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FIFA World Cup 2014 Second Group Fixtures

Some random observations after the second group fixtures:

 

Brazil 0-0 Mexico:  Clearly not having the ball skills and wizardry of Brazil, Mexico looked to get physical to interrupt the Brazilian magic. Despite making Brazil uncomfortable, Brazil was still able to keep a good portion of the play in the Mexican half with short, crisp passing, bringing their wingers forward. For a team that came into this game with confidence, Mexico seemed to be rattled by the moment. The Mexican attack eventually settled down some and managed to build up some momentum going through the middle, but the shots they took were from long range, off target and outside the penalty area. There must have been something about the scoreless first half that gave Mexico confidence going into the second half, because El Tri played with a lot more organization, staying in front of Brazil and denying them space to create. Brazil struggled with their shape and organization in the second half and were forced to play a decidedly un-Brazil, negative game. Mexico got forward in numbers, though not in the penalty area, and they took numerous long range shots, though none on target, but it kept Brazil on their backheels. Guillermo Ochoa is the best keeper in the tournament so far, and with the quality shots in the box that Brazil was getting, he needed to be. Mexico with take what clearly results in Brazilian disappointment. A surprisingly fun game for a scoreless draw.

 

Australia 2-3 Netherlands:  Australia came to play! They did not sit back against this scary a counterattack; they actually got the ball forward and made plays in the attacking end. But you kind of figured that the high line the back four had was going to get them in trouble sooner or later. I like that the Dutch’s first instinct when they get possession is to quickly get the ball out to the flanks and spread the opposition from the jump. Nobody counters faster than the Dutch. Without making extensive use of the flanks the Socceroos were finding holes in the center of Holland’s midfield and backline to exploit. Australia’s strategy for slowing down the Dutch attack was to tightly mark the Dutch in the midfield. The Netherlands can’t seem to attack without countering; patient buildup and combination play doesn’t seem to work. Australia clearly won the tactical battle, and the Netherlands played much of the game with their backline 6’s&7’s. Arjen Robben always looks to shoot first when he gets into the box, even when he is being closed down by multiple defenders and has open teammates around him. Having to run down Dutch defenders tired out the Socceroos towards the end, and it showed. A valiant effort by Australia, the first team eliminated from the tournament. Holland dodges a bullet and gets full points.

 

Spain 0-2 Chile:  Major changes for Spain as one of the best midfielders in the world, Xavi, is replaced by Pedro. Clearly Spain is looking for more speed and service down the left flank. Also world-class center back Gerard Pique, who was exposed repeatedly against the Netherlands, is benched for Jordi Alba. Faster tempo than you usually see from Spain. Spain had most of the possession, but Chile got forward on the counter as expected, and took advantage of Spain’s slow response on the backline. I don’t know what’s wrong with keeper Iker Casillas, but he is slow on the uptake and gets caught out of position frequently. Spain is clearly experiencing as loss of confidence. Chile gave up most of the possession to Spain – they usually do – but Chile closed down Spain in the final third and forced Spain into making mistakes. The South American side simply flowed through them. Although every Chilean touch was sublime, every Spanish attempt at a tackle was so helpless. While Spain at once panicked and hesitated, Chile emphatically seized the opportunity. The South Americans were by then displaying a combination of quality and pace beyond Spain. As the deposed world champions toiled to try to make the right pass, Chile were effortlessly winning high-tempo tackles and then nutmegging their opponents. Spain were outpaced, and their play made to look outdated. Spain’s problems began from the front and effectively finished there — not least because their strikers couldn’t actually finish anything. Chile looked as if they’re playing a different sport entirely, coupled with aggression, workrate, rhythm and, above all, as efficient a use of space as you’re likely to see.  Chile had cohesion, intelligence and the kind of synchronized movements that negate creativity.   In every aspect of the game Spain looked old, slow, and out of touch. Never has a defending champion fallen so colossally fast; they didn’t even last a week.

 

Cameroon 0-4 Croatia:  The emphasis in this game was definitely on attacking. Neither side left grass grow beneath their feet. Under ordinary circumstances Croatia’s attack down the flanks would be considered anemic, but so bad was the Indominable Lion’s both in defense and in midfield that throughballs and long passes through the center worked just fine. It’s not as if Cameroon weren’t making headway into the attacking end, also; they were getting long passes into the Croatian penalty area as well, but the big difference was that they put practically no shots on target, and Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa had virtually nothing to do all game long. Conversely, Cameroon keeper Charles Itandje was barely serviceable, and he was under siege for most of the game. Long runs punctuated by long Croatian passes kept Cameroon’s backline confused and lacking, and they got no help from holding midfielder Maxim Choupo-Moting or wingers Benoît Assou-Ekotto and Stéphane M’bia. They did attack, however, but getting the ball to any forward player in the box was a chore. Only a side this anemic without the ball could make Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic look like they were in their early twenties. When Cameroon went a man down and still tried to get back into the game by sending numbers forward, it just got worse; the last two goals were scored with a streaking Mario Mandzukic having to beat only one defender. A much-needed three points for Croatia, who now get Mexico for second place in the group.

 

Columbia 2-1 Ivory Coast:  The Ivorians looked to make it a track meet, taking advantage of one-on-one situations and offer a more direct attacking quality. The Columbians looked to be a little more creative and spread the field a little more. Quick, precise passing by Columbia, especially down the right side to exploit the weakness down the left side of the Ivorians. I think the Ivorian attack would be a lot more tactically efficient if Yaya Toure was more involved in the buildup instead of as an advanced midfielder. The Ivorians rarely put together more than three passes in a row as they tried to build from the back. If they would just spread the field instead of just going through the center, they would spread the Columbians thin and they could commit numbers in attack. Better service into the box by Columbia; rarely did the Ivory Coast show this quality. My guess is that at 35-years-old Didier Drogba doesn’t have the stamina to go 90 minutes anymore, which is why he doesn’t start and they hold him out until the 60th minute. In any case, the energy and coordination returned to the Ivorian attack once he entered the game. James Rodriguez is having the best tournament of any Columbian in 34 years. Difficulties by the Ivory Coast building from the back – especially while trying to send numbers forward in attack when they got behind – resulted in mental lapses that resulted in fatal errors. Great individual effort by Gervinho from the left flank on his score. In a tournament that is filled with scoring, the best defender so far is Columbia’s Mario Yepes. Ivory Coast will still qualify out of this group; they get a petrified Greece next.

 

Uruguay 2-1 England:  Neither team established control of pace and tempo early, like a boxer looking to stick and move and see where the openings were. Both goalkeepers showed a certain lack of ability early. Slightly better defending from Uruguay, who were doing a good job of interrupting the British attack in the midfield and not giving them space to get off shots in the box. England’s backline was a little shaky, especially on set pieces and corners, where they had to work to keep Uruguay from making quality shots on goal. Even though England had a significant amount of the possession, there wasn’t a lot of quality, creativity, or imagination on either side. The thing about Uruguay’s front men Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez is you can’t let them get into a two-man game in the penalty area; you have to close them down – which England didn’t. Uruguay are expert at gamesmanship; delaying tactics such as rolling around on the pitch like a sniper just shot them. Wingers Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson began to spread the Uruguayans thin and England got some big time chances in the box because of it. When Wayne Rooney finally got on the board in a World Cup, all of a sudden the gamesmanship from Uruguay stopped. At the end of the day it was the two-man long game played by Cavani and Suarez that did the British in. England are mathematically still in it, but just.

 

Japan 0-0 Greece:  Japan attacked with a surprisingly patient buildup from the back for them, which actually stands to reason considering Greece puts a lot of players in front of the ball. Greece actually made a few forays in the attacking end via long passes, but it was mostly unorganized. Not a lot of pace, but given the tactical buildup by Japan you would have thought they would have taken more quality shots in the final third than they did. Even after going down to ten men, Greece were still making forays into the attacking end via long passes and throughballs through the center. However, Japan could afford to build up their attack with more patience with their opponents down a man. Why it is that Greece didn’t play with this kind of industry while at full strength through one and a half games is beyond me. The more likely team to score was always going to be Japan, and quite frankly I’m surprised they could not break down a resolute Greek rearguard. A badly played game from both sides.

 

Italy 0-1 Costa Rica:  Costa Rica did not play scared against the Italians, making many thrusts into the attacking end, playing a high line, forcing the Italians into building patiently from the back and beating the offside trap, and most particularly closing down their talisman in the middle, Andrea Pirlo (something England did not do in their game with Italy). The beauty of playing a high back line is that the Costa Rican goalkeeper had time to collect himself and make smart decisions when under attack. The Italians did begin to figure out the Costa Rican offside trap a little more by getting the ball to target man Mario Balotelli. The Costa Rican attack worked best when the interrupted Italy’s buildup in the midfield and then counterattacked, but the Italian backline was resolute, not allowing Costa Rica any real chances in the penalty area. When the Ticos finally got a chance to finish in the box, they did not waste it. For whatever reason Italy could not break down the Ticos tactically, and the Ticos just had the athletic advantage. There was no alternate plan of attack for the Azzurri; they relied way too heavily on having Pirlo introduce the attack and getting the ball to Balotelli in the box. It didn’t work. As great a finisher as Balotelli is, he can’t do much of anything else, and when he wasn’t getting the ball in the center of the attacking end, he was just standing around doing nothing. Costa Rican Keylor Navas was resolute in goal. Nobody would have thought that playing such a high line against a futbol superpower would work like it did, but the Italians committed 12 offsides trying to beat the trap. In the group of champions that had three supersides sharing 7 world championships between them, it is the minnows who win the group. If anybody claims they saw that coming they are lying. With this Costa Rican win, England have been unceremoniously eliminated.

 

Switzerland 2-5 France:  A usually disciplined and highly organized Swiss side made two uncharacteristically fatal errors early, one on a set piece that the Swiss are usually good at defending, the other on a mental lapse and sloppy passing on the ensuing kickoff. That kind of thing made are rather mundane French attack (lacking a true playmaker like they are used to having in the mold of a Platini or Zidane) that much more energized. The Swiss attack actually looked dangerous through the center, but in their zeal get back in the game, they sent too many players forward, left their rearguard vulnerable, and the French took advantage of it on the counter. No doubt here that France, smelling blood, went for the jugular. Not much to comment on here. A merciless French execution on a Swiss team that quite frankly has only itself to blame for its execution.

 

Honduras 1-2 Ecuador:  This one was a track meet. No midfield control to speak of, just back and forth. Both teams just got possession of the ball and immediately pounded it forward into the final third. No creativity, no flair, no tactical scheme, no organization, no combination play – no nuance at all. Things just stalled for both when they went out on the flanks; it was all about getting forward directly through the center. It certainly was fun for the fans to watch, but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t work unless you are playing somebody that plays just like that. Then it becomes a function of which slugger is left standing after the onslaught – in this case Ecuador. Enner Valencia is making the most of his World Cup debut for Ecuador, and Antonio Valencia move to the center made getting the ball to Enner that much easier. When the ball did get into the box – which was frequently – there wasn’t much nuance on shooting, just hard shots directly at the goal, with both keepers having to make frequent saves. Somebody had to win this slugfest; I’m not really surprised it was Ecuador. You kind of had to figure this wasn’t the kind of game that Honduras could get out of alive.

 

Argentina 1-0 Iran:  Argentina went with a more adventuresome 4-3-3 attack-minded approach. Despite proclaiming before the match that they would go forward more in attack (a far cry from their previous game against Nigeria), Iran dropped back in numbers, and gave up an almost 4-1 advantage in possession to Argentina – a recipe for disaster. Good wing play going forward by Pablo Zabaleta and Angel di Maria. Iran’s attack consisted of crushing a long pass into the attacking end, then hoping for a corner or set piece – which Argentina was good at defending. I think that was more a function of resetting their defense than any actual designs on putting the ball in the net. Iran actually did a pretty good job of keeping Leo Messi out of the penalty area, and Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero seemed to be off target most of the game. Argentina was not effectively spreading the Iranian backline with the three frontmen, who should have been going wide, then getting the ball into the box. On two occasion Iran had very good chances on goal due to banging the ball forward and Ashkan Dejagah getting his head on the ball, with Argentine keeper Sergio Romero having to make a couple of great saves. Thank Gawd for Messi, who found enough of a crease on the edge of the box for a shot that found the back of the net.

 

Germany 2-2 Ghana:  Much more patient buildup by Germany, which is why unlike their previous game against the United States, Ghana much less frenetic and much more compact in their own end. Clearly Ghana’s game plan was to close down the area between the midfield and backline, wait on the Germans until they made a mistake, then use their speed and athleticism to counter. What I like about Germany is the movement off the ball up front by the three attackers Mesut Oezel, Thomas Mueller, and Mario Goetze, who fluidly switch from central players to flankers on a moment’s notice, leaving the opposition confused. The goal by Goetze was a perfect example of this; Mueller floated out to the right, pick up the ball, and put in a perfect pass to Goetze in the box, who did not get closed down by the two Ghanaian central defenders. Ghana play more of an east-west game than a north-south game, but on the rare occasions when Cristian Atsu made things happen on the right flank going forward, Ghana got quality chances in the German penalty area. A lack of pace combined with fatal mental lapses means that it is probably time for Per Mertesacker to take a seat; his mistakes were directly responsible for two Ghanaian goals. I don’t know how he does it, but at World Cup time, Miroslav Klose just seems to have a nose for goal. Both attacks opened up; when Germany got down a goal, they sent numbers forward and loosened up in the back, which allowed Ghana to hit on the counter. The second half was by far the best half of football in the tournament so far.

 

Nigeria 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina:  Nigeria’s front four of Michale Babatunde, Ahmed Musa, Peter Odemwingie, and Emmanual Emenike finally used their speed and athleticism to create some chances in the attacking end. Bosnia did a good job of putting passes together through the center, putting passes together and getting Eden Dzeko open in the box, but they were decidedly lacking on the flanks. Early on, the Super Eagles’ chances on goal were more a result of mistakes in the back by Bosnia. The direct approach by Nigeria was certainly making the Bosnian defense uncomfortable, evinced by Odemwingie’s goal. But the Bosnian defense was no less under duress, as Dzeko was breaking their backline with quick runs into the box to break the Nigerian offside trap. Bosnia took a very big chance by having seven midfielders on the pitch, with only two defenders. It would have worked a helluva lot better had they used the flanks more and not attacked almost exclusively through the center. However well the combination play going forward was working for Bosnia, the Super Eagles were clogging the center and interrupting the Bosnian attack. Miralem Pjanic did such a great job in the middle of finding players in the box that Bosnians just know that when he gets the ball just run into space and he will find them. Bosnia furiously tried to score, continually pounding the ball into the box to Dzeko. I think that Bosnia would have been better served if another striker had been put in up top at some point during the game with Dzeko. Two reasons why Bosnia-Herzegovina is going home: (1) They should have put in two strikers, and (2) they should have taken better advantage of the flanks. It’s easy for them to blame the refereeing, but they have only themselves to blame for their early exit from the tournament.

 

Belgium 1-0 Russia:  Both teams tactically played exactly the way they wanted: Belgium looked to fluidly build with a patient attack, stretching the opposition on the flanks, and combination passing to break down the defense; Russia looked to interrupt the Belgium attack in the midfield, then quickly get the ball upfield on the counter. While Belgium got the ball on the attacking end more often and won the possession battle, Russia took more quality shots on goal in the box. Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen did well on the flanks to stretch the Russians, creating space for the short passing to work. Frontman Dries Mertens didn’t get many quality shots off for Belgium, but he kept the Russian backline on their backheels, making quality runs into space and getting off his shots. Whether is was Vermaelen or his replacement Jan Vertonghen at right back, it didn’t matter, Russia was finding space on that side in the back to counter (this is the second game in a row that teams took advantage of Belgium’s right rearguard to advance the ball in the attacking end). Romelu Lukaku was pretty damn useless the entire tournament; he wasn’t getting on the end of anything or finishing anything. The finishing in this game was atrocious.

 

South Korea 2-4 Algeria:  I’m actually impressed with the Desert Foxes. The team that hasn’t score a single World Cup goal since the Reagen administration actually got forward and showed a certain connectivity in the final third. Korea looked confused both in midfield and in the back. Maybe that’s why a normally cautious team such as Algeria went for a more attack-minded approach today; they were playing to their opponents. Good old fashioned, up-the-middle, over the top direct attacking is taking advantage of Korea’s chaos in the center of their backline. Which is made all the more prevalent even on defending set pieces. Algeria made the long ball work to the lone target man up front. No real midfield control from either side, this was not a tactical chess match. This was all about direct attacking, a slugfest that one side monopolized. Get numbers forward, do it quickly, take players on, play directly and make things happen; it worked so well for Algeria that you wonder why they never played like this before. Why in previous World Cup fixtures dating back to 1982 did they always park the bus with numbers in the back, batten down the hatches, play trench warfare and just hope they didn’t get bombed out of existence? Kudos to Korea for not quitting; the Route One approach was working for them, and they were finding holes to exploit in the normally disciplined Algerian defense. That may have been a function of Algeria sending numbers forward in attack and leaving their normally reliable rearguard exposed. But it was too little too late. A surprisingly exciting game from two teams you normally don’t associate with exciting futbol.

 

United States 2-2 Portugal:  Whose idea was it to put a stadium in the middle of the Amazon rain forest?! Don’t you think it might help the US if, instead of just interrupting the Portuguese attack and clearing it, they did something to actually did something to maintain possession?! Not the start the US was hoping for; the first time they have to deal with a clearance in the box, they totally muff it. Confident ball movement both north-south and east-west from Portugal. It wasn’t just Cristiano Ronaldo making things happen on the flanks; Andre Almeida and Nani were integral on both flanks. Much more influential play from midfielder Michael Bradley this game, who practically disappeared against Ghana. The US did a pretty good job of keeping Ronaldo from making one of his patented runs through the back into the box. Ronaldo had the freedom to move anywhere on the pitch, and he spent a lot of time trying to get forward through the center, which allowed Fabien Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley the freedom to get forward on the flanks. The one thing that Jozy Altidore brings to the US is a physicality to gain possession in the box. Joao Moutinho had a great game as the provider in the center for Portugal. When Portugal brought in defensive midfielder William, Bradley didn’t have any space to provide in the midfield, and the US attack stalled. In response, the US moved their attack out to the flanks, specifically out to the right where Ronaldo didn’t do anything when Portugal didn’t have possession, so Johnson had room and space to get forward. And things opened up immensely when DeAndre Yedlin came in on the right. The US clearly still needs to learn how to finish teams off, but nobody should be surprised that Ronaldo is also a world-class crosser and provider. He wasn’t a factor on goal but he made his presence felt at the end. A cruel finish for the United States.

 

– daveydoug

FIFA World Cup 2014 First Group Fixtures

Some random observations after the first group fixtures:

 

Brazil 3-1 Croatia:  Not the greatest performance from the tournament favorites and the home team. Early on Croatia clogged up the middle of the field on their half of the pitch, and Brazil did not take advantage of the flanks. In the first 20 minutes Dani Alves was shirking his defensive responsibilities by playing upfield too much, leaving his rearguard vulnerable to effective counterattacks by Ivica Olic and Darijo Srna; that more than anything was responsible for the Marcelo’s own-goal. Oscar and Neymar finally got off the schneid at about the 25th minute with some crisp combination play through Croatia’s middle. Truth be told, all three of Brazil’s goals were stoppable. Goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa seemed slow on the uptake and looked every second of his 35 years, reacting late to shots that should have been stopped. Even the penalty by Neymar was stoppable despite the cheese he put on it. That said, the acting job by Fred in the box conned the refs into giving that penalty, which doesn’t bode well for the officiating in this tournament. Brazil was surprisingly deficient on the flanks going forward, which is highly out of character for world-class wingers Marcelo and Dani Alves. Croatia played Brazil tough. Even though they didn’t attack in numbers and weren’t able to put together a concerted attack, Croatia did get some quality shots off, and had Brazil’s defense frazzled and unorganized at times. When the competition gets tougher for Brazil, Julio Cesar’s indecisiveness in goal is going to matter. Even though it was a win, there is much for coach Luis Felipe Scolari to be concerned about going forward; he can’t be pleased.

 

Mexico 1-0 Cameroon:  It didn’t help two speedy teams that it rained heavily, slowing down both teams and the ball. Still, Mexico was effective on the flanks going forward, especially Miguel Layun on the left, who found space, got in front of the Cameroon defense, and made great crosses into the box. Cameroon couldn’t get any front people into the box and couldn’t sustain any attack. Mexico had a 3-1 advantage in possession early. Cameroon never really played with any sense of urgency, taking their time in possession pushing numbers upfield. Both teams played soft in the center of defense, Mexico did a slightly better job of taking advantage of it, and El Tri forwards Gio dos Santos and Oribe Peralta finally made Cameroon pay on the goal. Only then did Cameroon finally push numbers forward, but their attack in the offensive end still looked disjointed and unorganized. As things opened up for Cameroon they became more disjointed in the back. A sloppy game all around for both squads. If Cameroon continues to play like this – sit back and wait and rely solely on getting the ball to Samuel Eto’o up front – then this is going to be a short stay for them.

 

Spain 1-5 Netherlands:  The marquee fixture of the group phase. While not nearly as much as previous incarnations of La Roja Furia, Spain controlled possession for most of the first half. Still, Holland was making some surprising runs through the center, and Daley Blind was a revelation on the left flank, getting forward and getting the ball into the Spain penalty box with regularity. Throughout the first half, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Diego Costa actually were able to make the Dutch backline uncomfortable, as witnessed by the Xabi Alonso penalty. But in the minutes before the half the Dutch really frustrated Spain in attack on the flanks. Blind put a spot-on 50 yard pass to Robin Van Persie, who got ahead of an uncharacteristically ineffectual Gerard Pique and put a beautiful 20-yard header over an equally uncharacteristically indecisive Iker Casillas. Who knew that after halftime we would witness a champion’s historic collapse?! For whatever reason, Spain’s backline, goalkeeper and flanks were 6&7’s. The Dutch triangle attack (Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie) put their foot on the neck of Spain and went for the jugular, getting forward quickly in counterattack with long passes from the back and totally crushing the Spanish defense with four unanswered goals. It was just too easy. The few times a harried Spanish attack actually got forward the Dutch center of defense (Ron Vlaar, Stefan de Drij, Nigel de Jong) closed them down. All of a sudden, Xavi and Iniesta, best midfield combination in the world, could do nothing. It was as complete a destruction as has ever been seen in a World Cup, and by far the worst ever demolition of a defending World Cup champion. Spain uncharacteristically finds themselves at the bottom of the group by a lot with Chile’s defeat of Australia, and it is now imperative they get full points against Chile in their next fixture. If not, it is likely their defense of their world championship comes to a crushing end in less than a week of this tournament.

 

Chile 3-1 Australia:  You just knew that Chile were going to send numbers forward in waves, run at Australia and attack, attack, attack. They didn’t disappoint. Alexis Sanchez was Johnny-on-the-spot, taking advantage of the chaos in front of goal and the disorganization in the Socceroos backine to score and assist on Jorje Valdivia’s in the center of the box. Early on Australia tried closing down a quick, fast Chilean attack; it didn’t work. Plus, Chilean wingers Eugenio Mena and Gonzalo Jara were making it happen on the flanks, quickly countering and making great throughballs. In only 14 minutes it looked like this would be a slaughter. But Australia figured out that their best course of action was to drop players into the center and cut off Chile’s passing lanes, intercept Chile’s passes and make long passing counterattacks into a Chilean backline that often just had two defenders playing a high line in the back because of the numbers they were sending forward. It worked to a point. Ivan Franjic with a long pass from the right flank into the box and Tim Cahill used his height and strength in the air to head one in and get one back. It played out like that the rest of the way: Long counterattacks into the center of both backlines that were interrupted and led to more counterattacks. It was fun to watch. Cahill was great in attack, getting surprisingly great service mostly through the middle and making great shots; that kind of thing will happen when Chile didn’t have any center-halfs on the pitch. But the better concerted attack was still by Chile, and you just kind of knew they were going to get one more before time, this time by sub Jean Beausajour on a shot outside the box. Not just a big win for Chile, but with Spain’s thrashing Chile is in second with a +6 goal differential. A more entertaining match by Australia than anybody had any right to expect; clearly the Socceroos will not just lay down and die.

 

Columbia 3-0 Greece:  Good combination play from Columbia, who made things happen early going forward with short, crisp one-touch passes. You will not find more attacking fullbacks anywhere than Juan Zuniga and Pablo Armero, who combined with James Rodrigues on the right to create the lone goal of the half. After that, Columbia was quite happy to sit back and let the patient, uncreative Greek attack maintain possession and counter down the flanks. Both teams showed a certain lack of defending set pieces, which is what keeping Greek in the game. Things opened up in the second half if for no other reason than because it had to for Greece, who powered forward a little more but didn’t use the flanks very effectively, allowing Columbia to clog up the middle and interrupt the slow Greek buildup. Because Greece loosened up, Columbia found a little more space going forward, still making effective use of the right flank. Greece’s weakness defending set pieces finally matter on Teo Gutierrez’s goal from a corner. Greece actually got some service into the box but there was nobody there on the end of it. Greece’s midfield and backline just kind of fell asleep on Columbia’s final goal, which doesn’t bode well for them from here.

 

Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica:  About what you would expect from Uruguay: stay back and wait for the opposition to make a mistake going forward, then quickly get the ball forward to your two strikers in counter with long passes culminating in long passes. But Costa Rica was able to slow the Uruguayan attack down by staying in front of them. Good penalty call by the official; Junior Diaz dragged down Diego Lugano gridiron style. The only Costa Rican making anything happen on the attacking end for Costa Rica was forward Joel Campbell, but mostly by long shots. A rare defensive lapse in the back by Uruguay left Campbell alone in the box for a cross from the right, which he buried. Mental lapses by Uruguay killed Uruguay, as they allow Oscar Duarte to get open on a set piece and bury a header. Uruguay tried to thrust forward but Costa Rica stayed in front of them, interrupting the Uruguayan attack. Because Uruguay sent numbers forward, their backline was exposed to frequent Joel Campbell runs through the middle of the attacking end. Campbell took advantage of the center of a Uruguayan defense playing too far forward by taking a pass on the right flank and sending a throughball to a streaking sub Marcos Ureya, who put a cheeky shot into the left corner of the net. I understand Uruguay’s frustration, but at the end they totally lost their discipline, and Maxi Periera clearly deserved a red card. In a group with 3 former World Cup champions, to one side that doesn’t have a title comes up with the shock result of the tournament so far.

 

England 1-2 Italy:  Glad to see that Steven Gerard is not on the pitch with Frank Lampard. Lampard is out of form and two previous World Cups has proven that the pairing just doesn’t work. Also glad to see that Roy Hodgson has new blood on the pitch in midfield in Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, who seem to work well up front. Confident play both in attack and transition back in defense up and down the right flank by Glen Johnson and Danny Welbeck. England surrounded Italy striker Mario Balotelli but did nothing early to close down talisman Andrea Pirlo, who found room to distribute in midfield. When England showed pace in attack they caused Italy all kinds of problems. Pirlo with a brilliant stepover on the set piece, drawing away the defense from Marchisio, allowing him to make a fantastic long range finish. Equally brilliant quick counter by England down their left, with Wayne Rooney servicing Daniel Sturridge for the equalizer. While the left side of England’s flank was doing well in attack, they were more than lacking in defense, where Italy (in the person of Antonio Candreva) took advantage of Leighton Baines all game long, and it mattered on the Balotelli header for a goal. Of course, once Italy went up a goal, they dropped back in numbers, never giving England any space in the attacking third. As usual, England never played with any urgency. A winnable game for England that didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to beat an ordinary Italian side.

 

Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan:  Typical of African sides, Ivory Coast were looking to run early at Japan. The front four for Japan of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki, Shinji Kagawa, and Yuya Osako found holes in the Elephants defense, and ran at them through the middle throughout. Ivory Coast are usually pretty adept at defending set pieces, but didn’t close down Honda on the corner, which led to a score for Japan. Surprisingly soft defense by Ivory Coast, and while Japan’s backline is not physical, they are closing down the Ivorian attack such that they can’t get numbers into the box. The Ivorians couldn’t convert on some good set piece shots, and the Japanese collapsed into the center of their own end on the rare occasions the Ivory Coast attacked down the flanks. The Elephants were playing less as a team and looking more for individual accomplishment. The Ivorians found out the it helps to send numbers into the box so that your wingers can send in service. But I do think that the inclusion of finisher Didier Drogba changed the complexion of the game completely; they showed much more organization and put together a more concentrated and concerted attack (though still not making effective use of the flanks). While still not closing down the Japanese attack in the back, the Ivory Coast did interrupt their attack with a better reading of the game in the midfield and timely interceptions. A much-needed win by an African side.

 

Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador:  The Swiss started play a little conservatively, playing a waiting game, while Ecuador found room down the flank, with Jefferson Montero finding space down the left, getting the ball into the box. The Swiss were uncharacteristically deficient on set pieces, a usual strength for them; an easy header by Enner Valencia was proof of that. From then on the Swiss took advantage of Ecuador’s clear weakness in the center of defense, where for good parts of the game Juan Parades and Frickson Erazo were just ball watching. Stephan Lichsteiner was making good headway down the right flank. Switzerland could have been much more effective on set pieces if they had anybody who could take free kicks. In the latter stages of the game, the Swiss played a higher line and started getting more players into the attack in a slightly speedier buildup going forward, but they did most of that through the middle without taking any real advantage of the flanks. Ottmar Hitzfeld looked like a genius when he put forward Admir Mehmedi in, who immediately took advantage of the soft underbelly of the center of Ecuador’s defense with an uncontested header for a score. A much more frenetic attack from Switzerland could have taken better advantage of an indecisive Diego Benaglion in the Ecuadorian goal. In the end, Ecuador’s clear deficiency in the center of their defense mattered with Haris Seferovic’s injury time goal; Ecuador risked too much at the end sending numbers forward in attack, leaving their weak rearguard vulnerable. Clearly a game that should have ended in a draw, with both teams needing work.

 

France 3-0 Honduras:  Linkup play by Honduras just isn’t working. Honduras is relying way too much on getting the ball forward to Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengston and pretty much nobody else. Not only was Honduras giving up an overwhelming majority of possession to France, a full three-fourths of the first half was spent in the Honduran end of the pitch; that is a recipe for disaster. That said, Honduras was not afraid to play with a certain physicality, knocking French players off the ball and hard tackling. It really is surprising that only one goal was scored in the half. Not the world’s greatest service into the box by France. French keeper Hugo Lloris really hasn’t had anything to do. Antoine Greizmann doesn’t have the joie de vivre of Franck Ribery, but he is safe. Once Honduras got down a man, France began taking advantage of quick counters and spreading Honduras thin on the flanks, and it mattered. France got big time contributions from their front three (Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuema, Antoine Greizmann), who were integral in all of France’s goals. This appears to be a very short tournament for Honduras.

 

Argentina 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina:  Well, for starters, Bosnia didn’t seem to realize early on that Mess & Co. didn’t need any help; Argentina has Mess and a bunch of world-class players; an own-goal was the last thing Bosnia needed to give up against a pre-tournament favorite. Argentina came out with a curiously defensive 5-3-2 formation. Problem with this is that Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo are fullbacks, not wingers, and as a result are not effective getting forward on either flank. Bosnia did not play like debutantes, actually doing a good job of controlling pace and tempo. Plus, they did a good job of closing down and dispossessing Lionel Messi. What has saved Argentina has been that clearly-needed three-man backline. No sooner did Argentina bring on a forward for a defender and switch to a 4-3-3 did things open up for both teams. Bosnia found more space to get forward and create chances mostly on the counter, though mostly from long range. Argentina still wasn’t taking much better use of the flanks but they were getting more combination play up to their three front men. Beautiful diagonal run by Messi on a give-and-go, where he found the space in the middle and created a goal. Classis Messi solo run. Eden Dzeko I thought spent too much time out of the opposition penalty area, not providing a target for providers to get him the ball. If the Bosnian goal is any indication, maybe Argentina head coach Alejandro Sabella started the game with a three-man backline because he had questions about keeper Sergio Romo, who let a soft one in by Vedad Ibisevic. That goal was a direct result of Ibisevic subbing in as an extra attacker, giving Bosnia more opportunities going forward. Despite the loss, an impressive debut by Bosnia in their first World Cup. If Argentina has any designs on playing in the Maracana in four weeks, they need to do better than this.

 

Germany 4-0 Portugal:  The Machine vs. The Magician! Clearly Portugal’s attacking scheme is use left-sided Ronaldo’s and right-sided Nani’s cat quickness and world-class speed to counter on the flanks. Needless to say it was Ronaldo making most of the counters into the final third. Germany was finding holes in the Portuguese midfield and defense to throughballs and crosses, which is why a Joao Pereira pulled down Mario Goetze, leading to a Thomas Mueller penalty. Sami Khedira and Phillip Lahm were finds in the center, providing great link-up play through the center. Portugal clearly took off the injury-prone and aging Hugo Almeida for Eder (and not Helder Postiga) because they wanted even more speed up front for the counter. The one thing you can count on from Germany is that they will always be very well prepared in the air and on set pieces, as evidenced by Mats Hummels’ header. Best movement off the ball and combination play by Germany of anybody in the tournament so far. Of course, it helps that Die Manschaft only had to play ten men after Portuguese defender Pepe let his temper get ahead of him and was sent off. It’s finally time that Thomas Mueller be mentioned as one of the great attacking players in the world today. Even just mailing it in Germany played with a certain joie de vivre, and Portugal just plainly gave up.

 

Iran 0-0 Nigeria:  No real midfield control throughout for either team. It was like both sides were circumventing their midfield altogether, instead looking to quickly get the ball into the attacking end from deep. Attack from both teams is more ragged than organized. The Super Eagles had slightly better opportunities on goal than Iran. Nigeria had more of the possession, but with Iran playing five defenders and four deep lying midfielders, that was to be expected. Nigeria was pretty pathetic at both taking set pieces and defending them. Wow was the shooting bad! Crosses were bad! Throughballs were bad! Everything about this fixture was bad on so many levels too numerous to mention. Maybe we all just got used to prolific scoring from practically all the previous tournament matches so far, but this game was played badly by two really bad teams that makes you wonder how either one of them got here, with hopes that both have very short stays and save us all the trouble of having to watch them any further.

 

Ghana 1-2 United States:  Coming into the match, most agreed that the U.S. would have to weather the early storm and not, at any cost, concede the opener to the Black Stars in the first 20 minutes of the match. So when Dempsey took a simple pass from Jermaine Jones at the top the box and dribbled his way past John Boye for a brilliant individual goal — the fastest in U.S. World Cup history — they were playing with house money. They’d need every cent of it. When play resumed, the Ghanaians dominated the Yanks the rest of the way, attacking repeatedly on the right side against U.S. left-back DaMarcus Beasley and pinning them back in their own end for long stretches. The U.S. couldn’t maintain any semblance of possession, and couldn’t get forward. It only got worse when target man Jozy Altidore, a vital, pressure-relieving outlet up top, was forced to leave the match midway though the first half with what was officially diagnosed as a left hamstring strain. When that happened, Aron Johannsson, a capable striker, made for a lacking target man, and the U.S. attack stalled the rest of the match. From then on the U.S. dropped back in their own half, gave up possession, took a siege mentality and tried to hold on for dear life. While Ghana attacked with fury, it wasn’t a very strategic or tight attack. Sam’s Army’s goal was peppered throughout a one-sided second half, and it was no surprise when Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew linked-up for a classy leveller in the 82nd minute.  For well over an hour, Ghana’s eventual 82nd minute equalizer seemed inevitable. Second-half sub John Brooks played the unlikely hero four minutes later with a header on a corner kick. Despite Ghana’s one score keeper Tim Howard came up big, and proved why he should be in the discussion of the best goalkeepers in the world. An unlikely three points for Sam’s Army, but much needed with Portugal dropping full points earlier.

 

Belgium 2-1 Algeria:  Surprisingly patient buildup by Algeria, a far cry from the team four years ago that just got in front of the ball and were happy with just surviving. Both teams used a patient buildup in attack, with short, crisp passing to maintain midfield control. Algeria put more men in front of the Belgian attack, so confident Belgium was in their backline. Belgium was one of the few teams that used fullbacks instead of wingers that went deep into the attacking end. An uncharacteristic moment of stupidity by defender Jan Vertonghen – unusual for a normally disciplined defense – resulted in a penalty by Sofiane Feghouli and early lead for Algeria. From that moment on, Algeria reverted to form and dropped back in numbers in their own end, looking to hang on for dear life. Belgium stuck to their patient buildup attack, not concentrating on any particular side of the pitch to find gaps to attack. Surprisingly lethargic movement by the Belgians, but the buildup through the center by Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Alex Witsel showed pretty decent combination play even if it lacked quickness and any real ability to service target man Romelu Lukaku. The first Belgium goal by Marouane Fellaini was a result of the Desert Foxes backline finally getting stretched thin on the flanks. The second Belgium goal by Dries Mertens was a result of too many Algerian players getting caught on the attacking end, enabling Belgium to quickly counter. In any case Algeria stayed on their backheels the rest of the game. Not the start Belgium had in mind if they want to be serious contenders.

 

Russia 1-1 South Korea:  Excellent movement from both teams, though both attacks are more frenetic than organized. Neither team is spending a lot of time organizing a strategic attack in the midfield, instead making quick runs into the final third on both ends and getting quick shots off. Both defenses have holes in them, and practically no attack is being interrupted in the midfield. Because both teams are finding space in the opposition defense, neither team is committing numbers forward in attack. It does, however, make for a pretty exciting game. Considering there was lots of space to take advantage of on both ends the shot selection by both teams was pretty slipshod. You had to figure that with both sides spending as much time attacking both penalty areas, somebody had to break through. The best shots on goal were on set pieces, which indicates a weakness by both sides at defending them. It took an Igor Akinfeev mistake in the Russian goal to break the ice; until that moment he had been pretty reliable. Why it is that Russian coach Fabio Capello left Alexandre Kerzhakov on the bench until the 72nd minute is beyond me, but after scoring that equalizer amid the chaos they created in the Korean box, I’m betting Capello won’t make that mistake again. Russia kept attacking after the equalizer – they had no choice; they had used up all their substitutions by then and the players on the pitch were attacking players. It made for exciting football at the end.

 

– daveydoug

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