Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pre-tournament outsiders have points to prove

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MATCHDAY PREVIEW - Outsiders for the title in the run-up to Brazil 2014, Portugal need to dust themselves down and prove their worth after kicking off with a damaging 4-0 defeat by Germany. That heavy loss had repercussions far beyond the scoreline for Paulo Bento's men. Pepe is now suspended and injured full-back Fabio Coentrao already back home, while doubts surround several other starters. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, he has kept a tight lid on the extent of his recurrent knee pains, though there can be little doubt that the Real Madrid forward is struggling to hit his usual heights. Either way, the Lusitanians have little choice but to overcome USA if they hope to keep their challenge alive.

Belgium, meanwhile, owed a debt of gratitude to their substitutes after downing Algeria 2-1 in their opening game, a result that gave them an ideal start in Group H. The same could also be said of Russia, for whom Aleksandr Kerzhakov came off the bench to bury an equaliser against Korea Republic following Igor Akinfeev's mistake. The two ambitious European sides now meet in Rio de Janeiro, with Fabio Capello sure to have made his opinions clear to the Sbornaya (National team).   

The matches
Belgium-Russia (Group H), Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 13.00 (local time)
Korea Republic-Algeria (Group H), Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 16.00 (local time)
USA-Portugal (Group G), Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 18.00 (local time)

Did you know?
Lucky charm?: USA coach since 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann has finished on the winning team in every single one of his opening games at the World Cup. The first three of those came during his playing days, while he patrolled the sidelines as a coach for the two most recent.

Strength in depth: Belgium clinched victory against Algeria courtesy of a pair of substitutes, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens notching the all-important goals after being sent into the fray. It was only the second time in 47 World Cup outings that a player had come off the bench to register for Les Diables Rouges (Red Devils).

Old foes: USA have faced European opposition 14 times since their famous 1-0 victory against England at Brazil 1950. The Stars and Stripes have come out on top just once in those games, edging Portugal 3-2 during the group stage at Korea/Japan 2002. That year, they advanced to the Round of 16 after collecting one point more than the Portuguese, who promptly headed for the exit.

Fancy seeing you here: The meeting between Korea Republic and Algeria will reunite Park Chu-Young and Essaid Belkalem, who know each other well from second-tier English outfit Watford. Never before have two Hornets players lined up on opposite sides of the pitch in a World Cup fixture.   

Suspended players
Pepe (POR)

Treading the tightrope
Son Heungmin, Koo Jacheol, Ki Sungyueng (KOR)
Nabil Bentaleb (ALG)
Jan Vertonghen (BEL)
Oleg Shatov (RUS)
Joao Pereira (POR)

Check it out
With Korea Republic in action against Algeria, brush up on your knowledge of the Asian aspirants by watching our video profile. For their part, Algeria came close to pulling off a shock win against Belgium. Relive the highlights of that thrilling encounter – whether you are a fan of Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) keen to see where lessons can be learned or a Diables Rouges supporter eager for another taste of a hard-fought victory.  

On this day
Who can forget the epic quarter-final meeting between England and Argentina at the Estadio Azteca on 22 June 1986? Diego Armando Maradona made sure that the game went down in World Cup history after showing two sides of his complex personality, starting off with his first iconic contribution on 51 minutes. With the scoreline still level, the ball looped into England's area following an unsuccessful clearance and El Pibe de Oro (the Golden Boy) sensed his chance, launching himself into the air to palm the ball goalwards as Peter Shilton rushed off his line. "The hand of God" as Maradona put it afterwards, but there was no controversy about his second effort four minutes later, the diminutive magician collecting the ball in the centre circle, speeding forward and skipping past almost half the England team before slotting beyond Shilton to seal an eventual 2-1 victory. Of his two strikes, that was the goal that seemed divinely inspired.

Play and win
Whether you are new to the game or a self-confessed expert, the Castrol FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge is sure to test your football knowledge to the limit. For every match at Brazil 2014, you will need to give your predictions to five different questions – and the most accurate predictors will pick up some superb prizes!    

Top tweet
USA can advance to the Round of 16 with a win against Portugal tomorrow. Perhaps this is an omen of good fortune for the Stars and Strips in Manaus later on today?

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