After a dramatic day at the FIFA World Cup, Ste Topping looks back on the action and previews another exciting day in Brazil.
With the chance to salvage some pride in Brazil, Roy Hodgson made nine changes in the hope that England could win their first match of the tournament, but it was Costa Rica who got off to the brighter start. Arsenal forward Joel Campbell hit a decent strike in the first few minutes as his team maintained possession early on. Luke Shaw showed good composure under pressure, whilst Jack Wilshere displayed some neat touches, but the early moments belonged to the group leaders. Daniel Sturridge didn’t take long to grow into the game though, firing a shot from outside of the area slightly wide before trying a volley from far out.
Los Ticos troubled the Three Lions on the break, winning a free kick which was tipped onto the bar by Ben Foster, but England were beginning to control the game; Lampard led by example through his Pirlo-esque passing game. Soon after the hungry Sturridge was bundled down in the box by Duarte, but the referee ignored the shouts for what seemed a clear penalty. The same man then missed a great chance from a corner, as Ross Barkley’s corner found Phil Jones at the far post; his flick on was perfect for Sturridge but the header went over the bar.
England went into half time the more comfortable team, although they had nearly been caught out in the 45th minute, when Brenes went in behind the English defence all too easily from his goalkeeper’s punt forwards. Ben Foster dealt with the situation well, but it was a reminder to Hodgson that England’s defensive issues could still become prevalent at any moment.
The second half begun and England looked to be the only team in it, their performance characterised by the outstanding Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana who drove the team forwards down the left whenever possible. Sturridge continued to impress, but couldn’t break the deadlock, a neat one-two with Wilshere was dragged wide.
From there on the game appeared to be fizzling out. Hodgson brought on Steven Gerrard to play alongside Frank Lampard for one last time, whilst a cameo from Wayne Rooney provided an unlikely chip shot at goal which was comfortable for the Costa Rican goalkeeper; the game was being played out more like a testimonial match than a World Cup game. Those youngsters who remained on the pitch continued to show moments, but a win was too big an ask for the Three Lions and the match ended 0-0.
The main event of Group D saw Italy take on Uruguay in a showdown for the second qualification spot. Plenty of star names were on display but it was once again a moment of madness from Luis Suarez which stole the headlines, after the Liverpool striker bit the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in a sign of frustration after 75 minutes had played out to a stalemate.
It was easy to see why frustration would have kicked in as the star striker had struggled to find a way past Italy’s famed defence throughout the game. Early Uruguay pressure failed to trouble the Italian backline, with Suarez himself limited to a blocked shot from a tight angle and Edinson Cavani barely in the game. Balotelli and Dortmund-bound Ciro Immobile blasted chances away from the net, and the opening period ended a dull 0-0.
Italy would have taken the point, but Uruguay needed the win; the game continued in scrappy fashion with numerous fouls breaking up the play for both sides. Suarez had a good opportunity to find a breakthrough with an early free kick, but it went hopelessly wide, before Christian Rodriguez was put through only to slice his shot. A clumsy challenge with studs from Claudio Marchisio led to Italy going a man down, and Suarez used this to his advantage, his surging run broke through the Italian defence but his shot produced a top class save by Buffon.
The game looked to be heading for a draw until the Suarez incident. Italy’s defence was rattled, and the Uruguayans were camped in the opposition half, forcing a corner off the arm of Chiellini – more ball to hand than handball according to the match official. The resulting corner was drifted in towards the head of Diego Godin who found the net, giving Uruguay a late 1-0 lead to go through to the next stage. Pirlo was given the last chance with a free kick before the final whistle, but his effort went wide and Italy went home.
Group C’s fixtures commenced later in the evening with everything still wide open. Ivory Coast looked to be favourites to go through as they entertained a Greece side which hadn’t scored a World Cup goal since 2010, but they struggled to find a way through the solid Greek defence in the first half. Gervinho and Drogba made a slick one-two but the former Arsenal man was forced to the corner, whilst Yaya Toure joined them in making some neat touches without troubling the Greeks too much.
Greece grew into the game though, breaking with increasing regularity. Holebas hit the crossbar, before a free kick from 37 year old Karagounis was hit low and straight at the Ivorian keeper. The game settled again, only for Cheick Tiote to misplace a simple back pass which was picked up by Samaras, who hit a great pass to near namesake Samiris for a cool finish and a half time 1-0 lead.
Ivory Coast needed to find a way back in the game to salvage their hopes of qualification, but it was Greece who maintained their momentum after the break. Lazaros and Salpingidis both forced good saves out of Boubacar Barry, before Karagounis hit the bar from a 40 yard strike. Wilfried Bony came on to help the Ivorian cause, and he made a great impact, his cool finish ending a smart move from Gervinho. Ivorian joy was short lived though, as in the 91st minute Sio tripped Samaras in the box. The Celtic striker composed himself and scored, putting the Greeks through right at the death of the game.
Meanwhile Colombia and Japan played out an entertaining game as the Japanese clung on to their hopes of qualifying, and it was they who made the better start. Uchida had an early shot fly over the bar, whilst Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa were linking up well, but it was Colombia who took the lead against the run of play when Juan Cuadrado converted a penalty won by Jackson Martinez, who was bundled off the ball by Konno. Japan continued to dominate though, with Honda and Kagawa both coming close to equalising before Okazaki headed in a fine cross from Honda just before half time.
The second half saw the introduction of James Rodriguez for Tricolor, and the young midfielder changed the game. The Colombians had barely been in the game in the first period but they totally dominated the second, and it did not take long for Rodriguez to make his first major contribution; Santiago Arias broke down the right, before finding the playmaker, who played a neat pass to Martinez for the second Colombia goal. A Honda free kick was Japan’s best chance of the second half, with Ospina forced into a save, but Martinez added another goal when Rodriguez found him with a great pass on the break. Colombia finished the game with a fourth goal, courtesy of Rodriguez, who showed the defenders a few step overs before chipping the ball into the net.
Today’s action comes from groups E and F. Ecuador will take on France, knowing that they need to better the achievements of Switzerland who face Honduras if they are to go through. France have emerged as a surprise contender for the tournament, helped by the goalscoring prowess of Karim Benzema, and so Ecuador will have to be at their best to match their opponents; Golden Boot contender Enner Valencia will need to replicate his early form again and help his team to a win.
In contrast, the Swiss should have little trouble defeating the Hondurans who still have a slight chance of qualification if both they and France win. Honduras lack cutting edge, but have Premier League experience in the shape of Maynor Figueroa, Roger Espinoza and Wilson Palacios. If players such as Xherdan Shaqiri can find their form for Switzerland, they should be able to win this match.
As for Group F, Argentina will face Nigeria, whilst Iran will take on Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of Nigeria or Iran will join Argentina in the next round, who so far have disappointed, with Lionel Messi twice having got the side out of jail in their first two games. Nigeria were impressive against Bosnia, and if key men Odemwingie and Emenike can maintain their form then they could get a result against the so far uninspiring Argentinians. Iran have been defensively strong, and almost caused an upset against Argentina last time out. If they can score tonight, then they could emerge as surprise qualifiers from the group, although Edin Dzeko will be desperate to get a World Cup goal for his nation.
Main image: Sporting Life