FIFA World Cup 2014 – Sunday 29 June 2014

I opted for the Brazil v Chile game yesterday and for once my TV choice proved to be a good one. It helps when you have a bit of an interest in the fixture and don’t mind admitting I was totally on the side of underdog Chile. Even sitting at home the passion of the crowd, the players and coaches was evident as the national anthems were belted out with an intensity that bordered on frightening.

And it was a level that translated onto the pitch in a frenzied, end-to-end opening forty five minutes. However, to think that it was just a game played at breakneck speed would be unfair as there was skill aplenty on both sides. Goals from David Luiz and Sanchez saw the teams go in level at the break enabling everyone to draw breath.

The second-half continued in the same manner although Brazil got the upper hand and Hulk for Brazil was single-handedly trying to drag his country through as Neymar was quiet. Extra-time came and nearly had a dramatic end as Chilean substitute Pinalla smashed a shot against the crossbar.

And so the drama continued into the penalties. With Brazil 2-0 to the good the result seemed a formality, but misses from Hulk and Willian allowed Chile to level. At 2-2 the pressure was all on the hosts and Neymar was next up. However he displayed great nerve in putting Brazil ahead and suddenly Chile knew that a miss and they were out. As in extra-time the woodwork was no friend of Chile as Gonzalo Jara’s penalty struck the post and bounced away.

As the Chilean players slumped in exhaustion and despair, the country of Brazil let out a huge sigh of relief and celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. This had been some game and some test of nerve, even as a supposed neutral I was drained, but understood once again why I love the game.

Hopefully providing more drama to come are the following fixtures:

Netherlands v Mexico

Only four international fixtures between these two teams, with Mexico yet to register a win. They were in the same Group at the 1998 World Cup in France, and both team qualified after a 2-2 draw. The Dutch were seemingly cruising after twenty minutes when two goals up from Cocu and Ronald de Boer, but Mexico hit back with two goals in the last fifteen minutes from Ricardo Pelaez and Luis Hernandez. Both teams emerged from their groups in Brazil unbeaten, but something has to give today. Netherlands to continue their 100% record in this World Cup.

Costa Rica v Greece

These two have never met in an international fixture, so what a time to play each other with a Quarter-Final spot up for grabs. Before the tournament Costa Rica were viewed as the team likely to finish bottom of the group containing England, Italy and Uruguay but instead finished unbeaten. Greece meanwhile just continue to find ways to win games and progress in competitions – England take note. This time having not scored in their two opening fixtures, they managed two when it counted most and it was enough to clinch the runners-up spot. It might not be pretty, but it works for them. And that will worry Costa Rica as they know the Greeks will be hard to break down. Will this be a victory for flair or attrition?

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Saturday 28 June 2014

100 years ago today shots in Sarajevo killed Archduke Ferdinand which proved to be the catalyst that led to the carnage that was to become the First World War. 100 years later we still haven’t learned and conflict and killing still exists in certain countries across the globe today.

It says much about the modern world though that the most significant shots for many on the planet today will take place in Brazil as the knock-out phase of the World Cup begins. Sixteen teams have departed and sixteen remain. Gone is the safety of the group games and second chances, this is winner takes all, whether in ninety minutes, extra-time or penalties.

The group stages have for the most part seen very open games, with plenty of goals and drama to match. England’s inability to escape the group stages was hardly a surprise, but the demise of Italy and Spain is something not many predicted. Whilst Spanish domination of World football had to end at some point, the like of Casillas, David Villa ad Xavi couldn’t have foreseen demolition at the hands of Netherlands and Chile being amongst their last memories of World Cup tournaments.

Others to have disappointed include 2018 hosts Russia (but then Capello is in charge of them) and Portugal who showed that without a fit Ronaldo, they badly struggle. Given both Japan and South Korea went well in the 2012 Olympic football tournament, it was a surprise that neither made much impression in Brazil. It’s been a mixed bag for the African teams, with Algeria and Nigeria making it through, but Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast deeply disappointing.

Today’s games are all about Latin America as Brazil take on Chile and Colombia face Uruguay. How would the tournament be affected if Brazil lost to Chile? This game you would hope could be a bit special as Chile have proved to be a more than capable outfit and Brazil will be under immense pressure. In the other game, well we all know what the sub-text to this fixture is whatever the result.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 24 June 2014

The early games yesterday saw Group B played to a conclusion and in all fairness didn’t hold a lot of drama, given that Netherlands and Chile were already through and Spain and Australia were out. Of course there was top place to play for and at the other end avoiding the wooden spoon.

In the end it was the Dutch who took top spot with a 2-0 over Chile. Both goals came in the second-half from substitutes Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay. In between the goals though, Chile might reflect that they were unlucky not to get a penalty. From a corner, Dutch defender de Vrij appeared to hold back Jara and to compound the issue then made contact with the ball using his arm. It wasn’t to be and the Netherlands took the points leaving Chile as runners-up in the group.

Australia ended up with the wooden spoon in what was a pretty comfortable 3-0 win for Spain. The Spanish dominated from the off and it was a surprise that it took until the 36th minute before they scored. Juanfran got behind the Australian defence and his cross was cleverly back-heeled home by David Villa. It was much the same in the second-half as Australia got pulled apart at the back, with Torres and Mata completing the scoring.

The only fun to be had was in Group A. Cameroon were already out and were up against Brazil who were all but through. So it was the Mexico v Croatia game that was the one to watch. The Mexicans knew that a draw would be enough for them, whilst Croatia needed a win to progress.

Given the importance of the game it was no surprise that the game got at times a little physical with players all too willing to square-up to each other at times, handbags et al. Despite Croatia needing to win to progress, it was Mexico who had the better first-half chances, although the game remained 0-0 at the break. This World Cup has seen the officials be very good with the spray cans, but I would have like them to have been better at the ‘real’ elements of their job during the games. Here in the second-half there was another glaring mistake from an official, as Srna blocked a cross using his arms denying Mexico a penalty. However, it wasn’t long before the Mexicans went ahead when Marquez headed home. Within three minutes they went 2-0 up, as Guardola fired home. Croatia were now looking ragged and they were exposed once more on 82 minutes as a cross found substitute Hernandez for an easy finish. The Croatians though had the final word as a well worked goal saw Perisic finish cleanly. However, there was one last incident in what had been a frantic last fifteen minutes when substitute Rebic was sent-off for a nasty challenge on Mexico’s Carlos Pena.

In the other Group A fixture, the game was won 4-1 by Brazil, which sealed top spot, with Neymar Junior getting two goals.

Following those results it means that the fixtures for the next round are as follows:

Brazil                     v              Chile

Netherlands       v              Mexico

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Thursday 19 June 2014

Well what a night that was…

It all kicked-off with a bit of a thriller between Australia and Netherlands. When Jedinak scored from the spot to put Australia 2-1 early in the second-half, the mad world that has been Group B looked to have another unforeseen story to tell. However, van Persie quickly brought the Dutch level and sealed victory with a goal from Memphis Depay. It could have been so different for the Socceros, as minutes before the Dutch winner Mathew Leckie had a glorious chance to put Australia ahead which went begging.

Netherlands through, Australia out.

The drama continued as we watched to see if World Champions Spain could get their tournament back on track. Was the defeat to the Netherlands just a blip? Well by half-time Chile were 2-0 ahead with goals from Vargas and Aranguiz and Spain were looking devoid of ideas and seemed resigned to defeat.

Chile through, Spain out.

To round off the evening it was back to Group A and Croatia against Cameroon. The Africans imploded in this one, going behind early to a goal from Olic and had Song sent off making it an almost impossible task to get back into the game. Croatia strolled to a 4-0 win with second-half goals from Perisic and two from Mandzukic. As if that wasn’t bad enough, two Cameroon players, Moukandjo and Assou-Ekotto, ended up in argument, with the later seemingly head-butting his teammate.

Cameroon out. Croatia still in the mix to qualify to the knock-out phases.

And so to today…

Group C has Columbia take on Ivory Coast and Japan take on Greece. However, squeezed in between those games is the torture and agony that will be England against Uruguay. Up and down the country we’ll gather round our televisions like moths to a candle to see whether we’ll crash and burn in defeat or bathe in the warm glow of victory.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 18 June 2014

Group H

 Belgium (0) 2 – 1 (1) Algeria

Good managers made decisive decisions that change the course of games.

At half-time Belgium were behind to a penalty converted by Feghouli and were frankly struggling. Marc Wilmots made three changes during the second period and two of them, Fellaini and Mertens came up with the goals that won the game.


Group A

Brazil (0) 0 – 0 (0) Mexico

Only the second draw of the Finals so far, but one that Mexico more than deserved.

Ochoa was outstanding in goal for Mexico making three brilliant saves, but the Mexicans were also an attacking threat with several shots on goal in the second-half.

The more I watch Brazil in the tournament the more I dislike them. As in the game against Croatia, it was Marcelo who irked me as he threw himself to the floor to try and win a penalty with two minutes remaining in the game.

Note to FIFA: ability to retrospectively book players should be considered.


Group H

Russia (0) 1 – 1 (0) South Korea

The day ended with another game low on quality, but high on goalkeeping errors. Neither Korean custodian Jung Sung-ryong nor his Russian compatriot Akinfeev will look back on this game with any distinction.

Akinfeev had looked vulnerable to long-range efforts in the first-half, but his clanger to give South Korea was horrible to watch, as a shot from Lee Keun-ho squirmed from the keepers grasp and over the line.

Jung Sung-ryong in the Korean goal was also unconvincing during the game and he will have be disappointed in his part in the Russian equaliser, as his attempt to stop a cross-shot was only palmed away, where Kerzakov gratefully swept it home.

Note: I bet Rob Green enjoyed watching this one…


* * * * * * * * *


In previous tournaments things haven’t got interesting until the second round of group fixtures. Brazil 2014 has bucked that trend, as the opening round of games have for the most part been open and full of goals. The reality is that for some teams their World Cup will be over after the second round of games. Today nervously looking at their room reservations are the following:


Group B

Australia v Netherlands

Of course the obvious thing to say is that the Dutch will win this at a canter after putting the World Champions to the sword in their opening game. Australia don’t exactly look like a team in form after their opening 3-1 beating at the hands of Chile. But this tournament has not been easy to call at all – could there really be an upset?

These sides have met three times previously, with two draws and a win for Australia in 2008, when a Harry Kewell penalty and a goal from Joshua Kennedy saw them win 2-1.

Can they? Really?


Spain v Chile

The big question is whether Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque will make significant changes or will he keep faith with the side that collapsed so spectacularly against the Netherlands? Chile have never beaten Spain in their 10 meetings, but will be hoping it is third time lucky in terms of World Cup games against Spain.

The teams played each other in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, when Spain emerged 2-0 winners and in South Africa in 2010, when the Spaniards won 2-1. Both games as with this fixture were at the group stages.

A draw tonight would make the last round of games very interesting…


Group A

Cameroon v Croatia

These two sides have never played each other before and having lost their opening game, this meeting is hugely significant as a loss for either is check-out time. Croatia will feel slightly aggrieved with their loss to the hosts in the opening game, and if they use that injustice in a positive way they could collect a win here.

Tantrums and fouls aplenty as a draw is played out?


FIFA World Cup 2014 – Friday 13 June 2014

Group A

Brazil (1) 3 – 1 (1) Croatia

There is only one word for me after the opening game yesterday, that being, ‘embarrassing’.

The reason for this?

  1. The FIFA ‘doves of peace’. What a completely empty gesture.
  2. The ‘snow-spray’ used to mark 10 yards at free-kicks. What ever happened to referee’s actually being able to apply the rules and take charge of a game.
  3. The Croatian keeper. At fault for all three goals. Beaten by a long-range bobbler of a shot, parried the penalty into his own net and then conceded a hopeful toe-poke.
  4. The referee. Gave a joke of a penalty to Brazil and seemed to favour the hosts whenever he could.
  5. Brazilian defender Marcelo. Went down instantly anytime anybody had the temerity to tackle him.
  6. Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Not only for his running on the pitch to try and get a Croatian player booked during the game, but his post-match defence of the match referee.
  7. The TV producer who decide to show the goal-line technology decision as the ball nestled in the back of the Brazilian net.
  8. The oversized board used by the fourth official. The sponsors of it are certainly getting their monies worth.
  9. The ITV ‘expert’ panel of ‘Patrick’, ‘Lee’ and ‘Fabio’ fronted by ‘Adrian’. No wonder the protestors tried to break into their studio.
  10. Andy Townsend. Could he possibly be any more sycophantic over a frankly ordinary Brazilian team?


The match details? Croatia started the opening ten minutes well and deservedly went ahead on 11 minutes. Olic had space out wide and his low cross was scuffed by Jelavic, but went in off Marcelo as the Brazilian defender tracked back. Brazil were struggling to find any rhythm or fluidity, but were fortunate that a poorly hit long-range effort from Neymar bobbled past Pletikosa into the corner of the net. 1-1 at half-time.

In the second-half, Croatia did not look troubled and looked to be heading for a deserved point. However, the game turned on 71 minutes. As the ball was played into the Croatian box, Dejan Lovren was inconceivably penalised for a foul on Fred. The Brazilian should have been booked for diving, but instead Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot. Neymar took the penalty, which Pletikosa, having guessed the right way, managed to parry it from one hand to the other and into the net. With the game entering the final minutes, the referee ignored a blatant foul in the centre circle and from this Oscar toe-poked a third Brazilian goal, with Pletikosa slow to get down compounded by being out of position.

So what delights await today?


Group A

Mexico v Cameroon (17:00)

Mexico qualified for the Finals after a 9-3 aggregate CONCACAF/OFC play-off victory over New Zealand. The squad features some familiar names to the Premier League, although the only one still playing in the competition is Javier Hernandez at Old Trafford. Others to have spent time on these shores include Carlos Salcido who had a spell at Fulham, although he never really settled in London and returned to Mexico in 2012. Another Mexican who had a spell in the capital was Giovani dos Santos who in 2008 joined Spurs and a brief loan spell Ipswich Town in 2009.

Cameroon finished top of their qualifying group which included Libya, DR Congo and Togo. Their path to Brazil was secured after a 4-1 aggregate over Tunisia in the Knock-out phase of the qualifiers. When thinking about the current squad, most people automatically come up with the name of the well-travelled Samuel Eto’o who spent last season at Chelsea. Another spending time in London last season was defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto who played for QPR on-loan from Spurs. Others with England on their CV include keeper Charles Itandje who whilst at Liverpool was ostracised after apparently acting in a disrespectful manner during the Hillsborough Memorial Service in 2009. Alex Song had a long and successful spell at Arsenal before moving to Barcelona, whilst North of the Border, Celtic fans may remember Landry N’Guemo’s loan in 2009/10. Stephane Mbia played at Lotus Road during 2012, but spent last season on-loan at Sevilla where he picked up a UEFA Europa League winners medal. Also spending some time in West London was Eyong Enoh who had a very brief loan spell at the end of the 2012/13 season for Fulham.

It’s not a game that has my pulse racing and this could well be a cagey game which ends in a draw.


Group B

Spain v Netherlands (20:00)

This is the pick of the games on Day 2, with a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final. To be honest I’d be happy to see another contest that has the edge that it did four years ago, although I would be incredibly surprised if that happened.

The current World Champions romped their qualifying group winning every game against the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, and Scotland. It’s possibly the most famous squad in Europe and they simply need no introduction.

Netherlands also topped their group, and like Spain were pretty imperious, drawing just one game (a surprising 2-2 result against Estonia) in a group which also included, Andorra, Hungary, Turkey and Romania. The Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal is likely to be under the scrutiny of the press as much as his players, as after the tournament, the joys of taking charge at Old Trafford awaits. The teams experience is in its midfield and attack where the likes of Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben supply the ammunition for Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Neither side will want to lose this opener and this has the hint of a 0-0 about it.


Chile v Australia (23:00)

The last game of the day sees the two underdogs in Group B play. Chile qualified automatically after coming third in the CONMEBOL table, alongside Argentina, Columbia and Ecuador. Keeper Johnny Herrera played at Everton, but before those from Goodison Park start denying it, it should be said this is Chilean side Everton de Vina del Mar. A player who did grace the Premier League last season was Gary Medel, who was part of the Cardiff City team that suffered relegation. Gonzalo Jara has been playing in England since 2008 with spells at WBA, Brighton and Nottingham Forest. Jara would have come up against compatriot Jean Beausejour last season in the Championship, as the later was at Wigan Athletic after a spell at Birmingham City. Journeyman Mauricio Pinilla has played all round Europe as as part of his tour and had a brief time in Scotland at Hearts.

Australia ended up as runners-up to Japan in their AFC group to qualify automatically. Their English contingent is not what it used to be, with the quality of Schwarzer, Neil, Lazaridis, Kewell and Viduka, long since gone. These days the Aussies are represented by the likes of Bailey Wright (Preston North End), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace) and Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town).

I’m no fan of our Australian cousins in any sporting contest, so hope they get a mauling, although I’d settle for 1-0 to Chile. Vive la Roja!