Algeria have the answers

  • By: David John and Matt Brocklebank
  • Last Updated: June 25 2014, 15:50 BST

David John and Matt Brocklebank preview Thursday's World Cup matches as Groups G and H come to a conclusion.

Algeria can come up with the goods against Russia
Algeria can come up with the goods against Russia

Germany and the USA hold sway in the former ahead of their clash in Recife as Portugal and Ghana battle for survival.

Meanwhile, a lively Algerian outfit is fancied to book their place in the next phase while Belgium should add to South Korea's woes.

Portugal v Ghana (Group G, Brasilia, 1700 BST)

Cristiano Ronaldo has ridden to the rescue of Portugal on a number of occasions and he is required more than ever on Thursday if they are not to face elimination.

Such is their reliance on other results due to the hole they find themselves in, Paulo Bento's side are now the 10/1 outsiders to progress.

Perhaps the most telling statement comes from Ronaldo himself as he said: "We are probably just an average team. I'd be lying if I said we were a top team".

If it wasn't for his superb cross with virtually the last kick of the game for Silvestre Varela to head home in the 2-2 draw with the USA, Portugal would already be playing for nothing.

It is hard to disagree with Ronaldo's assessment. They have looked leggy and lacking any real ideas while the man main himself is clearly not fully primed after a troublesome knee problem in the build-up.

But punters do seem to be keeping a deal of faith with Portugal and the early money has been for them to defeat the Black Stars.

That faith seems to be of the blind variety though on all recent evidence and I would not be tempted to take a best price of 5/4 for them to see off a team which will be shorn of influential midfield destroyer Sulley Muntari.

Ghana have impressed with some excellent attacking intent although one or two wrong decisions in the final third have been frustrating.

Jordan and Andre Ayew have been real eyecatchers while talismanic striker Asamoah Gyan has got sharper and sharper over the two games.

Coach Kwesi Appiah does not intend to abandon his aggressive approach - why should he - and I reckon their ability to break at pace could leave the Europeans in a real pickle with Gyan's finishing prowess likely to play a key role as they attempt to crank up their goal difference.

Verdict: Portugal 1 Ghana 2 (DJ)

Opta Facts:

This will be the first ever meeting between Portugal and Ghana.

Asamoah Gyan has equalled Roger Milla's record for most World Cup goals by an African player - they both have five.

Cristiano Ronaldo has scored just two World Cup goals despite attempting 62 shots (including blocked).

Ghana are without a World Cup clean sheet in six matches.

Portugal have won only one of their last nine World Cup games (D4 L4).

USA v Germany (Group G, Recife (1700BST)

A draw in this one would mean both teams qualify and leave the outcome of the other match an irrelevance.

The USA must still be reeling having had one foot in the knockout round until Michael Bradley carelessly lost possession in the dying moments which allowed Portugal to score an equaliser and throw the group open once more.

That blip aside, I have been impressed with their mental fortitude under Jurgen Klinsmann, a side to their game which the German brings to the table and will be required if they are to extend their stay in Brazil.

You can argue that the Germans were let off the hook against Ghana having been utterly ruthless in their opening success over the Portuguese.

But they also showed bags of resilience to force a point and their superior goal difference puts them in pole position to claim the group and qualify as winners.

The good news for them is that frontman Thomas Muller is fit to start despite five stitches in a cut above his eye and a multitude of attacking options from Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Marco Reus and even old warhorse Miroslav Klose will certainly give Klinsmann's defence its sternest test to date.

By comparison, I think we will see a more disciplined performance from their opposite numbers after Per Mertesacker and co were given a real fright by the counter-attack prowess of Ghana.

Clint Dempsey has performed with credit but out-and-out striker Jozy Altidore remains on the sidelines and the USA as whole going forward just don't possess quite the verve of the Black Stars.

Klinsmann's intimate knowledge against his compatriots will give the USA some sort of edge but that should be nullified by Germany's superior quality and a cosy-enough win to nil is the call.

Verdict: USA 0 Germany 2 (DJ)

Opta Facts:

Germany and the USA have faced off nine times previously; there has never been a draw.

The USA have shipped 12 goals across their last four matches against Germany.

USA have conceded in each of their last 15 World Cup games against European opposition.

Germany have scored in 19 of their last 20 World Cup group games.

Algeria v Russia (Group H, Curitiba 2100BST)

Algeria have impressed me at Brazil 2014 thus far, not so the Russians.

There wasn't a great deal of expectation surrounding Vahid Halihodzi's side in light of a fairly disastrous African Cup of Nations last year, combined with their uninspiring previous appearances at World Cup finals.

Even qualification was a bit of a struggle this time as they only successfully negotiated Burkina Faso on the away goals rule following a nervy 1-0 win in the second leg of their play-off.

But there's been a distinct key-change to the manner in which they play as while defensive solidarity clearly remains high on the agenda, in Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani, Algeria now have some real quality going forward.

Indeed, I'm sure you would have got long odds against the North African side being ahead at half-time in both of their opening Group H games before a ball was kicked.

Belgium showed the requisite nous and quality to turn things around after Algeria sat back and tried to soak up the pressure in Belo Horizonte but, given how they put South Korea to the sword with three well-worked goals before the break, Halihodzi could be forgiven for having a few regrets they didn't go for the Belgium jugular while they had the chance.

Barring an emphatic, and let's be honest unlikely, Korean victory over Belgium in the other game, Algeria only need to draw with Russia to make the last-16 of the World Cup for the first time in their history - and I'm keen on them doing enough.

Russia are surprisingly warm favourites around 23/20 to claim all three points and that is the only result that could see them progress to the first knockout phase.

But Fabio Capello's team have badly missed their injured captain Roman Shirokov in the middle of the park and strike me as a team who are there for the taking in the gruelling South American conditions.

The experienced Aleksandr Kerzhakov has been a brilliant servant for his country over the years and came off the bench to score against Korea in the opening game.

He looks past his best in truth but may be asked to lead the line from the start as his supposed replacement, the 23-year-old Dynamo Moscow striker Aleksandr Kokorin, has thus far shown his inexperience in missing a couple of gilt-edged opportunities.

If a stuttering Russia are going to find the net at all, Kerzhakov looks the man to be with, whether he starts or not, and is 21/10 in the anytime market.

However, Algeria will be buzzing after thrashing South Korea and I strongly fancy them to carry that momentum into this match.

I wouldn't put anyone off the 11/4 available against an Algeria win but I'd prefer to take 7/4 with the draw-no-bet insurance as it wouldn't be a surprise to see the players revert to type and attempt shut up shop should they be heading into the final 20 minutes all square on the verge of a history-making result.

Verdict: Algeria 2 Russia 1 (MB)

Opta Facts:

This will be the second match played involving Algeria and Russia. The previous match was a friendly and it ended 2-2.

Russia have kept one clean sheet in their eight World Cup matches since the start of the 1994 tournament.

Russia are without a win in four World Cup group games (D1 L3).

Algeria come into this game having become the first African team to score four or more goals in a World Cup match.

South Korea v Belgium (Group H, Sao Paulo 2100BST)

Belgium are clearly a work in progress, but they're an extremely talented work in progress and have shown all the right attributes in their first two games to suggest they won't slip up against South Korea.

The 'golden generation' have a good blend of experience and youthful exuberance from back to front, with Vincent Kompany, Daniel Van Buyten and Axel Witsel forming a strong defensive core behind the attacking flair of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens.

De Bruyne, their top goalscorer with four during qualification, has been particularly impressive in midfield without yet getting on the scoresheet and must be considered around 7/2 to open his World Cup account.

Romelu Lukaku has yet to click into gear and punters will be wary after his disgruntled reaction to being substituted before the hour mark against Russia.

His replacement Divock Origi looked considerably brighter and took his goal neatly so a glance at the teamsheet is essential before steaming into either of them in the goalscorer markets.

Going a goal down against Algeria set alarm bells ringing and their clash with Russia was anything but a World Cup classic, yet Marc Wilmots' side sit top of Group H with six points and those of an English persuasion must be looking on in envy.

Korea can't be excused of a lack of work-rate, while star man Heung-Min Son is capable of flashes of brilliance in the final third, but it's hard to make a case for them being overpriced at 4/1 to claim all three points.

Manager Hong Myong-Bo is coming under intense pressure after a dismal showing against Algeria and he might be forced to drop former Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young (released at the end of the season), who has been struggling for form.

Korea needing to win in order to keep their World Cup dream alive may tempt some into backing them to expose Belgium's weaknesses, but I don't subscribe to that theory and expect the Reds to be outclassed by a team who have the ability to rip them to shreds if suddenly hitting top form.

Verdict: South Korea 0 Belgium 3 (MB)

Opta Facts:

South Korea have never beaten Belgium (D1 L2).

Belgium have conceded just twice across the three previous matches played against South Korea.

Belgium are unbeaten in eight World Cup group stage games (W3 D5).

All three of Belgium's goals at this tournament have been scored by substitutes.

  • Posted at 1505 BST on 25/06/2014.