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FIFA World Cup 2014 Blog

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A Winter's Tale


13th June: The first full day of the 20th FIFA World Cup finals is complete and what a day it has been as the tournament came alive. Starting with last night, Brazil came through controversially and unconvincingly against a well-organised, technically skillful but ultimately unlucky Croatia. Unlike the past two World Cup opening games which saw wonder goals, the first goal was an own goal by Brazil's Marcello. A lot has been said about the expectations on poster-boy Neymar who scored two goals. Brazil's second was a diabolical refereeing decision and shortly afterwards Croatia were unlucky to have a goal disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper. Croatia had chances going into the final part of the game before Brazil's best play of the match, Oscar, scored a decent third goal. A good result to start with for Brazil and they did overcome a test but they were underwhelming in terms of creativity and the way they defended at times although they pressed well. Brazil should progress as group winners, whilst Croatia who played better than expected need to raise themselves for Cameroon.

Today's first game was Mexico v Cameroon and the controversy continued as the refereeing continued to be unimpressive with two shocking off-side decisions denying Mexico's dos Santos two perfectly good first half goals. Mexico were better than I expected and played some nice attacking football although their defending at set-pieces was generally poor. Mexico got a deserved 1-0 win over a poor, underwhelming Cameroon side who as expected failed to play cohesively as a team. Sammuel Eto'o was so isolated up front and Cameroon sat back throughout much of the game. 4 World Cup defeats in a row, and probably soon to be 6.

Then, the much anticipated encounter between the World Cup finalists of 2010, Champions Spain vs the Netherlands - a game expected to be a dull, tight affair as so often high-profile games fail to live up to expectations. Going into the game, I expected the Netherlands to have a poor campaign like Euro 2012 despite qualifying with ease under Louis van Gaal. Spain at times can lack energy, effectiveness and perhaps desire after being the best team in the world for 6 years. They are still the best country in international football with the selection of players to choose from but sometimes to they fail to score goals or gel well enough in midfield to create moves and passes with intent rather than just keeping the ball, and despite not conceding many goals, their defense can be suspect. Being in such a tough group and with a team that is slightly passed its peak there was always a slight chance that they might slip up. The likelihood of that has increased greatly. Spain after nearly losing an early goal, had a comfortable first half against a dutch team who were more solid than I expected but kept on playing the high ball. Spain weren't at their best but they had a good shape and almost went 2-0 up if it weren't for David Silva's saved shot. Then Robin van Persie scored an excellent header just before half-time which changed the shape of the game. The Spain team to me seemed a little more tired/lethargic than usual - and I seem to recall a similar look to the team in the Confederations Cup last year. In the second half, Spain lost their, lost confidence and were shattered physically and mentally - perhaps after a long season with many clubs competing for trophies. They were soon to be shell-shocked as the whole World was as we witnessed one of the most extraordinary second halves in the history of the World Cup. The dismantling of a great, domineering Spain side of 6 years into a pile of debris was astounding - give how they had the game under control in the first half against an unfancied dutch side. Never has the first game at the World Cup for the reigning champions - against their opponents in the final - have been humiliated and stunned in such a manner that will be talked about for decades. The Netherlands won 5-1! Which is incredible given how Spain conceded only two goals in South Africa and this was the most goals they've lost in a game since Scotland won 6-2 in Madrid in 1963. Spain's midfield lost control and the seemingly tired defense and the goalkeeper were mauled as Arjen Robben scored two great goals, Van Persie got another goal from a Casillas howler, and Stefan de Vrijj scored a cheap goal from a set-piece in which Casillas was at fault again - although perhaps a foul was inflicted on the keeper. It could have been worse, in reality it should have been 8 and given how Spain was really their for the taking and the sublime counter-attacking form of the Netherlands and Arjen Robben in particular, it could even have been 10. This result has well and truly triggered the tournament alive, displaying how anything can happen to anyone. Spain are in serious danger of going out with talk of an end of an era whilst the expectations and opinions of the Netherlands have escalated. You have to hand it the Van Gaal, the coaching staff and players, the Netherlands shape was really superb and they were far fitter than Spain in the second half. As for Spain, given the options Del Bosque has on his bench (or the players such as Navas, Isco and Negredo who were left out) he has a real head-ache on line-ups and tactics. There were midfield options such as Mata, Fabregas and Koke on the bench. David Silva didn't look his best nor did Iniesta or Alonso. Spain's midfield lacked intensity when they had and didn't have the ball. Xavi in particular struggled and looks like a player who is sadly passed his best - perhaps a young player like Koke should have been selected instead. Chelsea's attacking RB didn't have the greatest of games and Spain struggled to support him on the right-hand side where there was a lot of space. Perhaps Atheltico's Juanfran should have played instead and remarkably Casillas could be dropped. There are big problems for Spain and their biggest problem is they don't have the best options for goal-scorers to be integrated into the side. I've got a feeling that the unthinkable will happen and Spain will be knocked-out. The end of an era? Yes, but not entirely so. Of course some of the veterans who have been at the heart of Spain's success won't be around for the Euros in 2016, but Spain are still the best in the world in terms of the array and variety of players to select from and there are some younger players - a few in this squad - who will replace some of the old guard. History tells us that barely any team retains their World title, and most certainly European teams never win in South America so this isn't all that surprising. Think of France in 2002, they failed to score a single goal and lost all their group games, Italy in 2010 only picked up 2 points. There are examples of epic failures of retaining a title but there are also examples of teams returning to compete in following tournaments - France reached the final of the 2006 World Cup and Italy were runners up at Euro 2012. I don't think Spain's era of competing at the top is done yet.

The final game saw the dark horses to go far in the World Cup, Chile, go up against the lowest ranked side at the finals, Australia. The first 15 minutes were very, very impressive from Chile with their crazy, high-intensity, exciting, fast, attacking and entertaining football go 2-0 up against a worryingly shaky Australia. However, Chile's quality waned somewhat and Australia grew more into the game and exposed Chile's rather unorthodox defending with a fine header from Tim Cahill. The second half was an exciting end to end game before Chile scored a 3rd goal just before the end. Entertaining and overall, pretty impressive stuff from Chile and it will be intriguing to see where they go in the competition.

There are four more games to look forward to tomorrow:
Colombia v Greece, Uruguay v Costa Rica, England v Italy & Ivory Coast v Japan.

After a very good, enthralling start to the World Cup with 15 goals and a classic World Cup game, the finals have got off to a much better start than South Africa in 2010. Hopefully the goals and excitement will continue tomorrow.

14th June:

Not quite as dramatic as yesterday but not too far off with more World Cup excitement. The first game was South American dark horses Colombia against the stubborn and defensive minded Greece. Colombia got off to a good start to their first World Cup since 1998 with an early goal - but a poor goal to concede by Greece. After that, although Colombia always were a threat in an attacking sense and Greece didn't really cause them too many problems, it was clear to see that Colombia were not great at the back and Greece failed to exploit this - Gekas who had a poor game horribly missed an open goal at 2-1 which was their chance to get back into the game. Greece just weren't flexible enough in an attacking sense and their forward players didn't link up well or move into great positions to unsettle the Colombian defence. Samaras was probably their best play going forward. I thought Greece were fairly in control of the game but couldn't get their grip on it in the second half. It was easy to see why Greece are successful and difficult to break down in qualifying but it was also easy to see why they have lost so many of their World Cup games. As for Colombia, they were slightly disappointing but went on to win 3-0 and put themselves in a good position to progress. Falcao will be a huge miss and I don't see Colombia going too far.

The second game was Uruguay v Costa Rica. Going into the tournament, Uruguay have been regarded as a side with the potential to go far. I could see this given the array of attacking talent and their performances at the last World Cup and Copa America. However, despite the hype, I was aware of their flaws which could cost the team. Despite the excellent Diego Godin, Uruguay are very suspect at the back and at times their attacking players don't play well - with Luis Suarez recovering from injury, Edison Cavani being hit and miss and Diego Forlan being past his best, I could foresee some difficulty. Uruguay also didn't really impress at the Olympics nor the Confederations Cup and only qualified via a play off with New Zealand. With Uruguay there was the potential for greatness but at the same time the danger of disaster. Costa Rica, at their first finals since 2006, are somewhat of an unknown quantity and were regarded as the whipping boys. As much as I didn't expect Costa Rica to do much, I was aware that such central American teams will be difficult to beat and may have a say in the outcome of the group. What happened was another pretty big shock after the Netherlands rout yesterday. The first half was poor with Costa Rica being okay but Uruguay looking really flat, poor and tired in very warm and humid conditions - they lead at half-time after converting a penalty. What I've been aware of so far in this World Cup is teams have been tactically aware to be economical about exerting energy in such conditions - Croatia in the first game were reserving energy at 1-1 - and how certain teams were fitter than others in the second halves were certain moments completely unlocked opponents nerves and defences. Yesterday's 8pm kick-off saw Spain lead 1-0 at half-time, then were destroyed by the Netherlands with a dramatic twist in momentum and they looked very much exhausted. Today, same kick-off time was very similar. Uruguay were even worse in the second half and Costa Rica - going into the World Cup without pressure - were fitter, grew in confidence and played well with some outstanding performances, especially Joel Campbell. Uruguay lost the game 3-1 with 3 good goals from a Costa Rica perspective, but defensively terrible from Uruguay who looked woeful at defending set-pieces. A red card to their right-back won't help matters and it's unclear whether Luis Suarez will be fit for the England game. They are in a very similar position to Spain, teams with so much expected of them, having a catastrophic start - especially in confidence- who go into their second games needing a win. Perhaps such a defeat will provoke a response, if not there will be a shock early exit. Certainly Group D got a lot more interesting with Costa Rica potentially being a win away from the last 16.

The stand-out game was England v Italy in Manaus. A lot had been said about the Italian job, the young lions, the conditions and the pitch at Manaus. It was expected to be a tight game, in some sense it was in a similar way to chess, but it was far more intriguing than expected with Italy winning 2-1. Of course there were some positives and a few decent performances and improvements from the last competitive encounter between these two sides for England, but I felt that the Italian's executed their game plan beautifully. For all the attacking talent and pace England had, and some of the inexperience at the back for Italy, the Italian's were generally untested - in what was again a game with its momentum defined and shaped by very small margins. Italy didn't have to run about a lot, they passed the ball well and exploited the space down England's left flank - Baines looked tired and England needed Milner to do the tracking back instead of Rooney, who failed to effectively get involved other than the assist for their goal - aswell as England poorly defending their set-pieces. As a result Italy got the two goals they needed and that was enough. Both teams in general were drained by the conditions, but Italy's tactics and shape and execution of their game plan greatly dealt with the conditions and their opponents. Wayne Rooney, desperate to score his first World Cup goal, missed a vital chance at 2-1 which could have changed the momentum of the game. Towards the end, England had a fair bit of the ball as Italy soaked the pressure - England brought on Barkley and Lallana and Wilshere, who didn't make a huge impact but perhaps didn't have enough time - but what England does with the ball and the quality at their disposal just doesn't come naturally to them and as a result when Italy won the ball they cleverly tapped the ball away from England and set themselves up well to go up the field. A confidence boosting win from Italy who should go on to win the group and they look pragmatic as ever. They were a team who I thought should go through, but though England's young players and Uruguay's strikers would get the better of them - but Italy have the look of a team who could quietly go far. As for England, of course, there were some positives but they will need to recover physically and mentally and prepare for a defining match for both Uruguay and themselves. After the Uruguay result, perhaps England may feel relieved that they aren't behind both Italy and Uruguay, but at the same time must feel disappointed that they didn't take advantage of Uruguay's slip up. England need to prove themselves physically, mentally, tactically, individually and collectively as they have the ability to beat Uruguay, but they are under huge pressure and if things go wrong then they could even finish bottom of the group - but England should take out of this World Cup, no matter what happens, the fact that they've got some decent young talent in their ranks.

Plenty more goals today in what has been an excellent start to this World Cup. Ivory Coast v Japan in the early hours before: Switzerland v Ecuador, France v Honduras, Argentina v Bosnia.

15th June:

Another exciting day with more and more goals. In the early hours, the Ivory Coast from behind to beat a japan side who ran out of steam in the second half with two headed goals in what was another open, end to end game.

The first game of the afternoon was the team ranked 6th in the world, Switzerland vs South Americans Ecuador. Ecuador are a time who don't have a good record away from their high-altitude home. Against a Switzerland team with a strong squad that included some good young players, Ecuador lead at half time against a poor Switzerland. In the second half, Switzerland improved and had complete control of the game. They equalised shortly after half-time and it looked like they had missed their chance to win the game. At the very last action if the game, an Ecuador counter-attack was followed by a Swiss counter attack which resulted in a dramatic last minute winner from Switzerland.

The second game from group e was the young, talented dark horses of France - trying to make amends for their dismal 2010 campaign - against the physical and tricky Central Americans Honduras. I thought France were impressive, with strong individual performances and every player looking comfortable with the ball. They made some good moves and looked strong and sharp. In the first half they lacked the final ball or finish to justify their control of the game. But Honduras, parking the bus, were very difficult to break down as they were very physical and aggressive. France led at half time with a benzema penalty after a second yellow for Honduras' palacios. In the second half, remarkably there was the first ever goal awarded by technology. In all of the premier league season, the goal line technology was never tested like this and this was pretty much as close as it gets. From the TV cameras, it seemed impossible to tell that the ball crossed the line and even the referee was unsure about whether the technology was correct - it showed the ball only just over the line. Honduras should have had more red cards for what was at times dirty football. Benzema got a second goal and France won 3-0. The French were impressive and could go quite far.

The final game was one of the tournament favourites, Argentina against Bosnia and Herzegovina in their debut appearance at a major finals. Both teams went into the game with a reputation for their attacking prowess. Argentina took the lead very early down to an unfortunate own goal. But Argentina were very dissapointing against a very organised and impressive Bosnia side who were the better team. Argentina looked unbalanced, lost the battles in midfield and their key attacking players went missing down to excellent pressing from Bosnia. In the second half, the great Lionel messi, who hasn't scored a World Cup goal since 2006, scored a magnificent goal which lifted him and his team mates as Argentina improved and Bosnia lost their rhythm - but there was a memorable moment when Bosnia scored their first ever World Cup goal just before the end in a 2-1 defeat to Argentina.

Again, another good day at the World Cup and for the first time ever, there have been no draws in the first 11 games. Tomorrow's big game is Germany vs Portugal as well as Nigeria v Iran and USA v Ghana.

16th June:

A mixed day with two memorable games and a forgettable one. The first game was a high profile encounter between of the World Cup favourites, Germany against a solid Portugal side including Cristiano Ronaldo.

After Lione Messi scoring a sublime goal yesterday, all eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo to see whether the World player of the year will come up with the goods. But it was a bad afternoon for him and his team mates as a German side on formidable form won 4-0 with ease. Thomas Muller scored the first hat-trick of the World Cup and has now scored 8 goals in 7 World Cup appearances. Germany were impressive without being tested, especially in the first half when they always had the game under control and they were incredibly organised and always looked a threat up front - especially on the counter-attack. Germany were 3-0 up at half-time after Mats Hummels scored a header for the second and Portugal's Pepe was needlessly sent off for a headbutt. It got worse for Portugal as the lost a couple of players to injury and the entire second half was a training session for Germany. Germany look the part but there are greater challenges awaiting them, and they should now top the group. Portugal's World Cup couldn't have got off to a worse start and they must win their next game or they are out.

The second game was the first draw and goalless game of the World Cup between a very disappointing Nigeria and an organised but unspectacular Iran.

The next game was a lot more memorable. The repeat of a last 16 tie in the 2010 World Cup, USA vs Ghana - two good and organised international sides. The USA couldn't have got off to a better start as Clint Dempsey scored a nice goal within 30 seconds. Perhaps they scored too early as Ghana were on the attack for the rest of the game. The second half was much better with a tremendous atmosphere from both sets of fans. Ghana, looking to get back into the game were dominant against an organised and hard-working USA. Ghana towards the final stages got an equalizer and looked more likely to get the winner but 5 minutes from time, the USA got a dramatic winner with a header from a corner. Ghana, looked like the better footballing side and were unlucky to lose - their chances of reaching the last 16 look bleak. Th USA will b a difficult challenge for Portugal and a victory for the USA would seal a place in the last 16.

17th June:

Probably the poorest day of the World Cup yet but there were further goals on the last day of the first round of fixtures. The first game was a young, talented 'Golden Generation' of Belgian footballers playing their first game in a major international tournament since 2002, against the highest ranked African side and an incredibly difficult team to beat in Algeria. Belgium lack experience on this stage and the the dark horses to win the World Cup almost proved that to be the case. Against a defensive but highly-organised Algerian side, Belgium had plenty of the ball but didn't move it around quickly enough and they lacked penetration. As a result, Algeria led 1-0 at half-time with a penalty. Belgium improved in the second half and two subsitutes in Fellani and Mertens scored two late goals to win the game. It could have been a bad start, but Belgium will relieved and a little confident from passing a tough test.

The next game was Brazil's second group match, against Mexico. Both teams won their opening fixtures and were held to a fairly entertaining 0-0 draw with some top saves from the Mexican goalkeeper. However, Brazil were pretty disappointing whilst Mexico were fairly impressive and played with a decent amount of technical ability and high-energy. The result means the losers of Cameroon v Croatia will be knocked-out of the World Cup.

The final game of the first round of fixtures was Russia v South Korea. After a very disappointing first half, the second half was better from both teams. South Korea led after a shocking howler from the Russian goalkeeper but Russia earned themselves an equalizer. Neither side impressed, Russia will be the more relieved side but they were pretty poor. Belgium should probably win the group.

After an excellent opening round of fixtures, there has been a lot of goals, good exciting football on display but a lack of top quality goals as of yet. There have been some shocks, some great games and teams such as Germany, the Netherlands and France have impressed and a lot of the big name players have performed. It is very much an open World Cup.

18th June: Well, seven days into the World Cup and we have three eliminations in an another absolutely fantastic day of World Cup football. The first game, after a slow start, was one of the best if not the best of the World Cup so far. Australia, who were expected to be the whipping boys, but performed well against Chile were up against a Netherlands side on the back of a 5-1 thrashing over the World Champions. It was a different challenge for the Netherlands against a team they were expected to beat, but given how I thought they came into the World Cup with a fairly poor side by their standards, there was always a chance that the Netherlands would prove that they haven't got a great amount of quality. And that almost proved to be the case (and in terms of performance for large parts, it did prove to be the case). Despite taking the lead with another fantastic solo goal from Ajern Robben, just seconds later Tim Cahill scored what is probably the best goal of the World Cup with a tremendous Van Basten-esque volley. After that, Australia were the better team for the rest of the first half and showed great determination to cause the Netherlands problems - they played above everyone's expectations whilst the Netherlands played to underwhelming levels. And for a time, they took a shock lead from a second-half penalty but the Dutch responded well with two-goals to win 3-2. The dutch did improve but they more or less played in a manner that flatters to deceive as I suspected. However, they have qualified and will battle with Chile to avoid a last 16 tie with Brazil. Australia are out of the World Cup, but they performed well over their two games and have left some sort of a legacy with a good showing at the finals.

After winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and the Euros again in 2012, a hurting Spain side needed to beat an excellent Chile side in order to stay in the World Cup - fail and perhaps it's safe to call it an end of an era. Remarkably, after seven days, Spain are out of the World Cup as their imperial dominance of World football dramatically crumbled so suddenly. In a 2-0 defeat by an excellent, hard-working and technically gifted Chile, Spain were second best and couldn't create anything. In my opinion, on paper they still have the best team/squad in international football, but their style and effectiveness has waned. Some say ticka-tacka has died, but I disagree as I think Spain had lost their grip and efficiency with the concept. Ticka-tacka as a philosophy involves quick movement and releasing of a football. Spain are too slow, one dimensional and take too many touches before passing to really call it ticka-tacka and it has been quite clear over the last 6 years that the excitement, the effectiveness and the manner of that philosophy has evolved, but waned, and there has been far too much emphasis on retaining possession. The Spain side of 2008 was probably the best in terms of how their football was played. Since then, under Vincent del Bosque, Spain kept the ball more but struggled to score goals (8 when they won the World Cup), Fernando Torres in 2010 wasn't the same player prior to injury and they were reliant on David Villa to cut inside and get the goals. Since 2010, some of the best players have aged, some of the old guard are now past it or have retired (Xavi, Puyol, Alonso, Villa, Torres), they lack a good reliable goalscorer, and most importantly they had no width (no Jesus Navas in the squad, and David Villa is past his best days) and the lack of natural wingers and width absolutely killed Spain as it meant that all that their play-makers could do was pass the ball side-wards in the middle of the park. Del Bosque's squad and team selection was debatable with many players who weren't fit, playing regularly or not on their best form and there were options in and out of the squad who could have made a difference. Perhaps Spain should have opted for their youth in order to prepare for future tournaments. Certainly, in a case where no team from Europe has ever won the World Cup in South America, no team has retained it since 1962 there were a lot of things going against Spain, and the performances of France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 and Brazil in 1966 are examples of similar shortcomings. But when you consider the mistakes, the deterioration of their style, how key players are no longer part of the squad or as effective, and how almost all of the players had long, intense and competitive club football this season, then it isn't no real surprise that Spain failed. It is the end of the golden era, but in future years, Spain can't be ruled out from having a few more triumphs.

The final game was Cameroon v Croatia in Manaus, where the loser would be eliminated. And there was only one winner as Cameroon were eliminated in an embarrassing manner. They were very poor in all departments and didn't look a team and they lost their discipline as Alex Song got a stupid first half red card and a few players fell out with each other. Croatia were by far the better team and won 4-0 with a brace from Mario Mandzukic and goals from Perisic and Olic. Croatia were very good and should have scored more goals. They need a win against Mexico to reach the last 16.

19th July:

The first game today was Colombia vs Ivory Coast in group c in an encounter between two sides who won their opening matches. After a fairly dull first half with the Ivory Coast not looking all that inspiring, after the break Colombia led 2-0. The Ivory Coast got a good goal back with a fine solo goal by gervinho but it wasn't enough as Colombia booked a place in the last 16.

England v Uruguay

The final game was a forgettable 0-0 draw between japan and Greece. Greece defended when they went down to 10 men in the first half and japan lacked quality in the final third.

20th June:

Another fascinating day at the World Cup. The first game was an encounter between two teams who won their opening games, underdogs Costa Rica against the experienced Italians. I knew that this would not be a walk in the park for Italy, and they needed to win to help England have a chance of progressing. What happened was another spirited and organised Costa Rican performance, and Italy were very poor - especially in the second half as they were constantly offside, they couldn't create anything and lacked quality and ideas. As a result, a bryan Ruiz header earned Costa Rica another historic win. And remarkably, in such a group, Costa Rica are through. This is one of the stories of the World Cup and is such a fantastic achievement. As for England, for the first time since 1958, England are knocked out at the group stage.

The next game was another encounter between teams with opening wins. France, who impressed against Honduras, were up against a solid and decent Switzerland side. France were 3-0 up at half-time and with twenty minutes to go were 5-0 up but Switzerland got a couple of goals back to make it 5-2, the highest scoring game yet. France, looked really excellent, organised, powerful, potent and dangerous and so far they've been the most impressive team at this World Cup. They could go far. As for Switzerland, for a team in the midst of a hiding, they actually created quite a few chances and were fairly creative up front and deserved to get two goals back. The attacking full-backs however cost them a few goals on the counter attack. France have practically won the group but Switzerland still need a result to go though and they are in danger of missing out on the last 16 again.

The final game was Ecuador v Honduras. It was expected to be a physical encounter and it lived up to its billing with plenty of tackles from both sides. However, despite the physicality it was a very watchable game. Honduras took the lead as Costly scored their first goal at a World Cup finals since 1982. Two Edder Valencia goals earned Ecuador a vital win.

21st June:

Another fascinating day at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The first game was Iran, who held Nigeria to a boring 0-0 draw in the first game, versus an Argentina team who unconvincingly defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1. It was an intriguing, at times exciting, but frustrating game. We saw that Iran could stop Argentina from playing just as they did against Nigeria. Iran were very, very organised, hard working and determined and played well above the sum of their parts. In the first half, Argentina created nothing. And in the second half, it was Iran who had the best chances and should have won the game. The Argentina goalkeeper had to make 3 excellent saves and Iran should have had a penalty. Argentina did nothing in the second half. They lacked cohesion and creativity in midfield, looked weak at the back and despite their talented players, the looked like a group of individuals rather than a team. However, in the very last minute Lionel Messi scored a wonderful, curling left-foot shot from outside the box to send Argentina into the last 16. Messi is very much up and running, but they need to play better if they are going to win this World Cup.

The next game was a great encounter between Germany against a Ghanian side in the need of a victory. The first half was close at 0-0, Germany were patient and slow in their build-up play but were capable of cutting defences in an instant. But Germany's shape and flexibility of their structure was impressive. In terms of excitement, the second half was the best I've seen in quite a while. Germany took the lead with a goal from Mario Gotze. Then, Ghana scored a wonderful header to equalize and soon took the lead thanks to a great finish from Gyan. On the counter-attack, Ghana had their moments to win the game as Germany looked fairly tired and stretched in the heat and against the excellent and energetic Ghanians. But within moments of entering the frame, substitute Miroslav Klose with his first touch made it 2-2. And that goal was his 15th (and 4th World Cup finals) goal at the World Cup which equaled Ronaldo's record for Brazil. Germany also had their chances to win the game in a dramatic second half. Ghana looked very good and could beat Portugal, whilst Germany should finish top of the group but they do need to win games more convincingly.

The final game was a crucial encounter between Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nigeria were very poor in a 0-0 draw with Iran whilst Bosnia impressed in a defeat to Argentina. Nigeria needed a win and Bosnia needed to avoid defeat to keep their World Cup hopes alive. Bosnia should have taken the lead after Dzeko was wrongly ruled offside. After that, Peter Odemwingie scored the decisive goal. Nigeria were much better than they were against Iran and looked fairly solid in defence and were a threat going forward, especially with pacey wingers. In the center of midfield, and in the first half, Bosnia were impressive technically. However, defensively they were poor, they lacked quality in the wide areas and Dzeko was poor too and his sho was saved onto the post in the dying seconds. Bosnia looked tired and lost belief when they went behind. They are now out of the tournament, which is a shame, but it's been a great achievement for them to reach their first major finals.

22nd June:

Another superb day of World Cup action with last games of the second round of group matches. The first game was Belgium who after winning their opening match were up against a difficult side to beat in Russia, who drew their first match. It was a very dull match. Russia were fairly organised but lacked creativity going forward despite missing a few chances. Belgium were generally solid but for large parts they looked more like a group of individuals rather than a team. They weren't creative and potent going forward as Lukaku had a poor game and so did Hazard for the majority of the match. Dries Mertens was their brightest spark in the first half. In the second half, with 10 minutes to go, it seemed that Belgium's patient and slow approach payed dividends as they suddenly clicked into a better gear. Their shape looked better, they had more intent and suddenly looked more threatening with Hazard looking more lively. They looked likely to score a goal and in the last minutes, a 19 year old substitute scored the winning goal which sends Belgium into the last 16. Again, Russia were disappointing and have it all to do now if they are to reach the last 16. As for Belgium, again they weren't great for large parts of their two games, but they've won two games, finished matches strongly with substitutes making impacts and they are through. Perhaps they might grow into the tournament, and certainly when there were counter attacking opportunities, Belgium looked lethal. If they play better in the knock-out stages then they can go quite far.

The second game was an unexpected classic between Algeria and South Korea. Algeria were unlucky to lose to Belgium after taking the lead with their first World Cup goal since the 1980s. South Korea drew against Russia in a flat opening match. Algeria, again were organised and confident and immediately looked the more dangerous side. And they deservedly took the lead and by half-time they were unbelievably 3-0 up. In the second half, South Korea improved and got two goals back but Algeria scored a magnificent team goal to score a fourth goal and they are the first ever African side to score 4 goals in a World Cup match. They are in a strong position to reach the last 16, they just need to get a result against Russia.

The final game was another dramatic match at the World Cup. The USA dug in and won 2-1 against Ghana in their opening match whilst Portugal had a disastrous start with a 4-0 defeat to Germany and were missing players to suspension and injuries. Nani got Portugal off to a good start and lead 1-0 at half time. The second half was really memorable. The USA were fighting for an equalizer and looked the most likely to find it. And they did with a superb strike from Jones from outside of the penalty area. Then, Portugal in need of a victory looked more likely but the USA took the lead again with a goal from Clint Dempsey. The USA looked set for a place in the last 16 and Portugal were on the verge of elimination. Then in the very last seconds, Cristiano Ronaldo delivered a fantastic cross and it was headed in to make in 2-2. A deflating result for both sides, Portugal needed a victory but the USA are now just a point away from going through.

Well that's the second round of group fixtures completed and final round starts tomorrow.

Here's a little summary of the World Cup so far.

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Brazil - not impressive so far and they aren't a great side. I love the history of Brazilian football but I hope they don't win it.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Mexico - they have surprised me with their high energy, I think they'll reach the last 16 but they lack the goals to go much further.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Croatia - I've liked what I've seen so far from Croatia. I hope they go through and they could be outsiders to reach the semi finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Cameroon - arguably the poorest team of the tournament[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Chile - really impressive, especially in the final third with their high intensity and technical ability. The semi finals isn't beyond them.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Netherlands - better than I expected, fair play to them, but despite their qualities and the good organisation from the management, I don't think they are a great side. If they finish top then they could get to the semi finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Spain - incredibly disappointing. The inevitable end of an era, but a little premature given the quality of players. But despite all the factors that went against them, I think Spain's style has gradually waned since they won 2008 - far too much emphasis on possession and they need to play natural wingers. It would have been interesting to see them reach the last 16, but their elimination has made for a very open World Cup.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Australia - much better than I expected. There's the potential for a decent team in the future. They play with great determination and with some decent quality as well. [/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Colombia - I quite like then, especially a couple of players and their fans but I don't think they are as good as chile or Uruguay. Defensively they'll be punished at some stage but they can reach the quarter finals.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ivory Coast - not my favourite team, they are fairly difficult to beat and have got quality in attacking areas. I wouldn't want to see them in the last 8 and their defence is weak.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Japan - poorer than 4 years ago, they've got some technically gifted players but lack creativity.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Greece - defensive and lacking upfront as expected. I admire some things about them, but they don't thrill me.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Costa Rica - the story of the World Cup so far. They are ranked 28th, one place below us, and the team expected to be the whipping Boyd is the first to qualify, beating two teams in the top 10. They've knocked two more illustrious footballing nations from competing in the knock out rounds, which is a shame, but at the same time it's great to see a smaller team get their chance. They could surprise us even more and reach the last 8.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Uruguay - very poor in the opening game, but clever and acute in the second. They're a pretty difficult team for anyone to beat and I hope they and luis Suarez go through.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Italy - very good game plan for the England game which worked and outdone their opponents. But against supposedly lesser opposition, they lacked creativity and deserved to lose. Like England, it would be interesting to have a big team like them in the last 16, but it wouldn't be all that enthralling. They are a fairly decent team, but they are lacking in certain areas.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']England - there's some promise from a team who are similar to Portugal, a decent international outfit which has quality but lacks class and top quality to be in the same bracket as the top international teams. They did some things well, but fell short in other areas. As their group of players haven't been together for that long, it would be of benefit for the team and the competition for England to not be in the last 16, and to instead build a more cohesive, footballing identity and team. The premier league is a problem for the national team, and I think they could do with having more players playing abroad.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']France - very, very impressive so far - the best team I've seen yet. They're solid in all departments, young, organised, great team ethic and they play good football in terms of how they press and defend, pass the ball and attack. They could go very far but perhaps they are performing too well too early.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Switzerland - not a world class team, but solid and pretty difficult to beat. A decent bunch of individuals, most have come through the youth system, but perhaps lack the cohesion in the team, and the goals to go far.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ecuador - physical and quite decent in the wide areas. I admire some things about them, but they are my least favourite South American team and I hope they don't go through.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Honduras - very physical, they have some qualities, mostly in the wide areas. Not my favourite team.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Argentina - disappointing. Lionel messi has come up with two pieces of brilliance but they will need a maradona like World Cup from him if they are to win it. I would quite like to see messi win it though. Argentina are poor defensively, they lack creativity in midfield and they just look like a bunch of individuals rather than a team. They can go all the way as the draw in the knock out stage is favourable.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Nigeria - very disappointing first game, but better in their second. They are fairly solid and are decent in the wide areas.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Iran - much better than I expected. They play well above the sum of their parts with great organisation, team and work ethic. Incredibly unlucky against Argentina.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Bosnia - very unlucky to already be out. The bette team against Argentina and poor officiating cost them against Nigeria. Clearly very skilful in midfield but lacking in defence and wings.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Germany - not too spectacular. Very strong, solid performance in the first game. Ocerall, a decent shape against Ghana but they had some slackness in them in terms of mistakes at the back and they weren't creative as they could be. But it seemed they were playing patient football to conserve energy. They should go through and I hope they win it. Despite the injuries, which could cost them, they are the most complete international side. But as had been the case in international tournaments in the last 10 or so years, they always fall at the final hurdle.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']USA - I like quality and character if most or all of the teams in this group. I admire the USA and their coach. Organised, hard working and are a dangerous, difficult team to beat despite the players they have. If they go through, it might as well be in second place as that side of the draw is favourable. A quarter-final is not beyond them.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Ghana - my favourite African team in a group where I'd like to see all teams in the last 16. They are best African team with a decent amount of technical ability as well as physicality, organisation and determination. They do lack end product at times.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Portugal - not a top quality international team but a very decent one. I like them in terms if prestige but I prefer the other teams in the group in terms of character. Other than Ronaldo, and a couple of other players, they are a great side and probably don't deserve to go through because of that. [/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Belgium - I like Belgium and i hope they do well and I'd quite like to see them win it. However, their performances have been underwhelming. At times they do seem like a team of good individuals, developed by the emphasis on youth football in the last 8 years, but they have looked like a team that lacks collective quality and cohesion at times - and there's an element of individual and collective inexperience. Having said that, they have won two games despite not playing well. They are fairly solid when they don't play well and haven't used too much energy. As a result, they've played better towards the end of games and collectively and individually they suddenly clicked into gear during the last 10 minutes of the Russia game. They've haven't used a lot of energy, they are growing into the tournament, and they are lethal on the counter-attack and with one of the best defences the tournament, and given the side of draw for the knock-out rounds, they could go quite far.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Algeria - they impressed me interms of organisation against Belgium and they showed that they have enough about them going forward against South Korea. They aren't a great side but I quite like them and hope they go through[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']Russia - they are generally solid and hard to beat, but overall they are rigid, boring and lack cutting edge.[/font][/color]
[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']South Korea - poorer than of teams in the recent past. They have their qualities but they just don't have enough about them.[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']A really interesting final round of group games to come before the knock-out stage. The World Cup really is a great festival of football and this could go down as one of the greatest. The best since 2006 at the very least.[/font][/color]
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