Sunday, July 6, 2014

World Cup 2014 QF : Netherlands vs Costa Rica 0-0 ( 4-3 via penalties)

The last of the QF matches between Netherlands & Costa Rica was a damp squib. It went goal less through full time & extra time & the Dutch finally crossed the line via penalty shoot outs. Costa Ricans were surprisingly subdued today, & lacked the bite they had shown earlier in the tournament. Having come up as toppers from the Group of Death, one expected them to be more confident. However, they played with a plan in mind & that was to somehow push the game into penalties, which they believed was their best chance to topple the men in Orange. With goalkeeper Navas, almost impregnable & on a couple of occasions, the woodwork coming to their rescue, the Ticos managed to hold the irrepressible Dutch attack to a frustrating draw till the full time & then the extra time. Dutch despite having more than 60 % of possession were repeatedly thwarted by the Costa Rican defense & coach van Gaal looked worried. But he yet again produced a master stroke, by replacing the goalkeeper Cillessen with giant looking Krul with just minutes left for the end of extra time. Krul managed to unsettle the normally composed Costa Ricans & made two critical saves to take the Netherlands to the semis. What was their weak spot, became their sweet spot, as the Costa Ricans were caught off guard. For the first time, the men in Orange had won a penalty shoot out in the World Cup finals. The upset that I had thought might happen in the QF, did not.

They now face Argentina in the semifinals, which should be an excellent match for the game of football. Both the teams have brilliant ball players & both of them play open attacking game. The one to hold nerves & tempers should go through. 

World Cup 2014 QF : Argentina vs Belgium 1-0

After 24 long years, Argentina has made its way to World Cup semifinals, via a 1-0 victory over Belgium.
It wasn't a very pretty match to witness, but I guess, as the tournament is getting to the business end, the struggle to win is taking away the flair & finesse of the game called Football.
Today too, it was Higuain, who converted a half chance into a goal, with an opportunistic shot from the edge of the box, which caught everyone by surprise as the ball entered the right low end of the net in only the 9th minute of the match. Di Maria was quick to receive & float the ball to Higuain, who half turned & took a sudden right footer & goalkeeper Courtois was stranded gaping helplessly.
From there on, one had expected the Red Devils to fight back & they did hold better possession of the ball, but their attack lacked flair & the Argentinian defense was never really tested. In contrast, the Argentinian attack had more bite & they should have won the game with a better margin.
It was a disappointing match, as the Red Devils looked more & more clueless to attack. Changes by coach Wilmots had little impact, as Kompany, Lulaku, Hazard, Origi, all looked a shade below their best.
Argentina seems to be peaking well & the team is coming together as an still is very dependent on Messi magic, but others seem to be adding value slowly but surely. However, the injury to Di Maria looks quite serious, as he got substituted within 30 odd minutes into the game & the ice pack on his thigh could not hide the grimace of pain on his face. His absence will dent the touch play of this team, & Messi might find himself cornered by opponents.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

World Cup 2014 QF : Brazil vs Colombia 2-1

The pre match predictions by most football pundits were that this Colombian team would pip a struggling Brazil in the QF match.....& there seemed to be plenty on reasons for them to say so. The Colombian til now had been close to being phenomenal...they had won all their matches till now with ease, including Uruguay, whom they had blown away in the round of 16. The team had no pressures of expectations & were playing free flowing football. In contrast their more superior opponents, host Brazil had yet not found their customary was only in patches & had scraped through in round of 16 against Chile via penalties.

But Big Phil, Scolari, coach of Brazil, had very specific strategies in mind.....& his team followed that to near perfection today, as Brazil looked like a well oiled machine...a team for the first time & ended clear winners 2-1 to romp into the semifinals. Colombia, ended their brilliant run & will be going home, heads held high.
Scolari made a tactical change in the opening line up, bringing in burly Maicon in place of Dani Alves & Paulhino was in for the suspended Gustavo. The team looked well knit & eager from the word go & Neymar was scorching immediately. After a free kick that looped dangerously past the goal post, Neymar earned a corner & his immaculate kick into the box beat almost every jumping head before an unmarked Thiaggo Silva coolly placed the ball into an empty net. The stadium erupted in a thunder as Brazil went up 1-0. The game got underway in frenetic pace as both teams tried to stamp their domination, however, Brazil looked far more assured & in control. In the midfield, Fernandinho ensured that Colombian mercurial midfielder & playmaker James Rodriguez was kept in check, by any means...fair or unfair & the Colombian, who had marveled the world over the past fortnight with his scoring abilities, looked truly cowered & helpless for the first time. Maicon, meanwhile was stamping his authority with bulldozing runs down the right flank as well as burly clearances while defending, leaving the Colombian forward line quite listless.
Hulk took over the task of Brazilian attack & was scathing in his fact goalkeeper Ospina was brilliant in depriving sure goals twice as Hulk unleashed his left footers... Brazil was unfortunate not to go up at least by one more goal, as the Spanish referee blew the half time whistle.
Second half was no different as Brazil continued to dominate possession. Captain Silva was unnecessarily booked as he collided into Colombian goalkeeper & blocked Ospina's attempted clearance. Neymar meanwhile earned a free kick as as frustrated Rodriguez brought him down midway into the Colombian half. David Luiz took the kick & what a fantastic kick it was.....looping high & past the diving Ospina into the far end of the was Brazilian poetry in motion indeed. Brazil 2-0 up  with just about 20 minutes left to full time. It was most certainly Selcao football...the beautiful game called Joga Bonito, as Colombians looked scrambled out of the game. In between, they did put the ball in the Brazilian goal through a goal mouth melee, but the linesman had already raised the offside flag. There was a brief twist to the tale, as substitute Bacca broke into the Brazilian box as as David Luiz was clearing the danger, Julio Cesar brought him down & penalty was awarded. James Rodriguez fittingly wrong footed Cesar to bring down the margin 2-1, taking his tally of goal to 6 & Colombians had a fresh leash of life. But the game ended with same scoreline as Brazil finally prevailed 2-1 to reach the semis.
Towards the closing minutes of the game, an ugly tackle by Juniga in the Brazilian half, brought Neymar was really a very ugly tackle as the stocky Colombian climbed onto the frail Brazilian who was turning with the ball, crashed his knee into the spine & pushed him hard into the ground with his hand.....certainly a red card. But the Spanish referee, Velasco Carballo, who had probably forgotten his cards in the dressing room gave nothing. The match had produced more than 50 fouls & yet the ref did not flash cards or speak to the offending players with authority, to control the game. Neymar had to be carried off in a stretcher & the news streaming in says, he is out for four weeks with a broken vertebrae. FIFA needs to take action against such fouls & the players need to be suitably reprimanded, if we have to save this beautiful game.
A sad & telling blow to Scolari's gameplan ahead & Brazilian hopes, but more than that football suffered as the talisman striker has been taken out. In fact two No 10 jerseys ended their world cup campaign today....Rodriguez for Colombia in defeat & Neymar for Brazil in injury. A stupendous win for Brazil, but at a huge cost.

Its going to be Brazil vs Germany in the semis. A humdinger of a match for sure. It will be the Brazilian attacking flair against an extremely organised German defense. Brazil will most certainly miss Neymar & T Silva & that makes Germans a shade favourite, but then its semifinals & the home crowd will be raucous in support to lift the spirits of Joga Bonito.... Can the Selecao believe in themselves.... can Hulk & Oscar & Fred finally find their goal scoring boots..... the defense & midfield is gradually falling into place & now they need to score at will......well probing questions indeed... lets all wait in anticipation for tuesday night....

World Cup 2014 QF : Germany vs France 1-0

The first of the QF matches between Germany & France was expected to be a high octane grueling encounter, but as a game, it failed to live upto its claims. Germany won 1-0 through a 12th minute goal by Mats Hummels, the Borussia Dortmund defender, who held off the challenge from Varane to head past the French goalkeeper Lloris off a Toni Kroos free kick. It was a hard fought game alright as Germans emerged winners, reaching the semifinals for the fourth time consequently.....probably a record of sorts. No wonder, they are statistically the most consistent team in the World Cup, even ahead of Brazil.
The Germans had planned their game well with a 4-5-1 combination, & Lahm was back in his customary full back position. The midfield as usual was the fulcrum of this team, & Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil & Mueller (today in midfield), were marshaling the territory with precision & Klose as lone forward upfront.
The Germans wee more keen to hold onto the slender lead they had sneaked in & went in counter attacks. The first half was clearly Germans control. Second half, saw France  shrugging off the rustiness & testing the German defense. Benzema, Pogba, Griezmann, Valbuena started knitting well, but the finishing was poor, as Germans started to control again. In fact Mueller could have sealed the match, but his weak shot off a beautiful Ozil cross down the left flank was cleared easily by Lloris.
In the dying minutes of the game, with four minutes of injury time, Neuer was fantastic & made two extremely crucial saves from close range, as Benzema smiled in frustration. It was clinical Germany that had rolled past France, who rarely put pressure & were good only in patches. Les Bleus were derailed by the more organised Duetsche engine. With both teams having multiple stars, it was expected that the match will produce some scintillating  football, but that was not to be. Both teams struggled in creativity & the ball mostly hovered midfield.

However, the Germans are not looking very organised in attack. The defense & midfield is looking strong & Neuer under the bar has been inspirational, but converting attacks into goals is looking increasingly difficult. If they concede a goal early, they may well struggle to equalise. Joachim Lowe will have his job cut out once he knows whom they face.... Brazil or Colombia, .....both known for free flowing attack & have a regular penchant for scoring. Against such sustained attacks & in trying playing conditions, Germans may just about implode. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Belgium vs USA

The last of the round of 16 match between Belgium & USA was another humdinger, going the distance & into extra time.
Red Devils, Belgium, the pre tournament dark horses, got on with pressing football right from the start & exerted enough pressures on the US defense. But for a brilliant Howard under the US goal, Belgium would have gone up in the first minute itself. With De Bruyne, Mertens, Hazard & Origi, controlling the game midfield & inside US half, it was Belgium threatening to cut loose. However, US goalkeeper Howard was in a different zone today & he was simply monstrously unbreachable. Meanwhile, Dempsey, America's main hope for goal, along with Bradley, Bedoya & Zusi, tried to ruffle the Belgian defense, but Courtois under the bar was cool & composed, as were the defense of Toby, Buyten & Kompany. First half went goal less & Belgium started the second half with more gusto. Once again, they came very near to scoring, as Origi placed to De Bruyne inside the box, he in turn lobbed to Mertens with free space... a header was going in, but Howard again flipped the ball over the bar for a corner. The next few minutes were tense in the US box, as Howard kept on coming up with one save after another....he just kept becoming bigger & bigger under the bar & the Belgian attack just could not find a way to penetrate him. The game continued i the same vein as Belgium kept coming at the US goal, only to be thwarted by Howard..... at end of the regulation time, it was still goalless & USA & their coach Klinsmann could only thank Howard for his extraordinary efforts under the bar.
However, even Howard is human & he could only hold as much. As the match moved into extra time, Lukaku, having come in place of Origi a couple of minutes earlier, collected the ball midfield & raced into the US box beyond Besler from the right flank & a lovely centre to De Bruyne who dribbled in with speed & managed to slot the ball inside the net past Howard. 1-0. The US defense had finally been breached. Shortly again, running down the flank, Lukaku could have added one more goal, but Howard was again a wall in between. However, his continuous efforts payed off, as this time receiving from De Bruyne, Lukaku slammed past Howard 2-0 & it was celebration time for the Red Devils.
USA pulled one back, when Julian Greene, coming in place of Bedoya & making his first appearance in World Cup, received a perfect pass from Bradley & hit hard past Courtois 2-1. It was a consolation goal, for a well fought US team, but not enough, as the Belgians ended as winners.
More than 90 minutes could not separate the two teams & Howard was outstanding in the US goal, but finally De Bruyne breached the seemingly infallible US defense & then Lukaku added one more to make it a safe victory for Belgium.

They now face Argentina in the quarter finals. Its going to be a cracker of a match. 

World Cup 2014 : Argentina vs Switzerland 1-0

For 118 minutes, a gritty Switzerland kept Argentina at bay, as Messi, Di Maria, Higuain & others stormed the Swiss citadel without any luck. Messi was crowded off by three four defenders, & others were thwarted rather easily. On the other side, Swiss forward line causes enough flutter in the Argentinian defense & in the 39th minute, Drmic misses a sitter with only goalkeeper Romero to beat. The first half ends up as a rather boring affair, with both sides being tentative. Second half witnessed a more authoritative Argentina, with Messi dribbling in at random, but heavy tackling by Swiss players, especially Xhaka & Mehmadi keep Leo in check. Around the 62nd minute, Rojo dribbles in & sends a measured pass to Higuain, whose header is palmed off by goalkeeper Benaglio.... a near miss.
Argentina pressed hard for that vital goal, but were firmly pushed back & counter attacked by the Swiss players, who looked good to hold their ground. Shaqiri, Drmic, Rodriguez started to create gaps in the Argentinian defense & the ball drifted from one end to the other.... the quality though was lacking.
A goal less full time induced extra time & even that looked like ending up in a stalemate, when a Messi magic moment happened. Defender, Lichtsteiner lost possession near the half line, & Messi picked up the ball & darted into the Swiss defense through the left dodging off two defenders & then a perfect pass to on rushing Di Maria who coolly slotted the ball into the net past a diving Benaglio. 1-0, & the stadium erupted for the men in Blue whites.....
With 3 minutes of injury time added, the Swiss players made one last ditch effort to equalise & came hair split close to doing so. A free kick got the ball inside the box & in a goalmouth melee, substitute Dzemaili headed the ball onto the bottom of the right post & on rebound kneed it just out.... & with that ended the Swiss challenge. Had they equalised, they looked the stronger team in penalty shoot outs. The match did not reach great heights in terms of the quality of was rather scrappy, but that one moment of Messi magic was enough for the Latin American dreams to keep fluttering.

Argentina moves into quarterfinals & will meet the winner of Belgium vs USA.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

World Cup 2014 : Germany vs Algeria 2-1

In an enthralling encounter, Germany prevailed over valiant Algeria 2-1 to reach the last eight of the tournament. Algeria, always a bogey team for Germany, was expected to put up a fight, bit I doubt, if anyone had bargained for such a tough match. In fact the Algerians were a determined lot from the starting whistle. They put the normally clinical & organised German defense under severe pressure, as Islam Slimani almost got a goal in the 10th minute, but Neuer in the goal managed to shoulder him for a corner & save the situation. A couple of similar moves, had the German defense caught napping, & once Slimani put the ball in the net, but was off sided. Mertesacker produced a couple of timely saves, as did Neuer, as the Germans grimly withstood the Algerian attacks coming in waves. Mustafi, Boateng, Howedes, Lahm, all looked at sea at the back & even the midfield of Goetze, Kroos, & Schweinsteiger looked completely out of sync. The first half hour was predominantly in Algeria's favour & they certainly looked the better team. But, the Germans, slowly came of their own. Mueller upfront along with Ozil, started to test the Algerian defense & Kroos too joined in the attack. Algerian goalkeeper was also up to the task & made some amazing saves to keep the match in balance.
Second half started with Joachim Low making two important changes, with Schurrle coming for Gotze & Khedira for Mustafi. This gave the German attack the much needed sting, & they came heavily into the Algerian half & would have scored, but for the goalkeeper, M'bolhi, who was dishing out the performance of this life. At the end of regulation time, it was still goal of the most absorbing matches till date in the tournament...both team looking good to win.
With the game moving into extra time, the Champions luck came German's way, as in the 93rd minute, Muller sent in a low centre into the Algerian box & a lurking Schurrle slotted the ball past M'bolhi, who had looked unbeatable till that moment. 1-0. With time running out, Algerians tried their heart out but faltered in the German box & in counter attacks, Mueller missed two gilt edged chances. It was like a slug fest, with both team trading power football. Ozil, with a wall pass with Mueller, scored the second goal in the last minute of the extra time. 2-0. Algeria, responded with a goal within seconds, in the dying moments of the match, as Djabou cut the German defense to shreds. 2-1. Immediately after, they again raided the German defense, with Slimani & Djabou combining, but the header was weak & Neuer clasped the ball easily. It was all too late for the Africans to revive, as the referee blew the long whistle to end the match. What a match it had been....absorbing & pulsating till the very end. Les Fennecs, as the Algerian team is nick named, lost to the most consistent World Cup finals team, the Germans.
Neuer was brilliant under the bar, but the defense was patchy as was the midfield. However, Low would be worried about the forwards inability to score, as the tournament heads towards the business end. Mueller, Ozil, Goetze & maybe Klose need to fire ahead.

Its going to be Germans vs France in the quarterfinals, what promises to be a mouth watering contest between the two European powerhouses. 

World Cup 2014 France vs Nigeria 2-0

It was an interesting match, France against Nigeria, where it stayed neck on neck till the 79th minute of the game, when a moment's slip up by arguably one of the best goalkeeper of this tournament, France took the decisive lead. Minutes later it was 2-0 & all over the bar shouting for Nigeria.....they looked crest fallen....a dream lost again.
In fact, for the better part of the match, Nigeria looked in command. They had the better of the exchanges & in the 18th minute, Emenike had deftly toed the ball into the net from a Musa floater, but linesman pulled up the flag for offside....replays showing that it was a marginal decision, that could have gone either way....had this been awarded a goal, the post match story could have been different. Nigeria looked the stronger team, more purposeful & intent, while France seemed to be sleep walking, but for a few counter attacks. Benzema looked off colour & so did Giroud, Vaibuena & others upfront. Pogba & Matuidi in midfield were trying their best, but somehow the combination was missing.
Just when the match looked to be heading towards a dull draw & extra time, from nowhere, there was a spurt in the French forward line, as Griezmann, coming in place of Giroud led the attack along with Valbuena & the Nigerian defense came under some serious attack. Enyeama, under the bar made some breathtaking saves to keep Nigeria in the fight, but intense pressure of the French attack got to him & he made probably his only mistake of the match. As a corner was floated in, Enyeama misjudged the flight & could only palm the ball & Pogba standing free, happily headed the ball into the empty net... 1-0. The goal, crushed the Nigerian spirit & the Super Eagles looked distraught. They simply gave up & from there on, it was only one team winning. Though the Nigerian goalkeeper, made another brilliant save & tried to raise the tempo of his players, it was not to be & as the fourth ref flashed another 5 minutes of extra time, the second goal came by. Off another needless corner conceded by Odemwingie, Valbuena tapped the ball inside the box to Griezmann, & Yobo, in an attempt to clear came in between the goalkeper & scrambled the ball in for an own goal. It certainly was the final nail in the coffin. The Super Eagles, having played so wonderfully, once again fell short of making it to the last eight. France, who looked under a trance for the major part of the match, came to their own self when in mattered the most & scored in the last 11-12 minutes to get over the line. A really tough match indeed for them. It will surely make them feel more comfortable in the next round & they would believe in their chances from here on.