Coaches 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.
Only one of the day’s five goals – well 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.
Tuesday’s other game, played in 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.
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 0-0.”
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.
After beginning their campaign at Argentina 1978 with two draws, Brazil won their opening two matches at the next eight world finals, a run that finally came to an end on Tuesday.
A Seleção’s draw with Mexico also brought their winning run of ten straight games to an end and spoiled coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 100-per cent record since taking charge.
In nine matches he has now presided over eight wins and a draw.
- 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)