Liam Hoden’s World Cup Watch: Everyone’s favourite dark horses gallop into view

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Oooooh! Should we be taking the Germans seriously now too?

This World Cup has been about not counting chickens. The Dutch and now the Deutsch have shown already they should not be counted out.

But there have been plenty who have been quick to dismiss the Spanish, the Argentines, the Brazilians who should not be so quick to count those chickens.

Germany joined the ranks of potential winners with their complete demolition of hapless Portugal yesterday.

Thomas Muller grabbed the competition’s first hat trick with Mats Hummels adding a superb header.

Their goals helped keep the average per game tally high and it finished yesterday at 3.14, the highes

The Germans showed a tremendous amount of composure to beat Portugal, though the comfort of their half time lead certainly helped.

The talking point of the game, inevitably, was the sending off of Pepe.

After making very little contact with Muller’s face with a swinging arm, Pepe took exception to the striker’s reaction and delivered a gentle headbutt to the prone German.

Thus, a debate was sparked, centring on Muller’s theatrics. There seemed very few defending red card machine Pepe however.

His dismissal meant things went from bad to worse for his side

Whether Portugal can pick themselves off the floor for the remaining two group games remains to be seen.

With Fabio Coentrao ruled out for ten days and Ronaldo clearly lacking fitness, Portugal’s main threat from the left has been nullified. And there is not a great deal of depth in the squad to change things around.

The USA will be licking their lips with glee at the prospect of facing Portugal next, with the opportunity to book their place in the knockout stages.

The Americans impressed in their 2-1 win over Ghana and while most will agree with boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s assertion they cannot win the World Cup, plenty will believe they can advance from the group.

A late goal from John Brooks gave the US the win. They scored after just 29 seconds through Clint Dempsey and were largely in control until Andre Ayew levelled eight minutes from time.

Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones all impressed in midfield with plenty of energy to restrict the rather disappointing Ghanaians.

It seemed pretty easy for the US to control the game against predictable Ghana.

The introduction of Kevin Prince-Boateng gave the African side more threat and helped them to level. He should be pushing for a start against Germany on Saturday.

There seemed a grim inevitability that the first draw of what has been a thrilling World Cup would turn out to be a complete dud.

And so the goalless draw between Iran and Nigeria delivered just that. The Iranians seemed pretty excited about it though.

Iran were always going to set out to stifle and so they did, with admirable excellence. They could have won it with the two best chances of the game.

Nigeria have had trouble breaking teams down and that was laid bare last night against Iran’s brick wall.

For a group of talented players, Nigeria seemed to lack the drive or quality to unpick the lock. It looked like Shola Ameobi of all people would be the man to do it for them at one stage.

The (lack of) spectacle will have made pleasing viewing for Bosnia who’ll really fancy their chances of a round two spot.

Highlights

- Carlos Queiroz displaying the shirt unbuttoned style of a the owner of a restaurant in a Portuguese holiday resort – while wearing a big coat

- A rather enthralling and slightly angered debate between Lee Dixon and Patrick Vieira over Thomas Muller’s ‘dive.’ Dixon telling Vieira a man in his position should be telling kids it’s wrong was a particular high point, especially as Fabio Cannavaro smirked in the background.

- Kyle Beckerman’s dreadlocks

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Group H: Belgium v Algeria, Belo Horizonte, 5pm kick off, ITV

Belgium status as dark horses has been talked about for years - in fact they’ve almost become too popular for the hipsters.

They are indeed an impressive side and should impress in a group they ought not to have any problems coming out of.

There are some impressive attacking elements and genuine defensive steel, both at the back and in the midfield shield.

The concern is that the attacking players are individual talents rather than a cohesive unit.

Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens can all produce moments of magic but there are doubts over how well they can work together.

A bizarre element of the Belgium squad is the huge lack of full backs. Of the eight defenders selected, seven are centre backs.

This might not be such an issue in the group stages but could come back to haunt them later in the tournament.

First opponents Algeria will look to press and contain Belgium throughout.

Since their emergence as an African force, Algeria have shown themselves to be a well organised side capable of shutting opposition sides out.

This will be the side of their game they are most likely to show against the fancied Belgians.

But later in the competition they will be keen to open up.

From the foundations of their defensive organisation, Algeria have begun to evolve in recent years by adding young, exciting talent in midfield and up front.

Their best years are likely to be ahead of them as the young players begin to gel but there is some potential for them to cause some problems.

Attacking trio Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani and Al Arabi Soudani all have plenty of energy.

Team news

Romelu Lukaku if fit after recovering from an ankle injury suffered in Belgium’s last warm up. Kevin De Brunye and Divock Origi are also struggling angle problems. Algeria midfielder Hassan Yedba is a big doubt with another ankle injury.

Verdict

Belgium should have the quality to undo Algeria but if they lack cohesion, it could prove a frustrating afternoon.

Betting

Belgium 4/9 Draw 10/3 Algeria 7/1

Closer to home

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard (all Chelsea), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vetonghen, Moussa Dembele, Nacer Chadli (all Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool).

Algeria: Essaid Belkalem (Watford), Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)

Group A: Brazil v Mexico, Fortaleza, 8pm kick off, BBC One

The second set of group games kicks off with the meeting of Group A’s two victorious sides.

Brazil were somewhat fortunate in their opener with Croatia while Mexico were unfortunate to not beat Cameroon by a bigger margin.

This test will be different for both sides and an interesting one given both sides like to attack on the counter.

Mexico look likely to deploy their attack-minded wing back system again which will also allow them to get plenty of men back to protect against Brazilian advances,

But if Brazil can break in numbers and catch Mexico up the field, they can cause plenty of problems.

Should they rely on Neymar to use his brilliance to create magic, they could find themselves running down a blind alley.

Team news

Brazil forward Hulk is facing a race to be fit after leaving training as a precaution after feeling his hamstring on Sunday. Ramires or Bernard are on standby if Hulk is not fit. Mexico have no new fitness concerns.

Verdict

Brazil’s undeniable quality should give them the edge in this game but they remain vulnerable to the swift countattacking play from Mexico. It should prove to be an exciting and fast-paced game

Betting

Brazil 1/3 Draw 5/1 Mexico 10/1

Closer to home

Brazil: Oscar, Ramires, Willian (all Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Tottenham).

Croatia: Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Nikica Jelavic (Hull).

Group H: Russia v South Korea, Cuiaba, 11pm kick off, BBC One

You get the impression that Russia might have one eye on the 2018 World Cup they will host rather than being fully focused on having a good tournament this time around.

There is a transitional element to the squad with Fabio Capello adding young players whose are likely to be much closer to their respective peaks than they are now.

In one sense, Capello would struggle to fail disastrously this year with a kind group Russia really should come out of.

There is enough quality in the Russia squad to see them through with Belgium. However, there is a chance they could come unstuck.

The loss of Roman Shirokov to injury before the World Cup is huge as there is no standout candidate to fill his shoes. His goalscoring exploits from midfield and dynamism have been very important to Russia will certainly be missed.

Capello has unsurprisingly brought defensive organisation to Russia but they do regularly switch off late in games and the central pairing are notably sluggish.

Dynamo Moscow’s Alexander Kokorin is the big threat for the Russians, generally drifting inside off the left though he can also be played in a two-man forward line with usual lone striker Alexander Kerzhakov.

If Russia are a side in transition, South Korea are only at the start.

The skipper in their amazing run to the 2002 semi-finals Hong Myung-Bo is now in charge and has given the side a facelift, transforming them into a technical outfit whose biggest threat comes from wide areas.

Son-Heung-min and Bolton’s Lee Chung-yong will both attack at pace down the flanks and are key to counterattacking. While Lee is likely to stick close to the right touchline, Son will come inside and run at defenders. He is likely to be South Korea’s biggest attacking threat.

Korea do lack goals and are desperate to unearth a quality striker. Arsenal’s Park Chu-young has not scored for his country since November 2011 yet remains first choice.

An experienced defence will also raise doubts about Korea’s chances of making it out of Group H but attacking full backs should see them entertain.

Team news

Russia are reeling from the blow of losing skipper Roman Shirokov before the tournament with a knee injury. South Korea are set to recall centre back Hong Jeong-Ho are a poor defensive performance in their final friendly.

Verdict

Russia may be expected to get out of the group but their opening game is a tricky one. South Korea have pace and dynamism to cause the sluggish Russian defence problems.

Betting

Russia Evs Draw 5/2 South Korea 3/1

Closer to home

South Korea: Yun Suk-Young (QPR), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff), Ki Sung-yeung (Sunderland), Lee Chong-yong (Bolton), Park Chu-young (Arsenal)