like to point out that their squads have 23 first-teamers, a saying
that acquired greater significance than usual on Tuesday, when no fewer
than four players came off the bench in the second half to score goals
and make decisive contributions. For the likes of Belgium, Korea
Republic and Russia, who can all count on experienced forwards on the
bench, having a competitive squad packed with players hungry for a
starting place can come in very useful.
below the tournament average so far – was scored by a player who
started. The man in question was Sofiane Feghouli of Algeria, who came
close to upsetting Belgium, only to be undone by two of the Red Devils’
substitutes. The European side’s win took them to the top of the Group
H, ahead of Russia and Korea Republic, who played out a 1-1 draw, with
both goals also coming from supersubs, continuing the day’s theme.
Fortaleza, ended in a goalless draw, thanks in large part to some heroic
goalkeeping by Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, who pulled off four stunning
stops to help El Tri frustrate hosts Brazil, not for the first time.
Belgium 2-1 Algeria (Budweiser Man of the Match: Kevin de Bruyne, BEL)
Brazil 0-0 Mexico (Budweiser Man of the Match: Guillermo Ochoa, MEX)
Russia 1-1 Korea Republic (Budweiser Man of the Match: Song Heungmin, KOR)
Subs to the rescue
Just as Switzerland had done against Ecuador on Sunday, Belgium
turned to their men on the bench to down a stubborn Algeria side. After
seeing his front line misfire in the first half, Red Devils coach Marc
Wilmots brought on Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens and looked on
with satisfaction as they got the goals that gave the Belgians a 2-1
win. It was only the eighth time in the history of the competition that
two substitutes from the same team have come on and scored.
There were more substitute heroics in the other game in Group H,
with Lee Keunho finding the back of the net after coming on for Korea
Republic, though he did have an involuntary helping hand from Igor
Akinfeev. A national idol and an ambassador of the 2018 FIFA World Cup
Russia™, the CSKA Moscow goalkeeper let Keunho’s long-range effort slip
through his hands and over the line and spent the rest of the game ruing
his lapse, while perhaps even fretting over his place in the side.
Akinfeev’s blushes were spared by Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who, like Russia,
was making his first world finals appearance in 12 years, and marked
the occasion by levelling the scores from close range.
Brazil and Mexico might be old foes
but they have the utmost respect and admiration for each other, as
Tuesday’s match in Fortaleza showed. The fans set the tone by singing
the respective anthems with gusto, so much so in the case of Brazil that
Neymar was nearly moved to tears. When the action got under way Brazil
captain Thiago Silva brought a touch of class to proceedings by
apologising to Javier Chicharito Hernandez for a late and heavy tackle, while Seleção
keeper Julio Cesar was effusive in his praise for opposite number
Ochoa: “He had a fantastic game. He was the reason why the game ended
Ochoa was unquestionably Mexico’s hero of the night, his stunning
performance made all the more remarkable by the fact that he only just
beat off the challenges of Jesus Corona and Alfredo Talavera to land the
No1 Tri jersey. After distinguishing himself in the warm-up
match against Portugal and in training, the Ajaccio keeper – who could
not stop his club from dropping down to France’s second tier at the end
of last season – got the nod from coach Miguel Herrera and looks
unlikely to be returning to the bench, where he spent the last two world
finals, any time soon.