Friday, June 27, 2014

Preview: Round of Sixteen

After having completed 868 matches, the knockout stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is finally upon us. Brasil have only played three matches to get to this point, but the other fifteen remaining teams have all gone through long and often tumultuous journeys to make it through to this stage. Uruguay had to fight through twenty-one matches to reach this stage, the most of any side. This truly has been a tournament of the Americas, with five South American and three North American sides getting through to the final sixteen, both record totals. Two African teams join in the fun, and only six European teams have survived the journey here. Greece and Algeria are both making their debuts in the knockout stage after their surprising performances in the group stage. Colombia have gone from a team few believed would even qualify for Brasil 2014 when qualifying began to a team favored to reach the quarterfinals.

In the first match, Brasil face Chile for the second consecutive time in a Round of Sixteen affair. Brasil have gone undefeated throughout their short appearance in this tournament, but they did win the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in convincing fashion last summer and have put their poor 2011 Copa America well in the rearview mirror. They find themselves in the CONMEBOL quarter of the bracket. Their first challenger is La Roja, a team that ended Spain's run with a solid 2-0 victory, but a team that could not find the inspiration in their final group stage matchup with Netherlands, a 2-0 loss. Chile have an element on controlled craziness that is a joy to watch, with both fullbacks (Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla) always blazing up and down the flanks while Arturo Vidal is bossing their midfield. Brasil did not deal masterfully with a soft group, but they did win the section and Neymar is on a goal-scoring tear. Brasil smacked Chile around in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, defeating Chile all three times they played them by multiple goals, including 3-0 in the knockout stage. Expect Brasil to advance.

In the next match, tournament darlings and superstar midfielder James Rodriguez ride their wave of momentum into their first Round Sixteen appearance since 1990. They have also danced their way into our hearts. Plus, they have the two oldest men playing in the tournament. Basically, they win over the neutral fans using many different angles. However, they have never won a match after the group stage of a FIFA World Cup. They take on Uruguay, the 2011 Copa America champions and returning semifinalists from South Africa 2010. Will the lack of big-match experience come into play and haunt the Colombians? Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez, who was suspended for the remainder of this tournament and beyond for biting an opponent in the previous match, but Uruguay have already won crucial matches without him. Suarez was suspended for Uruguay's 1-0 road victory away to Venezuela. Had they lost that match, Venezuela would have qualified for the intercontinental playoffs at Uruguay's expense. Uruguay defeated Colombia 2-0 in their most recent matchup during this very tournament, meaning the teams each won once and lost once against the other during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. La Celeste will be ready, but something tells me that the upstart Cafeteros will defeat an Uruguay team suffering from disciplinary problems and a lack of form from the brothers Diego (Forlan and Lugano). Colombia are the pick.

The juggernaut Netherlands team has returned from its run to the final match of South Africa 2010 with a vengeance. They smacked Spain around 5-1 in the rematch of that final match, and though they have slowed down a bit, they have taken the full nine points available to them this tournament. The absences of Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart have not hurt the Oranje one bit. Their three-man back line has been stout, and they look poised for another deep run. Their opponents Mexico have overcome a nearly disastrous 2013 to make it back to their sixth straight appearance in the Round of Sixteen. Defensive midfielder Jose Vasquez is out via a suspension for this match, but the team is nevertheless full of belief. Hector Herrera has been playing some inspired football as their midfield maestro, and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has at times looked like an impenetrable wall, holding opponents to one goal over three games in the group stage. However,  Mexico are currently saddled with a five-game losing streak in the Round of Sixteen over the past five tournaments. This will not be the time Mexico breaks the curse, for Netherlands are simply too strong in attack at the moment with Arjen Robben in particular looking deadset upon going one step better than at South Africa 2010 and winning the tournament.

In an absolutely shocking matchup, Costa Rica are favored to defeat Greece. Greece have never before made it to the knockout stage, but they have followed up their quarterfinal run at UEFA Euro 2012 nicely at this tournament, resolutely refusing to lose to Japan despite being down to ten men and not quitting on themselves in the final group match against Cote d'Ivoire in spite of conceding an equalizer deep into the second half of a match they had to win and did. Greece are the ultimate in counterattacking technology, which actually makes them incredibly frustrating to watch. Their are a team only their own fans can love. On the other hand, Costa Rica have the flair up front with Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz dazzling the crowds as they went unscathed through the toughest group at Brasil 2014. Their back five has been fantastic, and their goalkeeper Keylor Navas looks like the netminder of the tournament so far. Greece really do not provide much of an attacking threat, so if Costa Rica can avoid leaving too many openings on the counterattack, they should be fine. Los Ticos will make it to their first ever quarterfinal.

Day three of this stage opens with France taking on the 2013 African Cup of Nations champions Nigeria. Nigeria were fortunate to get the refereeing assistance they needed to defeat Bosnia in the group stage, and they looked very pathetic in their scoreless draw against Iran. However, their attack awoke from its slumber in the Argentina match, and now the Super Eagles look ready to become world-beaters. Nigeria have become a very mentally-strong side over the past two years, and the return of forward Peter Odemwingie to the fray has been a boon. France disgraced their Swiss rivals 5-2 in a very impressive victory in the group stage, and they will not be too bothered by their most recent outing, an underwhelming draw to Ecuador, a game in which they looked rather bored to be quite honest. Karim Benzema has regained his scoring touch, and the French have not been hampered by the loss of star midfielder Franck Ribery pre-finals. No one player is standing out for the French, evidenced by the fact that five different men scored in their demolition of Switzerland. Nigeria are the undisputed kings of Africa with the eliminations of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, but that does not change the consensus about this matchup. France should win, but it would surprise no one if the often overlooked Super Eagles find themselves in the quarterfinals. Nigeria are the pick here.

Germany had one bad outing in the group stage as they suffered mightily before drawing a Ghana team that lost its other two matches. However, Die Mannschaft is always a difficult task for any opponent, much less one making its debut in the knockout stage. Who can forget their 4-0 demolition of supposed group rivals Portugal in their opener? Philipp Lahm has been moved into the midfield and has done a fantastic job, and aside from the Ghana game their back four have looked impregnable. Yet another semifinal at a major tournament appears to be in their destiny. Algeria, a team that only qualified ahead of Burkina Faso on the away goals tiebreaker in a home-and-away series where they had to save a penalty kick in the first leg, is amazingly still alive in this tournament. After a timid performance in their opening match against Belgium, they have relaxed and played the attacking football for which the Fennec Foxes are renowned. They ran rampart over a weak South Korea side, and they held their nerve well in a draw over Russia, securing the result they needed from that match to advance. They are looking to repeat the 2-1 upset their forefathers sprung on West Germany at Spain 1982. Germany have other plans, however. As great as the storyline is for Algeria, Germany simply have too much talent and should win this match without too much trouble.

On the final day of the Round of Sixteen, the final South American nation plays. Argentina, winners of all three group matches by one-goal margins, have looked less than spectacular in every outing thus far, yet they have yet to drop points. Lionel Messi has carried the scoring burden by himself, netting four teams, with goals in every match so far during the finals. Argentina have lost only once with Messi playing during this tournament, and that was back in October 2011. Their opponents are Switzerland, a team that have a stoppage-time winner in their first match against Ecuador to thank for their berth in this round. Their heavy loss to France did not keep them down for long as they took Honduras to the woodshed in their group finale. That France loss was their only loss in thirteen matches during this tournament, and they are a dangerous side as they are the most recent team to have defeated Brasil. Xherdan Shaqiri is riding high after a hat trick his last outing, and the class of the numerous overseas imports featuring on the team is readily apparent to the casual viewer. This match should be rather close and should make for an entertaining affair, but somehow Argentina will sneak through and find themselves in yet another quarterfinal.

Belgium were perhaps the least impressive team ever to amass the full complement of nine points from a group stage. Still, they amassed the full nine points are a fancied to make a deep run at Brasil 2014 after a twelve-year absence from the finals of a major competition. Their supposed weakness, inexperience on the international stage, is undermined by their players' vast experience playing in huge matches at club level. Steven Defour is out via a red card suspension for this match, but he was never likely to factor into a knockout stage match anyhow. Belgium managed to eke out all three wins in the group stage by one goal, the third victory completed with only ten men on the field for the second half. Talismanic winger Eden Hazard has largely been invisible but has a tendency to pop up when it counts the most, as he did to score a late winner against Russia. United States of America are into the Round of Sixteen for a second straight tournament. They have plenty of positive experiences in knockout stages, having made it to the finals of six international tournaments since 2005, winning three of them, most recently the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. They navigated the second toughest group decently well, defeating nemesis Ghana and then having victory snatched away with the last kick of the match by Portugal. A lackluster effort in defeat to Germany in the group finale and an awful tournament from focal point midfielder Michael Bradley are causes for concern as is the injury to forward Jozy Altidore, but the attitude and effort are not. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman have been fantastic at the defensive midfield positions, and the Yanks are certainly more battled-tested from their group stage than are Belgium. Les Diables Rouges walked all over United States 4-2 in a friendly last year. Even so, the pick here is United States. Why, you ask? Surely, all that experience on the international stage must count for one upset victory over a team with only one player with any prior tournament experience as a member of his national side.

28 June 2014
Chile at Brasil 11:00 Belo Horizonte
Colombia vs. Uruguay 15:00 Rio de Janeiro

29 June 2014
Netherlands vs. Mexico 11:00 Fortaleza
Costa Rica vs. Greece 15:00 Recife

30 June 2014
France vs. Nigeria 11:00 Brasilia
Germany vs. Algeria 15:00 Porto Alegre

1 July 2014
Argentina vs. Switzerland 11:00 Sao Paulo
Belgium vs. United States of America 15:00 Salvador

Sunday, June 22, 2014

United States of America 2 - Portugal 2

Photo by Dennis Grombkowski
Manaus was the site of the final group stage match between teams having made only one appearance at Brasil 2014. United States of America were seeking a win to send them into the knockout stages. Portugal were seeking points in order to avoid being eliminated. Portugal took a lead on a play that really should not have gone their way. American centerback Geoff Cameron completely muffed an attempted clearance. Rather than sending the ball upfield, the ball traveled across his own box to a grateful Nani. To his credit, Nani was cool and composed as he capitalized upon the gift to put the Portuguese ahead 1-0. From then on, the United States appeared to be in control of the match. Amrican captain Clint Dempsey (pictured, white) was the danger man, but he was only able to manufacture a couple shots from very obtuse angles, leading to simple enough positioning-based saves from Portugal goalkeeper Beto. In a telling moment midway through the half, Portugal were defending with all eleven players in their half of the pitch. In the final five minutes, Nani was having some joy in attack. He struck a shot that United States goalkeeper Tim Howard had to answer with a save. In the final minute, Nani unleashed a drive that somehow scraped through Howard's hands. Luckily for Howard, the ball caromed off his post. Portugal forward Eder shot off the rebound, but Howard managed to push the ball over his crossbar as he was losing his balance. Portugal made it to halftime with a 1-0 lead.

The Americans came out with renewed vigor for the second period. America right back Fabian Johnson made yet another run up the pitch, and this time he was rewarded with the ball. Johnson slipped into the box and drew Beto off his line, Johnson passed around him to Michael Bradley for what appeared to be a simple finish. However, Bradley did not angle the ball to the vacant part of the net, and Ricardo Costa (pictured, burgundy #13) made a fantastic knee save off the line to cover for his goalkeeper. United States got the goal they fully deserved off a half-clearance by Portugal from an American corner kick. Jermaine Jones gathered the ball, took a touch, and shot a ball into the side netting from twenty-seven yards to level that match at 1-1. Alejandro Bedoya had a golden opportunity to send in a cross from the right side to find an open American teammate at the far post, but his ball sailed on him. With under ten minutes left in regulation, the Yanks turned a half-chance into a full goal. Bradley had his shot blocked, but Graham Zusi gathered the rebound. He sent a calm chip into the path of Dempsey, who beat the offside line and chested the ball across the line for a 2-1 advantage. The lead looked like it was going to hold up as the Americans were defending in numbers, but a beautiful cross from Cristiano Ronaldo found the head of a streaking Silvestre Varela, who ran behind Cameron and powered a massive header from six yards away to equalize the match at the death. The match ends in a 2-2 draw that does nothing to enhance Portugal's chances of survival.

Germany 4 pts +4
USA 4 pts +1
Ghana 1 pts -1
Portugal 1 pts -4

Nani 5
Silvestre Varela 90+5

United States of America
Jermaine Jones 64
Clint Dempsey 81

Match Reports:


Algeria 4 - South Korea 2

Photo by Paul Gilham
Algeria and South Korea both marked this fixture in Porto Alegre as the one they felt they could most utilize to get a win in Group H. Algeria were on the front foot early, lead by talismanic attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli to create early chances. South Korea's goal appeared to be living a charmed life early on, and Algeria even had shouts for a penalty in the early going. Koo Ja-Cheol got into the Algerian penalty area with possession, but Algerian captain Madjid Bougherra was able to execute a smooth backheel steal from Koo. Algerian RB swung in a ball to Islam Slimani in the box, but Slimani was unable to gather the ball cleanly in stride, so his marker Hong was able to clear the danger. Route-one football proved the answer for Algeria. Carl Medjani popped a long through ball over the top, and Slimani fought off two defenders before softly chipping over the onrushing South Korea goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong to give the Fennec Foxes a 1-0 lead. Brahimi nearly scored a second after Algeria had stolen the ensuing kickoff, but Kim Young-Gwon did just enough to deflect the ball off frame. On the ensuing corner kick, Rafik Halliche completely dusted his marker Kim Young-Gwon and rose for the header six yards away from goal. Jung came out to punch but failed, so Halliche powered the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead. Ten minutes after their second goal, Algeria found yet another goal. Slimani slipped into the box from the left side. He drew a second defender, Kim Young-Gwon off the run of Abdelmoumene Djabou, so Slimani sent a nice ball across to Djabou, who finished with placement to make it 3-0. That would be Algeria's lead going into the break.

Five minutes after the restart South Korea announced that they planned on fighting until the end. Route-one football lad to a sparkling individual effort from Son Heung-Min. He trapped the pass with his back, then turned to beat Bougherra. Son's shot went through the goalkeeper's legs to bring his side to within 3-1. Ki Sung-Yueng hit a massive blast from thirty-seven yards as the game approached the hour mark, forcing Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'bolhi into a spectacular leap to touch the ball over his crossbar. Aissa Mandi had to make a header clearance off the goal line to help out M'bohi who ha been beaten on the play. South Korea appeared to have lulled the Algerians into a fall sense of security. Completely against the run of play, Algeria scored again. Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi executed a one-two-one-two interplay from over forty yards from goal, allowing for Brahimi simply to push the ball over the line from close range after the intricate buildup. The Fennec Foxes were now up 4-1 with less than a half hour to play. With less than twenty minutes to play, the Taegeuk Warriors were right back at it. Kim Shin-Wook won the first header in the box. Son muffed a chance at the goalmouth, but Lee Keun-Ho (pictured, red) was there to clean up the mess. He passed across to Koo who used his raised leg to knock the ball over the goal line to bring South Korea within two goals. Kim Shin-Wook won a header in the box from a corner kick and nearly sent in a third goal for the Koreans, which truly would have made for a spectacular finish to the match. Algeria hold on and win 4-2 to jump into second place in the group table.

Belgium IN 6 pts +2
Algeria 3 pts +1
Russia 1 pts -1
South Korea 1 pts -2

Islam Slimani 26
Rafik Halliche 28
Abdelmoumene Djabou 38
Yacine Brahimi 62

South Korea
Son Heung-Min 50
Koo Ja-Cheol 72

Match Reports:


Belgium 1 - Russia 0

Photo by Clive Rose
The two favorites to advance from Group H, Russia and Belgium, faced off in Rio de Janeiro today. Oleg Shatov did plenty of dribbling work at the top of the Belgian box before passing across the eighteen to Victor Fayzulin. Fayzulin fired low and to the right of Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but the shot was well saved. Going the other way, Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne made a fantastic slaloming run to beat two defenders and drag two more away from the run of Dries Mertens (pictured, red), but Mertens foolishly tried to force and extra pass in the box rather than have a go himself, allowing Russia to clear the danger. Russian left back Dmitry Kombarov (pictured, white) was having all sorts of trouble keeping tabs on Mertens running up his side of the defense, but Belgium were unable to make use of this dominance to produce a goal. With only a couple minutes left to play in the half, Aleksandr Kokorin missed a simple finish from eight yards out as ??'s perfect cross found his head between the two Belgian centerbacks. Kokorin nodded the ball wide off frame with Courtois at his mercy. The teams left the field knotted at zero goals apiece.

It took about thirty minutes for something to happen in the second half, which was quite dreadful to watch during that time. Then, the match livened up. Russian fullback Andrey Eshchenko was rewarded for his daring run upfield, but he sprayed a shot wide of the far post. Kevin Mirallas rolled a free kick to the Russian wall and actually caught Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev leaning the wrong way, but his shot softly caromed off the post. Eden Hazard finally came alive in the Belgian midfield with five minutes to go in the match. He began with a shot on goal that was deflected out for a corner kick. Then, he initiated the decisive moment of the match, carving through the right side of Russia's defense before dropping the ball off to Divock Origi. Origi finished with his first touch to give Belgium the lead late. Hazard nearly had a second assist, but Mirallas could only muster a weak shot with which Akinfeev dealt easily. Belgium hang on and win 1-0 to secure a berth in the Round of Sixteen.

Belgium IN 6 pts +2
South Korea 1 pts 0
Russia 1 pts -1
Algeria 0 pts -1

Divock Origi 88

Match Reports:


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nigeria 1 - Bosnia and Herzegovina 0

Photo by Phil Walter
Cuiaba was the site of the tussle between Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nigeria were presumably happen not to have to break down a bunker defense in this match, but the flip side was having to deal with the stacked Bosnian midfield. Ahmed Musa was nearly through with a chance on goal, so Haris Medunjanin had to grab his shoulder to commit the foul. On the resulting free kick, Peter Odemwingie hit a great shot that just clipped the wall and went mere centimeters wide of frame. Nigeria continued to pepper Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Ogenyi Onazi smacked a low drive from distance to force a diving stop from Begovic. The Dragons looked to have scored the opener when Edin Dzeko scored from a short pass by Zvjezdan Misimovic, but the officials incorrectly determined that Nigerian right back Efe Ambrose had stepped up in time to cause an offsides infraction. However, Bosnia were now completely settled into the match. Ivet Hajrovic feinted a couple time to get himself open from nineteen yards away, but he was only able to roll a weak attempt on frame. Dzeko was through on goal again, this time from an excellent one-time through ball from Medunjanin, but Dzeko's effort was blocked by the stone wall that is Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. By this point in the match, the game was wide open. Miralem Pjanic sent another shot in from distance, but again Enyeama was able to save Nigeria. Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike did a swim move to avoid the challenge of Bosnian centerback Emir Spahic, who had been forced to cover his left back. Emenike drove into the box and then pushed a pass upfield for Peter Odemwingie, whose one-timed finish put the Super Eagles ahead 1-0.

The game remained open in the second period, but the quality of attack suffered a bit. Michael Babatunde had a decent chance for Nigeria, but Begovic made the simple parry to the side. Babatunde had an even better chance soon thereafter, but Begovic was able to desperately get his body before the ball. In the ensuing scramble, Emenike had a chance, but a hard-charging Begovic made a kick save to deny the Super Eagles. Babatunde suffered a leg injury that seemed to suck the rhythm out of the game with around twenty minutes left in the affair as his treatment and substitution dragged on. With ten minutes to go, both teams seemed tired in defense and were willing to risk yellow cards for obstruction. Emenike set up Onazi for a low drive from distance that Begovic did well to keep out of his net. A couple minutes later, Emenike sent a low bouncer just wide of the near post. Begovic recorded the highest save total of any goalkeeper in an individual game during the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in this game with a astounding nine. With his teammates tiring, Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic was single-handedly breaking up Nigerian counterattacks with his sprints to track back and cover his defenders. In stoppage time, Pjanic sent in a delicate cross off a high bounce that fell right onto Dzeko's head six yards from goal, but Dzeko's header bounced right in front of Enyeama for a simple catch. In the final minute, Dzeko received a ball in the box and turned to face the goal. Surely, Bosnia were going to pull out a miraculous draw, but Enyeama somehow kicked the ball to save it off his post. Nigeria win 1-0 to move into second place in the group and eliminate Bosnia from contention.

Argentina IN 6 pts +2
Nigeria 4 pts +1
Iran 1 pts -1
Bosnia OUT

Peter Odemwingie 29

Match Reports:


Ghana 2 - Germany 2

Photo by Laurence Griffiths
Ghana needed some sort of result against Group G favorites Germany in Fortaleza today in order to revive their flagging hopes. For the second consecutive FIFA World Cup finals, the Boateng brothers faced off on different sides of the ball. Germany were having a jolly good time passing the ball through the slightest of openings in the Ghanaian backline, and after a series where more than half the team touched the ball, Toni Kroos had a shot set up directly by a backheel no-look pass from Thomas Muller. However, Jonathan Mensah was able to block the shot. Christian Atsu was able to get onto his favored left foot form the half-circle, but Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was up to the challenge on the diving save. Asamoah Gyan was the focal point for the Ghanaian attack. He received a ball in the box, forcing Philipp Lahm to toe poke it upfield. Sulley Muntari gathered the rebound and belted a line drive that Neuer punched backupfield. Neither team was able to breach the goal line in the first period, and they leave the pitch tied at 0-0.

Five minutes into the half, just as it seemed the game ha calmed down considerably. Mario Gotze mad a spectacular run across the front of Ghanaian right back Harrison Afful to get open at the penalty spot. Gotze headed the cross from ?? off his own knee and into the Ghanaian net to give Die Mannschaft a 1-0 lead. But three minutes later, Andre Ayew had his second equalizing goal in as many matches. The defense sagged off the cross of Afful from the right flank, so he played a brilliant ball into the danger area. Ayew got goalside of his marker ? Mustafi and nodded into the net for 1-1. Muntari stripped a ball in the attacking third for Ghana. He immediately released a pass forward for Gyan. Gyan got his shot off before Per Mertesacker made up the ground, beating Neuer with a curling shot into the far side netting to put the Black Stars ahead 2-1. Jordan Ayew made a magnificent run up the left side of the pitch and skipped two German tackles at midfield. He completed his run of over sixty yards inside the German box with a cut back, but his shot was not worthy of the buildup. Germany made a double substitution to put more men in the attack. These men were Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose. Mesut Ozil (picture, white) chipped a ball to Schweinsteiger short of the near post. Schweinsteiger flicked a header toward goal, but Ghanaian centerback John Bye ws there to pop the ball out for a corner kick. From that very corner kick, Germany drew level. Benedikt Howedes headed from the near post to the far post, and Klose was the only player to react quickly enough as he tapped in at the back post to become Germany's all-time top goal scorer. Germany seemed very intent on finding a way to win this match, and Ghana no longer looked to be protagonists in this match. Ozil hit a ball across the face of goal that beat the goalkeeper, but Mensah was able to clear the ball before Muller could tap in for the winner. In stoppage time, Germany commited too many numbers forward on a set piece, and Ghana had a three-on-two breakaway for the victory. Unfortunately, they played themselves into an offsides position. In the final moment, Muntari drew a yellow card, meaning he will be suspended for Ghana's third match of the tournament. The two teams play to a 2-2 draw, a fair result given all the action on the pitch.

Germany 4 pts +4
USA 3 pts +1
Ghana 1 pts -1
Portugal 0 pts -4

Mario Gotze 51
Miroslav Klose 71

Andre Ayew 54
Asamoah Gyan 63

Match Reports:


Argentina 1 - Iran 0

Photo by Quinn Rooney
Argentina were looking for a victory to secure their spot in the next phase. Their opponents on this Belo Horizonte afternoon were Iran. In a danger moment for Iran, their goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi had to come off his line to block a first-time attempt from the inrushing Gonzalo Higuain after a curled low cross from Fernando Gago. Haghighi took a heavy hit but stayed in he match. Sergio Aguero was next to force a save from Haghighi after nice hold-up play from Higuain with his back to the goal. There was a lot of great team defense on display in the first half from Iran. Seemingly every time Argentina went forward, every Iranian player ran back, fully committed to put his body on the line for a timely block or poke away. With under five minutes to go, Iran nearly scored off a set piece, the only way they ever seemed likely to get on the scoreboard. Ashkan Dejagah's corner kick found Jalal Hosseini at the near post, but he powered his header over the target. The first half ended scoreless.

Against the run of play, Team Melli nearly grabbed the opener. A free cross from the right by Pejman Montazeri found the head of Reza Ghoochannejhad (pictured, red), but Ghoochannejhad's head was messily saved by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero. It appeared that Dejagah had a good argument for being awarded a penalty for Iran after Argentine right back Pablo Zabaleta tripped him as he tried to win the ball, but the referee did not see the lay Dejagah's way. Iran were suddenly the more dangerous side for a good ten-minute stretch starting ten minutes into the second half, but Argentina were able to weather the storm. Montazeri played yet another beautiful cross just beyond the penalty spot, and Dejagah was able to get a diving header to it. However, a leaping tip over the bar from Romero managed to keep Argentina level. Argentine midfielder Lionel Messi nearly turned in a twenty-yard free kick as he caught Haghighi leaning the wrong way, but his effort missed just wide. Argentina had regained control of the match by the final ten minutes, and Iran were desperately defending for their lives. Hosseini made a great sliding stop to break up an attempted cross inside his own six-yard box. However, Ghoochannejhad nearly scored on a breakaway after Alireza Jahan Bakhsh sent him a deep through ball around Javier Mascherano. With Mascherano hanging on his right side Ghoochannejhad managed to get a fine shot away, but Romero was able to make the diving stop. In stoppage time, a moment of brilliance from Messi won the match. From twenty-three yards away and with a forward marking him, Messi curled a brilliant strike to the far post to send Argentina to victory. Argentina win 1-0 to secure their passage to the knockout stage.

Argentina IN 6 pts +2
Nigeria 1 pts 0
Iran 1 pts -1
Bosnia 0 pts -1

Lionel Messi 90+1

Match Reports:


Friday, June 20, 2014

Ecuador 2 - Honduras 1

Photo by Julian Finney
Ecuador and Honduras were looking for their first points of Brasil 2014 as they faced each other in Curitiba. Never before had two opposing coaches faced teams they had both coached in previous FIFA World Cup finals, so history was made on this night. It took twenty minutes, but the first great chance of the game came from a long ball over the top from Ecuador centerback Frickson Erazo. Enner Valencia latched onto the ball and had only the goalkeeper to beat, but he sent his attempt just over the crossbar. Seven minutes later, Boniek Garcia found a wide open Victor Bernardez at the back post on a Honduran corner kick, but Bernardez was unable to knock the ball goalward. Honduras grabbed the lead at the half hour mark. A long ball forward was not dealt with well but Ecuadoran centerback Jorge Guagua. His headed clearance was blocked by the chest of Honduran strike Carlo Costly, who then drove forward and blasted a shot low toward the post from the edge of the box. Honduras had used route-one football to snatch a 1-0 lead. The lead lasted all of three minutes. Ecuadorian right back Juan Carlos Paredes shot through a crowd from the right flank. His shot deflected off Jorge Claros and ricocheted to the far post. Valencia was first to the ball, cleaned up the mess, and tied the match. Valencia made it six straight matches in which he has scored a goal for Ecuador. Bernardez hit a booming free kick from thirty-two yards out that screamed over the wall, but Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez did well to push it out for a corner kick. At the tail end of stoppage time, a ball from the right side from Brayan Beckeles was lofted to the penalty spot from where Costly was able to win the header. His shot landed flush with the far post and bounced back into the path of Jerry Bengston. Unfortunately, the ball hit Bengston's arm rather than his chest, so his goal was disallowed. The sides went into their dressing rooms level at one goal apiece after an entertaining opening forty-five.

Beckeles let fly from twenty-five yards in the first minute of the second half, but Dominguez was able to make a diving catch as the ball rose toward the upper corner. Felipe Caicedo came close for Ecuador a dozen minutes later, but his deep run was stunted by a clutch tackle from Emilio Izaguirre to relegate La Tricolor to a corner kick. he next minute, Bengston put in a shot that was actually aided on its route toward the bottom corner from a deflection of his marker, but Dominguez was able to push the ball out of harm's way. Honduras were punished for a silly foul by Garcia. Jefferson Montero was simply boxing Garcia out at the edge of the penalty box, yet Garcia felt the need to push him off the spot. Walter Ayovi swung in the resulting free kick quickly to the far post. Valencia rose highest and smacked the ball into the net with his head to put Ecuador ahead 2-1. Both teams created a few chances from distance, but there were no truly incisive attacks for the remainder of the match. Ecuador hang on and win 2-1.

France 6 pts +6
Ecuador 3 pts 0
Switzerland 3 pts -2
Honduras 0 pts -4

Enner Valencia 34, 65

Carlo Costly 31

Match Reports:


France 5 - Switzerland 2

Photo by Christopher Lee
The two teams at the top of the Group E table squared off in Salvador today. Switzerland and France played to a draw in the group stage of Germany 2006. Karim Benzema shook himself free in the Swiss half circle, but he shot curled wide of the far post. Swiss centerback Steve von Bergen had his face bloodied by the boot of French forward Olivier Giroud and was forced off the pitch before ten minutes had elapsed. Swiss defender Johan Djourou was forced to the floor to break up a ball played into the box, giving France a corner instead of an attempted tap-in. From the resulting corner kick, Mathieu Valbuena delivered an outswinger to Giroud, who rose above Valon Behrami from a good twelve yards out to power the header on frame. Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio could only get a desperate fingertip to the ball, and it was not enough to keep the ball from entering the goal to put France ahead 1-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Benzema stole a pass from Behrami and then drove up the pitch. He passed to his left and Blaise Matuidi provided the finish at the near post to give France a second goal within a minute. Switzerland caused a turnover in the midfield ten minutes on, and Admir Mehmedi drove up the middle of the park, shooting from distance. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got down quickly to parry to the side, but Xherdan Shaqiri immediately chipped a pass to the far post, just out of reach for Haris Seferovic, letting France off the hook. Just when it looked as though Switzerland may have been working their way back into the match, he referee awarded an extremely soft penalty to France when Djourou mad minimal contact with Benzema. Benaglio made the save off Benzema's spot kick and then Yohan Cabaye banged his follow-up off the crossbar with the entire goal at his mercy. By now, France had already decided simply to sit back and force Switzerland to come at them. Switzerland obliged, but they were caught with two many men in attack on a corner kick. Raphael Varane hit a booming rolled clearance from his own half to spring a two-versus-two. Giroud ran down the left and played a perfect ball toward the back post which Valbuena popped up into the roof of the net. Valbuena nearly inside-outed a ball for the fourth goal, but his audacious one-timed sot was pushed away by Benaglio. France led by a score of 3-0 at halftime.

In spite of their large lead, France continued to press for more goals. Valbuena worked to lay a ball off for Benzema a quarter hour after the restart, but Djourou was able to block the ball over the goal. Seven minutes on, Benzema was able to get a goal of his own. Paul Pogba swung his right leg inside-out to chip a ball past the leg of Swiss defender Philippe Senderos. Benzema was on the end of the pass, and then he nutmegged Benaglio for 4-0. Barely more than five minutes had elapsed before a fifth different French player scored a goal. Benzema slotted a ball across the eighteen-yard box to the uncovered run of Moussa Sissoko (pictured, white), who passed the ball to the far post to make it 5-0, scoring his first international goal in the process. Benaglio had to pull off a save from Valbuena, who had just received a pass from Sissoko. Moments later, he pulled a double save against Matuidi and Benzema. With ten minutes to go, Blerim Dzemaili scored of an excuse-me free kick. He scooted a ball thirty yards along the floor that miraculously went through the gap between two French players' legs in the wall and then rolled mockingly into the French goal to restore some pride to the Swiss. Shaqiri had a decent effort off a turn-and-shoot maneuver, but Lloris was able to parry off the bounce. One minute later, Switzerland scored a beautiful goal. Gokhan Inler chipped a pass thirty yards o the run of Granit Xhaka thirteen yards from goal. In one motion, Xhaka turned to watch the flight of the ball and executed a perfect volley on the run. Cabaye picked up a yellow card soon thereafter, causing him to be suspended for France's next match. France had a five-goal advantage at one point in the match, but they settle for  5-2 victory that all but assures them passage into the knockout stage of Brasil 2014.

France 6 pts +6
Switzerland 3 pts -2
Ecuador 0 pts -1
Honduras 0 pts -3

Olivier Giroud 17
Blaise Matuidi 18
Mathieu Valbuena 40
Karim Benzema 67
Moussa Sissoko 73

Blerim Dzemaili 81
Granit Xhaka 87

Match Reports:


Costa Rica 1 - Italy 0

Photo by Laurence Griffiths
Costa Rica and Italy were battling for the lead in Group D as they took to the pitch in Recife this afternoon. The Ticos showed that they were not looking merely to get a result against the favored Azzurri. Celso Borges missed a header chance from a Costa Rican corner kick, but that was just a precursor of greater things to come. Andrea Pirlo, the Italian midfield maestro, sent a pass from six yards into his own half all the way upfield to Mario Balotelli, who then missed his chip over Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas wide of frame. Balotelli had a shot from twenty-four yards out later on that was saved by Navas. With ten minutes left in the half, Costa Rica took over. Cristian Bolaños was able to convert a tackle by his teammate Michal Umaña into a shot on goal, but Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saved his curling effort. Bryan Ruiz nearly provided perfect service to Ticos centerback Oscar Duarte, but Duarte's attempted backward flick-on header sailed just over the Italian crossbar. Costa Rica really should have been awarded a penalty soon thereafter. Italian centerback Giorgio Chiellini missed a catch, allowing Joel Campbell to latch onto the ball in the box. Chiellini was faked out by a Campbell move, but the referee did not punish his foul on Campbell. With one minute left in the first half, Costa Rica made their pressure pay off. Fullback Junior Diaz sent a beautiful ball to the far post where only Ruiz could reach it. Ruiz's header was powered home for the 1-0 lead Costa Rica would take into their locker room.

Italian fullback Matteo Darmian cut in from a run down the flank and beat two defenders, but Navas tipped his shot over the bar. Three minutes after that, Navas had to punch away a Pirlo free kick. From then on, nothing much happened. Italy were caught offsides a few more times on the way to being called for that infraction eleven separate times throughout the match. Marcos Ureña came on as a late substitute for Costa Rica. He manufactured a late one-on-one opportunity, but Chiellini came up with the better of that exchange. Costa Rica were simply spectacular defensively in the second half. The Ticos hold on and win 2-1, advancing to the knockout stages and eliminating England in the process.

Costa Rica IN 6 pts +3
Italy 3 pts 0
Uruguay 3 pts -1
England OUT

Costa Rica
Bryan Ruiz 44

Match Reports:


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Greece 0 - Japan 0

Photo by Lars Baron
Japan and Greece faced each other today in Group C action in Natal. The teams did not want to come out of their defensive shells too early in this match, but Japan eventually were the first team to go for the attack. Japanese forward Yuya Osako shot a curler from the top left of the penalty box that flashed just wide of the far post. A Keisuke Honda free kick was easily parried by Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. In minute 38, Greece lost captain Kostas Katsouranis to a second yellow card, leaving them to defend for a draw for the next fifty-five minutes of the match. Vasileios Torosidis had a late attacking chance for the Greeks. His initial shot from just outside the box was blocked, but he gathered his own rebound and forced a save from Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. The first half ended with the teams knotted at zero goals apiece.

Theofanis Gekas came in as a second-half substitute and nearly scored a goal for Greek in spite of their numerical disadvantage. Off a corner kick, he powered a header that was slightly slowed by the body of Yasuhito Endo, allowing Kawashima time to come across the goal and make the save. Midway through the period, Japanese forward Shinji Kagawa (pictured, blue) hit a beautiful cross to Atsuto Uchida. Uchida laid the ball across the ball to Yoshito Okubo, who shanked his chance with the goal at his mercy. Minutes later, Uchida stripped Sokratis Papastathopoulos inside the Greek penalty area, but his one-time finish zoomed wide of the post. Okubo tried to scored with a knuckler from distance, but Karnezkis read the movement well and punched the ball to safety. In the final minute of regular time, Endo 's free kick low to the far post elicited one final diving stop from Karnezis. In spite of being a man down for a majority of the affair, Greece escape with a 0-0 draw. The result means that Colombia are guaranteed a spot in the knockout stage.

Colombia IN 6 pts +4
Cote d'Ivoire 3 pts 0
Japan 1 pts -1
Greece 1 pts -3

Match Reports:


Uruguay 2 - England 1

Photo by Jamie Squire
England and Uruguay were looking for the first points at Brasil 2014 as they met today in Sao Paulo. The teams started slowly, but it would be the Three Lions with the first dangerous chance. Wayne Rooney stood over an English free kick and bent it just by the intersection of the crossbar and the far post. From there, the game opened up. Uruguayan winger Cristian Rodriguez hit an extremely powerful shot from the top of the penalty area that zoomed just over the crossbar with backspin. England nearly had the opening goal over a short free kick from the left flank. Captain Steven Gerrard chipped a perfect ball to the back post, but Rooney's point-blank header went up and into the crossbar before cruelly bouncing out. Uruguay centerback Diego Godin could have perhaps been sent of the pitch for a second yellow card as he committed a foul as he was being driven by on the right flank, but the referee gave him a reprieve. Uruguay found themselves with a counterattacking chance later in the half. Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani received the ball in the attacking third, and he chipped an absolutely brilliant ball that evaded the leaping head of English centerback Phil Jagielka as gravity brought it back to Earth just slowly enough for striker Luis Suarez  (pictured, blue) to run under it and head the ball back across the goal and into the net. Perfect pass, perfect header, 1-0 Uruguay. Rooney tried to level the affair with a good through ball to Daniel Sturridge, but his shot to the near post has saved by Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. Uruguay led 1-0 at intermission.

Suarez used an early corner kick to shoot directly on frame, nearly catching England goalkeeper Joe Hart and punishing him for refusing to station a man at his near post on an inswinging corner kick. Hart desperately dove into his own goalmouth, but he kept the ball out of his goal. A Nicolas Lodeiro through ball put Cavani in with a chance, but Cavani dragged the chance wide. From then on, England really bossed the game. They had the vast majority of possession in this match and passed both more voluminously and more accurately than did La Celeste. Rooney grabbed hold of a loose ball from eight yards out, but he only managed to drive the ball straight into the goalkeeper's body. On a scary play, Uruguayan winger Alvaro Pereira took a knee to the head, but he remained in the game after a short stoppage. English right back Glen Johnson was the impetus for the equalizing goal. He drove around Godin and then split two defenders at the right edge of the box. Johnson laid off a gorgeous ball for Rooney, who tapped in for 1-1. England looked likelier to win the match. Leighton Baines found Sturridge with a ball into the area, but his turnaround was easily blocked by Muslera. Rather undeservedly, Uruguay snatched a lead on a fast counter. A long ball was flicked on from near midfield by Cavani. Suarez ran onto the ball in the attacking third and finished by crushing a ball into the net. Uruguay hold on to win 2-1, pushing England to the brink of elimination and reviving their own hopes of advancing in the process.

Costa Rica 3 pts +2
Italy 3 pts +1
Uruguay 3 pts -1
England 0 pts -2

Luis Suarez 39, 85

Wayne Rooney 75

Match Reports:


Colombia 2 - Cote d'Ivoire 1

Photo by Christopher Lee
Brasilia was the site for the top of the table clash between Colombia and Cote d'Ivoire. Both teams were choosing their spots carefully in the beginning of the match, too scared to leave space at the back to be exploited by the other's speedsters in attack. Didier Zokora was a man possessed in central defense for Cote d'Ivoire, cutting out three such counterattacks all by himself in the first period. Just before the half hour mark, Colombia created a golden chance through the play of right winger Juan Cuadrado, who laid off a ball for James Rodriguez. Rodriguez gave a rolling ball to a spot eight yards from goal, but Teofilo Gutierrez got his feet all wrong and scuffed the chance. Serge Aurier nearly created a goal out of nothing for Les Elephants. He intercepted a pass out from Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina and then had a shot off a give-and-go, but Ospina redeemed himself with a save. The ball never left the Colombian half of the field in the final five minutes. The first half ended as it began: with no score.

Zokora took a yellow card early in the second period, meaning that he will be suspended for Cote d'Ivoire's group finale. Max Gradel was nearly in on goal for Cote d'Ivoire, but Colombian centerback and oldest field player at Brasil 2014 Mario Yepes make a last-ditch tackle to prevent a scoring chance. Cuadrado was a monster down the right flank, and he nearly scored from an obtuse angle, but Cote d'Ivoire goalkeeper Boubacar Barry tipped the ball enough for it to scream of a post and away. Souleymane Bamba did not communicate well with Zokora on a simple ball rolling toward the Ivoirian goal. Bamba ran into Zokora and cleared the ball out for a corner kick. Colombia capitalized on this error. Cuadrado's corner kick found a streaking Rodriguez, who defeated the dual markers of Zokora and Didier Drogba to win the header and score the opener. Barely six minutes later, Rodriguez stripped Serey Die at the back and passed immediately to Gutierrez on the counter. Gutierrez pushed across the goal for a tap in by Juan Quintero, who used the opportunity to score his first international goal and put Colombia ahead 2-0. Gervinho used a moment of individual brilliance to cut the deficit. He pulled off a slaloming run from the left flank that left four Colombian defenders in his wake before unleashing a rocket into the net. Colombia were able to hold on during a nerve-racking final quarter hour and change to capture the victory. Colombia win 2-1 and are sitting pretty atop the Group C table.

Colombia 6 pts +4
Cote d'Ivoire 3 pts 0
Japan 0 pts -1
Greece 0 pts -3

James Rodriguez 64
Quintero 70

Cote d'Ivoire
Gervinho 73

Match Reports:


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Croatia 4 - Cameroon 0

Photo by Clive Mason
Croatia and Cameroon faced off in Manaus, both knowing that a loss would end their chances of winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  Cameroon started the match more brightly, but it was just a matter of time before Croatia settled themselves and took over. Just after the tenth minute, Croatia found an early lead. Mario Mandzukic (pictured red), back from suspension, chested a ball to Ivan Perisic, who then smartly plays across the Cameroonian goal away from the goalkeeper so that Ivica Olic could slide and tap in for the opening goal ahead of his trailing marker Stephan Mbia. The lead nearly doubled when Perisic redirected a loose ball on frame, but Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje used his body to make the initial save and Eyong Enoh cleared the ball off the line to prevent the goal. In a bizarre play, Alexandre Song was running behind Mandzukic and then punched downward upon Mandzukic's back. Song was given a straight red card, leaving the Indomitable Lions down a goal and down a man from minute 40. Croatia took a 1-0 advantage with them into their dressing room.

Two minutes after the restart, the lead was doubled. A weak clearance by Itandje was picked off by Perisic at midfield. Perisic outran substitute right back Dany Nounkeu to get into the box and fire away for a 2-0 lead. A couple minutes later, Sammir picked off a ball at midfield and then sprang Mandzukic for a one-on-one with Itandje, but his lift shot sailed wide. A long Benoit Assou-Ekotto cross lead to a Nounkeu volley attempt from seven yards out, but the strike flew away off frame. Just beyond the hour mark, Danijel Pranjic hit an outswinging corner kick, and Mandzukic ran unimpeded beyond two markers (including Eric Choupo-Moting) to rise up and head it home for a three-goal lead. A shot from Eduardo was saved by Itandje, but the soft rebound was swept into the goal by Mandzukic for the fourth Croatian goal of the night. Croatia blew a couple good chances to add to the scoreline in the final ten minutes, probably due to lack of true motivation to further demoralize their opponents. With two minutes left in the match, an Assou-Ekotto cross found Pierre Webo inside the box. Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa read the header off the bounce and then leapt to tip it off the crossbar. Croatia win the match 4-0.  This result eliminates Cameroon from the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Croatia need a victory against Mexico in their final group game in order to advance to the knockout stage.

Brasil 4 pts +2
Mexico 4 pts +1
Croatia 3 pts +1
Cameroon OUT

Ivica Olic 11
Ivan Perisic 48
Mario Mandzukic 61, 73

Match Reports: (Daily Summary)


Chile 2 - Spain 0

Photo by Jamie Squire
Spain looked to recover their mojo in Rio de Janeiro as they faced off against Chile. The two teams met in the group stage at South Africa, with Spain winning 2-1 on that occasion. Chile nearly grabbed a first-minute lead, but Eduardo Vargas (pictured, white #11) refused to attack a pass to him inside the box, and his attempt was easily blocked. Gonzalo Jara had a free header on the resulting corner kick, but he missed wide of target. Xabi Alonso nearly gave Spain a lead on a scramble in the box, but Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo came up with a save as he charged out to within one yard of Alonso. Chile found the opener on the counteract. A ball from Alexis Sanchez put Charles Aranguiz on the ball in a two-on-two situation for Chile. Aranguiz drew both defenders and passed to Vargas, who cut back to shake Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas to open up the net and knock home the first goal. A Sanchez free kick with only two minutes left in the half turned into yet another Chilean goal. Casillas elected to punch the ball back into the box rather than parry it to the side, so Aranguiz pounced on the rebound and scored. Chile led 2-0 at halftime.

Spain looked like they wanted to mount a comeback in the early portion of the second period. Andres Iniesta hit a through ball to Diego Costa, but Costa's shot was blocked by Chilean right back Mauricio Isla. Later, Costa attempted a bicycle kick. His shot landed wide of frame, and Sergio Busquets was unable to turn the rebound on frame for Spain. After that, Spain created little until they substituted Santi Cazorla on the pitch. Before then, Chile could have had a third. Vargas pass to Aranguiz, who pulled a shot off frame. Isla was unable to knock the ball in at the back post as he skied the attempt. Cazorla came on and proceeded to curl a bouncing shot that Bravo saved. Later, Bravo did a leaping punch off an Iniesta shot. Spain's last chance was a low-bouncing Cazorla free kick that Bravo parried away. Chile hold on and win 2-0, their first victory over Spain in eleven encounters. With this result, both Spain and Australia are eliminated from the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Chile and Netherlands will play for the Group B title in their next match. Chile need a win whereas Netherlands need only a draw to win the group.

Netherlands IN 6 pts +5
Chile IN 6 pts +4
Australia OUT
Spain OUT

Eduardo Vargas 20
Charles Aranguiz 43

Match Reports:


Netherlands 3 - Australia 2

Photo by Jeff Gross
Netherlands looked to extend their lead atop Group B as they took on Australia today in Porto Alegre. Australia were the much more assertive team from the opening whistle. Mathew Leckie was taking defenders on the dribble, and one move completely baffled Dutch centerback Bruno Martins Indi. Leckie slotted across the eighteen-yard box for Mark Bresciano, and only a timely block from Stefan de Vrij protected the goal. From a rather innocuous loose ball won, Netherlands winger Arjen Robben picked up the ball at midfield and was allowed to run all the way into the Australian penalty area. Only one defender was back, and Robben barely detected his presence as he slotted home for the opener. The Australian response was immediate. A lengthy cross was first-timed from forty yards away from its intended target by Ryan McGowan. Tim Cahill found himself on the end of it, and he sublimely struck a swinging volley in off the underside of the crossbar to tie the match at 1-1 with what could be the best goal of Brasil 2014 when it is all said and done. Leckie made another incisive run ten minutes later and got free along the right flank. His pass across the box rolled into the path of an onrushing Bresciano, but Bresciano could not keep his shot on frame. Toward the end of the half, Cahill drew a yellow card on a challenge against Martins Indi. Martins Indi had to be taken off the field with an injury. Cahill will be suspended for Australia's next game due to yellow card accumulation. The sides left the field of play tied at 1-1.

Robin van Persie raised an errant hand to the face of Matthew Spiranovic (pictured, yellow) early in the second half, earning him a yellow card and a suspension for Netherlands' next game. Oliver Bozanic had just been subbed onto the pitch by Australia, and his first contribution was to kick a ball off the hand of Daryl Janmaat to draw a penalty kick. Australia converted the spot kick for a shocking 2-1 lead. Nigel de Jong lost the ball at midfield under pressure. Cahill picked up the ball and set up Matt McKay on the break. McKay hit a cross toward Cahill at the back post, but de Vrij headed out for a corner kick. This lead was just as short lived as Netherlands' early lead. A revitalized Oranje slipped the offside trap pulled by the Socceroos. Left back Jason Davidson kept van Persie onside on the through ball from upfield. With no centerbacks in the area due to the attempted offside trap, van Persie had no pressure on his finish and he coolly smacked the ball home for 2-2. A pathetic clearance by Ron Vlaar put Australia in with a chance on goal. Tommy Oar chose to cross for Leckie in the box, but all Leckie could do was weakly chest the ball to the goalkeeper with the majority of the goal wide open. Immediately on the other end, Memphis Depay had a go from distance that took a low bounce and skipped under the arms of a diving Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan to put Netherlands ahead 3-2. Only after they had secured the lead did Netherlands start really applying heaps of pressure upon Australia. van Persie held the ball up in the box as a pivot forward. He found a pass for Nigel de Jong, but Ryan was able to make the save from de Jong's attempt. Jeremain Lens had a chance to flatter Netherlands by scoring in stoppage time, but Ryan made a good reaction save. Nevertheless, Netherlands hold on and win 3-2 to all but stamp their ticket to the knockout stage.

Netherlands 6 pts +5
Chile 3 pts +2
Australia 0 pts -3
Spain 0 pts -4

Arjen Robben 20
Robin van Persie 58
Memphis Depay 68

Tim Cahill 21
Mile Jedinak 54 PK

Match Reports:


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

South Korea 1 - Russia 1

Photo by Elsa
A hot, sticky night in Cuiaba was the scene for the matchup between Russia and South Korea. The feeling-the-opponent-out portion of this match lasted much longer than usual, and it was not until a half hour had passed that the teams began to attack. A long distance shot from Russian defender Sergey Ignasevich was saved by South Korea goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong. Koo Ja-Cheol (pictured, white) tried his luck from distance, but Ignasevich was able to block the attempt before any harm could be done. South Korea had the upper hand for a solid ten-minute period starting at the half-hour mark, but neither team was able to produce a goal in the first period.Victor Fayzulin had a shot on goal for Russia in the

 first minute of the second period. Russian centerback Vasily Berezutski headed a ball from a cross to the back post with extreme power, but he could not direct the ball inside of the post. Ki Sung-Yeung had time to send in a bouncing, curling shot, but Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev made a diving push away to safety. Denis Kombarov was next to get off a good attempt, but Jung saved his low shot off one bounce. Akinfeev had a blunder that will haunt him forever as he let a simple Lee Keun-Ho shot headed straight for his chest bounce off his gloves and into the goal to give the South Koreans the opening goal. Luckily for Akinfeev, his teammates had his back. Heaps of pressure finally broke the dam. Hwang Seok-Ho tried to clear a ball from inside his penalty box, but Andrey Eschenko blocked the clearance with his chest and the ball fell to Russian substitute forward Aleksandr Kershakov, who smacked the ball into the net for the equalizer. In stoppage time, Russia had the ball on the left flank. Alexander Kokorin only needed a finesse pass to find Kershakov, but instead he hit a screamer well beyond his reach, letting South Korea off the hook. The match ends in a 1-1 draw.

Belgium 3 pts +1
South Korea 1 pts 0
Russia 1 pts 0
Algeria 0 pts -1

South Korea
Lee Keun-Ho 68

Aleksandr Kershakov 74

Match Reports: (Daily Summary)


Mexico 0 - Brasil 0

Photo by Buda Mendes
Brasil hosted Mexico in Fortaleza in the first match between two sides that had already debuted at Brasil 2014. Oddly enough, the site was the same one used in Brasil's 2-0 victory over Mexico in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. Brasil had the first truly threatening drive forward just over a dozen minutes into the battle, but a blocked shot from Mexican defender Hector Moreno followed immediately by a strong tackle by fellow defender Francisco Rodriguez set the defensive tone for the afternoon. Midway through the first half, Mexico were enjoying better offensive possession than were Brasil. Oribe Peralta nearly dribbled through three defenders in the box. Hector Herrera was next to try his luck, and he drove a ball from distance that sailed over the Brazilian crossbar with help from a touch by Brasil goalkeeper Julio Cesar. It would be Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, though, who would provide a candidate for save of the tournament. Dani Alves swung in a beautiful cross to the back post. Neymar (pictured, yellow) rose to power a furious header just inside the back post, but a miraculous horizontal flight from Ochoa allowed him to palm the ball around his post. Brazilian forward Fred won a header off a corner kick, but he added no power to match his accuracy so Ochoa made the catch easily. Andres Guardado used some fancy dribbling to get into space up the right side of Brasil's defense, and his pass set up a one-time shot form distance by Jose Vasquez that tailed just wide of frame at the last moment. With only a couple minutes left in the half, Brasil defeated Mexico's offside trap on a free kick. However, Ochoa again was able to come off his line quickly to block an open toe-poke shot from Paulinho and keep the teams level on the scoreboard. The first half ended with no goals having been scored.

Early in the second period, substitute Bernard dribbled into the Mexican box and hit a pass across the face of goal, but Rodriguez was there to knock the ball away for a corner at the back post. Mexico continued to be dangerous in this half, with Vasquez and Hector Herrera both firing driven balls just over the crossbar. Neymar nearly grabbed the opening goal (again), but Ochoa made a reaction save from less than five yards away to deny him yet again. With less than five minutes to play, a Neymar free kick found an open Thiago Silva inside the six-yard box, but he directed his header straight into Ochoa, who made his sixth and final save of the night. In the final minute of regulation, Andres Guardado (pictured, red) sent another Mexican shot just over the bar. In stoppage time, Cesar saved a Raul Jimenez bouncer that Jimenez had struck off the half-volley. Ochoa led Mexico to a famous result as the teams tie 0-0.

Brasil 4 pts +2
Mexico 4 pts +1
Cameroon 0 pts -1
Croatia 0 pts -2

Match Reports:


Belgium 2 - Algeria 1

Photo by Paul Gilham
Belgium played Algeria in both teams' Group H opener in Belo Horizonte. The field was very crowded in the middle of the park for the first quarter hour with neither team really looking to attack via the flanks in the early going. The first notable chance of this encounter came off a booming punt from Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'bolhi that landed within thirty yards of the Belgian goal. Riyad Mahrez gathered the ball, held off the only defender with him before crushing a shot wide of the near post. Faouzi Ghoulam sent in cross from the left flank that was allowed to bounce inside the Belgian six-yard box by Belgian centerback Vincent Kompany. The ball bounced toward the path of the run from Sofiane Feghouli, so Belgian left back Jan Vertonghen tugged on Feghouli's arm to prevent the scoring chance. Algeria were awarded a penalty kick and converted it for a shock 1-0 lead. Algeria had gone scoreless during their three games at South Africa 2010. Axel Witsel settled a bouncing ball twenty-six yards from the Algerian goal and then cracked a dipping shot on frame, but M'bolhi was able to push the ball aside off the half-volley mid-dive. Algeria held a 1-0 lead as the teams left the pitch.

There must have been inspiring words spoken in the Belgian locker room, for they came out in the second half with a renewed vigor. Still, it took them half a period to create a dangerous chance. Substitute forward Divock Origi won a loose ball with space to run. He was alone with only the keeper to beat, but M'bolhi made the kick save to preserve the lead for the Fennec Foxes. With only twenty minutes to play, Les Diables Rouges found their long-awaited breakthrough. Kevin de Bruyne picked up a loose ball. No Algerians closed his space, so he picked out a cross to ten yards from goal. Marouane Fellaini got his forehead on the ball and knocked it in off the underside of the crossbar for the equalizer. Belgium sprung the prototypical counteract to steal the match away from Algeria. de Bruyne slide-tackled Feghouli, and the ball rolled out beyond Eden Hazard (pictured, red), who dummied at the ball and then turned to lead a three-on-two fast break. He picked out the uncovered run of Dries Mertens, who then blasted the ball into the net gloriously. Fellaini nearly had his second headed goal off a whipped in cross from the right flank, but M'bolhi was able to fly up to his crossbar and tip the ball over. Algeria could no longer muster anything offensively, so Belgium escapes with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.

Marouane Fellaini 70
Dries Mertens 80

Sofiane Feghouli 25 PK

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