2014 World Cup: Group Stage wrap-up — A mixed tale of surprises and disappointments

The two most surprising teams in the last 16, Costa Rica and Greece, face each other.


JASON PETTIGROVE June 27, 2014

LONDON: Immediately prior to the start of the 2014 World Cup, most media outlets were content to report on local outrage at the staging of Fifa’s premier football tournament.

Newswires centred on expected large-scale protests and for a country so synonymous with the beautiful game, football seemed a very distant second place for many Brazilians.

How suddenly the mood of a nation can change.

Within 90 minutes of the first ball being kicked, favelas were awash with colour. Copacabana staged impromptu beach parties and the protestors had fallen silent as the samba beat filled the air.

The group stages have been a delight to watch throughout and kicked off what has become one of the best World Cups in recent memory.

Who can forget the astonishing Spanish loss to a rampant Robin van Persie inspired Holland, the stunning Group D upsets as Costa Rica swept past Uruguay and Italy, or Germany’s ruthless dispatch of a toothless Portugal for whom Cristiano Ronaldo was completely anonymous?

Brazil have enchanted and entertained the packed stadia and a worldwide viewing public, and few would bet against them going far in this tournament. Although Fred and Hulk have disappointed thus far for the hosts, the Selecao still carry a goal threat whenever they venture forward.



Neymar has been intelligent and decisive, and Barcelona’s new manager Luis Enrique will have his beady eyes right across all of Brazil’s remaining matches to note how best to employ the wunderkind at club level next season.

Against Chile in the round of 16, Luis Felipe Scolari’s charges will need to be at their very best to combat the naturally robust, physical and intensely hard-working game of Jorge Sampaoli’s side.

Mexico showed enough in their 0-0 draw with Brazil to offer clues as to how the Canarinho can be unlocked, and weak link Dani Alves could be exposed.

Alexis Sanchez will offer Eduardo Vargas some insight on how best to tackle his club colleague, but Sanchez himself must put in a shift to curtail Marcelo’s incisive runs forward.

The Netherlands, with Arjen Robben and Van Persie particularly to the fore, look unstoppable at this point. Rarely has a Dutch side looked so together, the Oranje renowned for dressing room unrest which has cast a shadow over previous tournaments.

If Mexico are to have any chance of progression against them then Bayern Munich’s wide man must be stopped. A five-man back line, similar to the one they employed against Croatia and superbly marshalled by the effervescent Rafa Marquez at his fourth World Cup, could well reap dividends.

Should Mexico continue keeping their defensive lines close together, it will hamper the ability of Louis van Gaal’s attacking trident to work the spaces and ultimately influence the outcome of the game.

The Dutch also have quality at the back with Ron Vlaar particularly impressive. El Tri’s Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta will have their work cut out to make any sort of impression and so we could well see a case of the irresistible force meets the immovable object.

Two more South American sides pair up in a mouth-watering clash. Jose Peckerman’s Colombia have swept into the round of 16 playing some delightful football, with goal celebrations to match.

In Radamel Falcao’s absence, James Rodriguez has been in blistering form with Barcelona target Juan Cuadrado ably supporting any attacking forays down the right hand channel.

Cristian Zapata and Mario Yepes have been rock solid at the back and nine goals scored with only two conceded give Uruguay an early indication of the stiff test they are likely to face; a test made all the more difficult because of the actions of one Luis Suarez.
His nine-match, four-month ban for the bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini is effectively immediately and whilst his omission does leave a gaping hole, thankfully for Oscar Tabaraz there is still sufficient quality in the side for him to plot a course and steer Los Charruas into the quarter-finals.
At set pieces in particular, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin will provide an omnipresent aerial threat, whilst the latter has marshalled his defence superbly well since their opening defeat against Costa Rica.

Martin Caceres and Alvaro Pereira deserve more than cursory mention, but focus on excellent team play has ultimately shifted because of Suarez.

The two most surprising teams in the last 16, Costa Rica and Greece, face each other. No pundit or football expert had placed either in the last eight of this tournament before the opening of proceedings, and it is testament to both that they find themselves competing for exactly that.

Inspired by Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica confounded everyone to reach the round of 16 as group winners.

They must start as favourites against a Greek side who, whilst combative and hard to beat, hadn’t scored a goal until their final group match against Ivory Coast, and only went through thanks to a last-minute penalty from Georgios Samaras.

Fairly one dimensional in their play, the aging Greeks will be exposed down the flanks if Joel Campbell is allowed to roam or Ruiz and fellow wide man Christian Bolanos gain a foothold.

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella has maintained a sensible and pro-active standpoint during their group games, but he can’t legislate for simple schoolboy defending.

Although Lionel Messi has unsurprisingly written his name right across the tournament, the Albiceleste won’t make it too much further if their brittle defence can’t lock up shop.

Furthermore, there is expectancy that attacking colleagues Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria will raise the level of their contributions, which have been negligible to this point. Sergio Aguero didn’t really make his mark either, and his tournament-ending hamstring injury could well dent any genuine hopes Argentina had of lifting the trophy.

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland lie in wait and in Xherdan Shaqiri they have a player that has come into form at just the right time. A hat-trick against Honduras was the perfect tonic for a player who finds himself out of favour at club level.

Valon Behrami’s energetic bursts from the middle of the park, and supreme passing accuracy of 90.1%, will also be crucial to Swiss hopes of progression.

If Fabian Schar and Johan Djourou can keep Messi quiet and Hitzfeld utilizes his thoughtful 4-2-3-1 formation to its fullest, then there is every chance of a stunning upset in this game.

France have eased themselves into the last 16 and looked every inch genuine contenders. Playing some of the most exciting football of the tournament so far, a goalless draw when already through aside, Karim Benzema has led a fabulously well-drilled team with aplomb.

The quality throughout Didier Deschamp’s side is extensive and impressive, and far from adopting a conservative approach, the French have been sharp and incisive.

Dispatching a patchy Nigeria shouldn’t hold too many problems. Although Argentina were rattled by Ahmed Musa’s brace, just one goal in two other games is a more accurate barometer of the struggles that Stephen Keshi’s troops face.

The furore surrounding the absence of Landon Donovan from the US team is now a distant memory after Jurgen Klinsmann masterminded a passage out of Group G.

Clint Dempsey has spearheaded the charge at the expense of Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. For a country that is normally so blasé about ‘soccer’, all eyes are now focused on Brazil.

That’s because alongside Dempsey, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Omar Gonzalez and others, have played some wonderful attacking football, and opponents Belgium will need to be on their toes because they will be given a game.

The ‘dark horses’ of the tournament Belgium remain just that, but with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany in the team, manager Marc Wilmots must fancy his chances.

Not to mention his fearsome midfield, not unlike Germany’s, which the US will find incredibly hard to break down.

The final match of the round will see Algeria up against a strong German outfit. The Africans have done remarkably well to make it out of the group for the first time ever, but this is where their journey ends.

Germany, as usual, are in ominous tournament form and an expected quarter-final against France could be one of the games of this World Cup.

Buckle up, it’s going to be quite a ride.

The writer is a European Sports Journalist.

COMMENTS (1)

Jahangir Chauhan | 7 years ago | Reply

I think Brazil is favorite though Chile have the potential to surprise them i think it's going to be a close match. Good luck to both the teams My prediction score is 2 :1 in favor of Brazil.

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