Photo by Ben Queenborough/ISIPhotos.com
By RYAN TOLMICH
With both team’s coming off of big-time, albeit controversy filled, victories in their opening matchups, Brazil and Mexico will look to assert themselves as Group A favorites when they clash today in Fortaleza (3 p.m. ESPN)
The World Cup hosts enter Tuesday’s matchup on the heels of a 3-1 victory over Croatia in their opener, although the scoreline is slightly flattering due to the circumstances of the tournament’s opening game. A highly debatable penalty tainted the Brazilian victory, which is something Neymar and co. will surely be looking to build upon when they take on Mexico.
However, the hosts will possibly have to do it with starting winger Hulk, who left practice a few days ago with a leg injury. Hulk’s status has been reported as doubtful, with the man who replaced him in the team’s opener, Bernard, as one possible replacement for the 27-year-old Zenit Saint Petersburg star.
As for Mexico, El Tri are fresh off of a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in a match where, unlike the Brazilians, the scoreline was much more flattering to the defeated. Mexico could have easily scored three or four if not got a slew of Giovanni Dos Santos finishes that were called back by officials.
Here are some more notes ahead of today’s World Cup action:
BELGIUM vs. ALGERIA
For Belgium, Tuesday is their first chance to prove that they’re more than just a collection of highly talented individuals
For years, the Belgians have been touted as the up-and-comers in international soccer. Young stars such as Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku have all emerged from the Belgian ranks, cementing the European nation’s status as one of the top talent producers in the world today.
However, for all of the talent that the team has, Belgium lacks big game experience, as this will be the team’s first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup. Now, the Belgians are certainly not favorites to win this year’s World Cup due to their youth and inexperience, but the time has come for the current side to put together a strong showing in their push towards future success.
That push starts with African side Algeria (12 p.m. ESPN), who enter the 2014 tournament best remembered for being the recipients of the famous Landon Donovan goal. This year’s edition of Algeria enters with a strong core as well, led by Valencia midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and Tottenham Hotspur younger Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerians won four straight before departing for Brazil, so they are sure to enter today’s contest with a bit of confidence and swagger despite being up against a more highly touted side.
RUSSIA vs. SOUTH KOREA
On paper, South Korea appear to be in big, big trouble in their matchup against Russia Tuesday (6 p.m. ESPN).
The team lost both of it’s pre-World Cup friendlies, one of which was a 4-0 throttling at the hands of Ghana. The team limped through World Cup qualifying before barely scraping their way into the tournament field, leading the way for the firing of their coach and the introduction of former player Hong Myung-Bo as the team’s new head man. Finally, the team lost a friendly in November to the very opposition that they take on today, as the South Korea dropped a 2-1 to the Russians just over half a year ago.
However, the game isn’t played on paper.
South Korea will look to emerge from the frustration that led up to their World Cup experience starting with Russia in a wide-open Group H. The South Koreans, led by Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young, can take a big step towards emerging from the group stage for the third time in four World Cups, but it will have to start with Russia.
For their part, the Russians are led by the well-traveled Fabio Capello, who has seen his side play at a much higher level since his appointment in July 2012. The Russians topped their qualifying group, besting Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on their way to this year’s tournament.
Russia boasts a line-up full of domestic talent, as the team’s entire line-up plays in the Russian Premier League. The abilities of stars midfielder Yuri Zhirkov and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev are enough to make them favorites to advance out of the group, but, if past World Cups have taught us anything, it would be unwise to look past South Korea.
What do you think of today’s slate of matches? Does Mexico have the ability to stop Brazil? How will Belgium kickoff their first major tournament? Will Russia or South Korea make their move towards the top of Group H?
Share your thoughts below.