A. Ayew 54'
|1-0||BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA|
It should have been the worst game of the entire World Cup. Instead, it was a classic. Massive underdogs Iran almost managed to beat Argentina, and may even had deserved to. Yes, Argentina outpaced Iran in possession nearly 4-1. Yes, Iran engaged in the most blatant parking scam in the history of sport. But their one-on-one defense was stellar, setting aside the ridiculous 9-1-0-0 formation they seemed to be using, and when it came to creativity on offense Iran actually had the Albiceleste beaten. While Argentina had more attacks, they were lifeless and without urgency; often, and Argentine possession would end with a ridiculous (and perhaps selfish) shot that had almost no chance to even threaten Iranian keeper Alireza Haghighi. On the other end, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Ashkan Degajah, playing offense seemingly all by themselves, had multiple attempts at goal. They very nearly converted a couple, and a third ended on a clear takedown in the penalty box which was not called by the Serbian referee. In the end, while Argentina outshot Iran 21-8, they only topped Iran in shots on goal 7-5.
So as the end of regulation approached and the game was still locked in a scoreless draw, one could be forgiven for already beginning to craft one's congratulations on a well-earned point for the Princes of Persia. And then Lionel Messi ruined everything. The world's best player sliced a blistering kick from outside the box past two defenders and a diving Haghighi to find the back of the net and destroy Iran's dreams. In the process, Twitter erupted in more pro-Iranian outrage than has been seen from Americans in... well, maybe forever. Argentina moves on to the knockout rounds, while Iran is, to the shock of everyone, still alive -- and with a reasonably decent chance to advance. Why? We'll get to that in a moment.
Germany's history of lackadaisical performances in the second game of the group state? Still intact. The first half was tentative, with few real chances for either side, but shortly into the second frame Mario Götze flew through the air to connect his skull with a Thomas Müller cross and Germany had the lead.
For about two minutes.
Andre Ayew answered for Ghana, beating three German defenders on a cross to head past Manuel Neuer, and ten minutes later the entire United States suddenly clenched when Asamoah Gyan destroyed Neuer one-on-one to put Ghana in front. But Germany composed themselves, and with twenty minutes to go Miroslav Klose found himself in the right place at the right time on a corner kick which was pinballing loose in the box. Klose's 15th career World Cup goal, tying him for the all-time lead, saved Germany and ultimately secured the draw. Germany is atop the group table for now, but an American victory today will put the Germans in an unenviable spot: play for the win to try and win the group, or play for the draw to ensure advancement?
Twenty-four hours ago, Bosnia-Nigeria was one Saturday game that looked interesting. Twenty-four hours later, it was the one Saturday game that induced insomnia. The officiating was awful, the play was uninteresting, and the result was unfair. Edin Džeko scored a goal in the first half-hour, but it was incorrectly disallowed; minutes later, Peter Odemwingie scored after he should have been carded for a foul, the ultimate winner in Nigeria's first World Cup victory since France '98. The only bright spot of the game was how Bosnia chose to play after surrendering the lead; an open passing game designed to try and do something rather than short passes while waiting for the Nigerian defense to make a mistake. From a tactical perspective, it was aesthetically pleasing, even though it didn't achieve the desired result; Bosnia's hopes died with Vincent Enyeama's beautiful save of what appeared to be a sure goal by Džeko in stoppage time. Bosnia's journey is now done, taking no points from the first two games; Argentina is through, but the second spot is in the air. Iran can only pull level with Nigeria in the group standings should they win and Nigeria lose to Argentina. The thing is, both of those results seem to be the most probable, and should they happen Iran would go through on goal differential. So Argentina's desire to actually win next week rather than settling for the draw which would secure the group victory is a key component to the final resolution of Group F.
Group F standings after two games: Argentina 6 (+2), Nigeria 4 (+1), Iran 1 (-1), Bosnia and Herzegovina 0 (-2)
|MATCH||TIME (CT)||NETWORK||GROUP||TEAMS / SITE||ANNOUNCERS||ODDS|
Belgium vs Russia
Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
South Korea vs Algeria
Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
South Korea 11:8
United States vs Portugal
Arena da Amazônia, Manaus
United States 4:1
Game 31: Belgium-Russia
For Belgium, after replacing Nacer Chadli to positive effect last week, Dries Mertens may get the start in midfield. There's also question as to the fitness of Vincent Kompany, who's suffering from a groin issue. Russia probably won't make any chances, though Fabio Capello may be so angry over Igor Akinfeev's own goal against the Koreans that he makes a switch. Russia doesn't look to be capable of finding the net, so the question's going to be whether Belgium can. SB Nation's match preview is, yet again, penned by Jack Sargeant.
Game 32: South Korea-Algeria
We'll probably see the same 22 on the pitch as we did last week, though in his billionth preview for SB Nation that Jack Sargeant guy suggests South Korea may make a chance up front.
Game 30: United States-Portugal
On the one hand: Portugal's own coach made comments which could be parsed by the snarkatariat as "This team's so bad even Cristiano Ronaldo can't save it," Ronaldo himself may not be 100%, and the USA knows that a win will secure advancement -- the first time the Americans will ever have advanced to the knockout stages while still having a game yet to play in group. On the other hand: the bookies still have Team USA as 4:1 underdogs, Jozy Altidore is out, and dude, man, this group is just insane. For the Americans, Matt Besler is fit, thank God, and Graham Zusi may have stolen Alejandro Bedoya's place in the lineup. Portugal will be missing Pepe (suspended) and Fabio Coentrao (injured), and Hugo Almeida may be available but isn't expected to start.
As noted, a win and the USA are through (and need only a draw with Germany to win the group) while Portugal is done. A draw, and both Germany and the USA will advance if they draw with one another next week. A loss? All hell breaks loose. SB Nation's in-depth preview is handled by... not Jack Sargeant. No, it's Kevin McCauley this time.
Today ends the second pass through the groups. Starting tomorrow, we get four games per day over the next four days to wrap group play and officially send half the teams home. This is your open thread for Sunday's action. Be sure to join us, and get ready for what could be American history if Team USA can manage to prevail.