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Posts Tagged ‘spain’

After yesterday’s adventures, three teams have now been eliminated from the World Cup. In some cases, the elimination carries with it an air of inevitability – the draw is often unkind, and teams who managed the considerable achievement of qualifying at all are sent packing early. In others, though, it’s a shock of epic proportions.

So yeah, Cameroon are out. Australia are out. Neither of these comes as much of a surprise.

Spain are out. I’ll say this again, because at some point soon I need to start believing it.

Spain. Are out.

The phenomenon of a ‘golden generation’ of players is not an unusual one. A particular group of unusually talented players, often from a single club, develop at the academy level, graduate into the senior side around the same time, develop a tactical understanding and ultimately form the backbone of the national side. This was especially true at Barcelona, where a stellar crop of La Masia graduates propelled Barca to a period of almost unparalleled dominance, and became the core of an all-conquering Spanish side which won the last World Cup as well as the European Championship to either side of it.

But all good things, as they say, must come to an end. Long experience, while useful, has also taken its toll in terms of pace. Opponents have caught onto what made the team tick. And in their two games so far, they have been outscored and outclassed.

At this point, the Netherlands still have to face Chile, and Spain still have to face Australia. For the latter two, it is merely a matter of saving face at this point, but the former two will be vying for the top spot in their group and the avoidance of a probable meeting with Brazil in the next round.

Today brings two more matches in Group C, and the England vs. Uruguay game in Group D. This too is a crucial clash, since the losing team will be eliminated. In the event of a tie, both will have to hope that other results go their way if they are to progress. The winner, though, could well be right back in the mix.

Here, too, is another potential twist in the tale: If (and it’s a pretty big if) Croatia and Mexico battle their way to a scoring draw in the closing games of Group A, and Cameroon, now freed of any pressure, manage to beat Brazil, then Brazil will also be eliminated. That would be a twist for the ages.

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Each team has by now played one game (due to the scheduling, Brazil and Mexico will have already played their second by the time of posting, and we’ll get to that too.) It is not yet mathematically possible for any team to be out of the tournament, but there will now be teams with a heavy advantage, especially considering that of those 16 matches, only two(!) have ended in draws. So there are lots of teams on three points, and lots on none.

Group A: Brazil and Mexico both claimed victories, Brazil a 3-1 over Croatia (albeit with a hotly debated penalty) and Mexico with an unconvincing 1-0 over Cameroon. It’s no surprise that Brazil are in the driving seat for this group, being favorites to win the entire tournament, but who will take second place? I believe that Brazil will defeat Mexico this afternoon, and Croatia will overcome Cameroon, a scenario which will see the two teams enter the final game of the group phase with only goal difference separating them, if that. I still fancy Croatia to edge Mexico in that final game to claim second spot.

Group B: Well, the Dutch threw us quite a curveball, didn’t they? Oh – wrong sport. Robben, van Persie and their compatriots gave the viewers a masterclass to feast their eyes on as they crushed Spain 5-1, a game which will be long remembered. You could almost forget that there was another game in Group B, a comparatively ordinary yet nonetheless well-earned 3-1 victory by Chile over Australia. Spain come up against Chile next, and will be looking to redeem themselves. A convincing win would put them back in the mix, and a loss would probably put them on the next plane back to Madrid. Vital game there. The Netherlands also face Australia, and should be able to get a win. Maybe not as stylish and overpowering as the first game, but a win. That will effectively send Australia home, and leave Spain and Chile to fight it out for the right to face Brazil in the following round.

Group C: Is it just me, or is this group not very exciting? For some reason, I’m having a hard time getting all that interested in any of the teams drawn together in this group. Nevertheless, Colombia put on a convincing display to cruise past Greece, while Ivory Coast snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, coming back from 1-0 down to defeat Japan 2-1.  The two winning sides will face off this Thursday, and I imagine Ivory Coast will be playing a much more attacking strategy than Greece. Look for another hard-fought victory for the Ivorian team to top the group outright, and for either a Japan win or a scrappy draw with Greece.

Group D: Oh, England. They fought harder for their 2-1 defeat against Italy than they have fought in many of their past wins. I can only hope that the same battling spirit blesses them in their next two games. England next face Uruguay, who will be smarting from their shock 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. The question is, will they be demoralized, and thereby easy prey, or will they strike back like a cornered tiger? The answer to that question may well determine England’s fate, since the disciplined Italian defence will probably be too much for even breakout Ticos star Joel Campbell to unlock. So in a major revision to my expectations from Group D, I’m going to suggest that Italy are now favoured to win the group, and any of the other three could yet take second (but of course I’m still holding out for it to be England.)

Group E: France got off to a flyer here, Karim Benzema netting the first of two hat tricks so far as France ran out 3-0 winners against Honduras. Switzerland became yet another comeback story with a goal in the dying seconds of the game to beat Ecuador 2-1. These two winners face off next, and you’ve got to fancy the winner of that game to take the top spot in the group, possibly with the other still taking second.

Group F: This group was always going to be about Argentina, and I think it still is. They started a little more slowly than they will have wanted, and Bosnia certainly gave them a scare late on, but they held on for a 2-1 win. A 0-0 bore draw between Iran and Nigeria will be a boost to a Bosnia team which certainly matched Argentina for firepower at times. My prediction here is unchanged, Argentina topping the group and Bosnia going through in second.

Group G: God Bless The USA, says the song, and it’s not hard to imagine that some benevolent entity was looking out for the American team as they found the net in the first half minute of the match, then survived a torrent of chances as Ghana outshot them by a factor of three to one. A late goal gave the Black Stars hope, but John Brooks sealed the three points and a 2-1 win for the USA. Ghana now face Germany, a tough fixture for any team.

And then there was Germany and Portugal. That game was a massacre, and but for some profligate shooting from the Germans, it could easily have ended 7-0 or even more. A needless red card for Pepe, an injury to Coentrao and a full 90 minutes for a star player struggling to stay fit only compounded Portugal’s misery. The Portuguese will face the USA next as a much diminished force, and if the Americans take that game too they will seal second place in the group behind Germany.

Group H: In the sixth (!) come-from-behind win of the tournament so far, Belgium outfought Algeria 2-1 while Russia and South Korea battled to a 1-1 tie. Belgium play Russia next, a clash which will very much determine the course of the group – a win will assure Belgium of qualification to the next round, but a loss would leave the group wide open. Similarly, a win for Algeria against South Korea would leave them very much in the mix, but a loss would effectively put an end to their World Cup.

 

Everything still to play for, but a hard road emerging for some teams.

And now that Brazil and Mexico have played again, let’s revisit Group A: the two teams scratched out a 0-0 tie in their second round to go level on 4 points at the top of the group. Brazil are ahead on goal difference by a solitary strike, which means that much will now come down to the final game, with another tie almost enough to automatically clinch qualification for either one.

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I had expected a 3-2 win for Spain, probably with a rather cagey start.

Boy, was I wrong. The start was a little cagey, with it taking the first twenty minutes for either team to really hit their stride. There were a few flashes indicating what was to come, but few would have expected the ultimate result.

When Jonathan de Guzman gave away a penalty in the 27th minute, there was still more controversy in a Cup which has already seen more than its share. It looked as though Spain striker Diego Costa, already through on goal, put his foot back out to force de Guzman to trip him, thus winning the penalty by less than sporting means. Nevertheless, the penalty was awarded, and set-piece maestro Xabi Alonso coolly buried it in the bottom corner from twelve yards.

It looked at that point as though Spain were going to add to their collection of victories – in World Cup games, they had won each of their previous four by a scoreline of 1-0.

The goal seemed to galvanise the Dutch into action, though, and they looked increasingly dangerous as the half wore on.

David Silva also made it two for Spain in the closing minutes of the half, but some smart play from Cillessen in the Dutch goal kept the scoreline safe. The ball was launched back down the field, and made its way to the head of Robin van Persie, whose headed chip in surely the best goal of the 15 this tournament has featured so far. 1-1.

The half-time whistle blew, and the game was wide open. Both teams started the second half with a mission. Iniesta tested Cillessen early on, but the Ajax man was again equal to the task.

At the other end of the field, Arjen Robben received the ball with a sublime first touch to move the ball onto his left foot and then lashed it into Spain’s net. 2-1.

Van Persie had a glorious chance to make it 3-1 a few minutes later, his fierce shot cannoning back off the crossbar. Instead, the Dutch had to wait a few more minutes, and Stefan de Vrij was the next name on the scoresheet.

The game was becoming a rout, and it became a question of how many more goals the Oranje could put away. A second for van Persie followed in the 72nd minute, and Robben doubled his own tally in the 80th.

An unexpected result, but an absolute masterclass from a disciplined and dangerous Netherlands side. Both teams are still expected to qualify out of their group, but it may be that the Dutch take the top spot after all, and avoid a meeting with probably group A winners Brazil in the next round.

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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

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.

netherlands

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

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

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:

Spain
Netherlands
Chile
Australia

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