Archive for June 13th, 2014

You have to feel a little sorry for Australia. While there are a few teams who got handed very tough draws, Australia will feel the most hard done by.

Let’s look at this team by team.


Spain are not only the reigning champions, but have to their name the stellar achievement of having won two consecutive European Championships to either side of the last World Cup, a period of continental dominance which is all but unparalleled. La Furia Roja is built around a core of extremely talented Barcelona players who have developed their understanding of each other’s play over six years, a luxury few other teams can enjoy. They won’t be relying on Fernando Torres or David Villa up front this year, though, instead going with the more direct attacking threat of Diego Costa. As usual, it will be the trickery of Andres Iniesta and the pinpoint passing of Xavi Hernandez which will dictate Spain’s game.

Spain will be opening their tournament with a repeat of 2010’s final, drawn against the Netherlands. Expect a battle, but with Spain likely to come out on top.


The Netherlands are in many ways the ‘nearly men’ of world soccer, having reached the final three times but never won. The Oranje will be looking to shed the ‘bridesmaid’ tag this year, but there are questions as to the balance of the team, with a number of players lacking experience at this level, and the bigger names (notably Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie) all over 30. Van Persie is arguably the best natural finisher at the tournament, though, and if he gets the kind of service he is used to at club level, the Dutch may yet find their way through the pack.


Chile are definitely a ‘dark horse’ team for this tournament, boasting both power and guile. The skill of box-to-box Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal gives the team a lot of depth and dimension, and isn’t shy in front of goal either, his five strikes having led Chile in qualifying. Marcelo Diaz commands the midfield well, allowing Vidal that space to roam.

The team are somewhat inconsistent, though, having also conceded more goals per game during qualifying than any other team at this World Cup. They could spring surprises or implode, and it is hard to say which will be the case.


Australia boast great strength and determination, with experienced midfielder Tim Cahill captaining a side known for resolute displays. Indeed, the Socceroos’ last eight world cup games yielded seven red cards (four of them for Aussie players), such is the level of grit with which they play.

Drawn against the above three, though, it is very very hard to see Australia qualifying for the next round.

Predicted group standings:


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Who would have guessed that on a field populated by global megastars that the biggest moment of the night would belong to Yuichi Nishimura?


The Japanese referee made a number of questionable calls, but none more so than the awarding of a penalty to Brazil in the 71st minute. We’ll get to that shortly.

The game started out with no small amount of fire on both sides. It was end-to-end stuff, the kind of play one loves to see at the sport’s showcase event. Brazil started with all the passion and prowess one would expect of an immensely talented team playing in front of their home fans. The last time Brazil played a World Cup game on home turf, the great Pele was only nine years old, and the team looked like they intended to make up those 64 years in the space of a single match.

Nevertheless, Croatia looked very dangerous on the break, and in the 11th minute they were the ones to make it count, as they broke through the back line of yellow shirts and bore down on goal. Full-back Marcelo got a foot to the ball but only succeeded in directing it into his own net – the first time Brazil have ever scored an own goal in a World Cup tournament.

A major upset was on the cards, as Brazil attempted to recover and Croatia pushed for a second. With Brazil heavily favored to go all the way and finally erase the pain of the infamous Maracanazo (the 1950 final, where Brazil somehow lost 2-1 to Uruguay in front of 200,000 of their fans), things were not going according to plan for O Seleção.

The following 15 minutes saw both goalkeepers tested, with Croatia’s Stipe Pletikosa summoning up a fantastic save in the 23rd minute to deny a swerving shot from Oscar. Brazil began to re-assert their dominance, and though he received a yellow card for clattering Luka Modric, it was the host nation’s great hope Neymar who made the breakthrough. Oscar fought his way through a determined defence and got the pass through, and Neymar made no mistake, nestling the ball snugly in the bottom corner of the goal. That was his 32rd goal for O Seleção, and at the tender age of 22 fully expect him to add extensively to that tally.

The goal didn’t take the wind out of Croatia’s sails too much, though, as they instantly pushed to restore their lead. Both teams put in some hard work for the next 15 minutes, and the half-time scoreline was a well-deserved 1-1.

Brazil started brightly in the second half, indeed claiming over 90% of the possession for the first ten minutes of the half. The heat and humidity were beginning to take their toll, though, and it showed on the players as they began to slow, with Vedran Corluka going into the book for a hard challenge on Neymar. A couple of substitutions saw some fresher legs take to the field, but the next big moment had little to do with the new faces.

Striker Fred, twisting and turning to get his sights on the Croatia goal, backed into defender Dejan Lovren and fell to the ground. Some felt it was a mere slip, others thought Fred took a dive. The referee, however, pointed to the spot. As if anticipating the vociferous protests he would receive, he sprinted to the end line to officiate the ensuing penalty. I’m not sure he moved that fast at any other time in the game.

It was of course Neymar who stepped up to take the penalty, throwing in a little flashy footwork to try to fool Pletikosa and then unleashing a shot which could have come from a cannon. Pletikosa guessed right, dived right, got a firm hand to the ball, but couldn’t keep it from going into the goal behind him. A save would have been justice, but it was not to be. Neymar now on 33 goals for Brazil, matching the tallies of such illustrious names as Jairzinho and Ronaldinho. Rivaldo is just ahead of him on 34, and it would be foolhardy to bet against Neymar overtaking him too.

The 83rd minute saw another questionable call as Croatia’s Ivica Olic headed the ball into Brazil’s goal but was instead called for a foul on goalie Julio Cesar. Should have been 2-2, but Brazil got the benefit of the refereeing once again.

Croatia continued to push for an equaliser in the final minutes with a near miss from Corluka followed by a fantastic diving save from Julio Cesar to deny Ivan Perisic. Tragedy then struck for the men in the red and white as a long ball downfield found Oscar at the other end. A turn and a toe-poke, and it was 3-1.

The final whistle blew, and Brazil took the three points.

Croatia will feel hard done by, and rightly so, but if they can play like this in their next two games, they won’t have any difficulty taking second in the group and going through to the next round.

My own prediction for this game was a 2-1 victory for Brazil, and that’s perhaps what should have happened today.

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