Well, it’s official, England are out of the World Cup. It came a bit earlier than expected but the good news is that either Italy or Uruguay will be joining us. After Friday’s results only one of the two teams can progress from the group when the two meet next week.
That is because Costa Rica, yes, Costa Rica – the team everyone forgot about in group D, the team everyone thought would get a thumping each game – has proven their doubters wrong; beating both Uruguay and Italy after their 1-0 victory over Gli Azzuri. It would take a bold man to say they didn’t deserve either victory, making the Italians look supremely average in Recife. One key element of the match was the pressure they put on Andrea Pirlo, something England failed to do, therefore making the bearded midfield maestro look ineffective in the middle of the park. When he did get a moments peace Pirlo swept a ball forward for Mario Balotelli; with the goal at his mercy the enigmatic striker’s lob went agonizingly wide, with England fans everywhere hoping the ball would end up in the net.
The Costa Ricans were putting on a show, with Joel Campbell causing problems with his pace; most evidently when the sloppy Italians gifted Campbell a way to goal, only to be tackled by Giorgio Chiellini – a tackle that ninety nine times out of one hundred would be a penalty, but the Chilean referee waved away the claims, leaving BBC viewers with the screeching of Robbie Savage for the next few minutes. The goal – even though a kick in the teeth for England fans – must have come as a relief as it soon shut Savage up; a pin-point cross from Oscar Duarte found Bryan Ruiz whose header came off the bar and was inches across the line, as the technology soon confirmed. The joy was clear for all to see, with the tens of thousands of Costa Rica fans in the stadium ecstatic, nobody saw this coming. Into the second half and the Italians tried to pressure, but with the whole of England willing them on they were unable to find a goal. Patriotism aside, Costa Rica fully deserved their win, if it was a game England didn’t rely on we would be talking about it a lot more as one of the results of the tournament. The Italians meanwhile will be hoping to avoid defeat to Uruguay next time out to progress.
The drama was no less in group E as France faced Switzerland; the French looked strong in their first game against Honduras and continued with a dazzling performance that really made the rest of the world take notice. Until the 16th minute the teams looked equal, after the 18th the game was France’s to lose; Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with towering header from a corner after 17 minutes to open the scoring, and just 13 seconds of football later Blaise Matuidi had doubled the lead with a shot which ‘keeper Diego Benaglio will feel he could have done better with. From then on France’s neighbour from across the Alps had a mountain to climb, and the way they were playing they might as well have been trying to climb Everest with greasy flip flops on. If it wasn’t for Benzema’s penalty miss and Yohan Cabaye’s poor rebound it could have been three much quicker than it was. In the end the Swiss pressed self-destruct once again as their failure to leave any covering defenders proved dividends as the French broke and Benzema picked out Mathieu Valbuena with a low cross for the Marseille man to extend the lead before halftime.
The start of the second half was a more relaxed affair for twenty minutes as the game was played much in the centre of the field, but the movement of Benzema was once again too much for the Swiss to handle and a sublime through ball from Paul Pogba gave Benzema his third goal of the tournament so far. Moussa Sissoko added another with a crisp low drive, which saw the French take their foot off the gas and therefore allowing Switzerland two goals of their own. Blerim Dzemaili scored from a driven free kick from all of 30 yards and Granit Xhaka volleyed home, both great goals in their own right, but consolation goals all the same. The most controversial moment of the game was at the final whistle, more specifically the timing of the final whistle as referee Bjorn Kuipers had his very own ‘Clive Thomas moment’ as he blew as Karim Benzema was burying what would have been his fourth goal of the tournament and possibly the best of the game from 25 yards out. Alas, it was not to be and 5-2 was enough for the Swiss to take. Albeit in a relatively easy group the French look strong and will be tricky opponents for most teams in the knockout rounds.
In the third game of the day Honduras faced Ecuador with both sides pointless after their first games. Both sides were typically physical, with a few hair-raising challenges throughout, the much maligned physicality of both these teams made for a different sort of game to many others seen at the tournament, but you cannot fault either for their determination. The midfield was somewhat surpassed with many long balls attempted; from one such attempt Carlos Costly steamed through the Ecuador defence and scored Honduras’ first World Cup goal for 32 years, the pandemonium that followed was deserved for the passion shown by their team throughout the years.
The Central Americans’ long wait for a first win however, will be a lot longer, with the defence caught napping Enner Valencia snuck in at the far post to bundle in an equaliser soon after, consequently spoiling the Honduran party. Into the second half it was that man again Valencia who buried a header from close range to complete the turnaround. Valencia has been in hot form recently, scoring seven goals in his last six international appearances; including three in Brazil and another against England. Ecuador will be hoping he continues his form when they face France in their last game, Honduras will be hoping for some sort of result against a wounded Switzerland next time out.
Attention now switches to focus on today’s games, as group F gets back under way; Argentina will be looking to continue with another victory against Iran, a game which everybody expects them to win. The Iranian proved themselves to be tough to beat last time out but with Argentina looking to get a good win under their belts after an unconvincing win against Bosnia and Herzegovina last time out this one could be over before half time. Argentina’s front line will be itching to show what they can do, and although Iran prides themselves on a tough defence once the scoring begins it may not stop.
The other game in the group sees Bosnia and Herzegovina take on Nigeria in a match which would see the winner take a great step to progressing from group F. The Bosnians put on a good show against a talented Argentine outfit in their first match so will be hoping to get their first ever World Cup victory in this match. The Nigerians did not cover themselves in glory after failing to break down Iran and their lack of fire power could once again prove the difference here. Edin Dzeko will be looking to lead the team from the front and Vedad Ibisevic will be in high spirits after scoring the nation’s first ever World Cup girl in their first match. Although they are new to the tournament the Bosnians should be favourites here and victory would leave them with a great chance of making it to the knockout stages in their debut tournament.
Sandwiched in between those two games is the group F clash of Germany and Ghana. The Germans looked their usual forceful self in seeing off Portugal last time out, whereas the Ghanaians looked lacklustre and wasteful against USA. Thomas Muller will be looking to increase his scoring tally after a hat trick last time out and if Ghana defends the way they did to allow Clint Dempsey his first goal he could well be on his way to another match ball here. The Germans seem to be going a bit under the radar at the moment with all the focus on the South American teams but another win today and they will show they mean business this year.
We could be seeing a lot more goals today with some very strong attacking teams on show, yet another great day of World Cup football in the greatest tournament for a very long time.
Picture: Evening Standard