World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from Day 11
Another thrilling day of World Cup action has passed us by, with Day 11 in Brazil bringing two late goals and a surprise big victory.
Belgium left it late to beat Russia in the closest thing to a dull game in the day's action, before Algeria overpowered Korea Republic to win 4-2. The African side's manager Vahid Halilhodzic was justifiably delighted with his team, as per BBC Sport:
We played an almost perfect first period. We played very well, very effectively and then it went down a little bit. Maybe it was psychological, maybe it was physical. We will have to talk about this. But I think that this was a real feat this afternoon and I would like to congratulate my players.
A back-and-forth final match of the day saw Portugal equalise in the dying seconds against United States, thereby denying USA guaranteed passage to the last 16. Here are all the winners and losers from the day in Brazil 2014.
Winner: Belgium's Attacking Midfield Options
It's a nice thing for an international manager to have some amount of depth and competition in such a key area, on and off the ball, as attacking midfield.
In particular for Belgium, it gives the manager the choice not only for who starts, but also to make changes during the match without affecting the nominal level of quality contained within the side.
Belgium started their first game with Nacer Chadli, who was somewhat ineffective—no problem. Dries Mertens came in, played well, kept his place for Sunday's game against Russia, and when he faded from the game, there were more to come in and help shape the game.
Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Chadli have all played in addition to Mertens, while Adnan Januzaj waits in the wings. Everywhere you look, they have the options to find match-winners, even before the strikers are considered.
Loser: Fabio Capello for Ignoring Alan Dzagoev
Fabio Capello has the track record in his career to not be outright ridiculed in his decisions, perhaps, but certainly his Russian team bears questioning at the very least.
He has taken what was one of the most fluid, fast-paced, attacking sides from the last few European Championships tournaments—if not a particularly successful side—and has changed them into a dull, plodding, unimaginative one.
And they're still not successful.
On the bench sits CSKA Moscow playmaker Alan Dzagoev, ignored for 82 minutes against Belgium and then expected to pull a rabbit out of a hat, as well as Igor Denisov who has barely been used.
Dave McKechnie of The Irish Times notes that Russia have been "solid but slow in defence, blunt in attack" under Capello in qualifying, and they haven't been any different in the World Cup. They "lacked a cutting edge" against Belgium, according to Graham Chase of BBC Sport.
With the likes of Dzagoev sat on the bench, perhaps that's no surprise.
Winner: Marc Wilmots
Belgium haven't been anything like the spectacular and immediate success that some viewers appeared to be expecting, but they have managed to take two wins in their first two matches.
Much of the praise (and the criticism, paradoxically) has to go to manager Marc Wilmots. His starting XIs haven't really managed to take the game to their two opponents and take charge, but he has been able to shuffle his squad and make substitutions to impact greatly on the matches.
Divock Origi was the goalscorer off the bench against Russia, adding to the two subs who scored to help Belgium beat Algeria last time out.
Winner: Algeria's Willingness to Attack from the off
A common theme we've seen throughout the World Cup in Brazil is that the attack-minded teams are rewarded with victory. On very few occasions has a side determined to sit back and commit nobody forward actually come out of a match with a positive result.
Congratulations, then, to Algeria, who clearly had a game-plan to attack Korea Republic from the off—and racked up a three-goal lead by half-time as a result.
They were direct, powerful and aggressive, and they got the result their positive play deserved.
Loser: Korea Republic Central Defenders
Hong Jeong-ho (No. 20) and Kim Young-gwon (No. 5) were utterly shell-shocked by Algeria's direct approach.
They simply couldn't handle the high balls to striker Islam Slimani, they couldn't keep up with his power and constant runs in behind and they certainly couldn't do anything about the onrushing attacking midfielders from the second line of Algeria's attack.
All told, Kim and Hong had a torrid time of things, the former was lucky not to concede a penalty and both had to step up their performances significantly after the break.
Winner: Korea's Committed Reaction
Three down at the break, it would have been easy for the Asian nation to sit back and hope to produce a damage limitation performance. Instead, they went for it and tried to bring themselves back into the game.
It was the smart thing to do. Korea needed points to boost their own qualification hopes, so a loss by five wouldn't necessarily have hurt more than a loss by three.
They were more direct, quicker in their play and, importantly, got bodies in support of the centre-forward—and scored twice as a result. They lost, but they contributed to a good game and perhaps gave themselves a reason to believe they can play better in their final match against Belgium.
Korea have to win that to stand a chance of qualifying and Belgium are already through.
Winner: Ricardo Costa's Goal-Line Block
Before the hour mark, and with Portugal one goal to the good, Fabian Johnson made excellent ground down the right flank before the ball was cut back to the onrushing Michael Bradley.
The American midfielder took a shot with the keeper, Beto, out of his goal, only for centre-back Ricardo Costa to make a terrific, instinctive goal-line clearance.
As the game went on and USA took the lead, perhaps that block might not have been so important. But the late, late equaliser keeps Portugal's incredibly slim hopes of progression alive. On life support, but still technically alive.
Loser: Michael Bradley
USA were there. They had one entire foot, all five toes on the other foot and even most of their heel into the knock-out stages of the last 16. Then they were pushed back out, five minutes into injury time, after a sloppy, entirely preventable error from Michael Bradley.
No, not that close-range shot which was blocked on the line by Costa. A different one.
With seconds left to play, Bradley received the ball in space in midfield. He just had to to keep moving it on, keep the passing going, keep USA in possession. Instead he tried to dribble it, miscontrolled it and lost it. Then he barely mustered a jog in chasing back.
The ball went wide to Cristiano Ronaldo, he crossed in—and from victory, USA emerged instead with a 2-2 draw with a final game against Germany to come. Such can be the margins of success and failure at a major international tournament.