Two nations representing regions often left-out of the conversation over World Cup contenders hope to extend their tournament runs with three key points.
Seeking only the second victory for an African country during this year’s tournament, Algeria is set to battle South Korea in the wide open race for second place in Group H.
Of the five African nations representing in Brazil, only Ivory Coast has managed a victory while Algeria missed its opportunity to boost the continent’s showing after surrendering two goals in 10 minutes to Belgium in the first week of play.
With Australia eliminated after two quick losses and Japan clinging to third place in its group, Taegeuk Warriors once again symbolize the best hope for any Asian nation to advance to the knockout stages. Manager Myung-Bo Hong’s side can reach the Round of 16 for the second straight time, but need to unearth the attacking style that led to the fourth-place finish at home in 2002.
Belgium’s quick striking certainly makes them the favorite to capture the group, but Algeria’s defensive strategy, along with the well-tested goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi, make them just as dangerous. Staring down a barrage of 10 Belgian shots on goal, M’Bolhi made six saves and dealt with seven corner kicks in his area.
Led by captain and defender Madjid Bougherra, Algeria’s backline played like a well-oiled, cohesive unit and frustrated the Belgian attack enough for three offside flags.
Fennec Foxes weakest and most blaring link was an attack that mustered a mere three total shots, with one on goal, midfielder Sofian Feghouli’s penalty in the 25th. Better, more aggressive play will be expected of forward Islam Slimani and El Arabi Soudani, a pair of 26-year-olds with 21 international goals between them.
South Korea’s attack was expected to be a strength this year, but a mishap in goal by Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev was the only reason Taegeuk Warriors managed to get on the board in the 1-1 draw. Forward Keun-Ho Lee struck an excellent ball, but Akinfeev’s bobbling attack allowed it to flop into the net.
It was Lee’s only shot on goal, and one of six for South Korea, but more will be asked of him and Park Chu-young. Each has totaled 65 appearances for their country, and the latter Arsenal player responsible for 24 international goals.
Hesitation in midfield could also be a drawback for South Korea. Starting midfielders Heung-Min Son, Ja-Cheol Koo and Sung-Yeung Ki were each booked against Russia, and they’ll be weary of picking up another to avoid a suspension for the final group match.
South Korea is already down one top midfielder after Dae-Sung Ha reportedly injured a ligament in his left foot against Russia and was ruled out for Sunday.
Start Time: Sunday, 3 p.m.
TV Channel: ABC
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
South Korea 6/5
Over/Under: 2 goals
Prediction: South Korea 1-0 Algeria