Sunday will see the final six teams play in their second 2014 World Cup fixtures, and with nearly all of the tickets to the knockout stages still up for grabs in Groups G and H, Matchday 11 promises to be full of drama.
Belgium and Russia are favourites in Group H, but the loser of that match will have to keep a close eye on the winner of the fixture between Korea Republic and Algeria.
No team were hit harder in their opening fixture than Portugal, and with a number of key contributors missing due to suspension and injury, the USA will like their chances of coming away with an upset win.
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Match||TV Info||Live Stream|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Belgium v Russia||ABC/BBC1||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
|8 p.m.||3 p.m.||Korea Republic v Algeria||ABC/ITV||WatchESPN/ ITV Player|
|11 p.m.||6 p.m.||USA v Portugal||ESPN/BBC1||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
Belgium v Russia
Neither team really looked like a dominant force during their opening fixtures, but the Red Devils were able to turn on the jets late, recording a vital 2-1 win over Algeria. Substitutes Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini scored the two Belgian goals, once again highlighting the team's strength in depth, per the team's official Twitter account:
Russia tried to use a similar tactic by bringing in Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kerzhakov from the bench, but while both were instrumental in the team's equalising goal, their luck ran out against the Koreans.
Both matches were characterised by a lack of intensity and movement, something that is unlikely to happen when these two teams go head-to-head.
Belgium are built around a powerful triangle in midfield, but as a result, too much emphasis is often placed on the wide players to serve as the team's main creative outlet. Axel Witsel is a phenomenal player when recovering the ball, but he doesn't contribute much near the opposing box.
Fellaini's sheer strength when running from midfield added a whole new dimension to the team's attack, and Kevin de Bruyne's abilities when distributing the ball are given full range of motion when he's played in a central role.
Dzagoev offers a similar threat for Russia, but under Fabio Capello, he's been unable to lock down a position in the team's starting XI. That might change against Belgium, as the Russians will need sheer quality in midfield to get past the mercurial Witsel.
Korea Republic v Algeria
Algeria were understandably disappointed following their defeat at the hands of Belgium, but given the team's lack of threatening moves on the counter-attack, perhaps the final result was a form of football justice.
The Algerians can attack, and during the first half of their opening fixture, they showed the world exactly that. Against a Korean side set up in a similar fashion, they'll have no choice but to change their tactics and introduce some attacking intensity.
Korea Republic impressed people with their fearless approach against Russia, but while the team put in a valiant effort to salvage the draw, the disparity in talent was visible on the pitch. The team has to feel good about that result, and captain Koo Jacheol believes sacrifice could lead to even greater things, as he told FIFA:
Aside from the time with Hong Myungbo, my time at the Asian Cup was an honourable moment and we had great matches. But after the tournament, I don't have any memories about the team. With that in mind, I will try to do my best and be willing to make sacrifices for the team. I think it will increase my pride in the team. To feel that pride, it makes you try your best. That is what sets our team apart. Even outside of football, that is something that will remain as a good memory. I think that is the idea behind Hong Myungno's concept of teamwork.
El Arbi Soudani will be Algeria's main danger man, and the Korean defenders will need another strong performance to contain the talented forward. Aleksandr Kokorin failed to make a real impact for Russia against the Taegeuk Warriors, but Soudani's relentless approach against Belgium's vaunted back-four is reason for concern.
Both teams will be tempted into using the same laid-back approach they used in their first match, but neither can afford to drop any points in this match. The team that shows most bravery moving forward will likely be the team still playing for a spot in the next round when Group H's final round of fixtures arrives.
USA v Portugal
Much has been written about Cristiano Ronaldo's left knee and his subpar showing against Germany in Portugal's 4-0 opening loss, but his team has far more important questions to answer.
The star winger may be struggling with his health, but against Die Mannschaft, he was completely isolated and didn't have a real chance of impacting the match. Portugal's midfield was completely overrun by Germany, and as a result, Ronaldo never received the ball in a promising position.
Joao Moutinho's failures against Germany are a bad omen for the rest of the tournament, and unless the Portuguese find a way to turn things around in a hurry, this tournament could be a short one.
The USA used a similar tactical plan to beat Ghana, relying on the brute force of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones to win the battle in the centre of the pitch. With those areas covered by the Yanks, Ghana never truly got an opportunity to set their wingers up
Portugal are struggling with injuries in the back-four, but as far as talent goes, they still hold the edge over the USA. The individual brilliance of Ronaldo could be enough to see them past the Yanks, but for that to happen, he needs to see the ball first.
Unless Moutinho can control the midfield battle, USA will be able to do what Germany did, and while they might not be as talented as Die Mannschaft in midfield, they have enough quality to overcome a struggling Portuguese side.