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FIFA World Cup 2014 Blog Part 2

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A Winter's Tale


[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']23rd June:[/font][/color]

[color=rgb(40,40,40)][font='Open Sans']The first day of the final round of group matches. The first set of matches was the completion of Group B. Spain and Australia were already out and Chile and Netherlands were already through to the last 16. The two games were deciders for who finished top and who finished bottom.[/font][/color]

Netherlands vs Chile was an interesting game. Chile were good going forward and were causing some of the Dutch defenders a few problems but they never tested the goalkeeper. The Netherlands once again were very organised and this payed dividends as two second half substitutes scored the goals to give the Dutch a 2-0 victory. Impressive stuff from the Netherlands who finish top of the group and have done better than I've expected whilst Chile go through in second place.

The other game was an encounter between already eliminated Australia and Spain. Spain made a lot of changed with a blend of youth and experience and they had more width and natural forwards. As a result, the inclusion of players who weren't involved in the previous games and playing without too much pressure saw Spain finish a disappointing defence of their title with a much better performance and result which was a little more like the Spain of old. And, it was a bit like a testimonial match as some players were probably playing their last ever game in a World Cup finals. David Villa scored the first goal and what would be his last on his final appearance of an illustrious international career. Fernando Torres, who had not scored at a World Cup since 2006, scored a goal on what should be his last World Cup match. And Mata, who wasn't involved in the previous games scored the third goal in a 3-0 victory. Certainly an end of an era match, but to some extent a fitting end. However, given how a number of players involved today brought a positive impact to the team, you can assume that a different line up in the previous games could have made a difference. Nevertheless, the end of an era was nigh and it occurred suddenly at this World Cup but certainly Spain shouldn't be completely written off for future tournaments. Australia despite coming bottom had a decent campaign.


[size=4]My predictions for Group B were mixed. I got three correct results and one correct score. I correctly predicted Chile would go through in second place and Australia would finish bottom but I got the Netherlands and Spain the wrong way round. The Netherlands were much better than I expected, as yes their team on paper is young and not greatest and at times that was in evidence, but Van Gaal's tactics seemed to have worked but perhaps the philosophy of playing football and coaching young players has carried the team beyond the sum of the parts. The Netherlands should now go onto a semi-final from here. I expected Chile to be decent and for the most part of the group stage, they lived up to the hype and have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament. Spain were poorer than I expected and despite having a pretty strong squad, time has caught up with the Spanish. It's the end of a golden era, but also the beginning of a new era in the history of their national team. Australia were unlucky to finish bottom with no points as they played better than I expected, they've got a young team and perhaps we can expect more from them in the future.[/size]

[size=4]The first of 9pm fixtures, Brazil vs Cameroon and Croatia v Mexico to conclude Group A. The hosts Brazil hadn't quite qualified for the last 16 but a win would pretty much secure them a last 16 match against Chile. Cameroon were already out and have been one of the poorest teams of the World Cup. Brazil in the end won 4-1 with Neymar scoring his 3rd and 4th goals at this World Cup. It was probably Brazil's best performance but at times they are unconvincing and they do seem reliant on Neymar. Cameroon at one stage were level with their only goal of the World Cup.[/size]

[size=4]Croatia needed a win to overtake Mexico into second place. Both teams had been decent and I was hoping for Croatia to go through. Croatia were [/size]disappointing and didn't create enough chances whilst once more, Mexico's organisation and energy levels were impressive. And they deservedly booked a place in the last 16 and at one stage were close to overtaking Brazil on goal difference to finish top of the group. In the last twenty minutes, Marquez (at his 4th World Cup), Guardado and Herandez scored the goals that secured a 6th consecutive qualification to the World Cup knock-out stage before Perisic scored a consolation goal for Croatia to make it 3-1.


I correctly predicted 5 results and 1 score. I also correctly predicted the group table. Brazil were probably slightly poorer than I would have hoped but I wasn't surprised by that. I still predict them to win the World Cup. Mexico were much better than I expected as they are difficult to score and defend against and play with a great intensity, flair and organisation. They could go a step or two beyond the last 16. Croatia, overall better than I expected but yet again they've fallen short at the group stage. I expected Cameroon to be poor, but they've been really poor at times.

The confirmed last 16 ties.

Brazil v Chile
Netherlands v Mexico

Two very interesting match-ups.

24th June: The second day of the final round of group matches. Group D's conclusion wasn't that great with England drawing 0-0 with Costa Rica and Uruguay winning 1-0 against Italy. Costa Rica needed a point to finish top against an experimental, young but still pretty decent England team who were already out. Costa Rica probably played a lower intensity than in previous games but they still earned a fantastic result in what has been the most magnificent World Cup for them. Even though England were already out and it wasn't quite their strongest team on paper, to finish the campaign with a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica and to have finished bottom of the group with one point and only two goals is disappointing. The crucial game in this group was Italy v Uruguay. It wasn't a great game as both teams seemed tired. Italy needed a point to finish second and looked likely to do that. They then went down to 10 men and at the end, Diego Godin scored a crucial header to win the game for Uruguay and qualify for the last 16 for a second consecutive time. A sad end for the likes of Pirlo and Buffon who end their fantastic international careers. However, the talking point was Luis Suarez. He's just come back from injury and scored two goals against England in the previous match. After having a great season with Liverpool, it seemed he had moved in from his previous biting incidents but sadly, when it was 0-0 he got away with biting Chielini on the shoulder. He should get a long ban for that, and it's sad because I was hoping to see how well Uruguay would do with Suarez in the last 16.


A pretty disastrous group for my predictions. I only got one correct result! I correctly predicted Uruguay would go through in second place above Italy. But my predictions for England finishing top and Costa Rica finishing bottom couldn't have been more wrong. I expected Costa Rica to be a tricky side, but I would never have imagined that they would go through, and as group winners after being undefeated. It's a magnificent story. Uruguay qualified as I predicted and I suspected that they wouldn't be brilliant but at times they've been just a little below what I would have expected. Nevertheless, they are through but Suarez's likely absence will hurt them. Italy went out as I expected, they're a team in transition with some ageing key players. It looked good for them in the first game, but they struggled to win when they were expected to against Costa Rica and their team came up short against Uruguay. It's been quite frankly a disastrous campaign for England with only a point against Costa Rica. With the squad they brought to Brazil (which was the best available) then with the blend of young inexperienced and experienced veterans would result in a boom or bust campaign. And with the players available, solid in defence and with pace going forward, I thought they would be strong enough to go through. However, a countless number of factors has contributed to a terrible World Cup for them. As a footballing nation, England does seem to insular and not broad or progressive enough in it's approach to football. All teams and nations have their deficiencies, and whilst England does have to an extent an abundance of talent and potential, there seems to be many self inflicted traps and flaws within English or British footballing culture that holds England back. It isn't too surprising to see an England team fall short - and this group of players haven't been together for long enough to judge how far they can go - and England's results and performances haven't been great recently in friendlies or qualifiers. England should qualify for the Euros and there is some talent to choose from - although, perhaps the talent is slightly over-hyped - which might result in England having a new generation of players competing at major finals, but if the young players fail to live up to their potential, then perhaps a bleak period could be ahead of the National team.

The final round of Group C fixtures proved to be very interesting. The crucial encounter was Ivory Coast v Greece. In the past two World Cups, Ivory Coast's golden generation in tough groups finished third each time. And this generation never won the African Cup of Nations. So, they essentially only needed a point to qualify, but the underachievers were up against Greece, who had only once before won a World Cup match. In Euro 2012, after a poor showing in the first two games, Greece won their last game against Russia to reach a quarter-final. Greece are generally very good defensively and despite a lack of goals and potency going forward, they still carry a threat or two to conjure up an important goal or result and that's how they've qualified for the World Cup. In major tournaments, the results from their style of play varies, but it can be enough to progress. Greece, hadn't scored in the World Cup so far, until a goal just before half-time. Greece had two injured players in the first half and from previous games had suspensions and injuries to key players. In a poor first half, they were solid defensively and looked better going forward than the Ivorian's who had a very poor showing in the first half for a team looking to secure qualification to the last 16. And Greece on numerous occasions came close to getting a second before Bony scored for the Ivory Coast near the end. However, in the very last minute, Greece were awarded a penalty and Samaras, who had scored and missed crucial penalties previously for Celtic, did very well to keep his nerve and score one of the most important goals in Greek football history. Greece are remarkably through to face Costa Rica in the last 16 - who would have put a bet on that fixture appearing in the round of 16? As for the Ivory Coast, again they've come up short and they only have themselves to blame - for that reason, I'm quite happy that they are out.

The other game was already qualified Colombia against an attacking, but not particularly potent Japan side who also had a chance of going through. Cuadrado put Colombia ahead from penalty spot before Okazaki leveled the score just before half-time. Colombia improved in the second half and once more looked very good going forward. Jackson Martinez scored two goals and James Rodriguez who's been one of the players of the World Cup scored a lovely goal to make it 4-1. At the end, there was a nice moment when Fayrd Mondragon, the substitute goalkeeper came on to become the oldest player to have played in the World Cup at the age of 43 - he played in 1998 and was part of 1994 World Cup. Colombia looking pretty impressive and finish top of the group to play Uruguay in a fascinating round of 16 South American encounter.


I got 4 results and 2 scores correct. I also correctly predicted Colombia topping the group. Colombia, more or less lived up to expectations and they look a decent side. It is evident that they are a dangerous side in this World Cup and are excellent going forward. At times, they can be unconvincing without the ball but I think they should reach the quarter-finals. Greece, did surprise me (but not entirely) by reaching the last 16 but I was aware that they could defend and earn enough points to finish above likewise opposition who are fairly decent, but not the greatest. Ivory Coast were roughly what I expected - I thought this time they might have had enough to go through but they never convince me - and they've come up short again. They've got some good players, but they were lacking in certain areas and I don't think they play well enough as a team. Japan were probably slightly poorer than I expected. Clearly they still have some attacking quality whilst being vulnerable at the back, but they were lacking the effectiveness of the side that reached the last 16 in 2010.

Two more last 16 ties:

Colombia v Uruguay
Costa Rica v Greece

25th June: Today saw the conclusion of Groups E and F.

Group F was first with an interesting match between Argentina and Nigeria. Argentina had already qualified but had relied on Lionel Messi goals to earn two wins after two performances which flattered to deceive. Nigeria were rubbish in their first game but better in their second match. They only needed a point to go through and a victory would have seen them finish top. They have their deficiencies, but they are solid enough at the back and fairly threatening going forward to make it a tough match for Argentina. The match got off to blistering start, with that man Lionel Messi scoring with a fantastic, thunderous finish. Then seconds later Musa curled in a lovely equalizer. It was a fairly even game in the first half with Nigeria being difficult to break down and Argentina once more weren't creative enough. Messi went close with a free-kick from range which was saved, but moments later he wouldn't be denied as he scored a lovely free-kick just before half-time to make it 2-1. He's level with Neymar for the golden boot and it's good to see Messi delivering at a World Cup. Just after half-time, Musa scored again after some fairly dodgy defending from Argentina. Argentinian defender Rojo scored the decisive goal, but after Messi's substitution, Argentina looked pretty ordinary. They've won 3 games but they need to improve if they are to go far. Despite defeat for Nigeria, they've qualified as group runners up.

The other game was Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Iran. Bosnia, who were unlucky in their previous games to already be out of the World Cup, were looking to earn a first ever victory at a major tournament. Iran, also needed victory to have a chance of going through. Iran were not quite as solid as they have been and Bosnia won the game 3-1 but Iran scored their only goal of the World Cup - which meant every team had scored a goal at the World Cup - and it was nice to see Bosnia get a victory.


I got 4 correct results and I predicted that Argentina would finish top and Iran finishing bottom. Argentina have won the group by winning every game but other than Lionel Messi's goals, they have been poor. They don't look much of a team up front, instead it's more like a bunch of individuals and they are very much suspect defensively. They need to raise their game if they are to go far. Nigeria have more or less been what I've expected. Mixed, with a dire showing against Iran but had decent performances against Bosnia and Argentina. They are solid enough at the back and can be dangerous going forward. Bosnia, in flashes have shown what they are capable of. They were technically good in midfield but they didn't create enough chances, lacked width and at times were weak defensively. They've probably fallen short of what was expected of them, but it was a decent showing at their first ever major tournament. Iran weren't the whipping boys that everyone expected them to be and they were far more solid and organised than I would have expected. They were unlucky to lose against Argentina, but despite finishing bottom, overall they did a decent job.

Group E finished with France set to finish top whilst Switzerland and Ecuador were looking to finish second. Switzerland needed to beat Honduras and hope that France didn't lose to Ecuador. A fantastic performance by Xhedran Shaqiri who provided a hat-trick saw Switzerland win 3-0 against Honduras. France put out a slightly weaker team against Ecuador. It was a poorer performance by France but they missed a number of chances to go ahead. Ecuador were solid and physical defensively but lacked quality going forward. The match finished 0-0 and Group E finished with France finishing top, Switzerland going through in second position.


I got 4 results and 1 score correct and I correctly predicted France and Switzerland would go though. France, despite a flatter performance against Ecuador, were excellent and exceeded everyone's expectations. They seem to have a very good shape, they can defend, pass the ball and attack well and if they keep on playing like this then it certainly isn't beyond them to win the World Cup. Switzerland have gone through as expected. The performance in their opening game was a little underwhelming and the 5-2 defeat to France was a bit surprising but all in all, they've shown that they are a solid team, and one that is difficult to beat. Ecuador were roughly what I expected from them as they are the poorest South American team in the competition. They didn't finish bottom as I thought they would, given how poor their away record was in qualifying, but their shortcomings and deficiencies prevented them from going through. Honduras, weren't great but proved to be very physical as everyone predicted. They aren't a great team but they are also not an easy team to beat.

Two more last 16 fixtures:
France v Nigeria
Argentina v Switzerland.

26th June: The final day of the group stage in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The first group to be finalized today was Group G. The 'group of death' on the final day had all four teams having a chance of going through. A draw between the USA and Germany would see both teams go through whilst the other game saw slim chances for Ghana and Portugal. In a deluge, Germany had most of the possession against the USA but generally created very little and there were holes in the midfield and defence at times. The USA were very solid but didn't really create anything going forward. Thomas Muller joined Messi and Neymar with 4 goals at the World Cup with a wonderful strike from outside the box. The game finished 1-0 but both teams went through as Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring his first and only goal at the World Cup.


I got 4 results and 1 score correct. Germany finished top as I expected but I also had a feeling that the opposition in this group could have given them problems. Germany were generally efficient and did some very good things at times but there were some aspects were they seemed a little vulnerable or lacking - in the defence or scoring or creating goals. If one of the big teams slipped up, I knew that Jurgen Klinnsman's USA would take advantage. On paper their team is great, but their team spirit, work rate and organisation and energy is excellent and they are a very difficult team to beat and they deservedly go through to a second consecutive knock-out stage. Portugal were pretty disappointing overall and were incredibly poor in their first game. They've got some decent players, and Cristiano Ronaldo of course, but they have a squad of decent/average international players and that showed and that's why they've fallen short which was always a possibility in a group like this. Ghana finishing bottom doesn't entirely surprise me given the group they were in and they played fairly well in most of their games. They were unlucky to lose against the USA, and should have beaten the USA. Their quality as an international side was there to see but their end product and some of their defending has let them down.

The final games of the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw the conclusion of group H. Belgium had already qualified whilst Algeria, Russia and South Korea all had a chance of going through. Despite playing a weakened team and playing with 10 men for more than half of the match, Belgium once again scored late to win 1-0 against South Korea and to join Colombia, Netherlands and Argentina as the only teams who have won all their group games. South Korea do play at a decent intensity but lacked good creativity or decision making up front. Belgium once again weren't great to watch but they are incredibly difficult to beat and it will be very interesting to see how they do in the knock-out stage. The other game in the group was the decider for second place between Russia and Algeria. Russia needed a win and Algeria needed a draw to go through. Russia took the lead in the first half but once again they weren't great and didn't see out the match as Algeria scored from a set-piece in the second half. Russia failed to take advantage of their possession at the end of the match and Algeria deservedly go through to the last 16 for the first time. And it's the first time that two African nations have made it through the group stage.


For Group H, I correctly predicted 3 results. Belgium have been as efficient as I expected but they've been a little disappointing to watch given the talent in their squad. However, they've qualified into the last 16 which justifies the talent and potential they have and given the lack of experience this particular generation of Belgian footballers have, they could have struggled to adapt to and win games at tournament football. It will be interesting to see how far they will go, they should reach the last 16. I expected Algeria to be a very tricky and difficult team to beat but they've surprised many by being so well organised and they've deservedly qualified for the last 16. I didn't expect much from Russia other than organisation, experience and technical ability and they've fallen short and it does seem that they are the sort of team which can't quite cut it when it comes to tournament football. They've been disappointing. South Korea have also been fairly disappointing. Despite the energy they have going forward, they've failed to be dynamic, creative, imaginative and cohesive.

Well, a marvelously entertaining group stage has come to a close. Quite possibly the best ever, certainly in terms of excitement and the number of goals with 136 scored. It's been an excellent display of what the World Cup is all about and we've seen the American teams progress whilst some big European teams have fallen short, including the champions Spain, Italy, England and Portugal. Half of the teams participating in the last 16 weren't at the same stage four years ago and there are a number of unfancied and lesser nations aswell as some dark horses, emerging forces and a few of the best players, managers and teams in the World also participating in the last 16 in what is a very open World Cup.

Looking back at the group stage, a selection of:
The best and most memorable matches:

Spain 1-5 Netherlands
Australia 2-3 Netherlands
Spain 0-2 Chile
Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica
Switzerland 2-5 France
Nigeria 2-3 Argentina
Germany 4-0 Portugal
Ghana 1-2 USA
Germany 2-2 Ghana
USA 2-2 Portugal

The best goals:
Van Persie (1) v Spain
Robben (2) v Spain
Robben (1) v Australia
Cahill v Netherlands
Rodriguez v Japan
Shaqiri (1) v Honduras
Messi v Bosnia
Messi v Iran
Musa (1) v Argentina
Jones v Portugal
Muller v USA
Silmani v South Korea
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