World Cup 2014: Day 14
Costa Rica finished in top spot after a 0-0 draw in Belo Horizonte against England, while Italy lost their chance of qualification as they lost 1-0 to Uruguay, finishing the game with 10 men. As expected England, who had already failed to qualify, made 9 changes to their starting lineup, with only Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge keeping their starting places from the previous game, while Costa Rica made just two changes with qualification secured baring disaster. Costa Rica started brightly, Arsenal forward Joel Campbell once again looking lively. He fired a shot from range, which cannoned into the back of Cahill, and looped just over the head of Ben Foster and wide. Despite the early scare England begin to control possession, but it was Costa Rica again who forged out the next opportunity, Frank Lampard losing the ball and Campbell beating sure before finding Randall Brenes in the middle, but he was adjudged to be offside. Sturridge then went close with a fantastic effort with his left, hitting a curling shot from 20 yards that beat Keylor Navas, but also went just wide of the upright.
Costa Rica then went close with a free kick from 25 yards out. Celso Borges hit a fantastic effort, but Ben Foster just managed to get his hand and tip the effort onto the bar. Meanwhile, over in Natal, former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli picked up a booking that meant he would miss the next game should England go through, following a high challenge on Alvaro Pereira. Cavani then had a chance to give Uruguay the lead after nice play from Pereira, but he was unable to hit the target. Back in the England game, Ross Barkley went on a fantastic run, beating two men in the process, before slipping the ball out to Milner. The City man played the return pass to Barkley, who knocked the ball down to Sturridge, but he delayed his strike and Oscar Duarte was able to get across and cut out the chance.
Fulham man Bryan Ruiz then got several cheers from the crowd, after he produced a wonderful turn to leave Jack Wilshere standing. England continued to probe, and when a corner from Barkley was flicked back by Phil Jones, Sturridge really should have done better with his header from 7 yards out. Over in Natal, Luis Suarez had his first real chance, but Gigi Buffon was equal to the effort, and quick enough to react to the follow-up from Nicola Lodeiro. As both games edged to half time still level, an individual piece of brilliance from Barkley almost changed that. It was a Gazza-esque run as he nutmegged one man before twisting his way round another. Sadly for the Everton midfielder, he failed to connect cleanly with his final effort that screwed wide of the goal. It was probably the best chance in either game as both ended goalless at the break, the Italy game looking more likely to produce a red card than a goal.
Into the second half, there was half an opening for Sturridge again after Southampton man Luke Shaw saw his effort blocked, but Navas reacted quicker than the Liverpool striker to deny the opportunity. England should then have taken the lead when Sturridge wasted the chance. Shaw picked out his Southampton team-mate Lallana with a great through ball, and he in turn picks out Sturridge, who can only watch as his effort is saved by Navas. Over in Natal, there was no real shock when the red card finally came, although in the context of the game there had been several incidents already as least as bad as the one that saw Claudio Marchisio sent off for his challenge on Egídio Rios. Still, it meant Italy had to at least hold on for half an hour with 10 men, knowing anything less than a draw would see them fail to qualify.
As England continued to seek an opening, playing mainly for pride, there was another good move involving Sturridge. The England striker played a smart one-two with Jack Wilshere, but he dragged his final shot wide of the target when he really should have been at least forcing Navas into the save. Uruguay also went close in the other game, when Luis Suarez showed a flash of the brilliance that won the game against England, beating a couple of defenders on the edge of the area, but Gigi Buffon pulled off a wonderful save to deny the Liverpool man. Liverpool team-mate Sturridge was then involved in a half-hearted attempt for a penalty over in Belo Horizonte. He broke down the left, but as he was about to get a shot away Giancarlo Gonzalez got in a last ditch tackle that sent Sturridge sprawling, but replays show the Costa Rican got the ball first. Rooney then tried his luck from 20 yards, but his chipped effort was pushed over the bar from Navas. Chances were few and far between as it seemed both sides were just happy to avoid defeat, and it was no surprise when the last 10 minutes were played out with any real opportunities for either.
Over in the other game, it was anything but as an already vicious game threatened to descend into an all out riot. A coming to between Giorgio Chiellini and Suarez ended up with the two clashing in the Italian box. At first it looked like a head butt, but replays and pictures showed that Suarez bit the Italian on the shoulder. It was a disgraceful outburst, and sadly not the first time the Uruguayan has been guilty of such action, infamously receiving an 8 game ban following an incident against Branislav Ivanovic. The referee bizarrely failed to take any action, and it remains to be seen in the aftermath whether either player will receive more punishment.
Moments later, with tempers still high, Uruguay took the lead. Italian players were still making their feelings known to the ref when Uruguay won a corner. As it came in, Atlético defender Diego Godín out leapt the Azzurri defence to head home, and put Uruguay into the second qualification slot. I’m not sure how much Godín knew about the header, but Buffon had no chance as Italy looked set to get knocked out at the death. Tempers continued to fray and a member of the coaching staff was sent off by the referee as he continued to make his feelings known. Despite five minutes stoppage time, the four time World Champions were unable to bring themselves level, crashing out in the group stages for the second tournament running. The controversy surrounding the Suarez incident is bound to rumble on, but the fact is Uruguay are into the next round, while Italy and England are heading home. It was a woeful start to the days predictions too, as I fancied Italy and Uruguay to both score, while England couldn’t finish the tournament with the win I predicted.
Greece secured their first ever qualification for the last 16 as they beat Côte d’Ivoire 2-1 in dramatic fashion in Fortaleza, while in the other game in Group C Japan crashed out of the competition without a win as they lost 4-1 to Colombia, who topped the group. Colombia had already secured qualification before the game, while Japan needed a win to have any hope of qualification. With Ivory Coast occupying second spot, Greece also needed a win, while hoping Japan failed to win, to see them progress to the knock out stages. Ivory Coast knew a draw would be enough to see them through, and they made 3 changes coming into the game, Drogba handed his first start of the tournament, while Kolo Touré and Salomon Kalou also came in. Greece also made a trio of changes, with Girogos Karagounis, Dimitris Salpingidis and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos all coming in.
Over in Cuiaba, Colombia rested several of their key players, with qualification secured. Jackson Martínez and Fredy Guarin, however, both started. Japan brought Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa back into their starting XI, while fellow midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama was handed his first start of the competition. First action came in the Greece game, where Ivory Coast, also seeking their first ever qualification for the second round, had a chance early on, Drogba forging a chance for Gervinho, but the Roma star was unable to get his shot away, allowing a Greek defender chance to make a recovery tackle. Greece were then hit with a setback when they lost midfielder Panagiotis Kone, with Andreas Samaris coming on in his place.
Minutes later in the other game, Japan’s hopes took a bitter blow when they conceded a penalty with a quarter of an hour gone. Yasuyuki Konna mistimed his tackle on Adrian Ramos, and up stepped Juan Cuadrado to send the keeper the wrong way, giving the South Americans the lead. Ivory Coast were determined to join them, and had another chance inside the first 20 after a good run from Yaya Touré. The Manchester City man split the Greece defence with his pass, but just over-hit his ball with Drogba unable to chase it down. It then got worse for Greece as they were forced into their second substation of the game with just 26 minutes gone. Goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, who had already been down once having problems with his back, was unable to continue, meaning Panagiotis Glykos was forced into action.
Japan, sitting bottom of the group, were desperate to hit back in their game, and United midfielder Kagawa did well to find space on the edge of the area, but his low effort was well saved by Colombian keeper David Ospina. Keisuke Honda then went close with a free kick just over 20 yards out, hitting it well enough but seeing his effort fly just wide of the post. Speaking of woodwork, back in Fortaleza, Greece hit the crossbar out of nothing. Georgios Samaras broke forward, and his pass found Jose Holebas in space. Holebas was too quick for Kolo Touré, and as he got his shot away Boubacar Barry was well beaten as the shot crashed back off the woodwork.
Just before the break the deadlock was broken in Fortaleza. Newcastle man Check Tioté was guilty of poor play when he gave away possession in his own half, and substitute Samaris played a quick one-two with Samaras before smashing his shot beyond Barry. The goal meant Greece leapfrogged their opponents in the Group C table, moving into second spot and qualification. Over in the other game Japan then hauled themselves level with almost the last kick of the half. A fantastic cross from Honda caught the Colombian defence half asleep, and Shinji Okazaki was able to connect with his head, powering the ball beyond the outstretched hand of Ospina in the Colombia goal. It meant little in terms of qualification, but restored some pride for the Asian side.
A draw was always going to be good enough for Colombia to win the group, but ten minutes into the second half they regained the lead. Substitute James Rodríguez, one of the stars of the tournament so far, played a great ball through to Jackson Martínez, who needed no second invite to fire low and hard into the bottom right hand corner. An hour gone in Fortaleza, and with Ivory Coast still losing, Sabri Lamouchi threw on Swansea City striker Wilfred Bony as his side needed at least a goal to get back into second spot. However, a tough task was almost made even more difficult when Greece again hit the woodwork. Veteran midfielder Karagounis was given the opportunity to shoot, and the 37 year old needed no second invite, seeing his 25 yard effort dip and swerve and crash back off the bar with Barry stranded. Greece then faced heartbreak themselves when Les Elephants equalised 4 minutes later. Gervinho found himself in space and onside, and he cut the ball back to substitute Bony, who produced a clinical side foot finish beyond Glykos. The goal meant Ivory Coast had put themselves back in pole position for the last 16.
Into the last 10 minutes and Japan found themselves further behind against group leaders Colombia. It was a repeat of the second goal when James Rodríguez again picked out Martínez, this time the Porto forward producing a powerful curling finish from inside the box. With the win and top spot secured, Colombia then threw on veteran keeper Faryd Mondragón. The 43 year old becomes the oldest player ever to play at the World Cup finals. He had little to do, however, as with just moments of the game left his team-mates went up the other end and scored a fourth. Monaco midfield star Rodríguez broke down the left, cut inside leaving Yoshida stranded, and lifting the ball superbly over the keeper. It was a wonderful goal from a man who is enhancing his reputation more with every game.
Colombia were cruising, and Ivory Coast looked like joining them in the last 16 until disaster struck in the 90th minute. Ivory Coast substitute Giovanni Sio caught Samaras in the area, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. A goal for Greece would mean they would once again wrestle 2nd spot back from the African side, and former Manchester City striker Georgios Samaras stepped up to do just that, finishing confidently from the spot to take his side to the last 16 for the first time ever. It was heartbreak for Ivory Coast, and keeper Boubacar Barry stayed slumped on the ground even after the restart. It was certainly one of the most dramatic moments so far in the tournament, and the last minute drama means Greece will now face Costa Rica in the second round, while group winners Colombia will take on Uruguay. The two results also saw me back into form with the predictions, successfully picking Colombia to beat Japan while also saying both teams would score in the clash in Fortaleza.
Nigeria go into the game against Argentina knowing that a draw will be good enough to see them progress into the last 16. Despite a poor start against Iran, in which neither team were able to find the target, the Nigerians looked more impressive last time out against Bosnia & Herzegovina, with Stoke City forward Peter Odemwingie grabbing the only goal of the game, and would be happy with a similar performance against Argentina. There is some history between the two sides in the World Cup, with Argentina claiming a 2-1 win in the group stages all the way back in USA ’94 as both progressed. They met again in the group stages in Japan 2002, Argentina again coming out on top, 1-0 this time, but neither side progressing to the last 16. And last time out in South Africa, 1-0 was the scoreline again as Argentina topped the group and the Nigerians again crashed out of the tournament. They’ve also met twice in friendlies since that day, Nigeria coming out on top 4-1 in June 2011, and Argentina winning 3-1 in September the same year.
Argentina, although top, have failed to impress so far, and it took a wonder goal from Lionel Messi to ensure the 3 points against Iran last time out. They also stuttered to a 2-1 win in their opening game, Messi again on target that day, as well as an own goal. The South Americans came into this tournament with a lot of expectation, and were fancied by many to go all the way, largely thanks to the wealth of ability they have going forward, but they have yet to back that up in performances. That being said, they have now won 5 of their last 6 games, and know that only a draw will be enough to see them finish top of the group, with a likely clash against Switzerland or Ecuador in the next round. Argentina have had a good following so far in Brazil, and the fans will expect far more from Messi, Higuaín, Agüero and Ángel di María this time out. With both sides only really needing a draw, there is a danger that a tactical stalemate could be played out in Porto Alegre. That being said, if Nigeria could snatch an unlikely win they would leapfrog Argentina into top spot, and I would like to think that is motivation enough for them to push for a win. I’m going for a half-time draw in this one.
Bosnia and Herzegovina take on Iran in the other game in Group F, over in Salvador. Bosnia are playing purely for pride after failing to take a single point in their first ever World Cup finals. They looked a threat at times in their opening game against Argentina, Ibiševic scoring their first ever World Cup goal in a 2-1 defeat. Last time out, however, after a terrible refereeing decision ruled out a perfectly good goal by Edin Džeko, they seemed to lose their way, snapping at chances while making too many mistakes at the back. That being said, they almost snatched a point right at the death when Džeko saw his effort knocked on to the post by Enyeama. The Manchester City striker will be keen to put the frustration behind him and grab his first ever goal in the finals, knowing a win would help his country avoid the indignity of finishing bottom of the group. The two sides have met several times in friendlies, Iran winning on 4 occasions while the best Bosnia managed was a 2-2 draw back in 2001.
Iran, despite having just 1 point, know that a victory in this game, along with defeat for Nigeria, along with a swing in goal difference, progress to the knockout stages for the first time. They come into the game having defended impressively in their opening 2 games, holding Nigeria 0-0 in their opener, before a well-organised display against Argentina last time out, before eventually falling to that Messi strike. They also had several chances to score themselves, and feel they should have had a penalty. Former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz has got his side well organised, and will be hoping for another impressive performance at the back from his side in this one. They have yet to score in this World Cup, but have managed 16 goals so far in the 5 games against Bosnia, so will definitely fancy their chances. Last time out, in 2009, they came back from 2-0 down, both goals from Džeko, to win 3-2. Therefore it’s hard not go with both to score in this one. Out of loyalty, I’m also going for Džeko anytime.
Group E comes to a close as Ecuador take on France in Rio. Ecuador look set to battle it out with Switzerland for qualification, although technically Honduras could still qualify. Defeat against Switzerland in their opening game was a setback, especially as they had taken an early lead through Enner Valencia. The Pachuca forward was on target again in the second game, scoring both goals as they beat Honduras in the first ever World Cup clash between two latin american sides, coming back from 1-0 down to win that one. A win here would see them qualify, while a draw or defeat would see them dependant on the result in the other game to go through. In reality, it is likely they will need a victory in this game to reach the last 16 for the second time. They come into the game in fairly poor form, having only won twice in their last 9 games, keeping just one clean sheet in that time, although they did impress in a 2-2 draw against England’s second string in a pre-World Cup warm-up. The two sides met in 2008, and France won 2-0 that day, and Ecuador will need a much better performance this time out.
France have been sensational so far in this tournament, and were joint top scorers after 2 games with 8 goals. Pre World Cup they also thumped Jamaica 8-0 and Norway 4-0. A draw will see France finish top of the group, while in reality even with defeat their goal difference should be enough to see them go through as group winners. Karim Benzema is a strong contender for the golden boot, having scored twice in the opening 3-0 win against Honduras, while also grabbing the fourth goal in the 5-2 win against Switzerland. The Real Madrid man could also argue two more goals, his effort in the opening game being taken over the line by Honduran keeper Valladares, while in the second game he thought he had struck right at the death, only for the referee to rule it came after the final whistle. Although France have qualified I suspect he will be keen to grab more goals in this one, and can’t see him agreeing to sit out. At times in the last game France looked like scoring every time they went forward, and that, combined with the defensive frailties of Ecuador, mean I fancy a France win again in this one.
Over in Manaus Honduras face Switzerland in the other game in Group E. Honduras have been poor in their opening 2 games, losing 3-0 on the opening day against France, where they also lost Wilson Palacios to a red card, while despite taking the lead against Ecuador through Carlo Costly, they again ended up losing the game. Technically the latin American side could still qualify if they won this, and latin american rivals Ecuador lost in the other game, although even then it would go down to goal difference. In reality, however, with just one win in their last 9, against Venezuela, qualification to the knockout stages for the first time seems highly improbable. The two also met in the group stages in the last World Cup in South Africa, that day playing out an uninspiring 0-0 draw. A similar result would see them claim their only point (ironically it was their only point in 2010 too), but head coach Luis Fernando Suárez will surely want a better attacking display from his side.
Switzerland know a point will be good enough for them if Ecuador lose, but with the danger being that the two other sides could also play out a draw, the European side really need to go for a win. They were impressive in qualification, winning 7 and drawing 3, while only conceding 6 times, as they topped the group. Since then, however, they have lost twice, a friendly defeat against the Korean Republic back in November, and the 5-2 defeat against France last time out. Despite going behind in their opener back in Brasília, goals from Admir Mehmedi and Haris Seferovic secured the win. Blerim Džemaili and Granit Xhaka spared some blushes as they came back from 5-0 down against France, eventually losing 5-2. They boast plenty of attacking talent, including Bayern Munich star Xherdan Shaqiri, and with Ottmar Hitzfeld normally having his side well organised defensively, they should prove too strong in this one. They failed to qualify back in 2010, finishing the group with the solitary point they earned against Honduras in Bloemfontein, again the last game both played in the group stages. This time, however, I fancy Switzerland to do enough to qualify this time, so am going for a Switzerland handicap win.
Half time draw in Nigeria against Argentina
Both teams to score in Bosnia and Herzegovina against Iran (and Džeko anytime goalscorer)
France to win against Ecuador
Switzerland -1 against Honduras
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