Friday, June 27, 2014

Round of 16 is set, looking back to one of the best group stages of any World Cup

The World Cup version 2014 has been nothing short of amazing. I was telling some friends this the best World Cup I have seen. I would compare it to the 1982 version. After Thursday, we knew who we would have in the round of 16. Some very intriguing match ups to say the least, more on that in another post. But for this post we should take a look back at the great matches we witnessed over the group stages. Here are some thoughts:

Best Matches - The three matches that stick out to me:
  • Holland v Spain - Right from the start we were given a match between two football super powers and the two teams that faced off in the World Cup finals in South Africa. The game did not let us down, well those of us who were neutral supporters or fans of Oranje! A good first half of back and forth footy. Had Silva scored on his clear cut opportunity and the game might have taken a very different tone. Alas for Spain, it was only a 1-1 draw at the half. The second half was a clinic of football when a pacy, lethal side faces an aging and maybe a little too lazy side. The game could have easily finished 6-1 or 7-1. Regardless, Oranje absolutely eviscerated by the likes of Robben and RVP. 
  • Uruguay v England - In the group of "Champions" this was a massive match up. Prior to the tournament it was already hyped up with Suarez facing England, the nation where he scores a ton of goals and bites players for a living with Liverpool. The game was only made more tense with both England and Uruguay having lost their first games of the group. The game was typical for England. A collection of names on the pitch that never seemed to know how to work together. Granted they put on a valiant effort. But clearly they were not a well functioning unit. One mistake and they saw Suarez bag his brace and send England home. 
  • Germany v Ghana - Yes this game ended in a draw. But both teams emptied their tanks. I have never seen a professional footy game where multiple players from both sides have their hands on their knees late in the game. 4 great goals. Germany opens the scoring on a typical German goal - well created, clinical finish. Ghana strikes back quickly with two beautiful goals. Finally they succumb to the German machine and ... Klose.  Who draws level with Ronaldo (the one from Brazil) for the all time leading goal scorer in the World Cup.
  • Other games of note: USA v Ghana, France v Switzerland, Argentina v Iran, Chile v Spain, Algeria v South Korea, Costa Rica v Italy.
Best Players - Here are the three players that have stepped it up
  • Robben from the Netherlands has been a man possessed. Like someone who missed some golden opportunities last World Cup and has something to prove! He and RVP absolutely shred Spain apart. Against Chile his pace was something Chile did not have an answer for. He and RVP will determine how far Holland can go this tournament.
  • Neymar from Brazil has been the safety blanket for the home nation. I was sitting with the Gooner at local watering hole watching the opening game between Brazil and Croatia and I remember telling him I thought Neymar was a tad overrated....oops. He has been a man on a mission for his home land. Brazil has become a little too over reliant on him, something to watch for as the tournament continues. But he has done nothing to disappoint in that trust placed in him.
  • Messi, much like Neymar, has been a one man life jacket for Argentina. Saving the Albiceleste in the first two matches from embarrassing results. After a failed 2010 World Cup, he clearly has stepped up his game for this version. Switzerland needs to figure out how to control the Barcelona man, not sure there is a solution to this challenge.
  • Other players of note: Dempsey USA, Benzema France, Muller Germany, Oscar Brazil.
Best Goals - there have been some amazing goals during the group top 3
  • RVP diving header against Spain. Absolutely ridiculous goal. High difficulty, ball from deep over his shoulder, decides do dive forward and just flick the ball over Casillas.  
  • Dempsey opens the scoring against Ghana. Watching the goal in replay you realize the ball control and fake he breaks out to get a clear look at goal...then he has the wherewithal to pick his head up and hit the ball with his left foot and tucks it in far post.
  • Shaqiri's hits a laser against Honduras. The Swiss fire hydrant of a winger cuts in from the right and hits a laser to the opposite corner. Just filthy.
  • Other goals - Messi's curler against Iran, Robben's second goal against Spain, Cahill's volley against Holland, Gyan's quick strike against Germany.  
Biggest Surprises:
  • Costa Rica...stuck in the group of Champions and they finish first? Wow. Good for them. Their pace could surprise Greece and get the CONCACAF side into the 1/4 finals. A real pleasant surprise.
  • Colombia, I was pleasantly surprised that this team has done so well. I thought that without Falcao they would struggle...just think how good they would be had their Monaco striker not been hurt!
  • CONCACAF - 3 out of 4 teams have advanced to the next round. And based on their match ups, all of the 3 nations have legitimate chances of advancing to the 1/4 finals. I am the first to make fun of the region...but they have proven me wrong.
  • Algeria - France's B team! They played Belgium close, and could have drawn or even won that match. Played a much more open and attacking football against South Korea and were rewarded. Facing Germany in the knock outs....queue up the 1982 footage.
 Biggest Disappointments:
  • a class of its own. I do not buy the argument that this tournament was "one too far." They still have plenty of talent - Cesc, Carzola, Silva, Pedro to name a few. But they seemed to "force" Costa into the top of their formation. Not only do I question whether or not he was fully fit, he also didn't seem to fit the system. Insisting on starting Casillas, a keeper that wasn't even his club's first choice, proved to be a disaster. Spain has to much talent to have crashed out this way.
  • Italy and England, I will lump them together since they played in the Group of Champions and both got dumped out. The game they played against each other was drab and the drabness only continued. The Azzurri looked awful against both Costa Rica and Uruguay. At least the Three Lions put up some fight against Uruguay. But overall the two former World Cup champs are heading home having one win, one draw, and 4 losses...ugly.
  • Cote D'Ivoire - The African side should have gone through, yes there was a dubious PK at the end of their game versus Greece, but it was a foul and a penalty. Samaris only kicked the ground because his legs got clipped. But still a disappointment for a nation that has carried the "best hope for Africa" for a few tournaments. I was hoping they would finally put it together and get through what was a weak group.
I am not going to call Portugal a disappointment, because I felt they were being over hyped to start with! Maybe it would have been better had Zlatan and Sweden qualified. This has been a great set of group games. And now the round of 16 starts. Take a breath on Friday and get ready starting Saturday!

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