Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Review of the Group Stages and a Preview of the Round of 16

So, it has been rather good no ? With goals flying in from all parts and generally attacking play from most of the teams, World Cup 2014 has been as good as any that I can remember seeing. Adding teeth to the attacking play, has been Suarez's bite and all in all - it has been one unforgettable tournament so far. Here's a quick look back at each Group.
Group A: Neymar inspired his team to top of the group, but only just, as Mexico have been formidable too and came a close second. Croatia disappointed mildly, but they were unlucky in terms of refereeing vs Brazil. Cameroon far more disappointing.
Star of the show: Overshadowing the singular genius of Neymar and the outstanding Mexcian keeper Ochoa, is the The Mexican coach: Miguel Herrera - who is now an internet sensation (seen photobombing here)
Group B: The golden era of Spain, finally came to an end, as the Louis van Gaal coached Netherland thrashed them with stunning pace and precision on the counter, while Chile (still inspired from their time under Biesla) pressed them into submission. Australia, too were worthy participants as Tim Cahill probably scored the goal of the tournament so far.
Counter Strike: The Dutch mean business this time
Star of the show: Robin van Persie, Tim Cahill and Alexis Sanchez all impressed, but Arjen Robben has been an absolute sensation as he looks frighteningly unstoppable at the moment.

Group C: James Rodriquez has been probably the player of the tournament so far as the Falcao-less Colombia beat all comers playing superb football. Greece managed to sneak through in the nick of time. Drogba and his golden generation of players from Ivory Coast did not perform once again when it mattered most, while Japan too were disappointing.
A Dance with Dragons: Colombia on song
Star of the show: Yes, James Rodriquez - sublime talent.

Group D: The so called Group of Death. Had 3 big teams and one was supposed to miss out, but minnows Costa Rica had other plans. Both England and Italy lost to them and Costa Rica topped the group. And Uruguay qualified - thanks to Suarez, but also despite Suarez as Italy were bitten by him and then chewed off by Diego Godin, adding insult to injury.
JAWS
Star of the show: Young Joel Campbell of Costa Rica (and Arsenal :) ) has been a revelation.
Bonus Reading: 1) Although this came out earlier, this by Wright Thompson on Suarez is an incredible read. 2) Musa Okwonga on Suarez.

Group E: A surprisingly united and cohesive France under Didier Deschamps easily topped the group, while the Swiss played well enough in 2 out of their 3 games to finish second. Ecuador and Honduras played their part, but ultimately the two big European teams were too good for them.
Strikeforce: Karim Benzema

Star of the show: Ecuador's Enner Valencia played well as a striker, Shaqiri got a hat-trick that put the Swiss through, Valbuena and Matuidi have been superb for France in midfield, but Karim Benzema has been the real star for France so far.

Group F: All about that man, that man. Three matches played, four goals scored - three man of the match awards..... Lionel Messi - to be fair to him, has only played as well is expected of him and no more. The rest of Argentina has been largely disappointing but Messi has carried them through as group winners while Nigeria have been good at times and qualified as the second team. Iran were somewhat poor, while Edin Dzeko's Bosnia & Herzegovina got unlucky.
Messi: One man vs the world

Star of the show. Lionel Messi.

Group G: The Germans won the group, but they have not been as good as they should be - Thomas Mueller has continued from where he left off in 2010. The Portuguese and Cristiano Ronaldo could not recover from their disastrous first half vs Germany. The Ghanians played well in parts but did not win the moments that mattered, got into payment related disputes with their association and there was in-fighting in the camp, but it was plucky United States, coached by Klinsmann - that did just enough to qualify in second spot.
Star of the show: Asamoah Gyan scored goals for Ghana, but this time - it has all been about the prolific Thomas Mueller for Germany.

Group H: The Belgians were fancied to do well, and they  got the results - but 3 wins out of 3 - perhaps hides the fact that they haven't played at their best yet. Algeria kept the African flag flying high by qualifying at the expense of Capello's Russia and Korea. All in all, a low key group, so much so that a distraction by a laser pen has been causing headlines.
Algeria use their head
Star of the show: Divock Origi has been a surprising hit for Belgium, but Dries Mertens has probably been the best player on show here.

The Round of 16: So, what to expect now ? Here are my quick predictions which are bound to be wrong, mostly. In terms of logic - I am backing all eight group winners to make it to the quarter finals.
Brazil vs Chile: Brazil to go through, despite being outplayed by Chile for large parts of the game. A refereeing error could be prove to be crucial.
Columbia vs Uruguay: Suarez less Uruguay could just turn out to be a wounded tiger, but expect Colombia - the team in form to go through.
Netherlands vs Mexico: Very tough match, but expect van Gaal to come up with the tactics to open up Mexico and go through.
Costa Rica vs Greece: Who would have predicted this match up, but backing Costa Rica to continue their good form and send the Greeks back home.
France vs Nigeria: Nigeria are good going forward at times, but backing the French midfield to dominate and get the job done.
Germany vs Algeria: Now is the time for the German machine to get going, and expect Algeria to bear the brunt.
Argentina vs Switzerland: Surely, now is not the time for Argentina to go out and hence backing them (him) to beat the Swiss somehow.
Belgium vs USA: The USA will display great spirit and discipline once again, but the Belgians are a better team and expect that quality to come through.

Recommended reading: Apart from the links that I have planted in the post above at various places, I came across some great pieces during the course of the world cup so far. Here are some of my favourites - bookmarked here.This extraordinarily, brilliant piece on why Suarez is just another crazy kid, but not a bad person;  a tribute to the era of Spain by Michael Cox; a great piece by Bryan Phillips on the World Cup - Five Burning Questions for the Knock Out Rounds; a superb piece on the commentary behind Diego Maradona's goal vs England in 1986; a nice piece about the football culture in Southern Brazil; a brilliant bio of that man Socrates; and finally The American Ending: a post by Teju Cole about fairness, logic and the lack of it in football.

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