cup finals.
However, in what is sure to be a tightly contested affair against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., Dempsey's big-game know-how and ice-cool temperament will both be vital commodities in what are likely to be hot and humid playing conditions at the Arena Amazonia.
Perhaps of greater significance Sunday, the 31-year-old heads into this mouthwatering fixture in great form in front of goal, and as Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy noted: "Dempsey's ability to exert his influence over matches and snatch goals at opportune times could mean the difference between a place in the round of 16 or a trip home after just three matches."
All stats are provided by WhoScored.com.