Soccer

Jack: Plenty of time left for Brazil to peak

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Kristian Jack
6/17/2014 9:01:31 PM
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Day 6 in 100 words or less

There is a demand from the Brazilian public when it comes to their national team. Entertain and win. So far, Brazil are struggling to tick either box. There will be many negative words written about Brazil's performance but Brazil are not in the World Cup to convince now. They are in it to win it on July 13th. The result of the game may not be what the public wanted but the competitiveness of the match was exactly what this Brazilian team needed.

Brazil 0-0 Mexico

- Through two games at the 2006 World Cup there were very few people picking Italy to win it. Four points from a possible six will do that. Through two games at the 2010 World Cup there were very few people picking Spain to win it. Three points from a possible six will do that. Through two games at the 2014 World Cup fewer and fewer people are picking Brazil to win it. Just last Thursday, prior to the tournament kicking off, their bandwagon was full. Now people are jumping off it very quickly.

- Of course, they need to be better and there are questions about the hosts, mainly around how they can change a game when it isn't going their way. Bernard for Ramires, Jo for Fred, Willian for Oscar; different piece, same puzzle. It was a game that screamed for a playmaker from a central area to link up with the front three. A man who can play as a third midfielder and match up against opponents in defence but ignite an attack with penetration and vision going forward. A Kaka in his prime, for example.

- However, Kaka is only in Brazil as a fan. This team is what it is and Luiz Felipe Scolari seems very hesitant to move away from a disciplined 4-2-3-1 shape. He is a stubborn man with belief and faith in what got him here and he loves stability.

- It is a shape that will likely find a high gear against minnows Cameroon in their next match but in arguably their biggest test of the group stages they became too predictable.

- Mexico were magnificent. It took until Bernard's run inside, in the 76th minute, before a ball was played in behind their defence and Jo poorly shot wide.

- Their back five were compact and extremely organized. Their shape meant they had outlets all over the field with technical players demanding the ball. Many of their players excelled and for the second straight game their trio in central midfield of Jose Vazquez (#23), Andres Guardado (#18) and Hector Herrera (#6)  impressed,  making a number of ball recoveries to start transitions

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- No one was better, however, than goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who made a number of brilliant saves highlighted by his stop from Neymar's thunderous header in the 26th minute. We've been given many gifts by this World Cup and that was one of the greatest saves you will ever see.

- Mexico have given many people a lesson in Brazil, including those who put a lot of faith in qualification processes months ago. Miguel Herrera's team are night and day different to the way they played last year and is it really a surprise? Finally they have a coach who has a gameplan, a system he has stuck to and players he believes in. On the biggest stage, so far, it has worked out for them and they'll only need a point vs Croatia to get to the last 16 once again.

Belgium 2-1 Algeria

- With twenty minutes to go, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots had laid all of his cards on the table. He was all in. The sexy upstarts were in trouble, down a goal to the organised Algerians, and with the world watching now was the time to deliver.

- The past 25 minutes, since half-time, had been a much needed improvement from a slow, predicable style in the opening half of the game.

- Wilmots has been successful with Belgium because he has leaned heavily on depth - half of their goals in qualifying came from subs - and he was at it again in Brazil. Off came Nacer Chadli at half-time, a disciplined wide player with little creativity, not needed when you are chasing a game. Dries Mertens, unlucky not to start, provided some width and an increase in tempo that the attack needed. Yet it remained 0-0. 

- Off came Romelu Lukaku for young 19-year-old Divock Origi on 65 minutes. And yet five minutes later they still trailed.

- Off came Moussa Dembele, inserting a more attacking threat, in central midfield, with Marouane Fellaini getting his chance. Wilmots was done. It was up to the players.

- Kevin De Bruyne, so crucial to their system, linking up centrally between the defensive-minded six and the three forwards, then took over. His delivery into the box for Fellaini to head into the net was one of the finest crosses so far in a tournament full of fine crosses.

- It has also been a tournament of counter attacks. Algeria attacked and De Bruyne produced a brilliant tackle to start a transition, led by the creative guile of Eden Hazard and finished off with the power from the right foot of Mertens. 

- It was far from an ideal performance but Wilmots learned quite a bit about his team in the game at Belo Horizonte. They trailed for 46 minutes, seven more than they did combined in the two years it took to qualify to get there. Just like against Croatia early in qualifying, his players answered back and will gain a lot of confidence from it. 

- Question marks remain, of course, about just how good they are. Some minor changes can be made, such as Mertens for Chadli, possibly, against Russia on Sunday but there are some deficiencies that can not be solved.

- Playing four centre-backs is his only real choice at this tournament but the wide men across the back four got exposed in the buildup to Algeria winning their first half penalty.

- Initially the back four look like they are in a good position to deal with an attack.....

- Then left midfielder Riyad Mahred makes a move inside that causes Toby Alderweireld to follow him, just as centre-backs often do...

- This leaves a gap on the left side for Faouzi Ghoulam to run into...

- He gets the better of De Bruyne to cross into the box and by now left back Jan Vertonghen isn't quick enough to get back, instead looking in front of him for the threat, rather than behind.

- The cross comes in and Vincent Kompany, centrally, puts his arms up thinking it will be easily dealt with but Vertonghen has fallen asleep and allows Sofiane Feghouli to get goalside, forcing him to foul him and giveaway the penalty.

- If a fairly limited side like Algeria can expose Belgium in this area expect future opponents to concentrate on exposing the positioning of their full-backs.

Russia 1-1 South Korea

- It was far from a classic. If you missed it all you need to know is Igor Akinfeev had a Rob Green howler moment midway through the second half to ensure Fabio Capello's World Cup started with a very similar 1-1 to four years ago.

- The Italian manager responded by finally placing his ace goalscorer Aleksander Kerzhakov on the field and within five minutes he had leveled the game, bundling home the rebound inside his office, the six yard box.

- The commentator gave Capello credit for the goal but it was clearly a bizarre decision by not playing the Zenit striker from the start.

- Russia were many people's picks to advance from this group but based on today's display the slot to go through with Belgium is very much alive for all three other members of Group H.

- It will not help that Russia play Belgium next and they will have to be much better.

Man of the day

Nominees

Kevin De Bruyne – The former Chelsea man took over the game in the second half for Belgium and two moments of brilliance swung the game his team's way.

Axel Witsel – The central midfielder was clearly the most consistent performer on the day and looks poised to have a very good World Cup.

Sofiane Feghouli – The Valencia man won the penalty, dusted himself down and scored the country's first World Cup goal in 28 years.

Neymar – Brazil were frustrated many times with Mexico but we were still fortunate to watch a few special moments from ‘Mr Box Office' as he dribbled his way around his opponents.

Guillermo Ochoa – Yesterday many people looked up the Wikipedia of John Brooks. Today that man was the Mexican goalkeeper.

The winner…

Guillermo Ochoa – The Wall of Ochoa dominated day six. He had his moment, brilliantly denying Neymar in the first half but he produced three more magnificent saves and fully deserved his clean sheet. He is on the look out for a new club team and I think his agent's phone has been very busy today.

What comes next?

Australia vs Netherlands (12pm/9am), Chile vs Spain (3pm/noon), Cameroon vs Croatia (6pm/3pm).

Burning question for tomorrow

What will Spain do differently to keep themselves alive in this tournament and prevent a loss to Chile?

Key stat of day 5

Through 17 games the teams that have scored first have only eight wins, drawing once and losing six times.

Neymar Paul Aguilar (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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