After a disappointing day of World Cup action on Tuesday that only saw five goals scored with two draws, normal service was resumed on Wednesday with 11 goals in the three matches played, with the most action packed games to date.
The biggest shock of the day was the early exit of Spain after defeat to Chile; thus making them the third reigning champions to be knocked out in the group stage in the last four tournaments. The Spanish could not recover from their earlier trouncing by the Dutch and saw a well-drilled Chile side put them to the sword. The Chileans were far more determined than their opponents, playing a high pressing game, and seemed to out-Spain Spain. The World Champions were not allowed time on the ball, and the normally cool, calm and collected Xabi Alonso was cracking under the pressure, giving the ball away frequently, and he wasn’t the only one. Chile carved Spain apart with their first goal; a sublime team goal which stretched the defence with the speed of the play, with the ball finally arriving at Eduardo Vargaz who had the composure to fool Iker Casillas with his first touch and poke home with the next. Those who thought the opener was something of a fluke were wrong; the South Americans created chance after chance, and eventually doubled their lead when Casillas – who has been error-laden in recent times – provided a weak punch to a free kick which gifted midfielder Charles Aranguiz the chance to score, he didn’t need to be asked twice and left the Spaniards staring down the barrel of defeat. There seemed very little urgency from Spain to get back into the game, as they still opted for their patient approach; it had failed to break their opponents down when the teams were level so when Chile had a 2-0 lead to protect their chances looked slim. All in all, it looks as if changing the philosophy, with a real number nine in Diego Costa, as well as the aging of the squad has caught up with Spain. The question is, will they recover or are we seeing the start of a decline and seeing Spain go full circle back to the teams of the previous century that flattered to deceive? Chile meanwhile, will be eagerly looking forward to the next round; with their limitless amounts of energy they could surprise a lot of teams.
Elsewhere in group B the Netherlands remain unbeaten albeit in unconvincing fashion against Australia. When Arjen Robben opened the scoring after 20 minutes you would have been forgiven for thinking the Dutch would be comfortable winners, but just 70 seconds later you would realise you were thinking wrong; it was Tim Cahill – a man often associated with headed goals – who spectacularly got the Socceroos back on level terms. From the kick off the ball was played wide to Tim McGowan, and his diagonal ball teed up Cahill for a sumptuous first time volley from a tricky angle which thundered in off the bar. A goal akin to some the opposing Robin van Persie has scored in his time, comparisons to another Dutchman, Marco van Basten, could also be made. It was something special. The Australians were not living up to their pre-tournament billing as the group’s whipping boys; they had come to play, and they showed they meant business when they took the lead early in the second half. Yet another dubious penalty decision paved the way, with Daryl Janmaat penalised for a point-blank handball, protests followed, but Mile Jedinak wasn’t arguing once he had tucked the ball away from the spot for a shock lead. The game was end-to-end, with both teams creating chances, one man who had to wait for his chance was that man van Persie; but when he was left with half a yard in the penalty area he proved clinical as he slammed the ball home to level the scores. With half an hour to go, the game could go either way, in a game full of terrific goals and exciting play it seemed fitting that the winning goal was also a speculative effort. Seconds after Australia missed a guilt-edged chance the Dutch broke and Memphis Depay,of PSV Eindhoven, tried his luck from 25 yards with a vicious swerving drive, although Matt Ryan may have felt he could have done better there was no taking away from the young star’s strike. Australia may have seen their dreams shattered but they have been no pushovers, and played their part in the most exciting World Cup game Brazil has seen so far. Netherlands face Chile in their next game which really whets the appetite with both teams in imperious form.
Attention returned back to group A after the drama of the previous two games, and Croatia faced Cameroon in a must not lose match for both sides. Croatia came out of the traps quickly and forced their opponents onto the back foot, eventually capitalising when the industrious Ivica Olic converted a well worked move. Cameroon had chances but with Samuel Eto’o on the bench they did not look clinical enough to score. All dreams of a comeback and a prolonged stay in Brazil were quashed when Alex Song threw a petty elbow in the direction of Mario Mandzukic and saw red, therefore ending the match as a contest. Ivan Perisic capitalised on a poor kick from goalkeeper Charles Itandje to double the lead, then Mandzukic scored two of the easiest goals of his career – a free header from a corner and a tap in rebound after Eduardo’s shot was saved – from a combined total of about 10 yards. Pierre Webo managed to hit the bar with a header late on but the Indomitable Lions will be heading home to Africa with their tail between their legs. Croatia meanwhile, has a winner takes all clash with Mexico next time out.
All eyes will be on Roy Hodgson’s men today in their crunch match, but LS already has that covered (see England vs Uruguay preview). Before Rooney, Gerrard and the rest take to the field Group C will resume action when Cote D’Ivoire faces Colombia in Brasilia. Both teams tasted victory first time out but in contrasting circumstances; Colombia ripped Greece wide open and cruised to a 3-0 victory, the Ivorians on the other hand had to come from behind to steal a victory from Japan. The South Americans seem to be dealing without star man Radamel Falcao relatively easily, with James Rodriguez eager to impress in his absence. Cote D’Ivoire may recall Didier Drogba to the starting line-up after his surprise exclusion last time out; the ex-Chelsea powerhouse showed how much of a difference he makes to the team as the game turned after he was introduced. Much has been made of The Elephants ‘golden generation’ after their first World Cup appearance in 2006 but as of yet they have failed to make it out of the group stage. After victory against the Japanese, a match in which they failed to perform for an hour, this could be their greatest chance to progress and avoiding defeat here would put them in for a serious shot of the knockout stages and a potential round of 16 clash with England. Uruguay aside, the South American sides have been playing some sumptuous football in this tournament and buoyed by their rapturous support Colombia should have what it takes to all but seal a place in the next round.
In the basement battle of Group C Japan face Greece in Natal, both teams will be desperate for a win to sustain a challenge to progress to the next round. With both teams knowing a defeat could see them packing their bags this is likely to be a tense affair which will suit the Greeks down to the ground. The Greeks specialise in an unflattering style of football and will be hoping they can contain the Japanese and catch them with a goal of their own. Captain Giorgos Karagounis, who seems to be as old as the city of Athens itself will be hoping for a recall to the starting line up to lead his side to victory. Japan’s own veteran, Yasuhito Endo – playing in his third World Cup –looked dangerous when coming on against Cote D’Ivoire and with Keisuke Honda looking on form the Japanese will fancy their chances. If the Asian side can grab an early goal the game may open up somewhat but the longer it stays goalless the more it will play into the Greeks’ hands. Japan fans were seen helping clean the stadium after their match with Cote D’Ivoire, something seemed customary in their homeland, and they will be hoping the footballers will be the ones mopping the floor with the Greeks later today.
If you manage to take your eyes off of the build-up and fall out of England’s crunch match today there could be some exciting games in store. They may not raise the heartbeat as much as the match in Sao Paulo, but should be an exciting watch nonetheless.