Before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, groups G and H were regarded by some as so-called “groups of death”, though they have turned out to be anything such. Along with Group C, they are the only sections where not one team has been knocked out ahead of the final round of first-phase matches.
Thanks to their late winner against Russia on Sunday, Belgium are the only side from the last two groups to have clinched their place in the Round of 16. The Russians are still in the mix along with Korea Republic, the day’s other losers in Group H, while Portugal were saved from instant elimination by a stoppage-time equaliser against USA in Group G.
Heading into the final round of games, every coach in the two pools is confident their sides can pull through, not least Russia boss Fabio Capello, who said: “I still think we’ve got a chance.”
Belgium 1-0 Russia, Budweiser Man of the Match: Eden Hazard (BEL)
Korea Republic 2-4 Algeria, Budweiser Man of the Match: Islam Slimani (ALG)
USA 2-2 Portugal, Budweiser Man of the Match: Tim Howard (USA)
Better late than never
Sunday saw three vitally important late goals scored, the first of them securing three points for Belgium. Clint Dempsey also chipped in as the clock ran down, putting USA into the lead against Portugal only for Varela to nod home Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfect cross and earn his side a share of the points. The tournament has so far seen 17 goals scored in the last ten minutes of play, more than one every two games, with nine of those goals proving decisive in the final outcome.
In the nick of time
The meeting between Belgium and Russia only sparked into life late on. Kevin Mirallas struck the woodwork for the Red Devils with six minutes remaining, with Eden Hazard then almost scoring with a solo effort before teeing up Divock Origi for the winner. One man who was not on the pitch to celebrate Origi’s goal was Thomas Vermaelen, who injured himself in the pre-match warm-up and lasted for 31 minutes before being replaced by Jan Vertonghen.
Algeria join the race
Les Fennecs made a little piece of history in putting Korea Republic to the sword, becoming the first African side ever to score four in a FIFA World Cup match, a considerable achievement for a team that had only scored once in their two previous Finals appearances, at Mexico 1986 and South Africa 2010. In keeping their qualification hopes alive, the Algerians also had their fans celebrating on the streets of their capital city Algiers.
Belgian were indebted to a teenager for the three points that catapulted them into the last 16. The hero in question was the young Origi, who, at the age of 19 years and 65 days, became the seventh youngest scorer in the history of the competition, having only made his Red Devil debut earlier this month against Sweden. Attempting to take stock of his contribution, the Belgian goal hero later said: “I honestly don’t think it’s sunk in yet. All I know is it’s a very special moment.”
Putting it on the line
If there were a competition at Brazil 2014 for best goalline clearance, then Portugal’s Ricardo Costa’ miracle stop from Michael Bradley’s close-range effort would surely be a strong contender. The American had the goal at his mercy early in the second half when he shot from six yards out with Portugal goalkeeper Beto way out of position. Costa came to his side’s rescue, however, using his knee to clear the ball and deny the Americans, albeit temporarily.
Not so lonesome tonight
While it was no surprise to see Argentina and Chile’s fans fill the Maracana, few expected European sides Belgium and Russia to attract a crowd of 73,819 to the famous stadium. As well as matryoshkas and Red Devils of all shapes and sizes, the stands were also populated – for reasons best known to themselves – by a group of Elvis Presley impersonators.
16 - With the last round of group games still to be played, a total of 16 goals have already been scored by substitutes at Brazil 2014, seven short of the all-time record set at Germany 2006. All three of Belgium’s goals so far have come from players who did not start their two games.
Netherlands-Chile, 13:00, Sao Paulo
Australia-Spain, 13:00, Curitiba
Cameroon-Brazil, 17:00, Brasilia
Croatia-Mexico, 17:00, Recife
(All local times)
Have your say
Which teams will claim the three remaining qualification slots from groups G and H?