WORLD CUP DIARY, DAY 2: 14 June

WORLD CUP DIARY, DAY 2: 14 June

Day 2 – Group Stages – 14th June

With all that the opening day had to offer: the opening ceremony, the inescapable feeling of FIFA over-doing their ‘centre of attention’ tags, and a somewhat anti-climactic first fixture between Brazil and Croatia; I was hoping for a tonic in the form of three terrific games on Friday.

Two entertaining, yet routine victories sandwiched a story that will be remembered forever.

Spain 1-5 The Netherlands, if you’ve been away. Total, complete humiliation of the holders that will be difficult to put right. As for 2010’s beaten finalists, some vindication for Louis van Gaal’s methods on a night to remember for the Oranje.

 

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Mexico 1-0 Cameroon, Group A, Natal

Peralta celebrates after putting Mexico ahead

Peralta celebrates after putting Mexico ahead

After just two games of this year’s competition, those who crave refereeing consistency will be left speechless.

After the various controversies surrounding the Brazil/Croatia opener, an entertaining game without incident would have been the order of the day from Blatter and his FIFA chums.

At least the result was not affected here; Mexico enjoyed a straightforward 1-0 victory in a rain-drenched Natal over their Group A rivals. Oribe Peralta scored the only goal on the hour, but Mexico should have basked in a score-line more reflective of the general play, with Giovani dos Santos seeing two legitimate goals chalked off for offside.

Mexico continued with the attacking 3-5-2 they utilised in stumbling through to the finals, defeating New Zealand in a play-off. With wing-backs Aguilar and Layun pushing forward, the midfield became cramped, with Cameroon afforded little time and space.

Cameroon’s only real chance came in the final moments, Benjamin Moukandjo’s header was well saved by Guillermo Ochoa.

This was a must-win game for Mexico, with hosts Brazil to come on Tuesday. Qualification from Group A is in their hands but it will take a result against an impressive Croatia side to do so.

Unfortunately for Cameroon, who face Modric et al on Wednesday, their tournament looks lost before it had really begun.

Croatia await for Cameroon, whose tournament already looks beyond repair

Croatia await for Cameroon, whose tournament already looks beyond repair

 

Spain 1-5 Netherlands, Group B, Salvador

Brazil has turned Orange, or Oranje, overnight. The Netherlands were sensational in a second half that saw Spain simply wilt; four goals that really could have been as many as seven have led many to call, once again, that ‘tika-taka is dead’.

This was the first meeting of the sides since the 2010 World Cup final. Despite winning in South Africa, Spain were kicked off the park by the Dutch in a quite brutal fashion; Van Gaal’s insistence on the physical state of his players perhaps hinted at second helpings for the World Champions.

Van Gaal celebrates with Van Persie after the Manchester United forward's equaliser

Van Gaal celebrates with Van Persie after the Manchester United forward’s equaliser

It was not quite the battle that took place in Soccer City, but the Dutch were keen to ‘let Spain know they were there’ nonetheless – De Jong, Vlaar, De Vrij and Sneijder all guilty of cheap fouls in the opening minutes.

The early exchanges were even, with Sneijder testing Casillas in the eighth minute. At the other end, the intelligent runs of Diego Costa were proving to be a handful for de Vrij and Ron Vlaar, while his every touch drew a chorus of boos from the natives – Costa’s decision to ‘switch allegiance’ to Spain still touches a nerve in Brazil.

Costa, again after a good run was scythed down by Stefan de Vrij on 26 minutes. Penalty. Xabi Alonso. 1-0.

However, the Dutch rallied quickly and stretched the game using Arjen Robben’s pace, leaving the Spanish defence ragged. This was perhaps a contributory factor in an equaliser, with Ramos and Pique caught playing two separate lines, allowing Van Persie to drift in and execute the most perfect diving header, worthy of the wild celebration.

In the second half, Spain looked weary while the Netherlands looked fitter, hungrier, and used the ball better. Xavi and Iniesta, for so long the key cogs in the tika-taka machines for both club and country, surrendered possession; while Sergio Busquets, a stand-out player in the 2010 tournament, was muscled out of the game by Nigel de Jong.

Their dominance was rewarded: Daley Blind, architect of Van Persie’s wonderful equaliser, sent over another superb ball for Robben to run on to, he then danced around Pique and slotted home.

Robben gives the Dutch a priceless lead

Robben gives the Dutch a priceless lead

A third followed shortly after as De Vrij made up for his early error by nodding in at the far post. Spain looked bereft of ideas, while the Dutch looked capable of scoring at will – Van Persie hit the bar, Robben thundered in a volley that was well saved by Casillas.

Following domination, which was what this game had become, came humiliation. Van Persie pounced on a Casillas mistake to make it four, then Robben added a fifth with ten minutes to go.

Game over.

An incredible result.

Is tika taka dead? Not for me. This Spanish side needs an injection of pace and youth. Xavi Hernandez requires an understudy, and Vincent Del Bosque needs to reflect on a few tactical issues, notably in how to get the ball forward and wide quickly.

 

Chile 3-1 Australia, Group B, Cuiabá

More goals in this game would have left the remaining fixtures looking very tasty. But perhaps Chile’s inability to push on from 2-0 after 15 minutes has highlighted that they cannot yet achieve what some have dared to predict over recent weeks.

Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez was on form for Chile

Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez was on form for Chile

The South Americans raced into a two goal lead, looking to quickly eliminate the chances of a second upset in Group B. Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez pounced on a mistake by Australian goalkeeper Matty Ryan, who left two defenders exposed when choosing to needlessly rush out.

One became two, Jorge Valdivia with a low, crisp drive that this time left the young stopper helpless.

Australia did respond, however, making the game a more physical encounter. They could never match the skill of their opponents, and there was still space for the likes of Arturo Vidal in which to work.

Jorge Sampaoli’s apparent reluctance to field a centre back left them exposed as Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara filled the void on this occasion. Unable to build any momentum after the twenty-minute mark and were pegged back by Tim Cahill, who rose well to guide a header past Bravo.

Chile needed some form of response, and it did arrive late on as Eduardo Vargos was fed by Sanchez, only to see his shot cleared off the line, before Wigan’s Jean Beausejour made it 3-1.

Not the most convincing start from this year’s ‘dark horses’, who now have the  key fixture against Spain to play out. Can they condemn the holders to doing a France ’02?

 

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VERDICT

A terrific day’s football with three very watchable and enjoyable games of football. Spain will have to respond to Friday’s embarrassment, and quickly if the are to avoid the humiliation of failing to qualify.

Group A remains open with Mexico, Croatia and Brazil seemingly all capable of a Top 2 spot, while Group B looks set to provide more drama next week.

 

PLAYER OF THE DAY – ARJEN ROBBEN – Two goals, and an energetic performance against the World Champions. A performance reminiscent of Bayern’s humbling of Barcelona in the 2013 Champions League semi-final when Robben was once again the star player in the apparent death of tika taka. He was involved in everything, and beyond his two well-taken goals was most prominent in stretching the game after the Dutch went behind. Terrific stuff.

 

TODAY gazza-cry-300x400

‘Three lions on a shirt… Jules Rimet still gleaming…’

Yes, the countdown is over for England fans. Tonight’s match against the Azzuri is perhaps the most difficult to call of the tournament so far – or would have been had the Spain Netherlands result gone with the betting.

Will Rooney start? Probably. Will Welbeck start? Probably. Only the tricky Manaus conditions could tempt Roy Hodgson into a curve-ball move.

 

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TODAY’S FIXTURES

GROUP C – Colombia vs Greece, 5pm BBC 1

GROUP D – Uruguay vs Costa Rica, 8pm ITV

GROUP D – Italy vs ENGLAND, 11pm BBC 1

GROUP C – Ivory Coast vs Japan, 2am ITV

 

BEST OF THE BETS

Avoid England is today’s biggest tip, both sides have looked underwhelming in the lead up to the tournament and the tricky conditions mean the outcome of this game could seriously go either way.

Coral are offering a Colombia/Uruguay/Italy treble at 7/1, with a Colombia/Uruguay/Draw coming in at 8/1 – which is my tip.

Another tempter lies with Betvictor, whose spincast tool gives odds of 11/4 on Uruguay/Over 2.5 goals/Suarez any time.

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Hugh
Owls Alive
E-MAIL: admin@owlsalive.com
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive or @hugh_wragg


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