Before this World Cup started many people referred to Belgium as the ‘dark horses’; a team that might surprise us by being contenders when everyone’s eyes were on the likes of Brazil, Argentina and so on.
Well, having seen them twice now, it looks to me like they have a very definite plan: be as boring and dull as possible then nick a late goal. I guess they’ve worked hard on making it so tedious for the opposition they just want the whole experience to be over and let their guard down for a bit.
The worst part? Having watched 80 minutes of this mind-numbing crap, I had to go out for a little bit, at which point Belgium scored. I didn’t even get the pay-off of the goal. Damnable Belgians and their sneaky, stodgy ways. But that’s two wins from two and the dark horses, the dark, jejune, clippity-cloppity two miles-per-hour horses, are through to the last 16.
As I predicted yesterday, the game I didn’t watch between South Korea and Algeria turned out to be a goal-fest. I will accept thanks in the form of freshly baked goods. Isn’t it just typical though? You sit through the eighteen hours of Belgium v Russia and the next lot are scoring like George Best in a room full of Miss Worlds.
Still, it was more than made up for by the late night offering between the USA and Portugal. Some sloppy defensive play allowed Nani – a man who think it’s acceptable to have star shapes shaved into the side of his head – open the scoring early on. But after that the Americans responded really well and for me they’ve been one of the best teams to watch at this year’s tournament.
A bit like the Australians, the collective effort far outweighs the individual strengths of each player, but that’s no bad thing. When you look at how desperate Ronaldo is to make any kind of individual impact, often to the detriment of the team, then the way the USA play is fantastic. They really took the game to the Portuguese, peppering shots at goal and really working hard to create openings.
It wasn’t until the second half that it got really interesting though. A brilliant equaliser from Jermaine Jones was more than merited, and it was reminiscent of Lionel Messi’s goal against Iran on Saturday. Almost a mirror image in fact. There were shots at both ends before Clint Dempsey went full William Gallas and banged one home with his mickey from close range in the 80th minute.
From that position they really should have won. Portugal looked pretty toothless. Ronaldo’s best attempt was a shot he lashed about 15 feet wide, and the man with stars shaved into his head spanked one over the bar. The USA defended well and coped with just about everything that was thrown at them. When Michael Bradley – who had earlier missed a brilliant chance to score – had the ball in midfield in the final minute of injury time, that should have been that.
However, he rather carelessly lost possession, the ball came to Ronaldo wide on the right, and as heartbreaking as the goal was, you can’t ignore the quality of the cross or the finish from substitute Varela. A salutary lesson that mistakes at this level of football can cost you dearly, and instead of three points and qualification, it’s one and an exciting, but tense, final round. If they draw against Germany they go through, but if Ghana beat Portugal and the game against Germany ends in defeat, they’re out.
Still, it was another great game in this most excellent World Cup. I think the late nights are catching up with me though, so in a way it’s grand to see that the 11pm (GMT) kick-offs are now gone. With groups reaching their final stages, both games have to happen at the same time so that eases things a bit.
Today we’ve got Australia v Spain and Holland v Chile in the early kick-offs, while at 9pm it’s Brazil v Cameroon and Croatia v Mexico. Not a great deal of Arsenal interest in there, but some tasty looking encounters all the same. I suspect this is going to be a record day for ‘second screen’ viewing. One game on the TV, the other on the laptop/iPad. Or just lots of remote control action flicking between the them.
From the England camp comes the news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won’t be risked in England’s final game against Costa Rica. While it’s a shame for him that he didn’t get the experience of playing at a World Cup finals, it seems pointless to select him in a game which doesn’t have any real importance for England beyond restoring a bit of pride. Hopefully Roy Hodgson will play Jack Wilshere from the start – he really does need to change things around and the Arsenal man would offer something more than the midfielders previously selected have.
Thomas Vermaelen’s World Cup might be over, having gone off with a hamstring strain in that cracking game against Russia, but we’ll have to wait for official confirmation on that.
As you might expect, Arsenal news in very short supply, so we’ll leave it there for now.
Cover photo via Mikko Lagerstedt