World Cup Picks: United States vs. Germany, Portugal vs. Ghana, Belgium vs. South Korea, Russia vs. Algeria
By Ken Boehlke
United States vs. Germany (Group G)
2 way line – United States +0.5 (+125) Germany -0.5 (-145)
3 way line – United States (+865) Germany (-145) Draw (+180)
Total – Over 2.5 (-110) Under 2.5 (-110)
Side: The United States were 30 seconds away from their second consecutive win, six points, and an improbable position in the Round of 16. Then Cristiano Ronaldo happened. Now the Yanks must regroup, and regroup fast. The combination of an insane amount of travel, a draining game in the Amazon jungle, and the crushing blow of a late equalizer would normally be a recipe for disaster for any international team. But if the U.S. have proven anything over their soccer history, they are not the run-of-the-mill side. Tactically the U.S. should return to the same formation that saw the addition of an extra midfielder as a replacement to Jozy Altidore. Possession will be key against the Germans. Even though manager Jürgen Klinsmann will say his team will go for a win against Die Mannschaft, in reality they’ll play the game as if they have a lead anytime the scoreline is even.
Ghana exposed the German defense by crashing down the right flank, the U.S. did the same incredibly well against Portugal. Fabian Johnson will once again be crucial if the United States want to throw numbers forward and attempt to score. The added bonus against Germany compared to Portugal is if Johnson is unable to retreat, there’s not a player of Ronaldo’s caliber to feast on the error. However, that does not mean that task defensively is easier for the U.S.. Germany are excellent when they control possession in the final third. Against Ghana, the U.S. held strong despite being unable to get out of their own end, but they weren’t nearly as organized against Portugal. If the U.S. can get the defense that showed up against Ghana combined with the attack they received against Portugal, it’ll be enough to hold onto the draw. If one side or the other lacks, they’ll need to hope the other group game’s result to send them through.
The Germans have a habit of struggling in second matches of World Cups. Their lone triumph in the previous five tournaments came on an injury time goal against Poland in 2006. However, things turn around awfully quickly for the Germans as they’ve posted an impressive 5-0 record in those same five World Cups. Defensively they almost looked lazy at times against the strong and quick Black Stars. The Germans wanted to play a slower game through the midfield than Ghana allowed and it caused an inordinate number of turnovers for the usually machine-like German side. With a goal differential of +4 and an almost guaranteed spot in the next round, it will be interesting to see how progressive the Germans chose to be. They clearly want to provide a better performance than the one that nearly got them beat by Ghana, but at the same time the U.S. have shown the ability to score and the only way Germany are at risk is if they lose. There are plenty of calls for collusion between Klinsmann and his good friend Joachim Löw. It won’t happen. Both teams have a lot to play for and both would love nothing more to stick it to the other side. The game should be hotly contested for the first 70 minutes or so, but if it remains tied late, risks will be few and far between as the draw suits both. Pick: 3 way bet – Draw (+180)
Total: Both teams have shown the ability to score, and they’ve also shown they’re not immune to concession. However, the circumstances in this game are vastly different from those each team faced in their first pair of matches. There will be an extended feel-out process before either side begins to mount an idea on how to break down the other, then the game should pick up substantially. The odds are stacked against the Americans however Germany may not come at them with the normal German fervor. An early goal would throw this match into a tizzy, but each side will be ultra conservative with the understanding that a scoreless draw sends them both through. Had Germany needed more than a draw to win the group it could have shaped up to be a more open game, but the U.S. are in that position and their ultimate goal is not a Group G championship, it’s a trip to the knockout round. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-110)
Portugal vs. Ghana (Group G)
2 way line – Portugal -0.5 (+125) Ghana +0.5 (-145)
3 way line – Portugal (+125) Ghana (+185) Draw (+290)
Total – Over 3 (-110) Under 3 (-110)
Side: Portugal used the absolute last touch of the game to save their World Cup lives. However, after being dominated by Germany 4-0 in the opener they need some massive results to qualify for the next round. Against the U.S. they looked pretty good the first 20 minutes. After unwrapping the gift the U.S. defense presented them the Portuguese looked as if they could go two or three goals ahead. Then it all turned. Cristiano Ronaldo’s refusal to defend allowed the Americans plenty of space along the wings which they eventually utilized to the tune of an equalizer and go-ahead goal. However, Portugal stuck with it, Ronaldo’s brilliance came through, and they wound up with a tournament saving point. They should be much more compact at the back with the return of Pepe, but they still have no answers for the lack of Fábio Coentrão’s ability to stretch the wings. Portugal need to make up a five goal differential in 90 minutes so they will obviously have to attempt to play forward. They are thin on the attack, but they still have Ronaldo, so they are always a threat to score.
Ghana looked excellent in their second group stage against a somewhat sleepy looking Germany team. Ghana demanded a lot out of the Germans playing quick passes and owning the right wing. They took the game to the Germans in the 2nd half and were a bit unlucky they only got out of the game with a draw. Unless the Portuguese change their tactics, Ghana will run wild down the flanks the entire game. Ghana have to be careful of Portugal’s ability to counter however. The U.S. did well to make something out of every time Fabian Johnson abandoned his defensive position, Ghana’s Christian Atsu has played well against Germany but he was bad against the Americans. If he’s off, Ronaldo will be on the break all afternoon. Pick: Ghana +0.5 (-145)
Total: Desperation is the name of the game for two teams that must not only have a win but make up goal differential at the same time. Ghana has been on the front foot for just about their entire stay in Brazil while Portugal have just a free goal from the U.S. and a miraculous late one. The counter attack that Portugal is known for has yet to show through, but Ghana could be the perfect opponent to get it going. Portugal almost has to change it’s philosophy on the wing behind Ronaldo otherwise the Black Stars will make them pay more than the U.S. could. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if Portugal do not take an early lead or have the U.S. fall behind big quickly. Will they spend the entire 90 minutes trying to make up the huge goal differential or will they simply resign to trying to spoil Ghana’s chances. Total: Under 3 goals (-110)
Belgium vs. South Korea (Group H)
2 way line – Belgium -0.5 (-130) South Korea +0.5 (+110)
3 way line – Belgium (-130) South Korea (+375) Draw (+260)
Total – Over 2.5 (-110) Under 2.5 (-110)
Side: Belgium have six points and are through to the knockout stages, but they also have played mediocre soccer twice and haven’t lived up to their billing as a possible dark horse candidate to win the entire tournament. In their match with Russia, they basically invited the Russians to attack them and Russia wouldn’t do it. Both teams feared the counter attack and it made for a boring game that lacked chances. The Belgium defense was broken down just once when a long cross beat the central defenders and Russia should have scored. The Red Devils took just one shot that was on target in the entire match. Lucky for them, it was the one that Divock Origi scored on. They’ll probably use a few substations to gain some experience before the knockout rounds but they would be best suited to finally put together a team effort worthy of a group winner. They will face a wounded South Korea whose hopes rest on a win and a large goal differential reversal, so the Belgians should have their chances in the counter attack. As unimpressive as they’ve been, Belgium still have two wins, six points, and a guaranteed spot in the knockout stage, imagine what happens if they finally play well.
South Korea did not appear ready for the strength of the Algerians. Long balls over the top consistently put South Korea on edge and the Algerian strikers just out-muscled their way to multiple goals. The Koreans have seemed almost tentative in each of their first two matches and have to throw caution to the wind if they expect to last more than 90 more minutes in the tournament. They have the talent to play a quick sharp passing style of play that can expose even some of the best defenses, but they’ve continued to rely on long shots that have not been effective. Kim Shin-wook has to be a part of the starting 11 when Korea take the field against Belgium because he was single-handedly able to turn around the Taegeuk Warriors attack. Rather than shooting from far out, they turned to sending in long high balls to their tallest player and he did remarkably well. The ability to play over the defense relieved a lot of pressure on their defenders because they no longer had to send as many numbers forward to create offensive threats. However, the Belgium center defense is equipped with two defenders that measure well over six feet, so the strategy probably won’t be as effective in this match. Pick: Belgium (-130)
Total: At some point in this tournament the Red Devils talent will unveil itself and begin producing goals. However, this may not be the spot for it to happen. In each of the first two matches South Korea has looked as if they will do anything to keep their opponents away from counter attacking. They’ve launched long shots, they’ve hit long crosses, and they refuse to send outside defenders forward on a regular basis. Belgium don’t need anything from the match so they will likely not force too many situations that could leave them exposed at the back. Therefore, the most likely style of play is something similar to the previous Belgium match. Lots of harmless passes through the midfield with very few real scoring chances. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-110)
Russia vs. Algeria (Group H)
2 way line – Russia -0.5 (+110) Algeria +0.5 (-130)
3 way line – Russia (+110) Algeria (+250) Draw (+245)
Total – Over 2.5 (+115) Under 2.5 (-135)
Side: Russia have been compact and organized across the entire pitch, but they’ve also been unadventurous and it’s cost them points in each of their first two matches. Now, they sit on one point and are in desperate need of a win against a suddenly red hot Algeria. The Russians must change their tune if they want to defeat Algeria and continue on in the competition. They have the talent to use the wings in order to press men forward and put pressure on opposing defenses, and they should unleash this in their final group stage match. Offensively, Alexander Kokorin has the ability to score goals, but he’s only been presented one great chance and his header went sailing wide. The Algerians who have always been a defensive minded side broke out of their shell in the previous match and could be a team with too much confidence for their own good. If Russia can take advantage of the new found Algerian look in which they are no longer afraid to send multiple men forward, the Russians can easily steal the three points and book their trip to the Round of 16.
Before the tournament ever began Algeria claimed they were not the 2010 Desert Foxes that refused to come out of their own third. In the opening match, they scored first on a penalty and then sat back like it was 2010 all over again. Then, the offensive mindset sprung to life as Algeria lambasted South Korea and didn’t back down for the entire 90 minutes of the match. Amazingly, the new approach held the Koreans without a single shot in the whole first half. They went straight back to it in the second half and wound up scoring a fourth goal. Expect to see a side brimming with confidence come right at Russia from the opening kick. However, the Russian defense is a much different beast than what Algeria took on in South Korea. Tactically, the Russians are rarely even inches out of position, so it takes excellent combination play or multiple one-on-one wins to break them down. The Russians should afford Algeria the space to enter the final third, it’ll just be a question of how protective of the ball the Algerians are when they get in close. Usually games involving Algeria are billed as boring, not so much anymore. Pick: Russia -0.5 goals (+110)
Total: The new look Desert Foxes are going to be eager to prove their effort against South Korea was not a one hit wonder. Sofiane Feghouli’s presence on the ball has been excellent thus far so expect the Russians to keep their eyes on him and attempt to make someone else beat them. The Algerian style might backfire against the team-oriented and almost formulaic Russians. Russia has yet to really show up to the World Cup but Fabio Capella’s side know it’s now or never. Algeria will control the ball early and will look to pressure the Russian defenders, but as long as they stay compact, Russia should have the ability to counter and could find acres of space along the wings when Algeria turns the ball over. The more aggressive side only needs the draw and the more calculated team must have a win, so the scenarios add up to a low scoring affair. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-135)