The 2014 World Cup has been unbelievably generous, with lots of attacking football and goals galore. The excitement continued in the first set of games, with Argentina edging out Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina earning a consolation victory over Iran.
Argentina were already through, but that did not stop them from making an exceptionally fast start, with the mercurial Lionel Messi rifling home after Angel di Maria’s drive was parried onto the post by Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. However, the Super Eagles got back on level terms almost immediately through Ahmed Musa’s superb curling effort. Messi however was on a one-man mission to get Argentina to the top of the group, and after an earlier free-kick was palmed away by Enyeama, he made no mistake in first-half stoppage time from another set-piece, curling the ball superbly into the top corner. The drama continued unabated after the interval, with Musa capitalising on more lax defending from the suspect Argentinian backline, as he combined with the powerful Emmanuel Emenike before calmly finishing past the helpless Sergio Romero. However, no sooner had they had got back on level terms, then Argentina got their noses in front again through Marcos Rojo. The game petered out after that point, but the result meant that Argentina and Nigeria both progressed to face Switzerland and France in the knockout stage respectively.
The other game in Group F saw Bosnia face Iran. The Balkan outfit, despite playing some attractive football, knew that they were already out, while the Iranians had to win and hope that Nigeria were defeated by Argentina. It became clear that Bosnia, despite their elimination, were not ready to exit the tournament with a whimper. Striker Edin Dzeko, who had missed several chances in the previous match with Nigeria, finally demonstrated his Premier League class, showing good feet to dribble past a few challenges and place the ball beyond the goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi. The Persian Stars looked to respond immediately and almost did, with Masoud Shojaei hitting the crossbar. The Bosnians then doubled their advantage and their crisp passing, unlike in their first two games, paid dividends when Tino Susic played in Miralem Pjanic and the AS Roma star duly snapped up the chance. The Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejhad got a goal back for Iran before the match was put beyond doubt when Sejad Salihovic played in Avdija Vrsajevic for his first international goal. While neither manager can be dissatisfied with their players’ efforts, both will think about what might have been.
Group E saw France face Ecuador and Switzerland play Honduras. Les Bleus knew that they were through barring an unlikely set of results and rang the changes, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Lucas Digne among those getting their first starts. The French did not seem at their swashbuckling best, perhaps due to the fact that they knew that their passage to the knockout stage was pretty much assured. Chances were few and far between in a dour first half, with Paul Pogba’s flicked header extravagantly tipped over by Ecuador’s goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, while at the other end, Enner Valencia drew a point-blank save from Hugo Lloris after getting above his marker with a great leap. Antonio Valencia was then sent off in the second half for a studs-up challenge on Digne. The decision seemed to initially galvanise Ecuador, and a quick break instigated by the livewire Valencia almost saw them take the lead, only for Christian Noboa to screw his shot wide. Blaise Matuidi, Karim Benzema and Pogba all had late chances, while Alex Ibarra was denied at the other end by Lloris. However, this game was nothing to write home about.
In the other encounter, the Swiss knew that they needed to better Ecuador’s result to go through, and they set about their task in ruthless fashion, thanks to a virtuoso performance from Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri. The squat playmaker is not one of the leading talents for the Bundesliga champions in their midfield of abundant riches, but is pivotal for his country. He evaded the close attention of several Honduras defenders to fire home a sumptuous strike from just outside the area. Josip Drmic then played in Shaqiri for the second goal after half an hour. However, Honduras stemmed the tide, and Juan Carlos Garcia and Bryan Beckeles could have reduced the deficit before the break. In the second half, Jerry Bengtson missed a gilt-edged opportunity when his attempt was cleared away by Switzerland defender Ricardo Rodriguez. They then had a shout for a penalty turned down when Johan Djourou tangled with Jerry Palacios and Switzerland put the game to bed when Shaqiri collected Drmic’s cut-back to fire home and send his team through.
Feature image: The Guardian
Article image: The Japan Times