In 1998 Spain were the team that toiled in France, while four years later Les Bleus were the shock early departures with Italy following suit eight years later in South Africa, but after yesterday’s fixtures, Belgium or even Brazil could be the latest teams to flop on the World Cup stage.
Outsiders to win the tournament, Belgium were expected to make light work of an Algeria team that was without a win in six World Cup games going into this encounter.
Yet from the start the Red Devils failed to kick into gear, with Romelu Lukaku isolated up front and struggling to lead the line on his own in the same way that the absent Christian Benteke did so effectively for Belgium during qualifying.
Marc Wilmots’ team also looked defensively frail with Jan Vertonghen’s foul for the Algeria penalty completely unnecessary, serving to highlight the evident nerves of the Tottenham man.
In the end salvation came from an unlikely source in Manchester United outcast Marouane Fellaini, who came on and did what he does best – heading in an important equaliser and holding the ball up to bring others into the play.
Dries Mertens may have completed the comeback and helped Belgium to three points but with one of either Germany or Portugal awaiting them in the knockout phase, the Red Devils may not be around for long at this World Cup.
The same may go for Brazil, who toiled for long spells against Mexico in their 0-0 draw, which leaves qualification for the second round far from secure.
Guillermo Ochoa may have made a series of impressive saves, with Thiago Silva guilty of failing to find the net with a point-blank header, but problems still remain for the Selecao.
An over-reliance on Neymar, who had a quiet 90 minutes compared with his star showing in the opener against Croatia, could prove problematic against stronger teams, while Brazil are clearly lacking a world-class striker, as Fred’s bumbling performance showed.
Rarely involved in the action, the 30-year-old’s replacement Jo fared little better – how Felipe Scolari must wish he had a fully fit Adriano to call upon.
The Selecao should still progress to the knockout stage, but with a potential encounter with Chile now on the cards, the hosts could be in line for a disastrous early exit of their own unless they can channel some of the form that saw them win the Confederations Cup last year.
But then France won the very same competition in 2001 and look how that turned out. Brazil are 13/8 with Ladbrokes to go out in the second round, while Belgium can be backed at 13/10 to exit at the same stage.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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