Archive for June, 2014

The Sweet Sixteen Bitten Once and Twice Shy.

Friday, June 27th, 2014

It’s June 27th and we are half way through the World Cup. The entertainment and excitement has been relentless with a record number of 136 goals scored and enough thrills and spills to fill a Marvel comic! Unfortunately Suarez‘s impression of Count Dracula could overshadow a wonderful tournament, and that is why I have no intention of mentioning him or the incident again in this blog. The group stage has concluded and we find ourselves in the round of sixteen which I’m sure you all know is the knockout section. There will be no more draws (or ties as the Americans irritatingly call them,) so the losers  pack their bags and go home.  The second round draw is as  follows;

  • Brazil v Chile
  • Columbia v Uruguay
  • France v Nigeria
  • Germany v Algeria
  • Holland v Mexico
  • Costa Rica v Greece
  • Argentina v Switzerland
  • Belgium v USA

The group stage conjured up many surprise results none more so than the elimination of holders Spain. Fellow European giants Italy, Portugal, England and Russia also fell by the wayside. I’m tempted not to refer to England as a giant of the European game because quite frankly they were clueless. Roy Hodgson has been told by his  employers he can continue his ineptness through to the European Championships in 2016. He’s a decent man, but should do the decent thing and resign!!!

FIFA must be quite pleased with the composition of the last sixteen since they represent three continents. Eight teams are from the Americas, six teams from Europe, and for the first time in a World Cup two teams from Africa.

Three teams who have 10 world  cup wins between them, Brazil, Argentina and Germany, predictably made the next round. Holland, Argentina and Columbia are the only.teams with 100% records. Greece squeezed through to the next round thanks to their striker Samaras tripping over his own feet to earn and convert a penalty in the last seconds to defeat the luckless Ivory Coast. USA revealed an abundance of guts and determination to escape from the “group of death” and earned the right to play my dark horses Belgium.

The two African teams, Algeria and Nigeria, have difficult ties against former Cup Winners Germany and France. France have recovered very well following the traumas and diabolical nature of their exit from the World Cup in  2010. Both European teams have shown their strengths and weaknesses in the tournament, but should comfortably take care of their African opponents.

Uruguay will be not be the same force without the suspended Suarez (Oops! I mentioned him again,) but Chile are capable of springing a surprise on host and fellow South Americans Brazil. Mexico acquitted themselves splendidly in finishing runner up to Brazil, but will probably run into  a Dutch oven. Invariably the team  who can be relied on to beat Holland are usually themselves. Never has a team in the history of the World Cup shot themselves more in the foot than the Dutch.

Switzerland recovered from the hammering they received from France and took care of business against a hapless (I love that word as regular readers will know) and ten man Ecuador. Argentina did enough to win their group  with  three wins from three matches, but looked a little vulnerable against Nigeria.

Finally I can’t heap enough praise on little Costa Rica. They have been nothing less than a revelation in this tournament having defeated previous Cup Holders Uruguay and Italy and holding clueless (I make no apologies for repeating the word) England to a goal less draw.

Let us not forget that only EIGHT teams have won the World Cup. Furthermore, no European team has won the tournament when it is held in the Americas. Okay let’s get down to the nitty gritty and put my money where my mouth is (should be keyboard really.)  I’m predicting wins for: Brazil, Columbia, France, Germany, Holland, Costa Rica, Argentina and Belgium.

Opening Salvos in 2014 World Cup

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
  • Host Brazil won their opening game against worthy opponents Croatia aided and abetted by a naïve Japanese referee.
  • Forty seven goals have been scored in the opening 15 matches, which is the biggest number at this stage since 1958.
  • Eight substitutes have made an impact on proceedings by scoring for their countries.
  • Five teams- Belgium, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Holland achieved comeback wins.
  • England outwitted by a pragmatic Italy
  • Uruguay, semi-finalists in 2010, grabbed the lead against Cost Rica only to succumb to the minnows 1-3.
  • Despite ominously taking the lead holders Spain were thrashed 5-1 by Holland with Van Persie and Robben each scoring twice. Spain’s goal keeper Casillas had a nightmare.
  • European giants Germany and France trounced their opponents 4-0 and 3-0 respectively.
  • USA produced a gutsy performance against technically superior Ghana to win 2-1.

Unless I’m clearly mistaken the current Brazil team is not as powerful or intimidating as some of its predecessors. They appear to have only one world class player in Neymar. Their goal keeper Caesar was playing in the Championship in England last season for QPR, and could prove to be their undoing. They were very lucky to beat Croatia who must be aggrieved by some of the decisions, not least the penalty award, of the theatrical Japanese referee.

USA are arguably in the “group of death,” but got off to a flying start against technically superior opponents Ghana by scoring after 32 seconds. The fact they held onto the lead until the 60th minute speaks volumes for their grit and determination. Even more impressive was coming back to score the winner late on from substitute defender Johnny “football” Brooks. They could take advantage of a vulnerable Portugal team who were thrashed 4-0 by Germany and secure a place in the last sixteen.

Two of the biggest surprises of the opening games involved holders Spain and Uruguay who were semi-finalists in 2010. Spain grabbed an early lead against Holland and were in cruise mode until they conceded an equalizer just before half time. Spanish goal keeper Casillas had a bewildered look about him for most of the second half, and was culpable for at least two of the four goals that Holland scored in that period. Uruguay also scored first against un fancied Costa Rica, but substandard defending (maybe it was arrogance) allowed their opponents to run away with the game 3-1.

I didn’t quite understand the reaction of the English press to England’s defeat to Italy. Most of the newspapers agreed that England played very well and were optimistic about their remaining two matches. To my mind they showed some potential, but they were weak in so many areas. The two fullbacks are so vulnerable defensively that the wide midfielders spend so much time helping them that they are not much of an attacking force. England allowed 37 year old Pirlo to run the game when it cried out for somebody to stand on his toes and nullify his contribution. Rooney provided the cross for England’s goal, but proved once again on the big stage he is steeped in mediocrity. Nineteen year old Raheem Sterling was one of the few bright sparks for England, but the back four, usually England’s strength, worry me. Balotelli scored with a routine header at the back post with neither central defender close to him.

Dark horses, Belgium, made heavy weather against Algeria, who scored first, but the mussels men came through with two late goals from substitutes Fellaini and Mertens. Belgium were accused of lacking passion and tempo for most of the match by the football pundits, but I thought the lack of width in attack was proving to be an albatross around their neck until the substitutions. They can play a lot better which could be ominous for the other teams.