World Cup 2014: Day 15
Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed their first ever win in the World Cup finals as they beat Iran 3-1 in Salvador. The result meant Nigeria also qualified for the knock-out stages, despite their 3-2 defeat against Argentina. Bosnia, who tasted defeat in both games so far in their first ever appearance in the World Cup finals, took just 23 minutes to take the lead. Miralem Pjanić picked out Edin Džeko, and the Manchester City striker fired home from outside the area. Džeko was given too much time, and after his frustration against Nigeria, he was keen to open his account, and did so with a smart diagonal run and finish. Iran should have hit straight back, but Masoud Shojaei saw his effort fire back off the crossbar. Just shy of the hour mark the lead was doubled, when Džeko turned provider this time. He found Sušić who in turn picked out Pjanic, who produced a neat right footed finish inside the area.
Iran pulled one back with just under 10 minutes left, when Reza Ghoochannejhad, who had looked lively against Argentina, halved the deficit. But the two goal was advantage was restored just a minute later, when Sušić drilled home a third for Bosnia from a narrow angle. Over in Porto Alegre, Argentina, who had been poor in their opening two games, took just 3 minutes to take the lead, after an effort from Angel Di Maria rebounded straight into the path of Lionel Messi, who slammed the loose ball into the net.
Just a minute later it was all square, as tricky winger Ahmed Musa cut inside Pablo Zabaleta, and produced a wonderful curling effort beyond Sergio Romero. Just before the break, Argentina restored their lead with another from Messi. This time he fired in a stunning free-kick, giving Enyeama no chance in the Nigerian goal, to claim his fourth goal of the tournament.
In a wonderful game, Nigeria again pulled themselves back into it a few minutes after the break, Musa again with the goal. The winger was put through and kept his composure well to slot the ball beyond Romero for his second of the game. Messi then turned provider, this time from the corner, with his cross flicked into the path of Marco Rojo, who finished from inside the six yard box. Messi was substituted after an hour, unsurprisingly to a standing ovation, as Argentina held on for the 3-2 victory which ensured they would finish the group as winners. The double salvo from the Barcelona man means he is now also level with Neymar on four goals in the race for the Golden Boot.
Ecuador missed out on qualification from Group E as they could only draw 0-0 with France, while in the other game Switzerland managed a 3-0 victory over Honduras, a result which meant they would finish in second place and claim the other qualification slot. Despite the score line, there were plenty of chances for both, although Ecuador were forced to play out 40 minutes with just 10 men after Antonio Valencia was sent off for an over the top challenge. France wasted several chances to secure victory, although a draw was enough to see them still claim top spot, with Griezmann and Pogba going close. Enner Valencia, who had been Ecuador’s best player in the tournament, then went close but Lloris was equal to the effort. Despite being reduced to 10 men, Ecuador continued to absorb the pressure and hit on the counter, and Noboa should have done better when he was picked out by Enner Valencia, while Pogba was wasteful for France with a free-header at the far post. The game ended 0-0, which meant Ecuador are now out, while France, despite the disappointment of failing to hit the target after 9 goals in their opening 2 games, are now unbeaten as the go into the Last 16 and a game against Nigeria.
Over in Manaus, Switzerland produced their best performance of the tournament so far as they beat Honduras 3-0 to ensure qualification. The Swiss almost took the lead after just 4 minutes; when Drmic fired across the box, but Noel Valladares produced an excellent reaction save to deny Xherdan Shaqiri. 2 minutes later, Shaqiri was on the score sheet, picking the ball up on the right, then cutting inside before producing a fantastic strike into the top corner with his left peg.
The Bayern Munich man then grabbed his second just after the half-hour mark. Drmic again picked out Shaqiri, and he produced a fine finish beyond Valladares, slotting the ball home into the corner. Honduras had several opportunities themselves, as they continued to push forward in vein, and were unlucky not to be given a penalty when Johan Djourou bundled over Jerry Palacios. It was to prove fruitless, however, as Switzerland bagged a third in the 71st minute. A long ball forward picked out Drmic, who beat his man before again setting up Shaqiri, who slid the ball home for his hat trick. Honduras still had chance to get on the score sheet, but Bengtson could only head straight at the keeper. The victory means Switzerland progress to face Argentina in the next round, while Honduras crash out of the tournament without any points. It was a mixed day prediction wise. The half-time draw almost came in the Argentina game before Messi’s last minute strike, while the Bosnia predictions were both bang on the money. France failed to beat Ecuador, but Switzerland -1 against Honduras also sailed home, putting me in plenty of profit for the day overall.
Group G comes to a close with USA facing Germany in a game in which both teams know a point will be enough to ensure qualification. USA have impressed many so far in this tournament, getting off to a fantastic start as they beat Ghana 2-1 in Natal, Clint Dempsey giving them the lead after just one minute. Despite the Africans hitting back, substitute John Anthony Brooks was on hand to head home the winner 4 minutes from time, his first ever goal for the national team. Last time out against Portugal they suffered an early setback, conceding in the first 5 minutes, but turned the game round through a fantastic finish from Jeremain Jones and another from former Fulham & Tottenham man Clint Dempsey. They thought they had done enough to win but Portugal hit back with almost the last kick of the game to score 2-2. Even so, with USA in second and needing just a point, they have done far better than many predicted. USA come into this having won 4 of the last 5 games, scoring 2 goals in each. They also registered a 4-3 win over Germany the last time the two sides met, in a friendly back in June 2013. It’s hard, therefore, not to see them hitting the target in this one.
Germany got off to a flyer in their opening game, with a 4-0 thumping of Portugal. Müller helped himself to a hat-trick in the game, while Mats Hummels also grabbed a goal. Last time out they found it tougher against Ghana, eventually breaking the deadlock in the 51st minute through Mario Götze. Ghana then scored twice to take the lead, Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan with the goals for the Africans, before Miroslav Klose grabbed a record breaking goal to secure a point for the Germans. The veteran striker is now joint record scorer in World Cup competitions with 15 goals, and should he feature again he is sure to be keen to break the record in his last World Cup finals. Müller will also be chasing the golden boot, along with Klose’s record no doubt. Although USA won the last friendly, the last time the two squared off competitively Germany claimed a 1-0 win, back in the 2002 World Cup. They also met in France 1998, Germany winning 2-0 that day. Based on the evidence, I expect both teams to score sail in, while personally I may have a cheeky punt on a Germany win and both teams to score also.
Over in Brasília, Portugal face Ghana with both sides still believing a win for them and defeat for USA would see them qualifying, although Portugal would also need a big swing in goal difference to have any hope. The 4-0 defeat against Germany in the opening game means the European side find themselves bottom of the group, courtesy of goal difference. The game also saw the dismissal of Pepe, for a crazy headbutt on Germany striker Thomas Müller, who was still on the floor. The Portuguese have also suffered with injuries so far in the tournament, and look set to be without Hugo Almeida, Rui Patrício and Fábio Coentrão in this one. They looked to be heading to another defeat last time out despite taking the lead in the 5th minute of the game through Nani. A rare moment of brilliance in this tournament from Cristiano Ronaldo picked out Silvestre Varela right at the death, and his finish secured their first point in the competition. They will want to give a better account of themselves this time out, irrespective of whether they secure qualification or not, while Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo will certainly want to make some impression in what could be his final game in the tournament, so I expect them to be at least fired up for the game.
Ghana have a slightly better chance of qualifying due to goal difference, knowing a 1 goal win for them and 1 goal defeat for USA would see them tied on points and goal difference. The two would also boast the same goals scored, which means the USA would just edge it based on the head to head result. Anything greater than that, and they would take second spot. The African side offered little in their opening game until a goal from André Ayew in the 82nd minute, but still went on to lose that day. The performance against Germany was much better, and they actually led for a while thanks to another goal from André Ayew, and one from Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan. They drew 2-2 that day, but it should give them some belief coming into this game. One player who won’t feature is Milan midfielder SUlley Muntari, who is suspended after 2 bookings, and will be missed in the heart of the midfield. Fellow midfielder Michael Essien is also set to miss out through injury. Ghana will certainly fancy their chances from this Portugal side though, and I’m again going for both to score in this one.
The first round of the World Cup comes to a close with the final games in Group H. First off, Korea Republic take on Belgium knowing that barring a miracle they are out of the competition, but they will be keen to at least end on a high. It took a goalkeeping error from Igor Akinfeev for Korea to secure a point in their first game against Russia, while they played out a 6 goal thriller against Algeria in the second, being on the wrong end of a 4-2 scoreline. The Koreans showed far more positivity in that game, after finding themselves 3 goals down at half-time. Son Heung-Min and Koo Ja-Cheol pulled goals back to at least win the second half 2-1. However, at the back they always seem likely to concede, and that could be the problem against a strong Belgian side. The two sides met back in the France 1998 World Cup, where they drew 1-1, while back in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the Belgians triumphed 2-0. Last time the two sides met was in a friendly in 1999, Belgium again winning that day, 2-1 the scoreline.
Belgium come into the game in fine form, having won their last 5 games, and currently topping the group with maximum points. They fell a goal behind to Algeria in the opening game, but goals from Fellaini and Dries Mertens ensured the winning start. Despite dominating last time out against Russia, they were forced to wait until the 88th minute when substitute Divock Origi became the youngest scorer in this World Cup when he hit the winner. Despite losing Christian Benteke to injury prior to the tournament, the Belgians still boast an impressive array of attacking talent, including Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku and team-mate Eden Hazard, as well as Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini and Everton star Kevin Mirallas among others. The Belgians have created plenty of chances in both games so far, and against a shaky Korean defence I can’t see them failing to profit once again. Belgium win all the way for me.
The other game in the group sees Algeria face Russia in Curitiba. Algeria know a draw will be enough to see them reach the knockout stages for the first ever time. The desert rats gave a good account of themselves in the opening game, despite eventually losing 2-1, Sofiane Feghouli grabbing their goal from the penalty spot. They made a sensational start last time out in Porto Alegre, finding themselves 3-0 up against Korea at the break, thanks to goals from Slimani, Halliche and Djabou. Despite the Koreans pulling 2 back in the second half, Yacine Brahimi grabbed a fourth for Algeria to secure a 4-2 win. They will believe they can score again against a Russian side that have conceded in both games so far.
Russia looked poor in their opener, falling behind after a goalkeeping error from Akinfeev, before Alexander Kerzhakov came off the bench to equalise. They were unable to find the target in the second game against Belgium, and know that anything less than a win will see them crashing out of the tournament. Russia have yet to qualify from the group stages, but will be keen to give a good account of themselves in what could be their final game in this years tournament ahead of hosting it themselves in 4 years time. Fabio Capello successfully negotiated England through the group stages in 2010 when they also needed a win in their final game, and he will be hoping for a repeat this time out. I really don’t know how to call this game, so I’m going to hedge my bets a little and go for Russia not to keep a clean sheet.
Both teams to score in USA against Germany
Germany to win and both teams to score against USA
Both teams to score in Portugal against Ghana
Belgium to win against Korea Republic
Russia not to keep a clean sheet against Algeria
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