Match Previews: June 22

By the end of this day, half the matches at the World Cup will be played and we will have seen every team twice.

Match: Belgium vs. Russia in Rio De Janeiro

What to watch for: Belgium started their first game in 12 years at the major tournament slowly. They trailed Algeria 1-0 at halftime and people around the world started to second guess Belgium as their dark horse to win the World Cup. Belgium subbed on Dries Mertens, Divock Origi and Marouane Fellaini in the second half, and the match changed. Fellaini and Mertens scored the goals in Belgium’s 2-1 win. One player who shined throughout the match was midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who set up Fellaini with a perfect cross on his goal. Russia defended well in their 1-1 draw against South Korea. The one goal they conceded was on a terrible mistake by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Russia scored their goal after putting in offensive-minded players like Alan Dzagoev and Alexander Kerzhakov. Coach Fabio Capello might reward the goalscorer Kerzhakov with a start but expect another conservative formation from the Russians.

Players to watch: Eden Hazard had an average match while his midfield partner De Bruyne shined. Hazard has to be more imposing if Belgium wants to make deep run this World Cup. Fabio Capello probably thinks he’s the unluckiest manager in the world. He was on the sideline when goalkeeper Robert Green made an inexcusable mistake for England against the United States. Now he watched a similar blunder by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Capello benched Green for the rest of the World Cup but it appears that he will start Akinfeev in this match. The Russian No. 1 goalkeeper will be called in to action more this match and might need to make a few important saves

Prediction: Belgium 1 (Hazard), Russia 1 (Kokorin)

Belgium’s slow start against Algeria was worrisome. I think they score first but concede a goal when Russia subs on their attacking options.

Match: South Korea vs. Algeria in Porto Alegre

What to watch for: South Korea might be happy with a point against Russia. However, they blew a lead and an opportunity to be in the driver seat to get out of the group. Algeria scored a goal, which is something they failed to accomplish in three games in 2010. They held strong against Belgium until Fellaini’s header and a superb counterattack that led the Mertens’ game winner.

Players to watch: South Korea forward Park Chu-Young started by himself up top last match. He will be a key player in this match. Nabil Bentaleb plays for Tottenham and Algeria will count on the 19-year-old to control the midfield.

Prediction: South Korea 0, Algeria 0

Don’t expect many scoring chances early. The match should open up in the end when both teams realize they need three points.

Match: United States vs. Portugal in Manaus

What to watch for: A lot story lines before this match in humid Manaus. Portugal had a nightmare start to the tournament. They lost 4-0, center back Pepe got a red card and left back Fabio Coentrao picked up an injury that rules him out of the tournament. Star winger Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly not 100 percent fit. The United States got the result they wanted against Ghana but it came at a price. Striker Jozy Altidore picked up a hamstring injury and will miss this match. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is forced to change his tactics without Altidore, who does a great job holding the ball and waiting for support. Striker Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore when he left the match. Klinsmann can elect to start Johannsson or he might play Graham Zusi in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Clint Dempsey alone at striker.

Players to watch: The United States struggled to possess the ball against Ghana. Portugal will want to have a possession advantage and it starts with their midfielder. Joao Moutinho is the best of the center midfielder bunch. Cristiano Ronaldo often attacks from the left side. That means United States’ right back Fabian Johnson has to be up for the test. He has looked great in friendlies and was solid against Ghana.

Prediction:United States 2 (Dempsey, Bradley), Portugal 1 (Eder)

It might not be pretty but it rarely has to be for the United States. The fitness of the United States will be a big advantage in this match, and Dempsey and Michael Bradley will get the goals.

 

Photo by Erik Drost

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