2014 FIFA World Cup: What We Learned, Day 11
Belgium reserved its spot in the knockout rounds with a 1-0 win over Russia.
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
Soccer can rip your heart out of your chest. It looked as though the United States was going to get three points after scoring two goals in the second half to come back from an early 1-0 deficit, but then heartbreak. Portugal took away dreams of early advancement to the Round of 16 thanks to a beautiful cross by Cristiano Ronaldo that found the head of Varela before finding the back of the net. It will be really interesting to see how the United States responds to this disappointment as it heads to a match against Germany that will decide the winner of Group G. It's simple at this point: win or draw against Germany and the United States is moving on. Lose and and things get really interesting.
The United States is a lot better than it has been in the past. Here's the thing about today's heartbreaking loss. The United States is actually in a position now that managing a draw against one of the best teams in the world in a World Cup match is actually considered a disappointment. The United States has four points after two matches in the "Group of Death!" We should be thrilled, but instead we're all disappointed because the expectations have been raised for this team. That's a good thing.
Jurgen Klinsmann knows what he's doing with substitutions. Whether he's making them out of necessity, or he's trying to change things up, Jurgen is working the substitution magic so far in this World Cup. First John Brooks replaced an injured Matt Besler against Ghana before scoring the winning goal, and today the late addition of Deandre Yedlin led directly to the Clint Dempsey goal to give the United States a lead late.
Belgium's late goal sends it to the knockout rounds. Maybe it was the Russian defense, or maybe it was the surprising inactivy of star striker Romelu Lukaku, but Belgium looked relatively pedestrian against Russia. There were very few chances inside the box, and it wasn't until the 88th-minute when 19-year-old sub Divock Origi finished off a gorgeous pass from Eden Hazard that Belgium finally had some breathing room.
It had chances in the first half along the edges of the goal, but no real point-blank opportunities -- surprising given their wealth of talent on the offensive side. And couple that with what we saw against Algeria -- an unconvincing 2-1 comeback win -- and it's hard to take Belgium as a serious threat to advance deep into the knockout rounds.
Kokorin missed Russia's chance. Alex Kokorin, who tallied four goals for his side in qualifying, botched what should've been a late first-half goal for the Russians. He took a wonderful cross of his head from the six yard line, but it skidded far right of the goal. For experienced strikers, that's the kind of ball they drool about. He knew he missed his chance to give Russia the lead. Aside from that instance, Belgium's defense was perfect in its positioning. Rarely did Russia's strikers have space and if they did get a shot off, it was from well beyond the 18.
Belgium still has something to play for. Even though it's through to the knockout stages, Belgium hasn't won its group just yet. South Korea could still give it a run pending the result of today's other Group H clash (South Korea vs. Algeria). The results of Group H should be extremely important to US fans as the top finisher in this group plays the second team from Group G (hint, wink, elbow, elbow ... that could be the US). Even though the overall product from Belgium wasn't too impressive, singular moments from midfielders Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens were fantastic and enough to see them through for the win.
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