By Ken Boehlke
Belgium vs. Russia (Group H)
2 way line – Belgium -0.5 (-105) Russia +0.5 (-115)
3 way line – Belgium (-105) Russia (+270) Draw (+240)
Total – Over 2.5 (+120) Under 2.5 (-140)
Side: Belgium were not particularly impressive in their match against Algeria. They allowed the first goal of the match on a penalty early in the first half and didn’t equalize and later go ahead until well into the second. The Belgians looked disjointed and at times confused about where each other were supposed to be, and multiple times the Red Devils gave the ball away without any doing from Algeria. When Marouane Fellaini came on in the 65th minute it appeaed to calm Belgium and they took control of the match. They’ll have to be much more compact and have a better understanding of team concepts if they want to break down the Russians. Belgium have a far superior side when it comes to star power but Russia will not be overwhelmed. Belgium is a team that will continue to get better as the tournament goes on and they get come comfortable with each other, but Russia will make it tough on them in this match.
Russia disappointed heavily in their opener with South Korea. The entire first half was a giant feel out process in which neither team felt as though attacking was in their best interest. As the game wore on the Koreans began to dictate the pace and possession and wound up striking first on a brutal goalkeeping error. Russia did well to react to the goal and respond with one of their own, but they still were far from convincing going forward throughout the match. Alexander Kokorin was the only player that truly looked as if he was ready for the stage. Expect a much better Russian side against Belgium. Despite facing a far better team, Fabio Capello will want more possession and will ask for a better game from Yuri Zhirkov. The team oriented Russians have a perfect matchup with Belgium, they just have to put together a much better effort to make it happen. Pick: 3 way bet – Russia +0.5 (-115)
Total: Neither team looked menacing going forward in the first half of their respective matches but came to life late. The exact opposite might be the case in this one. Belgium will look to pressure the Russian defense and get off to a better start, while Russia will be content to counter and look to steal a goal. Unless something dramatically changes with Belgium they will struggle to break down Russia so an early goal appears unlikely regardless of the pressure Belgium will apply. Over the course of the match, Russia should be able to gain more possession and move further up the field. It’ll take an excellent combination play if Russia is going to score while Belgium can rely on individuals to get the job done. Belgium will believe they can win the match, but would be satisfied with a draw. The Russians think if they can get a point off Belgium that they are set up perfectly to take three from Algeria and advance. This adds up to a slower paced, more closed off game in which neither are willing to put themselves in exposed positions. Plus, Igor Akinfeev got his nightmare out of the way, he shouldn’t be letting up any more easy ones. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-140)
South Korea vs. Algeria (Group H)
2 way line – South Korea -0.5 (+135) Algeria +0.5 (-155)
3 way line – South Korea (+130) Algeria (+230) Draw (+220)
Total – Over 2 (-130) Under 2 (+110)
Side: South Korea played an all around solid match against Russia, but they were gifted their only goal. They held possession well and looking promising a number of times when they went forward. The key was the ability of their outside players to get forward and play balls into the box. Even though they were the much smaller team, the services from the wings troubled the Russian defense and could do the same to Algeria. The issue was, they didn’t try to utilize that strength enough. Rather they sat back and tried weak long shots to try and beat the keeper. Of course, one went in, but they cannot rely on a goalkeeping disaster to put them ahead again. In the match against Algeria they will certainly hold possession of the ball and they should be able to play the same style. The Algerian defense will be simpler to break down, but they are still not a poor defensive side. If Korea focus on getting the ball into the penalty are before shooting, it could spell trouble, unfortunately, they won’t because they’ve fallen in love with shots from distance and one went in so their belief is that it’s working.
Algeria played an interesting match when they met Belgium. Surprisingly they looked threatening early and wound up earning a penalty kick that put them ahead in the 25th minute. It was hard to believe the new attack minded style would actually be deployed against Belgium, and it turned out to be true. After the goal they sat 10 men behind the ball and essentially played with a 7 man back line with the outside and central midfielders playing very deep. Against South Korea, expect to see the more proactive side that Algeria have been selling themselves as. Sofiane Feghouli and El Arbi Hillel Soudani will attempt to get into the South Korean zone as often as possible. The fact is, they gave top European team a run, so it’s somewhat precarious that they are underdogs in a match with Asian side. It won’t be a defense first mentality, but that doesn’t mean they’ll forget how to defend. If they can score one on Belgium, it only makes sense they can do the same, or better, against South Korea. Pick: 2 way bet – Algeria +0.5 (-155)
Total: Goals should not be flying in at a rapid pace during this match, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be chances. South Korea was able to make some things happen against Russia and Algeria will want to prove they know how to attack in a match against a lesser opponent. It’s been a World Cup of goals, and this may be one of the last two goal totals that will appear in the group stage. Take advantage of it while it lasts because both teams should be able to get on the board. Add in the desperation of each needing a three point performance and the game could really open up. Usually matches need an early goal to unwind the teams, this one shouldn’t need it. Pick: Over 2 goals (-130)
United States vs. Portugal (Group G)
2 way line – United States +0.5 (+115) Portugal -0.5 (-135)
3 way line – United States (+310) Portugal (-135) Draw (+250)
Total – Over 2.5 (-110) Under 2.5 (-110)
The United States finally got the three points that have eluded them for eight years against their arch-nemesis Ghana. They did it with a stunning goal 31 seconds into the match and then got a goal from the most unlikely of players, a substitute defender, John Brooks. In between those goals, the United States opted for an attempt to protect the lead by allowing Ghana to control possession and making it difficult on them in the final third. Once Jozy Altidore went down the U.S. attack was essentially neutralized and a change in formation was not available to revive it. Against Portugal, they’ll see more of the ball and should be able to string together passes much easier in the center of the field. Missing Altidore will be tough, but with an attacking change will come a change in philosophy on how to go about pressing forward. They’ll play more through the midfield rather than serving the ball up to the lone striker and then joining in. The biggest concern in this game for the USMNT, can Fabian Johnson handle Cristiano Ronaldo. He’ll need help, and it should be there from Kyle Beckermann and/or Jermaine Jones, but if he cannot consistently keep Ronaldo in front of him on his own, the game could get messy for the Americans. Expect a much more proactive side from the one that showed up for a majority of the match against Ghana, but a team that understands if they can slow Ronaldo, they have a legitimate shot of getting the single point that could press them through to the knockout rounds.
What. A. Nightmare. The Portuguese couldn’t have had a worse afternoon than the one they experienced against Germany. They conceded early, they had a player sent off, they lost their lone striker as well as a key defensive player, and Ronaldo couldn’t ever find enough space to get into the game. They come into this match with the U.S. wounded and desperate. No Pepe, no Fábio Coentrão, no Hugo Almeida, and a hobbled Ronaldo could be too many hurdles for them to get the train back on the tracks. Once again, they’ll attempt to play through Ronaldo and allow him to dictate possessions. Germany shut him down for the entire match, it’s unlikely the U.S. can do the same so there should be many more opportunities for the Portuguese in this match. Most expect Portugal to rebound and jolt back to life, but these same people thought the same of Spain and England. It’s go time for Portugal, otherwise, they’ll be going back home with their fellow Iberians. Pick: 3 way bet – Draw (+250)
Total: The United States are without Jozy Altidore and will have their next best attacker Clint Dempsey taking the field with a broken nose. Portugal are without striker Hugo Almeida and Ronaldo will continue playing on a sore tendon in his knee. In other words, goals will likely have to come from the non-conventional scorers for each team. There will be replacements for Altidore and Almeida but there’s no question Éder for Portugal and either Aron Johansson or Chris Wondolowski do not offer the same threat as their elite striking counterparts. Goals should come at a premium in the match unless the U.S. can’t control Ronaldo. The Yanks are just looking for a draw, so the longer the match stays tied the more they’ll begin to play defense-first as if they are in the lead. Another early goal could throw the game out of wack just like it did to USA/Ghana, but odds are, this one will be played tightly. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-110)