Monday, June 30, 2014

World Cup 2014 Costa Rica vs Greece 1-1 ( 5-3 via penalties)

Having moved into knock out stages from the Group of Death as toppers, I had expected Costa Rica to roller coast beyond Greece tonight. They were playing attacking football, they had better feel of the playing conditions whereas Greece had somehow managed to pip Ivory Coast to reach here. Also their ultra defensive game was not convincing enough. 
But it was Greece who looked purposeful in the initial part of the game, which was fast turning out to be laborious. In the 37th minute, Greece almost went ahead, as Cholevas swung the ball inside the box & Salpingidis came charging in....but Navas under the bar was brilliant in saving. At the half time, it was goal less, but Greece looked more enterprising. Their game plan was to score once & then shut down in defence. 
Their half backs were coming up in counter attacks & Samaras & Co were looking dangerous. 
However, in the 2nd half, it was Costa Rican who found the lead from no where. Lone forward Campbell, placed the ball to Bolanos who rolled the ball perfectly across the edge of the box & Ruiz fired in a low curling left footer shot into the net 1-0. Greece defense had been breached. Instead of the game becoming more competitive from here, it became physical & tardy. There were fouls galore & Oscar Duarte, in his attempt to thwart Cholevas, picked up his second yellow to be red carded, leaving the Costa Ricans with only ten men to defend the slender lead. 
Goalkeeper Navas, kept the defense organised & made a couple of inspired saves for the Costa Ricans, as the fourth official flashed 5 minutes of added injury time. Greece meanwhile, were mounting attacks & the ball hovered in the Latin American half dangerously. Finally, Geka's powerful half turn effort was palmed away by Navas, but onto the onrushing Sokratis who volleyed into the far end of the net. Greece had managed a last gap equaliser 1-1. Extra time did not produce any more goals, & for the 2nd time in the knock outs, the match went into penalties. 

Celso Borges converted the first shot for Costa Rica - ( Costa Rica 1 Greece 0) 
Konstantinos Mitroglou calmly send Navas the other way - ( Costa Rica 1 Greece 1) 
Bryan Ruiz, the captain cracks into the roof of the net - ( Costa Rica 2 Greece 1) 
Christodoulopoulos foxes Navas on wrong footing - ( Costa Rica 2 Greece 2) 
Gonzalez slams the ball down the middle - ( Costa Rica 3 Greece 2) 
Cholevas swings the ball brilliantly past Navas - ( Costa Rica 3 Greece 3) 
Joel Campbell foxes Karnezis on the wrong side - ( Costa Rica 4 Greece 3) 
Gekas well placed shot to the right is saved by a diving Navas - ( Costa Rica 4 Greece 3) 
Michael Umana looks in pressure, but converts the kick - ( Costa Rica 5 Greece 3) 

Costa Ricans move to quarter finals for the first time ever, beating Greece via penalty shoot outs. 
They now face the formidable Netherlands, who earlier in the day had escaped to victory over Mexico. 
It will be a tough match,as the Los Tico Costa Ricans take on Oranji Netherlands. It will certainly be a battle of nerves & maybe also frayed tempers. 

World Cup 2014 : Netherlands vs Mexico 2-1

A match in which underdogs Mexico dominated & lead the game till the 88 minute, ended up as the eventual losing side in the most heart breaking fashion. Football at times is indeed cruel & heart wrenching.
Mexico did everything right from the beginning & dominated their superior rivals, the Oranje Netherlands. Whether it was in attack or defense or even midfield, the men in green were certainly an edge over the Orange shirts....they had a plan in place. defending in numbers & attacking with crisp passes. Their possession was lesser, but more decisive & for the first time in the tournament Netherlands seem to wilt under pressure. De Jong had to be substituted in only the 9th minute due to injury & that somehow took away the sting from the Dutch attack. Their normal free flowing total football was missing....on the contrary, it was patchy. With the afternoon temperature rising, the Mexican looked in control.
After a goal less first half, the Mexican started the second half with renewed vigor & immediately after, in the 48th minute, Santos received a ball from Peralta at the edge of the box, allowed it to bounce a couple of times while dodging a couple of defenders crowding into him, half turned & blasted the ball into the left corner of the net. Dutch defense stood bemused & stunned. It was 1-0 for the Mexican green, as the crowd thundered in applause. The Mexican goalkeeper, Ochoa, who had denied Brazil a win in the Group stages, meanwhile lead the Mexican defense immaculately at the other end. A couple of breathtaking saves from him further deflated the Dutch, & as the match moved towards the end, Netherlands looked all but defeated. Van Gaal, the coach, having brought in Depay in the 56th minute, also removed van Persie to everyone's surprise & brought in Huntelaar with just 15 minutes to regulation time.... a master stroke or what ??? In all the last three matches, including this, the substitute player has hit the winning goal for the Dutch !!!!
Only just as it was looking all over the bar shouting & everyone had started to speak about the biggest upset so far in the making, luck turned the other way & cruelly so. Sneijder, who had been quite off colour in the tournament till now, received the ball just outside the Mexican box & unleashed a booming shot that crashed into the low right end of the net, & no one had moved.... Ochoa was probably unsighted, as he stood grounded & helpless, as the Dutch equalised 1-1, with only 2 minutes to full time. With 6 minutes added to injury time, both sides were staring at the extra time, when, Robbenm dribbled inside the Mexican box, tripped & fell, earning a penalty kick, as the referee succumbed to his theatrics. Captain Marquez earned a yellow card, as Huntelaar cooly converted the kick & with that, took Netherlands into quarterfinals 2-1. From nowhere, the Oranje had sneaked into the last 8...they had survived from near death. Had the match even gone to extra time or penalty shoot out, Mexicans would have been favourites....who knows !!!
It can only be bad luck...cruel bad luck.... heart breaking for the Mexicans who had all but scripted the biggest upset of this tournament. Coach Herrera could only watch his dreams shattered, as his young turks sat on the ground, drowned in utter disbelief.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Uruguay vs Columbia 0-2

The second match of the round of 16, was also a match between two Latin American teams, Uruguay & Colombia. Both known for tough Latin American brand of football. For Uruguay, as expected Forlan came in place of the banned Suarez & along with Cavani lead the attack. The team looked motivated & keen to perform. On the other hand, Columbia, chasing their first possible entry into quarterfinals, looked sharp & committed from the beginning. They controlled the ball better & had the better of exchanges. As a plan, they were targeting the Uruguayan goal with long rangers. The match was evenly contested, till about the 28th minute, when James Rodriguez chested the ball on the top of the box, half turned & volleyed the ball into the net past the bewildered Uruguayan goalkeeper Muslera & the whole was a majestic goal...arguably the best till now in the tournament, even ahead of van Persie's header against Spain. Rodriguez, with his fourth goal, joined Messi, Neymar & Mueller as the top scorer in the tournament till now. Columbia up 1-0. Cavani, Forlan, Arevalo tried hard to equalise, but Colombians held on to the slender lead, as the ref blew the half time whistle.
Second half also started with both teams going for the kill, but yet again, Colombians were more determined. Once again, from an orchestrated wall pass, Juan Cuadrado pulled the Uruguayan defense towards him & then headed back to incoming Rodriguez who simply slammed in from inside the was his fifth goal of the tournament, making him the top scorer till date. It was 2-0 & celebration time for the Colombians. Mario Yepes, the skipper has led the team very well from the back, as Los Cafetoros blanked out La Celeste. They had been fantastic in the Group stages & now they upped the ante against their more fancied rivals to move into the quarter finals for the first time ever...history being created for them.
Uruguayan coach Tabarez looked crest fallen, as did most of the players. They had played hard, but lacked imagination.... the Suarez ban had finally come to haunt them....Forlan was a forlorn shadow of his 2010 self, Cavani was left alone upfront & Godin & Co had no answers to the Colombian onslaught, led by baby faced Jams Rodriguez, arguably the star of this tournament. he has been simply sensational till now.

They now meet Brazil in what could be a mouth watering contest. They now have the belief that they can be a serious contender of the title & their forward line should give Brazilian coach Scolari sleepless nights on scripting strategies. Brazil will wilt under this Colombian attack unless they find ways to plug their defensive gaps.

World Cup 2014 : Brazil vs Chile 1-1 ( 3-2 via penalties)

The first of the knock outs & what a match it was. Brazlian coach Scolari was always wary of Chile & his premonitions came almost so true....Chile had all but spoilt the Cup dreams of Brazil today.
The match was well contested as expected & both sides had enough chances to surge ahead. The ball ball moved swiftly between both ends, & it was Brazil taking the lead in the 18th minute when T Silva headed from a Neymar corner to David Luiz, who nudged the ball in with his thigh....not the best of the goals but a goal indeed, in this pressure match.... Brazil up 1-0. It was David Liz's first international goal for his country...indeed a proud moment. This immediately got the team in yellow to come up in numbers & the Chilean box was flooded with Brazilian attacks... Neymar'r header missed narrowly & a Dani Alves long ranger was just about fisted out by Bravo. Just as it looked that Brazil will dominate the match, Marcelo gave away a loose ball off a throw in around the left flank of the Brazilian half. David Liuz was surprisingly sluggish to react & Alexei Sanchez pounced on the ball & his deft placement went beyond Cesar into the net...1-1 & match on.
Second half was equally well contested & this time Hulk tried his best to score & Bravo scripted a couple of wonderful saves to keep Chile in the match. In the 53rd minute Hulk put the ball in the net from a beautiful cross, & ran down the sidelines in celebrations as the stadium erupted. But the English referee disallowed the goal & showed a yellow card to Hulk, as he had probably handled the ball while receiving the cross....slow motion replays looked like a debatable decision, as he had probably shouldered the ball & that too not deliberately. Immediately after that, against the run of play, Aranguiz, playing a wall pass with Vidal & Sanchez entered the Brazilian box & hit a low powerful drive which looked all set for a goal. But Cesar made an acrobatic save for a corner...Brazil fans had their heart in the mouth...a goal at this stage would be hard to equalise. Both teams from there on played with caution & the game started to lose its sheen.
Extra time of 15 + 15 minutes did not produce any goals & Brazil breathed a huge sigh of relief in the 88th minute, as Pinilia's shot hit the crossbar & returned into play, with the whole of the Brazilian defense looking dead. It was left to penalty shoot out for results ....the first of the tournament. Both the team looked sapped of energy & looked for some divine intervention. Bravo, the Chilean keeper looked more organised as Julio Cesar, the Brazilian keeper looked emotionally charged.

Shoot outs are always half luck & half pluck :

Brazil started with David Luiz who coolly placed the ball in the net - ( Brazil 1 - Chile 0)
Pinilla fired for Chile, but was brilliantly blocked by Cesar - ( Brazil 1 - Chile 0)
Willian came next for Brazil, but his shot went wide out - ( Brazil 1 - Chile 0)
Alexie Sanchez was next for Chile, but his shot too was superbly blocked by Cesar - (Brazil 1 - Chile 0)
Marcelo, next in for Brazil scored - ( Brazil 2 - Chile 0)
Aranguiz, next for Chile neatly places the ball in ( Brazil 2 - Chile 1)
Hulk, next in for Brazil & Bravo saves the ball ( Brazil 2 - Chile 1)
Diaz scores the next one for Chile ( Brazil 2 - Chile 2)
Neymar takes the fifth shot & drills in for Brazil, what placements ( Brazil 3 - Chile 2)
Jara comes in for Chile & fires into the bar ( Brazil 3 - Chile 2)..... Brazil wins !!!

Today was the day of Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar & Brazil had just escaped from a cauldron of a match, as Chile bow out. It was an eagerly contested game & both sides played with vigour, though the imitable free flowing Samba football was missing. Chile have been splendid throughout their campaign & can go home with head held high. They had almost created the biggest upset of the tournament. I had predicted a 3-1 victory for Brazil & indeed it could have been so, but for some brilliant goal keeping by Chilean keeper Bravo. He was exceptional in the match, though his opposite number, Julio Cesar, stole the show in the penalty shoot outs. Looks like God is with least for now.
Scolari will have to really work hard on his defense, as it is getting continuously rattled & giving away poor goals. Also, upfront, Neymar is being heavily marked & will be by all defenders. He was limping towards the end of the match, with a visibly swollen knee & its incredible how he still managed to covert the all important fifth penalty. Hope he gets match fit before the next round, as Brazil are overtly dependent on him to score. This means Hulk, Oscar & Fred will have to find goals to keep Brazil in the fray. Hulk was good & penetrative today, but he has to find his scoring boots soon, as has Fred & Oscar too. They are capable players & need to believe in their scoring abilities. The team which looked in good nick against Cameroon, was faltering in defense today a number of times. This defense will be punished by better organised teams ahead. Scolari, has now overcome his nemesis Chile & hopefully finds ways to get this Brazilian outfit better functional.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Round of 16 - Knock Outs

Tonight begins the round of 16.... the knock outs, where a defeat means returning home.... this is the business end of the World Cup, & what will separate Men from Boys.
For the first time in many years, a lot of potential champions & heavyweight teams have been eliminated in the Group stages, while minnows or lesser known teams have moved up.
Spain, the defending champions crashed out unceremoniously, much to the surprise of the football fans, as also did former champions like Italy & England. Portugal is another popular team to have crashed out, as did Ivory Coast, Russia, Ecuador & Croatia....all of them have star players in their ranks & were expected to do much better. While teams like Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Greece, Switzerland, Nigeria, USA & Algeria did extremely well to qualify ahead.....all of them had tough & better placed opponents to compete against.
I had earlier mentioned that the Latin Americans will have advantage of playing conditions in this tournament, while the Europeans would struggle & I believe the same will continue to be a feature ahead.

Let's try & evaluate the 16 teams & their possibilities :

Brazil vs Chile :
In a high decibel match, the first of the knock outs, host Brazil take on a resurgent Chile. Brazil coach Scolari has been wary of this Latin American team even before the tournament started, & correctly so. This Chilean team is raw & fast paced, arguably the best squad ever, & they have emerged out of a very tough group, defeating the likes of Spain & Australia & narrowly getting beaten by Netherlands. With the return of Vidal in the midfield, Sanchez will feel more charged along with Medel, Vargas & Valdivia. Goalkeeper Bravo lends immense confidence under the bar. Its truly a well knit team & they have nothing to lose against hosts Brazil, who carry the immense pressure of lifting the Cup. La Rojas, as the Chilean team is popularly known, have to forget history(they have lost to Brazil every time in World Cup finals) & face Brazil with raw courage, which has been their statement in this tournament. Coach Jorge Sampaoli would certainly have some aces up his sleeves
Brazil on the other hand looks good in attack with Neymar being brilliant with his skills & Oscar giving able aide, though Fred & Hulk are yet to find form. The team looks a little dis organised in midfield with Gustavo & Paulinho yet to combine well & Scolari may be tempted to bring in Fernandinho in place of Paulhinho to bring in more bite & speed. In central defence, David Luiz & T Silva look surprisingly rattled at times & wing backs Marcelo & Dani Alves go on frequent overlaps & then fail to rush back in defense....definitely a problem area for coach Scolari to mend. In goal Julio Cesar has looked quite under control. The reserve bench is strong in Maxwell, Maicon, Dante in defense & Willian, Fernandinho, Jefferson, Bernard & Jo upfront. Scolari may opt to try out a couple of them tonight.
However, on paper, Brazil maintain overwhelming advantage as favourites, even on statistics. It should be a tough match, & Brazil should go through, with the whole stadium egging them to score, as the team seems to be gradually peaking....& at the right time. It will be a tight contest for sure. Predicted score line : 3-1 for Brazil.

Columbia vs Uruguay :
A Latin American contest is always high voltage, skills driven & raucous. Columbia taking on Uruguay would therefore be no fact it could turn out to be ill tempered & fiery as well. Uruguay have qualified from the  Group of Death, eliminating top champions like Italy & England. In Suarez, they had found a goal scoring machine, but, he is out on ban for the infamous biting incident.....something very very disappointing & disgraceful. Forlan, their hero from the 2010 edition is a pale shadow & Cavani may succumb to the immense pressure of being a loner upfront. Skipper Lugano, Loderlo, Rodriguez, Gonzalez & Godin are formidable & so is Muslera under the bar, but their winning combination would certainly be hit in the absence of Suarez & the controversy could come to haunt them.
Columbia, on the other hand have been phenomenal topping Group C with 9 goals & three wins. They have not missed their mercurial player Radamel Falcao till now, who's out with an injury.The team under Jose Pekerman's coaching are looking for that first ever quarter final appearance & I believe they are quite capable of doing so. James Rodriguez is leading the attack along with Quintero, Cuadrado, Martinez, all capable of striking at will. The defense looks good with Yepes & Ospina looks in control under the bar. Columbians have been goal hungry & look capable of toppling their fancied opponents, if they keep their nerves & tempers under control. The match may go into extra time & penalties. Predicted scoreline : 2-1 for Columbia.

Netherlands vs Mexico :
Many may not agree, but this probably could be the marquee match of the round of 16. Netherlands have been one of the top teams thus far with van Persie & Robben getting them goals at will. The midfield looks organised as does the deep defense. They topped their group decimating Spain in the opening encounter & have looked rather invincible. But I have a different view. According to me, they struggled to win against Australia & Chile, & were seriously extended in the two games. They defeated an over confident & ageing Spain, who did not have a plan B to execute. Also, they seem to have peaked a little too soon & are now against Mexico, who are no push overs. Netherlands have always faltered to deceive in the World Cup finals, though this time around they look to go the distance. I just feel that the humid playing conditions may finally take the toll on ageing Robben, who has been phenomenal with his bursts down the middle till now & that would certainly affect the forward line. Sneijder has not been in form & van Persie may be left alone upfront. Lens, de Jong, Depay etc have been good only in patches, & defense looked in trouble even against Australia.
In fact Mexico are known to be quietly efficient in their game. They are normally not overawed by their opponents & they have been upto the mark in this tournament, with a convincing goal less draw against Brazil in the Group stages & a fantastic 3-1 victory over much fancied Croatia. Rafael Marquez has been inspirational & Javier Hernandez has added bite in attack along with Peralta, Aquino, & Herrera. Defense has been very organised with Guardado, Salcido & Rodriguez while goalkeeper Ochoa has been simply outstanding, especially against a marauding Brazilian attack.... he saved some absolute stunners in that match & if he even maintains 70% of that performance, Netherlands may well be in trouble to score. Statistically, the two teams have met each other six times till now & Netherlands have won three & Mexico have prevailed twice, with one draw.
Predicted scoreline : 2-1 for Netherlands on popular observations, though I still believe Mexico may pull this one as one of the major upsets of this tournament.

Costa Rica vs Greece :
This should be a relatively easy draw for Costa Rica & they should prevail over Greece. Costa Rica topped the Group of Death, beating Italy & Uruguay convincingly & drew against England. For a team that seemed doomed in this group against such stupendous rivals at the beginning of the tournament, the Costa Ricans were outstanding. They played without fear & surprised a lot of pre tournament predictions. They used their Latin American flair to breeze into the knock out stages & made the best of the playing conditions. Ruiz, Campbell, Borges, Tejeda, Urena have been revelation upfront, while Gamboa, Junior Diaz, Miller, Duarte have been composed in defence & Navas has been assured in goal. They have enough motivation & playing conditions in their favour to move ahead.
Greece, on the other hand just pipped Ivory Coast 2-1 in their last match with the winning goal coming in injury time, to qualify. They have not looked convincing & the humid playing conditions do not help their cause. They have players like Samaras, Maniatis, Kone who could make a difference, but they lack the firepower to go beyond this. In fact they are the surprise entry into the knockout stage.
Predicted scoreline : 2-0 for Costa Rica

France vs Nigeria :
France has been fabulous in the group stages till the last match against Ecuador, which they dew goal less. Karim Benzema has been flowing with 3 goals to his credit till now & they decimated Honduras & Switzerland. The team has been playing as an unit & many see them as potential contenders for the Cup. Players like Pogba, Giroud, Matuidi along with Benzema are a formidable bunch upfront & Sagna, Sakho, Evra, Digne lend solidity to defence with Lloris manning the goal. However, I debate the popular assessments of the leading sports columnists. The French have been in a relatively easy group & they stumbled to a draw against the only proper Latin American team, Ecuador. I suspect, in the knock out stages they will falter. In European conditions or cooler places, this team is certainly capable of beating the best, but in the sapping conditions of Brazil, they will find going tough, especially against a tropical country like Nigeria.
Known as the Super Eagles, Nigeria is a tough team & they qualified from Group F with a formidable performance against favourites Argentina. Their goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama has been superb under the bar & he could thwart the best of the attacks. In attack Musa has been outstanding & blistering. He would be ably assisted by Babatunde, Emenike, Uchebo, Nwofor & Mikel....they are actually a very well knit team.
On their day, they are capable of a upset & if they keep their tempers & emotions in control, they would be a handful against the French Les Bleus. Incidentally the two teams have played against each other only once & Nigeria won.
Predicted scoreline : 2-1 for Nigeria.

Germany vs Algeria :
Germany is the team to beat in this World Cup. Under the coaching of Joachim Low, they have come together as a wonderful team, which has extremely good balance upfront, midfield & defense. They crushed Portugal in their inaugural match 4-0 & then drew 2-2 against a formidable Ghana before pipping USA 1-0. Players like Mueller, already leading the score sheet, Schurrle, Podolski, Kroos, Klose all can score at will..... midfield is dictated by Bastian Schweinsteiger, Khedira & playmaker Ozil,.... defense is lead by skipper Lahm, Hummels, Mertesacker, Boeteng, Howedes & then in goal is the ever dependable Neuer. It indeed is a fabulous line up of a Champion team at their clinical best. They should have little sweat in marauding over Algeria. They are the only European team that has looked in complete control of the playing conditions.
Algeria were 2nd in Group H & have done well to move into the knock out stages for the first time. However, they face Germany & can only play for pride, with nothing at all to lose.
Predicted scoreline : 3-0 for Germany

Argentina vs Switzerland :
This would be one of the easier matches for Argentina. They have enjoyed an easy Group & now face Switzerland, who would have a tough time containing the Latin American giants.
Argentina have won all their Group matches thanks to the little Master Lionel Messi. His magical goals have lit up the World Cup & inspired the team to move into the round of 16. He has been fabulous with his free kicks & sudden dummies on top of the box & the team looks composed under his leadership. De Maria, Aguero, Gago, Biglia all have looked sharp upfront & middle, though Higuain looks a little out of sorts in this line up. Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo are taking good care of the defense along with Romero under the bar. Then there are Demichelis, Palacio, Lavezzi who are sprightly in the bench. Its a strong outfit no doubt, but still looks very heavily dependent on Messi magic & that could well falter them ahead. Also Aguero's injury at this stage will also hurt the team's attacking plans.
Switzerland have been decent in their performance & have qualified by beating Honduras 3-0 in their last match to pip Ecuador, whom also they defeated 2-1. In fact they scored two goals against France as well, though the lost 2-5 in the match. So they have been quite up to scoring at will. Shaqiri got a hattrick against Honduras & is looking to play freely. Xhaka, Mehmedi, Drmic, all are looking sharp upfront, though their defense is of concern. They will have to up the ante & play out of their skins to stop Messi & Co.... looks an extremely tough order.
Predicted scoreline : 2-1 for Argentina

Belgium vs USA : 
This will be a battle of equals amongst minnows of this world Cup. Belgium has been touted the dark horse & they have done well to top Group H with three wins. They have some top quality players who play in the Premier League..... Hazard, Origi, Chadli, Dembele, Lukaku, Fellaini, upfront putting pressure on the opposition & Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen, managing the back, with Courtois cool under the bar. The team has been solid & low key, which augurs well for them & they have a relatively easier opponent in USA to compete.
USA on the other hand have come up from a tough Group where Portugal was the more fancied team to qualify, who lost out on eventual goal difference. Under the coaching of Klinsmann, they are a sprightly bunch of players. Dempsey has been brilliant, having scored the fastest goal of the tournament thus far, in 29 seconds of the match against Ghana, & he has been ably assisted by Bradley, Zusi, Jones & Beckerman & Howard has been good under the bar. They should have won the game against Portugal, but for the injury time heading equaliser by Varela from a Ronaldo pass.
This should be a keen contest, as both teams are almost equals in capability & stars. I am looking forward to how Klinsmann plots this to win, though Belgium coach Wilmots would have chalked his counter plans as well.
Predicted scoreline : 2-1 for Belgium, though USA might cause an upset, if they can get an early goal.

The tournament has already seen some major upsets in the Group stages & I believe a couple of more would happen in the round of 16.

Looking forward to some Classico ahead ..... so much to bear the glare of the TV through midnight & beyond.... worth every bit for sure.....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Argentina vs Nigeria 3-2

Its been a Messi show till now for Argentina in this tournament, & today's match against Nigeria was no different. In fact, the prodigal son of football, was at his mesmerising best, with two superb goals to take his country past the Super Eagles 3-2.
It was an engrossing affair, & a very closely fought contest, where at times one felt bad for the Nigerians....they had everything to put forward, minus a Messi in their ranks.
The game was fast paced from the beginning & the men in blue white stripes drew the first blood in the 3rd minute itself, when Di Maria send in a left footed volley which beat the goalkeeper, hit the toe end of the bar & bounced back into play, but before any of the defenders could clear it, Messi darted in & thundered the ball into the top corner of the net.... 1-0 & the stadium erupted in Argentinian celebrations....but even before everyone had settled down in the memory of his fantastic goal, the Nigerians tore through their left flank & Babaunde passed the ball to Musa, who cut in getting the better of a defender & unleashed a brilliant right footer, which sailed passed the outstretched Romero into the net .... it was 1-1.....breathtaking goals on either side. It was the first time that both teams had scored a goal within the first five minutes of the game in World Cup finals. The tome of the match was set, & both traded shots for shots....both the goalkeeper stretching limits to stave off any danger. After a couple of deft free kicks from Messi, that were were thwarted by the alert Nigerian goalkeeper, Enyeama, it was Messi magic again. The Nigerians were tardy in clearances & gave away another free kick at the stroke of the half time. Messi, unleashed a wicked left footer that curled like a banana in the air & went into the net, leaving every single person bemused. Fantastic goal to lead 2-1.
The opening five minutes of the 2nd half too produced goals....first it was Musa again, dashing into the Argentinian box, past three defenders & place neatly past the goalkeeper to level the score at 2-2. But again minutes after, Rojo deflects off a corner kick into the Nigerian net... 3-2.
The game continued at the same pace, though no more goals came by. Messi was rested in the 64th minute. He now tops the goal scorers along with Neymar at 4. it certainly is turning out to be a goal feast.

Argentina, having topped the group now face Switzerland, who surprisingly managed a facile 3-1 win over Honduras, as Ecuador drew blank against France.
Nigeria too have qualified despite this defeat & they will have to face an in form France, who topped the Group E.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Italy vs Uruguay 0-1

It was the decider match in the Group of Death, with the winner moving to knock out stage. In fact Italy, on better goal average needed a draw while Uruguay needed a win. Both teams knew, that if Costa Rica loses to England in the other match of the group, the top spot was up from grabs on goal difference.
The first half as expected, was a dull affair with both team playing cautious football, though Italians enjoyed better possession. Both teams are known to crowd the defense & go on sudden counter physical & try to unnerve the opposition.... so both team looked circumspect & free flowing football was certainly missing.
Second half too started in similar fashion, but the game started to get out of hands, as Claudio Marchisio was red carded for challenging Giminez.... a rather harsh call by the ref. But, it got Italians to 10 men & now they had to dourly defend, while Uruguay spurted into action & looked like getting some territorial advantage. Suarez, Cavani, substitute Stuani, all pressed for that all important goal, as Italians started play acting tactics to delay the game. The game was quite ungainly, & in an ugly incident around the Italian box in the 79th minute Suarez & Chiellini collided going for the ball & then Suarez head butted or maybe dug into the Italian's shoulder....Chiellini fell on the ground & then got up to pull down his jersey to show marks on his shoulder,claiming that he was bitten by Suarez !!!..... but the ref did not pay heed & continued the game......minutes, later, the Italian defence came under heavy pressure, & from a corner kick, the Uruguayan skipper, Diego Godin, headed in past Buffon for the lone goal of the match. Italy tried hard to equalise, but could not make dent & the match ended, with former champions Italy going out of the finals for the second consecutive time in the group stages. Another European giant had crashed out, in a match marred by the biting controversy. Pirlo tried hard, but the ageing star could not create any magical moment. Balotelli was poor & substituted, & Motta, Cassano & others could not convert half chances....the team looked tired & unimaginative. The Group of Death had indeed devoured two former champions & formidable teams in the World....Italy & England. Costa Rica were the surprise toppers, with Uruguay just about scraping through.
I would believe, FIFA would be doing a thorough inspection of the incident & Suarez looks certain to be suspended.....he has been penalised twice earlier in his career, & if found guilty, he should be severely punished.
Uruguay moves to the next round & will face the winners of Group C, which in all probabilities be Columbia, another Latin American team. With Suarez most definitely out with suspension & Forlan injured, Uruguay might find it extremely tough to go beyond....

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Brazil vs Cameroon 4-1 / Mexico vs Croatia 3-1

Brazil Cameroon match as expected ended with the hosts clocking a thumping 4-1 victory & ending the Group stages as toppers, but the scoreline does not suggest, the panic stricken defensive errors by the normally composed four backs of Brazil, a thought that should bother Coach Scolari in the knockout stages ahead.

Brazil started in whirlwind fashion, with Neymar, Fred, Hulk & Oscar tearing through a clueless Cameroon defense.... it was some superlative & instinctive saves by the bearded goalkeeper Itandje & some poor finishes by the Brazilian forwards, that kept the scoreline blank for the first 15 minutes. Then, it was Neymar magic in the offing..... with the crowd howling for action, Neymar, picked up a beautiful cross from Gustavo, who raced in from the left flank, dodged a couple of defenders, & outwitted the goalkeeper on the wrong side, with a peach of a right footer into the net....the whole stadium erupted at this silken was the 100th goal of the tournament, & it was also the 100th World Cup match for Brazil. It was all picture perfect.
The goal, surprisingly instead of spurring, got the Brazilians into a quiet shell, & the ball was being played amongst the defenders, rather tentatively. Cameroon strikers took advantage of this & from a corner earned & a poor clearance by T Silva, got the ball to Nyom, who stabbed past Dani Alves & sent in a neat cross inside the box...three defenders including David Luiz stood glued & watched in horror, as Matip tapped the free ball into the net. A dreadful moment of defensive lapse...unpardonable from stalwarts like Silva, David Luiz & Alves. The score 1-1.
Neymar, of course kept skirting around for an opportunity, & taking a Marcelo through ball from left, dribbled in between two - three defenders & slotted the ball past the Cameroon goalkeeper.... Brazil was up again 2-1, as the crowd bowed in awe to the Wonder Kid & breathed a sigh of relief.
Second half began with Brazil substituting Paulinho for Fernandinho who brought the much needed skilled pace into the game. Fred, who had missed a sitter early on, finally made amends by heading in the third goal in the 50th minute, & then Fernandinho tapped in the fourth goal towards the end of the match to end the scoreline at a resounding 4-1. Hopefully Fred plays more freely now & Oscar & Hulk can take the work load of creating chances. It was glimpses of Samba football the world looks forward to.
After the third goal, Scolari, rightly rested Neymar, saving him from any unnecessary injuries & tried out the bench strength.
Brazil now meets Chile in the round of 16, a tricky encounter for sure, as even Scolari had mentioned before the tournament. Chile plays in Latin American style & the conditions suit them more than the Europeans. The team has done well till now with convincing wins against England & Australia & also stretching Netherlands.
Scolari will certainly have to work hard on the defense. David Luiz, Thiago Silva have to be more assertive in their role of central defenders, as Dani Alves & Marcelo overlap from the wings.... Paulhinho, Gustavo & Ramirez have to take extra load of supporting attack as well as falling back quickly to defend. It will have to be a more compact Brazil in midfield & defense, for their attack in Neymar, Fred, Oscar & Hulk to flow....
We are all waiting for the Samba football....the Selecao to go all the way.....however, as of now, its a Chiliean scare to combat....especially the defensive lapses.

In another crucial match, Mexico defeated Croatia 3-1, with visible confidence & they now take on the fancied Netherlands in the knockout stage. Many had disagreed with me when I mentioned that Mexico will prevail over Croatia, which has more stars in the playing eleven. However, Mexico is a team that plays quietly & effectively(remember how they held Brazil to a goal less draw...a match evenly poised)....they are a tough bunch of players who adjust to any environment without complains & here the humid & greasy conditions suit their style. If they play to their potential, they will cause worries to the Orange team from Netherlands.... an upset ????..... well !!! expect a cracker of a match.

World Cup 2014 : Netherlands vs Chile 2-0 / Spain vs Australia 3-0

Both Netherlands & Chile had already qualified with two wins & today was an encounter to see who tops the Group to avoid a possible clash with Brazil in the next round.
Netherlands without their Captain Van Persie in this match, suspended on two yellow cards, expectedly were a little off colour in attack, while Chile looked a little overawed by the situation. The match moved both ends at cautious pace, with occasional bursts at was Robben for the Dutch & Alexis Sanchez for Chile who put in their heat in the game & raised hopes of a goal.
The game looked like trickling to a draw, when around the 75th minute, Dutch coach, Van Gaal took out a lacklustre Sneijder & brought in Leroy Fer....this had an immediate impact & Vlaar paced in nicely to set a beautiful cross & Fer blasted in was only 2-3 minutes into the game for Fer, but he had scored the all important goal. With regulation time over & match into extra time, & Chile still pressing through Sanchenz, & Robben was up with his customary dash of speed from a loose ball.....speeding through into the box & crossing it to substitute Memphis Depay, who slotted in 2-0. Game over, with Netherlands topping the group.

In the other inconsequential match, defending Champions finally notched a victory with a 3-0 win over Australia. The new look team, played with control & for once looked the Champion team that they had been over the last 6-7 years. A consolation for them to go home.

Monday, June 23, 2014

World Cup 2014 : USA vs Portugal 2-2

It was a do or die match for Portugal & they needed a win to remain in plausible contention for the tournament. For the injury plagued Christiano Ronaldo, it was a tall order in offing, to infuse belief in his players by leading from the front. USA, under inspirational coaching of Jurgen Klinsmann on the other hand, needed a win to seal their place in the round of 16.... enough motivation for both the team to play.
The match started with Portugal seizing from a defensive lapse as early as 5 minutes into the game, as Nani smashed the ball into the roof of the net 1-0.
USA took time to recover from this early shock, & Dempsey, Bradley, Zusi & others try had to break in, but the Portugal defense held good till the half time. In fact, just at the stroke of the lemon break, Nani could have increased the lead, but his rasping shot beat the goalkeeper only to hit the bar & on rebound Eder's shot was barely tipped over the bar by the American keeper Howard.... a magnificent save. The first half was evenly poised, though Portugal had that all important lead.
Second half had a purposeful US on the turf, as they pressed hard for the equaliser. Johnson & Bradley combined well, running into the Portugal box & Bradley's low hit is miraculously blocked out by defender, Costa. Portugal defense was coming under heavy pressure in the absence of Pepe, out with suspension & Coentrao, out with injury & with Postiga getting eplaced early in the match, they were looking vulnerable. The Americans finally earned a flag kick in the 63rd minute, & a goalmouth clearance saw the ball reach Jones, who smashed a long ranger & the ball swerved in the air to go past the Portugal goalkeeper Beto. It was one of the best goals of the tournament thus far, as the scoreline read 1-1. Surprisingly USA went into somewhat of a shell after this as Ronaldo & Co tried to make amends & came close to scoring a couple of times. But against the run of play, Yedlin, having just come in as a substitute, raced into the Portugal half & crossed over to Bradley whose shot was blocked, but the ball went to Zusi & then to Dempsey who neatly chested the ball was 2-1 for USA against the run of play. The last ten odd minutes were scrambles at both end, with frantic clearances, as the extra time shown was for 5 minutes.
It was in these dying minutes of the extra time, that Ronaldo redeemed himself & his team with a superb cross from the right into the box & substitute Valera headed in a bullet past a hapless Howard...the match ended in a 2-2 draw, much to the chagrin of the US players & supporters.....they missed out on a victory & will now have to wait agonisingly for their last match against the Germans. To qualify, they need a draw, but even if they lose by not more than two goals, they came go through on goal difference.
For Portugal, they now hang by the skin of the teeth, needing a big win against Ghana, who are quite a formidable opponent. In fact Ghana has a better chance to go through, if they can win by at least 2-0 margin.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

World Cup 2014 analysis : - an account thus far

With the Group stage matches nearing end  now, Sunday allows me more time to analyse results & try my hand at predicting the shape of the next round of 16, from where its direct eliminations.

In Group A, Brazil look good to move next stage as toppers, with a game against Cameroon, who are already out of contention. However, mathematically, they can still be eliminated if they lose badly to Cameroon, which looks highly improbable for even a discussion.The other spot is a fight between Mexico & Croatia, & whoever wins will move ahead, though even a draw will take Mexico ahead on points difference.

Group B already has clear qualifiers in Netherlands & Chile & the last match between the two will decide who would top the table. That calls for a good contest, as the loser of the game will most probably face hosts Brazil in the next round. The winner gets to play the 2nd team from Group A which should be either Mexico or Croatia. Spain & Australia have been eliminated & will be playing for pride in their inconsequential match.

In Group C, Columbia has already qualified with two wins. Ivory Coast would need to win or draw their last match against Greece, which looks quite possible. Only a miraculous win by Japan & Greece & that too by a sizable margin can see them through to the next round, which is only a mathematical possibility. The winner of this group will face the 2nd team from Group D, which could be either Uruguay or Italy. I see it as Columbia taking on Uruguay....both Latin American teams up for a wonderful contest !!

Group D was touted as the Group of Death & it has lived up to its dubious name. England, whom many thought will do well are already eliminated, despite good performances in both their games. Italy, always a title contender are in a precarious position along with Uruguay, another power house of football, with world class players in their ranks. They both face each other in the decider match, with Italy holding slight advantage of goal difference. This means, Italy can go through with a draw, while Uruguay will have to win. Going by current form & mental health, Uruguay should use the familiar Latin American conditions to win & move up. The biggest surprise of the group has been Costa Rica who have qualified with two wins & should top the group, unless the loss badly to England, who play for pride in their final match. I see Costa Rica, as group toppers play Iory Coast in the next round.....again a fabulous match between tournament underdogs.

Group E has a clear leader in France, with two facile wins & even a near impossible loss to Ecuador in their final match will not prevent them from qualifying. They have a fantastic goal difference to back up as well. Its going to be a toss up between Ecuador & Switzerland, who have one win each. Ecuador have a tough scenario as they face France & the Swiss play a relatively easy Honduras, who are almost out of contention. So Ecuador, though having a better goal difference, will need to depend on how the Swiss fare in the final match..... I will like to believe that Ecuador may spring a surprise against France... just a gut feel, as France having almost qualified, may just ease.

In Group F, Argentina has already qualified with two wins & are looking good to top the group. Nigeria, with a win & a draw look better placed to qualify as the 2nd team. However, Iran, who lost to Argentina, in a heart wrenching injury time goal ( many thought, they played good enough to get a draw, if not a win!!), may still qualify, if they can beat Bosnia handsomely in their last match & Nigeria loses to Argentina. Both strong possibilities, & worth waiting for. Bosnia has already been eliminated.
However, in the next round Argentina looks assured to meet either Switzerland or Ecuador. Ecuador would be tricky for sure, though cutting through Swiss ranks should not be a problem for Messi & Co. The 2nd team, that is either Nigeria or Iran would meet France, which looks like the end of the road.

In Group G, another tricky group, Germany looks good to advance into next round with one win & one draw. They play USA in their last game & should record at least a draw if not win. USA with a win against Ghana need one more win from their two remaining matches & would definitely want to secure it against a struggling Portugal tonight. Ghana on the other hand have a tough job on their hands. With just one point from two games, they need to defeat Portugal by at least two goals to assure a place in the next round, assuming USA stumble. Its an interesting scenario, & its difficult to predict the 2nd team from this group, including Portugal. If they can record wins in their remaining  matches, they certainly move ahead.... & they certainly have the firepower...what is required is the belief in their abilities.

In Group H, Belgium, the pre tournament dark horse team, is looking good to advance with a win from their only game. They should win at least one game from Korea or Russia. Of the others, its a scratch between Russia, Algeria & Korea, though I believe Russia should prevail because of the talent they have & their ability to convert crunch matches. They have drawn against Korea & will need at least one win which can come from Algeria.
Anyways, I see Belgium playing the 2nd spot team from Group G, which as of now could be anyone between USA, Ghana & Portugal. Meanwhile, Germany from Group G should take on either Russia, Algeria or Korea.... lots to look forward to in the next two days.

Once the round of 16 is qualified & settled, I shall make efforts to cover all the games from there on....
However, for me this is how I see the round of 16 :
One one side it will be : Brazil vs Chile / Columbia vs Uruguay or Italy / France vs Nigeria or Iran / Germany vs Russia or Algeria.
On the other side it will be Netherlands vs Mexico / Costa Rica vs Ivory Coast / Argentina vs Ecuador or Switzerland / Belgium vs USA or Ghana or Portugal.

Basis the current form & conditions, I see European countries struggle to make a major dent other than Germany. They have a history of being the most consistent side in the World Cup with 12 appearances in the semis, a feat that even Brazil cannot boast of. Unless they implode all of a sudden on a given day, they will certainly go the distance....more because of their discipline & clinical finish.....& they have enough stars in their ranks to make it all happen.
Amongst others, Netherlands & France are playing really well till now, but are they peaking well before time ???? France has not played any serious team as yet are dependent only on Benzema, who will find life difficult ahead, with inadequate supply line. They of course seem to have an easy passage till semis where they potentially meet Germany. Netherlands have caught the imagination of the football fans all over with their massive win against defending Champions, Spain. In van Persie, Robben, Sneidjer, de Jong, & others they have a super team & should reach the semis without a sweat, where they potentially bump into Argentina. They also might have a tricky opponent in Costa Rica for the quarterfinals. Portugal has been very disappointing in their opening match against Germany, but if they pull up their socks & qualify to the next round, they could well reach the quarters as well & set up a mouth watering contest with Argentina.
On the other side, the Latin & Central Americans should make the most of the familiar greasy, hot & humid, energy sapping playing conditions. Brazil, the hosts, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, & Ecuador.....all of them should revel & make the most of these conditions.

As of now, I dare say, I am tempted to see the following fixtures in the last 8 / quarterfinals :

Brazil vs Uruguay or Italy

France vs Germany

Netherlands or Mexico vs Costa Rica

Argentina vs Belgium or Portugal.

Am I mingling too much in I being biased, am I off radar in my assessments....only time will say.

Till then, happy weekend fellows.... have fun...

World cup 2014 : Germany vs Ghana 2-2

Its been a spate of good hard fought matches of late, which is a delight for all soccer fans like us across the globe......& most of these matches have been between a Champion side or a tournament favourite vs a rookie or a minnow....& it has been heartening to see the underdogs come up in the big stage....a very encouraging sight for the World of Football.
Today's match was between the clinical Germany vs African power house Ghana.
Both team were earnest in their efforts & the game as expected was pacy form the beginning. Interestingly, the Boateng brothers were playing against each other....Jerome donning German colours, having taken German nationality, & Kevin Prince representing Ghana.....both brothers play in Bundesliga, Germany.
1st half was more on testing each other & going for the kill cautiously....& it was goal less at the lemon break....the afternoon heat slackening the pace of the game.
2nd half was more purposeful, & it was Germany that went ahead in the 51st minute....from Lahm to Mueller, who sent in a perfect pass inside the box, & the lurking Mario Goetze fumbled but managed the ball to hit his knee, bounce off his face & go past a flailing Fatawu Dauda, the Ghanaian goalkeeper... 1-0. Not the best of the finishes, but effective enough to take the lead. Ghana substituted Prince Boateng with Jordan Ayew, who made his presence felt immediately after. Pressing hard for an equaliser, Harrison Afful sent in a beautiful cross from the right flank & Ayew jumped in from the edge of the six yard box to head powerfully past the full stretched German Goalkeeper Neuer. It was on. The pressure on the German defense was now intense & this resulted in another lapse by the normally dependable Lahm in the midfield. Sulley Muntari picked up the ball from there & threaded a beautiful pass past Hummels & Howedes to Asamoah Gyan, who fired the ball into goal, as a hapless Neuer could only collect the ball from the net.....It was Ghana ahead now at 2-1. German coach Joachim Low quickly made two changes bringing in Miroslav Klose for Goetze & Schweinsteiger for Khedira to add more sting in the attack. This paid off almost immediately as Kroos whips neatly into the box from a corner & Howedes heads from a melee towards the goal,..... but its the ever lurking, goal hungry Klose who toes in to make it 2-2 & also becomes the joint highest scorer in World Cup with his 15th goal....along with Ronaldo of Brazil. He now has a realistic chance to go ahead & take the pole spot for himself. The flip jump after the goal was customary of Klose as celebrations broke in a much relieved German camp.
The end score remained at 2-2 for a very entertaining match, especially the 2nd half which was breathtaking.
As it stands for the Group, USA needs to win against Portugal to assure of a place in last 16, while Ghana has a complicated option of having to defeat Portugal in their final match & hope USA could topple Germans !!!... tough call indeed. Germans on the other hand need just a draw from their final game to move up. Portugal too has a mathematical possibility, having to win both the matches left, but I dont see them come around, especially with Ronaldo injured & not in the best of his form.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Argentina vs Iran 1-0

What a match between favourites Argentina & minnows Iran....the critical difference being another Lionel Messi Magic for 30 seconds, & that too in the injury time past the full 90 minutes. For me, Iran was just plain unlucky not to return with at least a point from this match. They did everything right...solid defense with zonal marking, sudden burst of counter attack catching the Argentinian defense napping..... & the man of the match for me was Iranian goalkeeper A Haghighi....he was simply outstanding with countless saves, some simply unbelievable. It had to be a vicious kick from the left foot of Messi from the edge of the box which curled past the fully stretched goalkeeper & entered the net, taking the South American team into the round of 16, with two wins.
Surely good news for the world of football....we can look forward to many such magical moments ahead. But take a bow were brilliant throughout the match & a fair result would have been a draw....but such is cruel fate. In fact Iran came close to scoring at least thrice, & had they got a goal then, the results could well have been the opposite.
Messi throughout the match was very closely marked & it was expected that Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero would take advantage of this to play freely, but barring Di Maria for a few bursts into the Iranian defense, the Argentine forwards found themselves against a wall of Iranian players, who crowded their goal & kept the ball away....& the of course was their goalkeeper...Barcelona & Real Madrid may be tempted to buy him for the next season. He is strong, with very good reflexes & anticipation & never afraid to go for the ball, both aerial or grounders.
The match was witnessed by Diego Maradona in the stands, who had come with his daughter. He must have left a happy man, seeing his prodigy Messi score the winner. Incidentally, it was on this day, in Mexico, 28 years ago, that he had taken his team to victory against England with two famous the dubious Hand of God, & the other an exquisite dribbling beyond six English players including goalkeeper Peter Shilton to get the winner..... Argentina went on to win the tournament under him.

With this win Argentina qualifies for the round of 16, but they will surely have to reflect on their strategies in attack, as stronger teams ahead would punish them for this kind of a game..... 

World Cup 2014 : Italy vs Costa Rica 0-1

What a match for the Central American team.... that too against Italy, one of the formidable Champions of World Cup Football. After 24 years, Costa Rica has qualified for the knock out stage....& how. In their opening game, they prevailed over powerhouse Uruguay 3-1, after trailing one nil till half time, & today they outclassed Italy 1-0. Stupendous performance indeed in a giant killing performance. One of the major upsets of this World Cup till now. 
The match started with Italians favourite to pick up a win, but the Central American team had other ideas. They played to plan with five defenders & four midfielders choking the Italian supply line & attack. The lone forward Campbell, kept the pressure upfront along with the midfield support to keep the famed Italian defense busy. They looked sharp, & attacked the ball across the field, & when the Italians came up to attack, they came back in numbers to crowd the defense & smother away any add to that, the goalkeeper Navas was confident & assured under the bar. 
Italy had their chances too.... The crafty Pirlo had set up a superb pass to Balotelli with Navas at mercy, but the mercurial forward attempted lob was a poor finish....a minute later it was Balotelli again, unleashing a powerful drive following a Pirlo pass, but Navas gathered on rebound.... two gilt edged chances gone in a spate of two minutes. Meanwhile, the Costa Rican were gradually gaining control, & in the 43rd minute, they were denied a deserving penalty, when Campbell was brought down in the box by Cheillini....the referee thought otherwise. But justice was served a minute later, when Diaz swung in a cross from the left flank & skipper Bryan Ruiz headed the ball in past a stretching Buffon..... the ball hit the bar & bumped in...the new goaline technology confirming the goal. 
Second half was evenly matched, with Italians pressing for the equaliser & the Costa Ricans defending dourly & going for occasional counter attacks.... extra time of four minutes were on no use, as the game eventually wrapped up with a final scoreline of 1-0. 
With this win, Costa Rica becomes the third nation to qualify for the round of 16, after Netherlands & Chile. Interestingly, all these three teams have never won a World Cup !!! This also means that England are out of the tournament. For Italy it will be a do or die match against the resurgent Uruguay, though even a draw should see them through. I personally feel, its going to be tough for the Azzuri, as Suarez has come back for Uruguay & now they are looking menacing. A lot will depend on Pirlo's ability to convert from nowhere & Balotelli or De Rossi to find their scoring boots in a hurry. 

Though its yet early stages in the tournament, it looks like a resurgence of the Latin & Central American football. The Europeans are clearly struggling, barring Germany & Netherlands. Is is the heat & humidity that is sapping the energies or is it pure skills ?? England & Spain have been already eliminated & I dont see France or Italy going much further. Statistics point out that never ever has a European team won a World Cup in South America or Central America. 

This World Cup is surely turning out to be closely fought & interesting to keep awake till the wee hours of the morning.... 

Friday, June 20, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Uruguay vs England 2-1

The game was a do or die for both Uruguay & England, as both had lost their opening encounter. Known for playing hard tackles & physical games, both the teams boast of star players & have the capability to stun the best of the teams on their day.....and as expected, it all started in whirlwind fashion.
As expected Uruguay fielded Luis Suarez, despite injury rumors & that turned out to be the clincher..... with his experience of playing the English Premier League for years, Suarez knifed through the England defense to win the game for Uruguay.
Within a couple of minutes, England came close to scoring with Uruguayan goalkeeper Muslera fumbling to hold a measured Baines cross inside the box & Sturridge lurking close by failing to capitalise.....on the other side Suarez comes close to scoring as his shot takes Joe Hart by surprise & he just manages to parry the ball for a corner. Around the 10th minute, when Godin stopped the ball with his forearm, just outside the box, Wayne Rooney, took a beautiful, curving free kick that had the whole of Uruguayan defense gaping, including the goalkeeper, but the ball floated inches above the bar..... intentions clear, both teams were pressing for the kill. The first half hour went by, as even stevens, with Sterling, Baines, Sturridge & of course Rooney combining well for the English, & on the other side, Suarez coming in place of Forlan combining with Cavani, Godin, was a good contest. England came close to scoring again, as Rooney headed a Gerrard free kick only to hit the corner of the post...a couple of inches & the ball would have gone in..... English fans going up in anguish.
It was finally around the 40th minute that the deadlock was broken, as Cavani send in a near perfect cross & Suarez lurking behind a slightly slow Cahill, headed in.... 1-0. It was a classic combination of Latin American touch football. England rebounded with gusto with Rooney leading the charge & earned a couple of corners, but no goals, as Uruguay went into the half time with that important lead.
Second half begane with Suarez & Cavani missing gilt edged chances to increase the lead & then Rooney gets a ball from Baines, & yet again sends in a rasping left footer, only to be saved by Muslera....soon after Welbech too slides in, but catches Muslera on the knee & Uruguayans start their time wasting tactics, much to the dismay of the English players....however, they persisted hard for a life saving equaliser & finally Glen Johnson, shielding his marker, slid the ball past the goal & Rooney, lurking around ran in & tapped the ball past Muslera.....Gooaaal... it was a frenzied moment for the English supporters 1-1. With the match heading towards a draw, both teams became sluggish, looking for that one off counter attack, & it was then that Muslera send in a booming clearance into the midfield, where Cavani & Gerrard collided & Gerrard backheaded straight into the feet of Suarez, who lapped this opportunity & slammed the ball past Joe Hart.... it was 2-1 for the Latin Americans. Five minutes of extra time did not help the cause for the crest fallen English players, though Rooney tried his best. Overall, England enjoyed the ball possession & played well, though Gerrard will rue his back head that probably knocked his team out of contention.
Mathematically, England can still qualify, if Italy beats Costa Rica & then Uruguay & England beats Costa Rica by a large margin !!!...too many ifs & buts to rely on.... looks like the end of the road for England in this World Cup.....they can now only play for pride to win at least their last game.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Spain vs Chile 0-2 Defending Champions bow out !!

It was a do or die match for the defending champions & one was expecting a display to merit that from the Spanish team....but, they appeared dazed from the previous match drubbing from Netherlands & the end result was a disappointing exit from the group stages itself.
Having won two Euro Cups & the last World Cup, Spain had come into this tournament with very high expectations, seeking their fourth consecutive title....most people had indicated a Brazil - Spain finals, & that demanded a convincing victory today....but it all fizzled out into a loss & eventual exit.
Chile established control from almost the beginning & scored two splendid goals, first by Eduardo Vargas, & then Charles Aranguiz, sealed the match in the first half itself....the famed Spanish Tiki -Taka style was bamboozled out of contention....barring a couple of moves by Iniesta, the whole team looked in disarray. Infusing a struggling Diego Costa upfront proved ineffective, with Torres warming the benches, & the team clearly lacked a striker. Del Bosque's attempt to resurrect the team by making two critical changes in the playing eleven, dropping Pique & Xavi at the start had no impact & he too looked scratching for fresh ideas. Spain fluffed their chances, as Bravo palmed off a Iniesta long ranger & Busquets missed a sitter in the 2nd half. Iker Casillas, skipper under the bar looked woefully out of form, & confidence & this proved fatal for the Spanish armada....having conceded seven goals in roughly 135 minutes of football in this tournament.....ousted out of the Championship even before the group stage matches are completed....a sad end to the golden era of Spanish domination in the World of Football.

Chile, along with Netherlands have now secured a place in the knock out stage & look a good unit. Nippy & organised in their Latin American style of attacking football, Captain Claudio Bravo manning the goal & Alex Sanchez leading upfront, the team has some spirited players in Vidal, Mena, Isla, Jara & Diaz, most of whom play in the Spanish League. They will be a handful ahead, as they play fearless football..... they are expected to bump into Brazil in the next round, unless, they stage another upset, by toppling the marauding Netherlands in their last match of the group...... in which case it will be Brazil vs Netherlands....mouthwatering contest for sure.....Interesting enough eh ???

This tournament is indeed opening up.....

World Cup 2014 : Netherlands vs Australia 3-2

What a match to witness.... Netherlands & Australia are great rivals in the game of hockey, but today they seemed to establish similar sentiments in football as well.
After their thumping 5-1 victory against defending champions Spain last week, & Australia losing to Chile, it was expected that the Dutch will steamroll without a so turned out that the Dutch team had to literally sweat it out against a resurgent Australia. If yesterday's match between Brazil & Mexico was the best thus far, today's game was a couple of notch higher for sure.

The game started in whirlwind fashion, with both teams going for the kill. In the 20th minute, the mercurial Robben, picked up a loose ball around the center & raced through the Aussie defense & then neatly placed a left footer past the goalkeeper Ryan, 1-0......the stadium erupted with the Orange fans going berserk....but even before the celebration had died down, the Aussies responded & within seconds, veteran player Tim Cahill drilled the ball with a brilliant rising left footer into the Dutch net 1-1. Game on it was....both the team pressed hard as the ball darted from one end to the other. Aussies had a solid game plan & were putting in extra players in any situation to neutralise the marauding Dutch attack.

Both the team continued in the same vein after the lemon break, & the hard working Aussies were rewarded with a spot kick, as the Dutch defender Janmaat hand balled inside the box. Skipper Mile Jedinak coolly converted the penalty, outwitting the goalkeeper & it was 2-1 lead for the Aussies......they were at that stage looking the better team, hustling the much vaunted Dutch attack of Van Persie, Robben & Sneidjer.
Once again, within minutes of a goal scored the opposition found the net & this time around, Van Persie took advantage of a monetary loss of concentration by fullback Jason Davidson & blastd the ball past the Aussie was 2-2. In the 69th minute, it was heart break for the Aussies, as, out of nowhere, Memphis Depay, who came in as a substitute, seconds before the half time in place of the injured Martins, slotted a brilliant rasping 25 yards drive into the net to give Netherlands the decisive lead 3-2.
Ageing Cahill was substituted for fresh legs around the 70th minute, & with that the imaginative Aussie attack gradually faded. Though to their credit, they kept pressing for an equaliser, it was hard to come by.....the Dutch defense though, survived a few close shaves & the game ended with Netherlands victorious 3-2 & becoming the first team to qualify for the knockout stage in this world Cup.
The Aussies have all the reasons to be happy with their performance today, but would feel dejected to have lost this match & having lost the previous one to Chile, the opportunity to keep their hopes alive for the next round.
Netherlands have been hungry & committed to play pressing & pacy football, going for goals at will, & have been rewarded with eight goals in two matches. However, today's match showed that even they could be sure Coach Van Gaal would have plans laid out to cover the gaps. Van Persie, will miss the next match against Chile, as he got his second yellow card, but I guess, the team has enough firepower in Robben & others to meet the expectations.

With 50 goals already scored thus far, this World Cup is really getting better & better..... worth every bit to keep awake & watch.... Wow...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World cup 2014 : Brazil vs Mexico 0-0

It was the 2nd match for both Brazil & Mexico, having clocked a win in their first match respectively......both needed a win to secure a place in the knock out stage. It was a match between Brazilian flair & pomp against regulation, copybook football by Mexico. The match eventually ending in a goal less draw, the first time since 1978 that Brazil failed to score in a Group stage match & also ended their 10 match winning streak in international football.
Brazil has many stars in their ranks, but Mexico has workmanlike players.....they just love to play....they dont get bogged down by their opponents, they dont complain of playing conditions, be it hot & humid or cold & windy, they just get about their business of playing....they are always a tough bunch to pay against, & they remain one of the most underrated teams in the World of Football....
Many may disagree with me, but for me this was the best match till date in the tournament, where both the teams were was hard to chose between the two.....& the scoreline eventually was a nil nil....Gods would have found it unfair to award a goal to any of the team, as both had their fair chance of exchanges. Both the teams enjoyed almost equal ball possession & attacked at will....both the teams looked good to win....both the teams played a fair game.....& a word for the Turkish referee Cakir....he was in total control of the unnecessary cards out.....talking to the players as & when needed & controlling the game throughout....though many a Brazilian supporter might say that he could have given a penalty, when Marcelo was brought down in the Mexican box.....arguably a debatable decision.

In fact, I would go a step further & say that despite the fact that Brazil played a shade under par, they would have walked away victorious with at least a margin of 2-0, but for the Mexican Goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa. He was simply superb.....playing in a different zone of his lifetime...blessed with exceptional anticipation & ability to block almost everything that came towards his bar !!! save will remain etched in memory for a long while.....a Neymar header in the 1st half, that was certainly going in & the whole stadium had got up in raucous cheer.....& Ochoa was not even in position...but he anticipated & flew to his right to palm out the ball....stunning everybody into was peach incredible....the commentators were comparing this effort with Gordon Banks' save off a Pele header in 1970 edition at Mexico, considered to be the save of the century !!.....another one was towards the end of the match when Thiaggo Silva headed in a goalmouth melee & again Ochoa simply blocked the ball on reflexes.....the Brazilians were aghast & stunned into silence.....they could not believe, this was happening.......certainly the best goalkeeping till date in this tournament ( I hope the Barcelona officials & new coach Enrique were watching & are planning to rope him for the next season, as they badly need a replacement of Victor Valdes ).
Mexico also had plans for Brazilian defense.....they knew it would be difficult to breach the formidable Thiaggo Silva & David Luis & then Julio Cesar in they played pressure football till the third half of Brazilian defense & then tried booming long rangers.....they attempted at least seven - eight times & every one of them sailed inches away from the bar, with Cesar stretched completely....a couple of them were palmed off for corners by Cesar....he was assured under the bar & made a couple of very good saves as well....Brazil defense was not breached today.....but it left a lot of questions for coach Scolari to be thinking about....under pressure, the defense does look ragged at times & without a cushion of a goal, the team could struggle in the knockout stages....they will have to work out an alternate plan B to succeed ahead.
Of the forwards, Fred is looking off colour till now, Hulk is nursing an injury, & the midfield supply line from Paulinho & Gustavo is still not as assured...only Oscar looks good & wonder kid Neymar is threading through opposition....the team certainly needs to bind & combine better & need to have more penetrative set piece situations.
Meanwhile, Mexico now has a realistic chance of going into the knockout stages...they need just a draw in their match against Croatia.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Germany vs Portugal 4-0

Pipped as one of the most competitive matches of the Group stages, Germany in white & Portugal in red, started in whirlwind fashion, with both teams going out for an early lead. Ronaldo, starting in the opening eleven for the Portugal team, came close to scoring in the 7th minute from a unexpected lapse by Lahm, but German keeper Neuer fisted the ball away....& immediately after that Khedira missed a sitter on the other side tapping the ball just outside the bar. The first ten minutes promised a good game ahead, but faded into a one sided German juggernaut.
Maybe the news of Michael Schumacher's recovery after six months inspired the Germans, or was it the presence of their Chancellor in the crowd. Playing their 100th World Cup match, the first team to do so, the marauding Germans looked at their clinical best, as arguably the most consistent side in the World, having reached semis 12 times till now, a feat that even Brazil has not earned.

The fluid Germans drew the first blood in the 12th minute, when Mueller converted a penalty 1-0. The goal gave Germans the impetus to control the game, & they came hammering at the Portugal goal, as Coentrao & Pepe stretched themselves to defend.....but not for long.
Goetze missed a gilt edged opportunity, but earned a corner & from a Kroos centre, Mats Hummles headed in for a 2-0 lead. Germany looked in total control...... Portugal pressed in counter attack through Nani & then Coentrao....but could not finish, as Germany spread wings. The German defence looked assured with Nuer in goal & Lahm leading from front.
In frustration, the hot headed Pepe got into an unnecessary argument with Mueller & earned himself a red card with a head butt .......spoiling the game plans of Portugal......reduced to 10 men, Portugal struggled to keep the Germans at bay & just before half time, Mueller scored his second goal, as Germans raced to a 3-0 lead.
Second half was no different, as Kroos, Ozil, Goetze, Khedira, Mueller kept coming at the Portugal goal in swarms.....CR7 Ronaldo, FIFA Footballer of the Year looked completely off form & strangely uninterested in the outing, making a mess of two crucial free kicks, & it was only Nani & somewhat Coentrao, who tried to take the attack to the opposition & make it a contest..... however, Coentrao pulled a hamstring & was substituted, taking away whatever sting the Portugal team could offer. Meanwhile, Germany enjoyed territorial & an extra man advantage, as the humidity & heat kept taking toll on the players. The game was slowly losing its sheen, as players struggled in the baked afternoon & the Germans took easy & could not convert at least another couple of easy chances to extend the lead.
Finally, Mueller, playing his 50th match for the country, got his deserving hat trick in the 78th minute, the first of this tournament, as German ended the game 4-0. It was a serious drubbing for the Portugals.....

Germans are looking ominous & looks good to go the distance..... going by what we have seen in the tournament till now., I would anticipate a mouth watering semifinals between Germany & Netherlands !!!....what a match that would be ....

Achtung football, Germans have arrived.....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Italy vs England 2-1 / Uruguay vs Costa Rica 1-3

In a high voltage game in the Group D, touted as the Group of Death, England played their heart & breath out against Italy, but eventually faded to a 1-2 defeat. Under the new coach Roy Hodgson, England dropped their customary long ball game & came up with crisp short passes & quick burst of attacking football which left the Azzuri Blue Italy huffing & puffing initially. However, the more experienced Italian midfield under crafty Pirlo took controls gradually, & it was Pirlo's magic touch that brought in the opening goal, as Marchisio netted into the English goal. This lead was neutralized in almost no time, as Sterling chipped into Rooney who darted through the Italian defence & a peach of a pass had Sturridge send a lovely half volley into the net  to equalise.
Both teams played absorbing & pressing football, & the new look English team did catch the eye.....Sterling was outstanding with his incisive runs, along with Welbeck, Sturridge, ever assured Gerrard & even Rooney in flashes....the team looked fresh & determined, but for Baines & Cahill, who had a rather forgettable outing.... Italy, as always were languid & played their customary brand of football, & both team came close to scoring as the match was fast paced. It was Balotelli's header in the early second half, off a measured cross from Candreva, that gave Italy the vital lead & the eventual winner, as a diving Joe Hart under the English bar failed to put the ball out. They are known to close down into a solid defense & managed to thwart English raids from there on. Italy fielded Salvatore Sirigu instead of an injured Buffon under the bar & to his credit, Sirigu looked composed on the goal line. Pirlo could have made the score line 3-1 towards the dying minutes of the game, but his bending free kick hit the bar instead.
England will rue missed chances, but should take positives from the game.....they now need to beat Uruguay in the next match to retain hopes of going into the knock outs. Lets hope that Sturridge's injury towards the end of the game is not serious & he returns to the playing eleven.

In fact in the earlier match, Uruguay were stunned into a 1-3 defeat by underdogs Costa Rica, despite leading 1-0 in the half time. It was the 1st victory in nine outings against Uruguay for the Costa Ricans. Rejuvenated Costa Rican players marauded the Uruguayan goal & first Joel Campbell volleyed past Muslera to get the equaliser & then a couple of minutes later, centre back Oscar Duarte headed in a Christian Bolanes free kick. Suddenly the much famed Uruguay looked in tatters....Forlan looked forlorn, Cavanni & other stars looked lost in ideas, & they badly missed the mercurial presence of injured Luis Suarez. In the 84th minute, substitute Marcos Urena, gathered a pass from the irrepressible Campbell & slammed past a hapless Muslera. To add insult to injury, Maxi Pereira was sent off for bringing down Campbell in the stoppage time.... the 1st red card of the tournament.

The Group now is really open with Uruguay & England needing a win against each other in the next match.... as it stands, England may have an upper hand as they have more positives to take home from the match, while Uruguayans have themselves to blame for taking Costa Ricans lightly & ending up in a embarrassing hole..... this indeed is the Group of Death....  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Spain vs Netherlands 1-5

In a repeat of the Last World Cup finals, Spain took on Netherlands in their opening game.....touted to be one of the most grueling encounters of the World Cup, the match was truly electrifying.....& against all predictions, Netherlands tore into the Spanish Armada, winning the game with ruthless ease at 5-1..... the highest defeat margin for a World Cup Champion in their opening game of title defense.
The match looked even in the first 25 minutes, as both sides looked tentative & probing..... surprisingly Bosque had fielded Diego Costa in the opening eleven, despite news of his niggling hamstring.....& he looked under par from what we had seen of him in La Liga this season. Iniesta, Xavi, Silva looked in control midfield & Spain looked to dominate with their customary possession game.... on the other hand, Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben were gradually getting into the stride for the Orangie.
Against the run of play, Costa earned a penalty for Spain & Xavi Alonso converted calmly to take a 1-0 lead. The pace picked up after that, as the Dutch came hammering at the Spanish defence & just minutes before the half time whistle, Van Persie connected Daley Blind's beautiful cross pass with an astonishing flying header into the box past a bewildered Casillas, the Spanish goalee & skipper to level the score 1-1. It was breathtaking piece of football & the Dutch had got the much needed booster.
After the lemon break, Netherlands just steamrolled the Spanish defence, which looked increasingly ragged, & hammered in four goals to win the match 5-1. Had it not been for Casillas's brilliant saves, the scoreline could have been much more embarrassing for the defending champions. They tried their best & came close to scoring twice, with Silva netting from offside....but it was not their day. The famed tikitaka was tactically shredded by Van Gaal's team, & Del Bosque had not answers to the Orange onslaught.
De Jong was incredibly good in midfield for the Dutch, as the Spanish team looked off steam. Robben & Sneijder were incredibly fast in the flanks & kept tearing into the Spanish goalmouth, with Van Persie lurking dangerously, catching the Spanish defense off guard. Robben & Van Persie scored twice each, & were a treat to watch....incredible goals, toying with the defence & scoring at will.
It could have been an off day for the defending champions, but their game today would raise serious doubts about their ability to go the fact, now even if they draw against a Chile, they might have to exit in the group stages itself...... it indeed is a uphill task from here on for them.....& even if they qualify, they are most likely to face Brazil in the knockout stages.
The Netherlands look in ominous form ahead......

Friday, June 13, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Brazil vs Croatia : 3-1

The opening match between Brazil & Croatia may not have been a total spectacle, but it did leave us all with glimpses of what this Brazilian team could present...... the free flowing Samba....the Selecao brand of football that is worshiped across nations.
In a tough contest Brazil emerged victorious by 3-1, a decent margin by any standards. The Croats fought well & led the game initially, thanks to a own goal by Marcelo, tapping in wrongly, in an attempt to clear the ball.......sending the huge crowd into a stunned silence. The ghosts of the last World Cup reappearing & the game getting ugly & cluttered.... the Croatians looked well in control, as Neymar picked up his yellow card. But then it was the wonder kid Neymar, who picked up a deft pass from Oscar & calmly drilled a left footer past the diving Pletikosa, the Croat goalee to bring about the eqaliser.....& the stadium erupted......the game was back in flow..... however, Brazil had to wait till the 70th minute, when Fred was brought down in the box & Neymar stepped in to convert the penalty. The Japanese ref must have been carrying memories of the last World Cup Qf match when Brazil lost to Netherlands, & he was the referee, pulling up a red card & controversially gave a couple of decisions in favour of the Orange team......maybe he made amends in this match !!!!
Oscar then, sandwiched between three defenders, toed in the dying moments of the game past the hapless goalkeeper to make it a safe 3-1. He, I believe, was the star of the match, with his bursts down the middle & measured passes to the strikers. He was tireless & beutiful, reminding of Bebeto from the '94 World amost the same frame & baby face, though taller, Oscar does give glimpses of the beautiful Samba football...... that is free flowing, awe inspiring & a treat to watch. Neymar, too looked in good touch, though Fred & Hulk were indifferent today.....Bernard, the substitute, again was brilliant in his bursts down the line, giving impressions of the bench strength & what this Brazilian squad is capable of.
The midfield of Paulhino & Gustavo need to improve & am sure they will as the tournament progresses.... the defence also needs to tighten, especially Dani Alves, who overlaps very well, but lacks the speed to return in defence.....Marcelo's own goal had the whole of Brazil gasp in shock, & he too played below his par.....David Luis & Thiago Silva looked solid in central defence....Julio Cesar made some good saves, but was not so confident in air & needs to tighten under the bar, as teams in the knock out would come down heavily at him. Scolari would have plans to counter that.
In all a good tough opening game for Brazil......they will surely step up ahead.....
For the Croats, it was a good game too, though they lost, & I see them strongly vying for the 2nd slot fighting it out with Mexico. They were adventurous, committed & played with speed in counter attack, to rattle the Brazilian defence. Once Mandzukic returns, Jelavic, Rakitic, Olic & of course Luca Modric should combine for much better results.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup Football 2014 ..... Awe Spectacle

The beautiful game of football kicks off tonight at 1.30 am Indian Standard Time, with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia in the tournament opener of FIFA World Cup 2014......the 20th edition of this magnificent competition. Billions of followers would be glued to the TV / internet over the next one month, watching with awe, as the top 32 teams compete for the most coveted sporting spectacle.

Amongst teams, host Brazil look very solid & if they can retain their belief & form of the last Confed Cup, they look most likely to lift the Cup on 14th July. With wonder kid Neymar upfront flanked by Fred, Oscar & Hulk....Paulhinho & Gustavo / Ramirez in midfield & Thiaggo Silva, David Luis, Marcelo & Dani Alvez in defence, with Julio Cesar manning the goal.....its looks an absolutely potent combination, capable of tearing apart any side in the world with disdain....With coach Scolari managing this cracking bunch of talent, Brazil looks good.....really really good. Unless the team succumbs to the immense pressure of expectations....they should for sure reach the finals & hopefully lift the Cup. Guess the opening match, should set the tone of the things to come.....
Spain, the defending Champions, look a little jaded this time around.....their famed tikitaka style of football, which had given them the last two Euro Cups & the last World Cup, appears out of sorts....aging players, & sudden loss of form could be a worrying sign. However, if they regain their flowing game, the Spanish Armada could well go the distance.
Germany, known forever for their clinical precision & pressing game, have a bunch of extremely talented players ready to rock the world....Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Muller, Goetze, Kroos, Lahm...all are potential match winners. Italy, the perennial favorites look to be struggling with ageing players & directionless football of late....but they are a big stage team & Pirlo, de Rossi, Balotelli & others can just about suddenly regain their touch to scheme through, as always a slippery side. Netherlands have always been the underachievers of this tournament....with Robben, Van Persie, Schnieder....all capable of scoring at will, this Orange team could well spell doom for many a title contender. Portugal would certainly create a stir with Ronaldo leading the mercurial side boasting Pepe, Coentrao, Nani, Postiga & others, but as usual they look like crumbling at crunch moments despite a brilliant brand of football....& unless they combine well...its mostly a one man performance. England & France would struggle & so would other European teams, though Belgium could spring in a surprise, & Croatia could well find their way into the knock out stage.
Amongst the South American teams, Argentina, under Lionel Messi are touted to reach the finals & give Brazil a tough run, but, somehow am not sure, they will rule this World Cup....Messi has not shown his Barcelona form & the team is very heavily reliant on him for redemption. Unless he reinvents a La Maradona of '86, I dont see Argentina going the distance, especially if they bump into someone like Germany or Belgium, or even Portugal. Uruguay, last World Cup's semi finalist, Mexico, Chile, Columbia, according to me would be good teams to watch, but dont look capable of reaching the last four.
With the matches being played live at different time zones for us in India ( most matches would be past mid night in India)....I will try & capture some key matches ahead......& from knock out stage, will capture all matches....hopefully.

Brazil has been in the news for the wrong political reasons of late, & the country has been struggling to manage strife & a stifling economy...... & hopefully the beautiful game of football...especially the Samba style infuses harmony & peace ahead....

May the best team win....
Ole Ole 

Monday, June 2, 2014

IPL 7 : Knights reign The Kings,...its patch Purple over Red...KKR ....KKR....again !!

The Kolkata Knight Riders have done it....& in style.....winning the coveted trophy twice in three years.... Korbo, Lorbo, Jitbo re....Jitbo re....
For a team that was struggling at the halfway mark of the tournament this year, they came back with amazing belief in their abilities & won nine matches to the trot to romp home winners...... Kudos for sure. The think tank had done very good home work, & got the winning combination on the buzzer..... to go past strong teams like CSK, RCB, MI & of course KX1P..... it indeed has been a purple patch for the Kinghts.... well done.

In fact, in my huddle discussions with friends around for the finals, I must admit I felt it will be the Red Kings from Punjab this time. The reasoning, the rationale, the statistics & the team form said it would be the Knights, but somewhere, the heart felt, the instincts felt, it will be Punjab this time...& I rarely go wrong with such instincts, I must say....& the Kings X1 Punjab missed the title by a whisker....& they have themselves to blame for losing an almost winning game.... was it the nerves of the first final, was it the team composition, was it the batting order, was it scoring just 58 runs in the first 10 overs,.....lots of conjectures...but a golden opportunity in the offing lost.....some stories like this are meant to bring in tears. The most consistent team till the playoffs....the most fearless & inventive batting, one of the best fielding sides, a cool Captain in Bailey, Maxwell & Miller scoring from virtually every delivery & more...& yet!!

Look at the match.....the big guns of Punjab....Maxwell, Miller & Bailey(the murderous three in big hitting...throughout the tournament), contributed just 2 runs to the total !!!, & yet they amassed 199....incredible...& at the helm of all this were two rather lesser known players.....the duminitive Wriddhiman Saha & Manan Vohra...... Saha going unbeaten for 115 off mere 55 deliveries & Vohra a brilliant 67 off 52 deliveries. They had taken heveyweight bowlers like Morkel & Naraine & Chawla to was simply incredible.....& in chase, when KKR lost their best batsman Uthappa in the 1st looked all set for Punjab...wickets were falling at intervals. However, another lesser player from the shadows emerged in Manish Pandey for the Knights to slam an unbelievable 94 off just 50 deliveries....& then from nowhere a Piyush Chawla, better known for bowling, stole the show for the Knights, by hooking that awesome six of Mitchel Johnson in the last ball of the 19th over, & of course then hitting the winning boundary. Two years back, it was a certain Manvinder Bisla who tore the CSK attack in the finals with 80 + run innings to win it for the Knights & this time it was Manish Pandey.....SRK does live his luck on his sleeves.
I would stick out & say that the Punjab lost because on this day of reckoning their international players contributed almost nothing, despite having been in fabulous form right through the tournament. It was the bowling which let the Kings down....they had crossed the line narrowly in the playoffs, & in a couple of other matches as well, but maybe, they did not pay heed or did not have enough resources. 
It was however, a final worthy of every single moment....hard fought....fortune swinging.....& jaw dropping. 

The heartening fact of this edition of IPL was the domination of Indians as much if not more than the overseas players through the tournament. The matches were mostly well fought & close encounters....there was very little to chose between the winners & the losers, in almost every game....Cricket certainly was the winner. 
Saha's incredible century, in the finals, though in vain, was equally countered by Manish the bowling Aksar Patel was excellent for the Punjab, while Umesh Yadav was piercing with his new found pace for the Kolkatans. 
In the playoffs, Sehwag's masterclass century from nowhere against Chennai was equally contested by Raina, with his unbelievable 87 off just 25 balls...he would have won the game, but for the unfortunate run out. Hard hitting Yusuf Pathan's ballistic 72 in the play offs; Corey Anderson's 95 not out 42 year old Pravin Tambe's hat trick to get a win for Rajasthan against the KKR from nowhere, Robin Uthappa's dream run with the bat, having won the Orange Cap with 650 plus runs; Mohit Sharma winning the Purple Cap with 22 wickets; some brilliant batting innings by Sanju Samson, Gautam Gambhir, of course Yuvi & Virat Kolhi in flashes. In bowling Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma, Aksar Patel, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav & Jaddu were stand outs. 
Heavyweight players like Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Rahane, Ashwin, Murali Vijay, Dinesh Kartick, all had a rather tame tourney by their standards.

The fact that both the Orange Cap & the Purple Cap stays home with the Indians, & also the Emerging Player of the tournament bagged by Aksar Patel, speaks volumes of how the Indians performed this year. 

Amongst the overseas players, the standout & the Most Valuable Player of the tournament was Glen Maxwell....he was in dream form in the early part of this edition with three knocks in the 90's...then there were Lindl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Warner, deVilliers, Duminy, Miller, Corey Anderson(rather late in the contest), McCullum, Pollard(though in patches)  in batting & Naraine, Morkel, Starc, Malinga(till he left for his national squad) were phenomenal with the ball.