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Substitutes playing key role in World Cup victories

United States' John Brooks celebrates scoring his side's

United States' John Brooks celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the Group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States in Natal, Brazil on Monday, June 16, 2014. Credit: AP / Hassan Ammar

MANAUS, Brazil - This World Cup has proved there is a substitute for success after all.

Just ask Belgium, Russia, Colombia, Chile, Germany and even the United States.

They have enjoyed the fruits of second-half substitutes that have turned their fortunes around, usually in the most spectacular way.

Outside of injuries, substitutes are used to provide an offensive spark, defensive help or some fresh legs -- although the ones that score steal the spotlight.

The most famous World Cup super-sub is Cameroon's Roger Milla, who as a 38-year-old provided the Africans with late-match heroics at Italia '90 before falling in the quarterfinals.

But that was a generation ago, and the sport has been transformed into a young man's game.

Sometimes subs become the most unlikely heroes. USA center back John Brooks, 21, replaced Matt Besler (tight right hamstring) at halftime against Ghana. Brooks' primary responsibility was defense. But fate intervened as he headed home the winner off a corner kick by another sub, Graham Zusi, in the 86th minute for a 2-1 victory.

Brooks, the first American substitute to score a World Cup goal, became one of the youngest players in the competition's history to score a winning goal after coming off the bench.

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann was never concerned about Brooks' inexperience under pressure.

"It's normal that when young players come through and have their first big opportunities that everyone is curious to see how far those players are already," he said. "We could see in every training session and we could see with his club as well that he's a very good talent. It was no problem for me at all."

With Besler healthy and expected to play against Portugal today, Brooks may not get an opportunity to play hero again. But he certainly wasn't the only player off a World Cup bench to turn around a team's fortunes.

Half of Belgium's game-winning goals during qualifying were tallied by players who came in off the bench. So it should not be surprising that subs fueled Belgium in its 2-1 Group H win over Algeria.

"I tend to focus just as much on those that aren't playing," Belgian coach Marc Wilmots told "I want my substitutes to show the same level of desire as the starters."

Facing a one-goal second-half deficit, Wilmots brought on Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens, and they scored in the 70th and 80 minutes, respectively.

"The game was too slow in the first half. We just weren't able to find a way past a team that refused to play football," Wilmots said. "The substitutions I made injected a bit of pace, which changed the game."

As for other late heroics:

Miroslav Klose scored within two minutes of coming off the bench in the second half yesterday for Germany in its 2-2 draw with Ghana.

Juan Quintero, absent from Colombia's 3-0 Group C triumph over Greece, was called on against Ivory Coast, scoring the second goal off a breakaway in a 2-1 win Thursday.

"His introduction brought composure and precision to our play," Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said.

Only three minutes after entering the fray and six minutes after Russia goalkeeper Igot Akinfeev fumbled Lee Keun-ho's shot into his own net to give South Korea the lead, Alexander Kerzhakov struck from close range in the 74th minute to lift the Russians to a 1-1 Group H draw.

"Alexander Kerzhakov is a fantastic player," Russia coach Fabio Capello said. "He always has chances to score goals."

Jean Beausejour became the first Chilean to score in two World Cups, converting a rebound in a 3-1 Group B win over Australia.

"I'm very happy to have achieved that," Beausejour told "It's an amazing sensation I'm feeling right now."

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