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World Cup 2014: Second Round Review

worldcup (easports)

This past week saw the 2014 World Cup enter the knockout phase, as the last sixteen teams battled it out for a place in the quarter-finals. The obvious lack of a truly exceptional team remains, and the parity among the remaining sides was very evident, as five of the eight games went to extra time, before penalties in some cases. Here is our full review of the action.

Saturday:

The home team Brazil kicked off the knockout round, as they took on Chile in Belo Horizonte. It was an extremely tight encounter throughout. David Luiz opened the scoring in the eighteenth minute, ensuring a corner was forced home for the Brazilians. With the home crowd roaring them on, Brazil were dominant for long spells in the first half, before Alexis Sanchez capitalised on some sloppy play by Hulk, finishing clinically. Chile were the better side in the second half, but could not force a winner. Extra time came and went, and Brazil advanced on penalties, by the width of the post as Gonzalo Jara’s penalty came back off it.

Another all-South American clash came later on, with Colombia facing Uruguay, who were missing Luis Suarez through suspension. The Uruguayan’s sat back, tackling hard and making themselves tough to beat, only to be on the receiving end of James Rodriguez’s wonder goal midway through the first half. He chested the ball down to himself outside the D, and smashed it past Fernando Muslera from distance. Rodriguez, the tournament’s star player up to this point, slotted a second early in the second half to put the game beyond the Uruguayans. They now advance to play Brazil in the quarter-finals on Friday.

Sunday:

The Netherlands and Mexico kicked off Sunday’s action, as they played in the heat of the Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza. The heat impacted dramatically on the first half, minimizing the action drastically, with water breaks needed. Giovanni Dos Santos opened the scoring early in the second half, and looked to be on their way to a shock win, until late on. The Netherlands seemed to benefit a lot from the second half water break, and some intelligent substitutions by Louis Van Gaal in bringing on Klaas Jan Huntelaar, which swung the game for the Dutch. First, Wesley Sneijder made his first real impact on the World Cup, by smashing home the equaliser from a loose ball off a corner. Then, with extra time looming, Arjen Robben won a much-debated penalty in injury time, which Huntelaar finished to the net, eliminating Mexico in the cruellest fashion.

Costa Rica and Greece were up in the later game, with the winners slated to face the Netherlands in the last eight. This match stood out as a great chance for both sides to make a historic foray into the World Cup quarter-finals. The first half was an even affair, with neither side totally comfortable in taking the attacking initiative. Bryan Ruiz scored another World Cup goal in the fifty-second minute, and it was hard to argue Costa Rica weren’t worthy of their lead. However, fifteen minutes later his team were down to ten men, following Oscar Duarte picking up a second yellow card. The initiative passed down to the Greeks, but they created precious few chances, before Socratis Papastathopoulos turned home a spilled ball in the box to equalise in stoppage time. Costa Rica clung on in extra time, before demonstrating some of the most precise penalty taking ever seen in the World Cup, advancing after slotting all five spot kicks. They face the Netherlands on Saturday.

Monday:

Monday saw two encounters between European and African sides, with France taking on Nigeria in the early game. The Nigerians set up solidly at the back, and frustrated the French for long spells in the game. They lacked the creative ability to ever seriously threaten the French goal, though. The deadlock was not broken until the seventy-ninth minute, when Paul Pogba took advantage of Vincent Enyeama’s flap at a corner to nod home the first goal. It was harsh on Enyeama, who had been excellent throughout the encounter. A Joseph Yobo own goal ended the game in injury time, with France coming out on top 2-0.

Germany vs Algeria was the second game of the day, and it provided a frenetic encounter for the duration. A wildly open game, Algeria found themselves running directly at the German back line repeatedly, but were unable to prise a way past Manuel Neuer in normal time. Germany had plenty of their own chances to score, with Thomas Muller wasting the best couple of chances, although Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi deserved a lot of credit for keeping the Germans scoreless. The game continued in this fashion in extra time, where eventually the Germans got the crucial first goal, through André Schürrle early in extra time. Mesut Ozil scored a second at the end of the second period of extra time, and it was just as well because Abdelmoumene Djabou netted a consolation for Algeria a minute later. Germany move forward to face France in the next round, but Algeria won many admirers.

Tuesday:

Tuesday saw the last two games of the first knockout round, with Argentina taking on Switzerland first. The Swiss played with a compact and defensive mindset, clearly affected by the 5-2 hammering they received against France in the group stage. This strategy helped to nullify Lionel Messi and co., who struggled to get going in the first half. In fact, the Swiss probably had the best chances before half time, and better finishing might have seeen them go in a goal or two up. Argentina cranked up the pressure after the break, with lots of hard running from Messi, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi, but they could not break through. This was yet another game that went to extra time, and Messi set up Di Maria for the eventual winner two minutes from the end of extra time. There was still time for Blerim Džemaili to strike the post with a header, but the Swiss eventually lost 1-0.

The final game of the first knockout round took place between Belgium and the USA, and, typical of the manner of this set of games, it was a very even battle until the end. The Americans abandoned their defensive set up, and tried to go for the throat of the Belgians. Belgium themselves were not shy about attacking, and gave Tim Howard one of the busiest evenings of his career. The Everton stopper was in fine form though, denying the much-fancied Belgians time and again. The US even had a great chance to win the game in normal time, with a cleverly worked free kick falling to Clint Dempsey, only for a heavy touch to allow Thibaut Courtois to smother the shot. The introduction of Romelu Lukaku at the beginning of extra time changed the game for Belgium, who took the lead through Kevin De Bruyne early in extra time, before Lukaku doubled the lead before half time. Then the Americans mounted a heroic but ultimately unsuccesful comeback, as Julian Green netted before Jermaine Jones had a near miss that would have forced penalties. The Belgians held on, and set up an encounter with Argentina next time out.

Image courtesy of EA Sports

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