Between his howler against South Korea and misjudging a cross against Algeria, Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev appeared to cost his team four points at the 2014 World Cup. Instead of going home with two draws and a third place finish, Russia could have been through Group H in second place if the CSKA veteran performed to his standards. When the Russian federation looks for reasons why its team disappointed in Brazil, Akinfeev and head coach Fabio Capello will come into focus.
After Russia’s Thursday draw with Algeria, however, Capello put another factor into focus. According to the former Milan, Juventus, and Real Madrid boss, Russia’s goalkeeper was distracted by a laser pointed at his face while trying to defend the 60th minute ball Islam Slimani headed home – the goal that cost Russia a spot in the tournament’s knockout round.
“The goalkeeper was unable to do his job. The laser beam was in his face,” said ex-England manager Capello.
“He was blinded by the laser beam. It is not an excuse. There are pictures and you can see that in the footage.”
Capello’s right on one count. There are pictures. Here’s one from the Associated Press that shows the laser’s green dot on Afinkeev’s left shoulder:
As for the other part of Capello’s story, here’s a gif of the goal, from Twitter user @FlyByKnite:
To the extent that Akinfeev is distracted by the laser, we can’t tell from the footage. In fact, if you watch Akinfeev’s feet when the ball is played, it appears that he’s reacting (though not deciding what to do) immediately. It doesn’t appear as if there’s a point where he’s blinded, distracted or dealing with an obstruction. He just takes the wrong route to the ball, comes up short, and leaves his goal open.
But it’s only a gif. It’s far from conclusive. It’s certainly not enough to get Capello to chance his story. Though he says it’s not an excuse, Capello wants the world to know: Russia went out because of a laser.
Game(s) on: Belgium looks to close out Group H, Algeria hoping to advance
One-goal wins in the team’s first two games have the Belgians into the second round, but with a point against South Korea today in São Paulo, the Red Devisl clinch first place in the 2014 World Cup’s Group H, thereby avoiding Germany in the tournament’s second round.
It’s one of two matches that will take place at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, with a 2010 rematch between Russia head coach Fabio Capello and second place Algeria kicking off at the same time in Curiabá. With all four teams still alive, here’s what each needs to happen to make the second round:
Belgium is into the second round can can secure first place with a win, draw, or an Algeria loss or draw.
Algeria takes second with a win or draw and can take first with a win and a Belgium loss.
Russia needs a win over Algeria and a Belgium result against South Korea (or, just to stay on the right side of the tiebreakers with the Koreans).
South Korea to (a.) beat Belgium by more than the Russians beat Algeria, or, if Algeria draws, (b.) beat Belgium by three. If Algeria wins, South Korea’s done.
Expectation: Despite failing to meet expectations during their first two games, the Red Devils are seen as big favorites in this one. There’s a reason why U.S. fans are already saying, “Give us Belgium.”
One blogger’s prediction: South Korea’s defense looks better than it did against Algeria, but Belgium begins finding its World Cup legs and posts an easy victory. 3-1, Red Devils.
Expectations: Before the tournament, Algeria was seen as the group formats while Russia was expected to go through behind Belgium. Now, perceptions ave flipped. Algeria has captured hearts, while Fabio Capello’s style has made Russia difficult to enjoy.
One blogger’s prediction: Russia’s methods define the match, but they can’t produce a result. The ghosts of 2010 cheer as a 0-0 puts Algeria into the second round.
Talking points: Signs of progress everywhere for the U.S. against Portugal
Now two hours after Silvestre Valera’s goal, fans’ disappointment is starting to give way. A more objective, less emotional reality is taking hold.
Yes, that just happened. Yes, the United States just went toe-to-toe with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal and nearly replicated 2002’s famous result. And yes, to the surprise of those who judged harshly after the win over Ghana, the U.S. is capable of playing some attractive, occasionally imposing soccer.
In the big picture, that means progress: Significant steps forward from 2010 — at least, in terms of how the team plays. Isolated to Brazil 2014, however, the result means the U.S. has work to do on Thursday against Germany.
Before we shift focus, though, let’s take another moment to consider what happened today in Manaus. Here’s three — no, four — talking points after the U.S.’s 2-2 draw with Portugal:
0. Let’s count all the ‘holy crap’ moments we’ve seen so far – Just in the U.S. matches, we’ve had …
1. The criticism of Bradley and Cameron has already started – There’s no defending Cameron’s mistake. His fifth-minute error won’t happen again, but it was still one of the worst mistakes we’ve seen at the World Cup. That Cameron was the man Varela ran behind on the tying goal only compounded the defender’s problems. He wasn’t the only man at fault, but his part meant he was involved in both Portugal goals.
As for Bradley, his giveaway that sparked Portugal’s last second counter is already being dissected (and rightly so), but the midfielder’s fatigue was evident moments earlier, when he stoically watched a Jermaine Jones pass roll to a Portuguese attacker in the U.S.’s third. Gassed by the end of regulation time, Bradley seemed out on his feet come the 95th minute, unable to maintain possession in those final, crucial moments.
Through 180 minutes in Brazil, Bradley hasn’t been himself. Against Ghana, you could explain that as him battling two defensive midfielders without the outlet of Jozy Altidore. Sunday’s game, however, was different. Though Klinsmann’s tweaked his formation to feature what’s normally his best player, Bradley has yet to distinguish himself in at this year’s World Cup.
2. Consider the proof of concept … – As the U.S. adjusted to Portugal’s early goal, eventually fighting back to take a second-half lead, all the qualities Jurgen Klinsmann’s been trying to install again came through. Granted, I said the same thing after the U.S. defeated Ghana, so this may be one writer who can’t let a narrative go. Still, let’s go down the checklist, shall we?
More resiliency/Better equipped to adapt to adversity: See the response to André Ayew’s goal, the comeback against Portugal, and the adaptation in the absence of Jozy Altidore.
More flexibilty/An ability to dictate play, when needed: It wasn’t needed for most of the match against Ghana, when the U.S. proved capable of playing on the back foot (four shots on goal to Ghana’s three). Against Portugal, Nani’s early goal made sure the Klinsmann fulfilled his promise of a more aggressive approach. Though the final scoreline wasn’t as good, the performance was more convincing. The U.S. just doesn’t have a set approach.
More depth/Less reliance on stars: Clint Dempsey was huge today, but Bradley — the U.S.’s most important player — was average at best, and while Europe-proven Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones had huge impacts, the MLS talents that Klinsmann has brought into the pool also paid off. Matt Besler was the team’s best defender, Graham Zusi made key contributions, Kyle Beckerman has become part of the foundation, while Chris Wonolowski and DeAndre Yedlin proved valuable options off the bench. Klinsmann is using more players, instilling them with the confidence they can compete at this level, and proving the depth in the U.S. pool is not as shallow as previously thought.
3. … and the progress the U.S. has shown – Klinsmann was derided for saying the U.S. can’t win the World Cup, but was that ever the goal for this cycle? More readily, the goal was progress, and while 180 minutes isn’t much of a sample, compare this year’s performance against 2010’s.
While the U.S. finished first in that year’s group, the packet was weak. As the second round match against Ghana showed, the U.S. didn’t need to make progress as a program to top that foursome. This year, the U.S. beat Ghana. They went toe-to-toe with a Portugal team many thought would play through them.
Tied for first in their group, the U.S. has fully deserved their results. The team was seconds away from its first two-win group stage in history, and there’s still one match to go.
Most casting Portugal were clear favorites were basing their judgement on reputation alone. Portugal is established, European, have more talent, and play better soccer. In their eyes, the U.S. just aren’t on that level.
After today’s performance, does that perception change? The U.S. probably needs to get out of its group (and impress in the knockout round) before detractors believe a gridiron country and every produce a “proper football team,” but the objective reality is much different.
Even if the U.S. doesn’t make the final 16, they’ve shown huge progress at this tournament. The team may not be among the best in the world, but the arrow’s definitely pointed in the right direction.
The United States was seconds away from reaching the six-point plateau for the first time in the team’s group stage history, but thanks to Silvestre Valera’s 95th minute equalizer, a place in the knockout round is still slightly out of reach. Though the 2-2 draw leaves them tied atop Group G with Germany at the 2014 World Cup, the team may still need a result on Thursday to the second round.
Then again, they may not. If things break in the U.S.’s favor in the group’s finales, the team may already have enough points to make the final 16. Ahead of Thursday’s match against the Germans in Recife, here are the scenarios that will lead the U.S. out of Group G:
(Group standings, in points and goal difference: Germany, 4 pts., +4; United States, 4 pts. +1; Ghana, 1 pt., -1; Portugal, 1 pt., -4.)
If the United States beats Germany …
… they win Group G and face the second place team from Group H (currently Algeria).
If the United States draws with Germany …
… they finish second in Group G, behind the Germans. They’ll then face the winner of Group H (currently Belgium).
If the United States loses to Germany, they still advance in second place if …
Warning: This is where it gets confusing.
1. Ghana and Portugal draw; or
2. Ghana beats Portugal (a) by only one goal, and (b) the U.S. loses by only one goal, and (c) Ghana doesn’t outscore the U.S. by two or more goals on the day; or
3. Portugal beats Ghana and fails to make up the five-goal gap in difference (see more, below).
Thanks to Portugal’s lopsided loss to Germany, the U.S. has a huge edge in that first, goal difference tiebreaker. Portugal would either have to blow out Ghana or benefit from the Germans routing the U.S.
Here are the scenarios — all of them — some of which involve the word “lots”:
If Germany beats the U.S. by five or more, Portugal only needs to beat Ghana to advance.
If Germany wins by four, Portugal advances if they beat Ghana at least two. If they win by one, Portugal can still advance if they end up with more total goals than the U.S. The Americans currently have four. Portugal has two. If the teams end up with the same number of goals, they’ll draw lots, leaving Group G’s second knockout round spot up to chance.
If Germany wins by three,Portugal advances if they win by three or more. Win by two: Total goals, then lots. Win by only one? They’re out.
If Germany wins by two,Portugal advanced if they win by four of more. Win by three: Goals and lots. Two or less: They’re done.
If Germany wins by one, Portugal advances with a five-goal win. Four? Goals, lots. Three of fewer? Adeus.
Confused yet? This might make it easier. Here are the FIFA tiebreakers:
1. Goal difference in all group stage matches
2. Goals scored in all group stage matches
3. Points in matches between the tied teams
4. Goal difference in matches between the tied teams
5. Goals scored in matches between the tied teams
6. Draw lots
WATCH: Jermaine Jones’ blast has the U.S. even with Portugal — FOLLOW LIVE
With one of the best goals of the 2014 World Cup, Jermaine Jones has pulled the United States even, scoring from beyond the penalty area after a 64th minute corner kick to pull the United States even with Portugal, 1-1.
The Seleccao had gone up early in the first half after mistake by U.S. defender Geoff Cameron gifted Nani the opener, but early in the second half, the CONCACAF champions began threatening for an equalizer, most notably when Ricardo Costa was forced to save a close-range shot from Michael Bradley off the line early in the period.
Just after the hour mark, Jones made good where his teammate could not. Collecting the ball outside the penalty area after a Graham Zusi corner, the Germany-born midfielder moved onto this right foot before launching a 21-yard shot toward the right side of Beto’s goal. When the ball bent the side netting, the 32-year-old had his second international goal, one that threatens to move the U.S. to the top of Group G.
If this score holds, the U.S. will move even with Germany with four points ahead of the teams’ Thursday group finale in Recife. Portugal, tied with Ghana for third in the group, will face the Black Stars in Brasília, with both teams needing a victory to advance to the knockout round.