We wrap up the first set of group games Tuesday, with Group H the final set of four to kick off. That’s not before a marquee Brazil/Mexico game in the middle of the day — sandwiched between Group H. We’re up to 3.14 goals-per-match through the first 14 games.
Belgium vs. Algeria (Group H), 12 p.m. (ESPN, Adrian Healey and Efan Ekoku)
There is an easy music corollary to make about the rise of the Belgium National Team to that of a obscure, independent buzz band which only “cool” people knew about. Over the last 2-3 years Belgium’s received all sorts of critical praise — think of that breakthrough 8.7 rating from Pitchfork. That praise, however, has become so overwhelming that the team has gone from hipster-approved to hipster-backlashed in the span of a few weeks in the build up to the World Cup. I suppose that’s the nature of things. Belgium will probably be more like one of my favorite little (former) buzz-bands, CHRVCHES, who got all sorts of praise for their first single, and saw their subsequent album live up to the hype. For Belgium, living up the hype, means at minimum getting out of a very favorable Group H.
As for Algeria? This is a very young team and figures to be under siege most of the game in its own half. Perhaps its young players will be fresh enough to spring on the counter attack and trouble Belgium.
Everyone has earmarked Belgium to stroll through Group H. Anything but the full three points here for Vincent Kompany & Co. throws the group into chaos. Remember, Group H crosses over with Group G — the America’s group — in the Round of 16, something to consider in light of John Brooks heroics last night.
Brazil vs. Mexico (Group A), 3 p.m. (ESPN, Fernando Palomo and Alejandro Moreno)
Is it wrong, Rafa Marquez aside, that I find myself semi-rooting for this current version of El Tri? Chalk it all up to the most GIF-able man in Brazil, Miguel Herrera. It’s hard not to root for the guy. He’s got a sense of humor. He’s got the confidence to announce his lineup a day ahead of time. Unlike many involved in professional sports, the Mexico manager (gasp) actually looks like he’s having fun.
Meanwhile, I’m curious to see how much Fred’s dive that resulted in a penalty vs. Croatia affects how we look at Brazil going forward. Generally people love hoping on the Brazil bangwagon the same way casual fans love supporting any traditional sports winner. At the same time Americans are hardwired to voice their displeasure and anger any time a soccer player has the audacity to embellish contact even (when you think about it) it’s a smart move by the player given how easily referees are fooled. If Brazil’s players are flopping all over the place again vs. Mexico, it’s going to make a lot of casual/neutral fans question who they’re rooting for today.
Russia vs. South Korea (Group H), 6 p.m. (ESPN, Daniel Mann and Kasey Keller)
Russia allowed five goals in 10 qualifiers. South Korea allowed seven goals in eight qualifiers. Do the math. Hopefully one of the two sides realize a win here puts them in great shape to advance. Given Fabio Capello manages Russia, my hopes are very low.