World Cup Daily Digest: Cristiano Ronaldo Summons Enough Brilliance to Hold USA

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World Cup Daily Digest: Cristiano Ronaldo Summons Enough Brilliance to Hold USA
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Cristiano Ronaldo is not ready to give up his Ballon d'Or award just yet, it seems.

Ever since 1978 (when Kevin Keegan won the award, despite England failing to qualify for that year's tournament), the Ballon d'Or winner in a World Cup year has always had an impressive tournament to go along with his many club accomplishments.

The Portuguese, who cried when he was awarded the 2013 award at the start of this year, must have known this heading to Brazil. Going out at the group stage, having contributed nothing tangible to his side's cause, would not have helped his chances of retaining the trophy. 

So in the 95th minute of his side's game with Team USA, with Portugal on the verge of going out of the tournament after their talisman had endured two difficult games, Ronaldo produced one of the best crosses you will ever see to allow Silvestre Varela to head home a late, dramatic equaliser.

The final score was 2-2; Portugal are still alive. Ronaldo, clearly not fully fit, has at least another game to show his stuff.

On the receiving end of that moment of brilliance were the United States, who had been on the verge of qualifying for the last 16. Instead they now have to get at least a draw in their final group game against Germany to be sure of that achievement, something that is by no means guaranteed.

The U.S. coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, responded to the result in textbook fashion; he switched focus to the game ahead, in the process, trying to forge a siege mentality among his no-doubt despondent players.

"We're already thinking about Germany," Klinsmann told reporters. "We have one less day to recover.

"They played yesterday. We played today. We played in the Amazon. They played in place where you don't have to travel so much. Things are set up for the big teams to move on."

Despite all that, the odds still favour the U.S.

If Portugal and Ghana draw in their meeting, then Klinsmann's side are through regardless of their own result. But, having had one foot in the knockout stage already, it might be difficult to rebound in positive fashion. Ronaldo can have that effect.

Earlier in the day, Belgium succeeded where the U.S. failed—scoring in the closing minutes to book their place in the knockout stage. Divock Origi, 19, was the hero of the hour, in the process becoming the youngest player since a certain Lionel Messi to score a goal at the World Cup. Talk about big shoes to fill.

And finally, in the other day's game, then, there was Algeria, who saw off South Korea 4-2 to reignite their hopes of reaching the next round after an opening loss to the Belgians. Now comes the final round of group games, starting with the conclusion to Groups A and B.

Thirty-two games down; 32 more to go. What further surprises are in store?

Warren Little/Getty Images
 


Results in briefDay 11

Belgium 1, Russia 0
(Origi)

Algeria 4, South Korea 2
(Slimani, Halliche, Djabou, Brahimi; Son, Ko)

United States 2, Portugal 2
(Jones, Dempsey; Nani, Varela)


1. Notes from Day 11

Tiredness kills... For the second game in succession, Russia did a pretty good job in spoiling a game against potentially dangerous opponents, showing off great organisation in their half without ever offering much attacking invention going the other way.

It was a classic Fabio Capello display, albeit one that fell just short of the hoped-for result (hey, England fans, familiar with that feeling?)—as Eden Hazard sliced through a clearly tired defence to set up Origi for his winner.

Capello may have wished he worked on his players' conditioning a bit more, but now he faces a different problem. They will need to attack in their must-win final game against Algeria, a task they do not seem particularly well-equipped to take on.

Need more motivation...? South Korea's spirited response after going 3-0 down to Algeria should be of little surprise. National service is compulsory in South Korea, but sportsmen are among those who can be exempted from the system if they perform well in prestigious competitions for their country.

It remains to be seen whether an eventual 4-2 defeat fits the bill, but you can expect Hong Myung-bo's side to perform to their best right up to the final whistle in their last game with Belgium. 

Much more to give... Romelu Lukaku has not enjoyed the ideal World Cup so far, failing to score—or even really do much of anything of note—in two starts. What is worse, on Sunday, he was substituted only to see his replacement, Origi, fire the winner.

Lukaku walked off the pitch in a huff, pushing away coach Marc Wilmots' outstretched hand and seemingly launching into a tirade once he was seated on the bench.

Lukaku was reportedly loaned out by Chelsea this season after Jose Mourinho developed doubts about his big-game mentality. So far he has struggled on the biggest stage of all; it will be interesting to see how he fares from now on.

The outstanding candidate... Klinsmann's coaching for USA. Ditching the big name, turning his side of lesser-talented players into a well-drilled, well-conditioned side capable of performing better than the sum of its parts—imagine what Klinsmann could do if he was in charge of England!

 

2. Quote of the Day

I didn't know him when he arrived but now I know him.

Marouane Fellaini, on Belgium team-mate Divock Origi (per The Associated Press)

We guess when a country has that many talented young players it is easy to overlook one or two.

 

3. Tweet of the Day

Honorable mentions...

 

4. Goal of the Day

 

5. A good day for...

Marc Wilmots. For the second game in a row, Wilmots watched on as he saw his substitutes make a decisive impact to win the game for Belgium. In the opener against Algeria, substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens both scored in a 2-1 win—and against Russia, on Sunday, it was another sub, Origi, who broke the deadlock.

The scorelines masked the fact that Belgium, for all their attacking options, have been remarkably poor so far in this tournament. Yet for now Wilmots is not being questioned about those failings—instead he is being hailed for his influential tactical changes from the touchline.

 

6. A bad day for...

Michael Bradley. With just 39 seconds left, Bradley had the ball high up the pitch, and with no Portuguese player around him—all he needed to do was turn and head for the corner to effectively complete a famous win.

Instead he ran into trouble and was robbed by Eder, who started off the last-gasp attack that would result in Varela's equaliser. It was a cruel ending for the midfielder, one that will likely be focused on for days to come, overshadowing another impressive display by the U.S.

 

7. Tomorrow's schedule

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Australia vs. Spain (Group B: 5 p.m. BST/Noon EDT)

The battle of the wooden spoon. Who would have thought Spain would have zero points at this stage in the competition and would be going home early? But they are, and Australia will be in no mood to send them home with any cause for encouragement.

Netherlands vs. Chile (Group B: 5 p.m. BST/Noon EDT)

Both sides are already through to the knockout stage, but this game could be their most crucial of the tournament, with the loser highly likely to face Brazil in the last 16 of the competition. The Dutch will be without Robin van Persie due to suspension. Could that be decisive?

Cameroon vs. Brazil (Group A: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. EDT)

The hosts need to win to ensure they top the group and win handsomely if they want to be sure Mexico do not overhaul them on goal difference. Cameroon may prove a willing opponent in that regard then, considering they are already out of the competition and fell apart dramatically against Croatia.

Croatia vs. Mexico (Group A: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. EDT)

This is another winner-takes-all encounter, with Croatia needing to win if they want to join Brazil in the knockout round. Mexico will be no pushovers, however, as they showed as they held the hosts to a 0-0 draw in their last game. El Tri have reached the knockout round in the last five tournaments, they won't want that run to end here.

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