World Cup 2014 – Days 10 – 13

Italy was down, and then out.

Italy only needed a draw with Uruguay to advance to the knockout rounds. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey couldn’t produce it. First, they lost Marchisio to a red card and then they lost the match. Today’s 1-0 defeat was enough to send them packing.

Costa Rica’s stunning run through the so-called “Group of Champions” left only one former champion standing. And it was the squad that looked least likely to advance after the opening round of games, Uruguay. But, as I said a couple of weeks ago, you never know, in the first matches of a World Cup tournament, if what seems like an upset really is one. Sometimes what appears to be a powerhouse stubbing its toe turns out be a young team coming of age against an aging , overrated team. We should all see now, Costa Rica is for real.

Columbia advanced with its first ever three victory group stage performance. But it was a different story for the Ivory Coast. German coach Joachim Loew once said playing Greece was “like biting a rock.” When the Greeks scored in added time, even the magic of Didier Drogba (already subbed out) couldn’t keep the Elephants from biting down hard on that rock. If it is any consolation to the Ivory fans, many good teams are finding it hard to survive the group stage. Spain, England and Italy are already gone. They will soon be joined by either Portugal or Ghana or both.

Of note: Of the eight teams that have advanced so far, only two are from Europe. The others are from either South, Central or North America. Africa and Asia have yet to advance a team in this year’s tournament. Costa Rica won Group D, matching them with Greece in the next round. That means one of those two will make it to the quarterfinals. Either Greece or Costa Rica will be one of the eight remaining teams still playing while 24 of the world’s best squads are at home licking their wounds.

World Cup 2014 – Days 6-10

The tournament begins to take shape. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Portugal is hanging by a thread. Spain and England have already bowed out. Costa Rica and Chile have secured their advance into the round of sixteen. And the U.S. has a fighting chance to win the Group of Death.

If these are not the winds of change, then they are, at the least, the dusty breeze that precedes such a storm.

We might well end up with two European powerhouses vs. two South American behemoths in the semis. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise at all. But every slot taken by an Ecuador or Nigeria is one less place for a Russia or Italy to land. Surely, there will be more upsets to come and more giants will fall. Even the Netherlands and Germany appeared nearly ordinary in their second matches.

Scoring has dropped off dramatically since the flurry of goals in the opening days of the tournament. And the third set of matches will only become tighter, as each squad learns exactly how many points they need to secure to advance into the knockout stages.

Tomorrow will be a defining moment for both the U.S. and Portugal. Is that a breeze I feel coming from Manaus?

Of note: Iran came within two minutes of securing a second point without scoring a goal in the tournament. Australia has scored three goals but has zero points to show for it. Which team has the best goal differential so far? Germany? The Netherlands? Actually, it’s France, with a +6 margin.

World Cup 2014 – Days 3-4

The Elephants find their Talisman.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For much of Didier Drogba’s Chelsea career, he was referred to as their talisman. After his dramatic injection into the Ivory Coast’s World Cup opener against Japan, he surely holds that moniker in regard to his national squad as well.

When the pony-tailed striker ran onto the pitch in Brazil yesterday, his Elephants were trailing 1-0 to Japan. A mere 100 seconds later, the guys in orange were up 2-1 and in complete control of the game. Although Drogba did not score either goal, the emotional lift from his entrance was palpable, and his passing skills helped set up the first score.

Drogba signed with Italian giant Juventus this spring, but at 36, his best playing days are likely behind him. Then again, if yesterday was any indication, just his presence on the pitch might be enough to inspire the Elephants through a magical run. It will be one of many stories to follow in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup finals.

Of note: As mentioned above, Japan scored the first goal of the match, but eventually suffered defeat. Four other teams (Ecuador, Croatia, Uruguay and Spain) have already experienced the same fate in the first four days of the tournament.

There have been no draws so far in the tournament.

World Cup 2014 – Days 1-2

Brazil – Getting the job done. Spain, not so much.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

After a rocky start, Brazil did what they had to do, gaining 3 points and +2 in goal differential. With Croatia dispatched and Cameroon apparently mailing it in (Samuel Eto’o appeared to be playing with ten guys he met in the parking lot) Brazil should be able to see their way through the group stage, even if Mexico forces a draw.

Spain, on the other hand, might be in deep trouble. They lost their first match in 2010 as well, but this team appears a bit more weary, a bit less hungry. In this magical run that has seen them win two Euro Cups with a world title sandwiched in between, they have been able to impose their will on other teams. It never appeared to be that way yesterday, not even when they were up 1-0.

And I tip my hat to the Netherlands. If anything, I expected them to look tired at the end of the game. Sneijder and Robben have logged a large number of kilometers on those legs, but they both were both energetic throughout the second half, Robben dangerously so. As much as this game bodes poorly for Spain, it has to be a giant boost for the Netherlands.

I try not to read too much into first games. Sometimes what appears to be a bad loss just turns out to be a blip or perhaps the case of an up and coming underrated team against an overrated team, on the downturn but still dangerous. Spain’s next match, against Chile, could be more telling than this one. There is a very good chance they will make it through the group stage, but now it would almost certainly be in second position, making the likelihood that they will face Brazil in the round of sixteen a distinct possibility.

Today I look forward to Italia vs. the Three Lions and whatever other surprises the next four matches bring us.

Around the World Without Leaving My Blog

A year of communication destinations.

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The following is a cloud I created containing all of the countries from which someone viewed my blog during the last year. Larger names indicate more visits. My only question, where’s Norway? Uff da! Well, there’s always next year. My thanks to every visitor, near and far.

                                                                                      Angola       France

                                                                    Chile        Germany

                 Indonesia     United Kingdom

                                                                  Israel             Columbia             Taiwan                   Thailand

                          United States

                                                              Brazil          Pakistan          Australia

                                                                      South Korea    Spain    Russia    

                                                            India      Canada

                                                                   Saudi Arabia

                                                                                                     Serbia     Japan      Poland      Philippines
                                                                              Malaysia

Congratulations La Furia Roja!

Spain has garnered its first World Cup Championship, defeating the Netherlands 1-0. La Furia Roja became the first team to lose its opening game and still go on to claim the cup. They victimized each of their last four opponents with late goals leading to 1-0 results.

The Dutch were waylaid by an extra time strike from Andres Iniesta. The orange failed to convert a couple of ripe post regular time chances themselves, making the late goal even more devastating.

South Africa 2010 will be remembered for many reasons. Here are a few of them:

Spain’s first World Cup Championship.

Germany’s surprising surge and the early exit for both Italy and France.

Donovan’s late goal to produce the U.S.A.’s first top place finish in World Cup group play.

The Dutch losing in the final … again.

The what ifs of Essien for Ghana and Ballack for Germany, two premier midfielders (both out with injuries) that could have pushed their teams even deeper into the tournament.

Spain has the cup and an automatic invite for 2014.

I enjoyed the tournament immensely and can’t wait for 2014.

And Then There Were Eight – World Cup Update

The field of thirty-two has now been trimmed to eight and three of my magnificent five are still alive. Brazil, Argentina and Spain have all pushed forward with attacks that well … push forward.

Spain and Brazil have work to do if they are to meet in the final.

Brazil will face my lone remaining danger team, the Netherlands. My other two dark horses, Portugal and France, are gone. France exited without threatening anyone, or anything, except their own national pride. Portugal had a good run, making it through the group of death, but bowed out to Spain. Their 1-0 loss reveals the hazard of deferring to your superstar. One bad game and you’re done.

Another team that deserves mention is Japan. With Africa hosting, Europe and South America dominant on the field and the U.S. winning their group, Asia was an afterthought in the field of sixteen. Japan nearly changed that. They came one errant penalty kick away from breaking into the quarterfinals. Honda was a revelation, reaffirming one of my greatest attractions to this eclectic event which commences every forty-eight months, the chance to see brilliance from a relatively unheralded player. His assist in the final group match was at least as impressive as any goal.

Speaking of goals, I would have to say the Tevez blast from outside the box was my favorite so far.

The Final Eight as I see it.

Uruguay vs. Ghana: Although Uruguay won their group they could be considered the underdog when facing Ghana. Ghana’s strength is their strength, especially in midfield, and they will own the crowd. A victory by either team will place them in the semifinals as the clear Cinderella of 2010.

Brazil vs. Netherlands: The best matchup of the quarterfinals, the winner has an inside track to the championship. The Dutch are playing magnificent team ball and a victory would erase many past disappointments for the orange. Brazil has been dominant and would love to be defending the cup when they host in four years. If they play Ghana in the semifinals it will be a rematch from the knockout stage of 2006. It will also be a showcase for the two best holding midfields in the tournament (even with Essien out for Ghana).

Argentina vs. Germany: Another great matchup between traditional powers. Germany has done well so far, despite their youth. The underwhelming performance put on against them by England was a gift they should not expect to be repeated by Argentina. Tevez and Messi present a level of talent they have not yet seen in the tournament.

Paraguay vs. Spain: Once again, Spain finds itself at the doorstep, but if they wish to break through, they best not look past this fixture to the winner of Argentina/Germany. Paraguay’s defense will be less stout than Portugal, but their counter attacks will be more potent.

The plate for a football feast.

There are several scenarios remaining for the final, including an all South American or all European match. Africa could crown its first ever champion. The Netherlands or Spain could erase their perpetual also-ran status. No matter what happens, one thing is certain. Four tasty games are on the menu.