World Cup: Recaps

Keeping up with the Cup: Days 2-4

An exciting weekend of soccer provided us with the first major upset of the tournament and and an iconic RVP moment.

Mexico 1-0 Cameroon

Mexico was the better team and a 61st minute winner from Oribe Peralta was well-deserved. However, another rough game from the referees almost kept El Tri from their points. Two tight offsides calls – the second of which clearly the wrong call – kept Giovanni Dos Santos from opening the scoring in the first half. Playing with five defenders, Mexico created a lot of width and slowly started finding their playmakers. Jose Vazquez grew in importance as the game wore on and Giovanni Dos Santos was buzzing from the outset. Cameroon were disjointed but occasionally dangerous. Samuel Eto’o put a header wide in the first half and Assou-Ekoto had a long drive deflected beyond the frame in the second. But in the end, Cameroon just didn’t get enough from their star men, with Eto’o missing his opportunity and Alex Song failing to clear the center of the field effectively. Song has not played much for Barcelona, and his rust was most prominent defensively, where he lost runners and wandered. Cameroon are simply not organized enough to have their midfield quarterback go missing.


  • Samuel Eto’o’s haircut. Is amazing. The center part was due for a comeback.
  • Mexico played… quite well. The five-back formation seemed to simplify the game for Rafa Marquez, who eventually stopped trying to be a star and sat in the center.
  • Javier Hernandez looked rusty. He hasn’t played many minutes for Manchester United and it showed in his finishing. And without his finishing, Hernandez is just Dirk Kuyt with better hair.
  • Gio Dos Santos is really fun to watch. He lacks discipline and turns off, but when he is interested, Dos Santos is one of the sneakiest runners in the World Cup. Playing at a high level, will  Dos Santos’ penchant for the spectacular make an appearance in this Cup?

Spain 1-5 Holland

Um… what? Spain go ahead off a half-call-it-half-don’t penalty earned by Diego Costa. Robin van Persie equalized with what may be the finest cushioned header in World Cup history. Then halftime. Then the wheels came off for Spain. Arjen Robben. Stephan de Vrij. van Persie again. Robben again. All with more slow motion shots of Iker Casillas looking like a rom-com leading man whose gal just left him. Stunning. After the game, the punditry was quick to point to the Spanish defense, and there was certainly plenty of blame to go around. But more worrying for Spain was how the Dutch created space in midfield to get off the passes that unlocked the back line. Recent Spanish success has been as much about a modern defensive system as it has about the tiki-taka offense that grabs headlines. Spain plays high pressure defense as a team better than anyone else in the world. Giving up only six goals in the past two World Cups (only two in all of 2010) is a testament to their ability to suffocate in midfield.


  • Sergio Busquets has had a down year and a he had a down game on Friday. With so many talented midfielders on the bench, will the Spain midfield look a bit different in their next game? (Like, Fabregas different?)
  • Iker Casillas was no bueno. Spain has two more world-class keepers behind him, but if they pull him now, his international career is likely over. It’s a big call.
  • The Dutch just put 5 behind Spain while Wesley Sneijder was far from his breathtaking best. Yikes.
  • There aren’t many game-changers on the Dutch bench. Can this first eleven carry them as far as 2010?
  • Xabi Alonso’s radar was off, seriously limiting Spain’s already limited ability to stretch the field. If he can get it together, the Spaniards will be right back in business.

Chile 3-1 Australia

Chile was cruising in the first half as both Alexis Sanchez and the mercurial Jorge Valdivia notched strikingly easy goals. But as Arturo Vidal faded, so did the Chilean defensive solidity. Australia got one back through Tim “Elevation” Cahill and pressed the Chilean back line through Mark Bresciano and winger Matthew Leckie until Jean Beausejour finished the game off in the 92nd. As good as Chile were – and when they clicked, they were magnificent – the problems in their squad were obvious. Vidal papered over a lot of the team’s defensive holes before he left with what may or may not be an aggravated knee injury. Additionally, the goalscorer Valdivia, a dangerous creative hub, was far from his best. If Vidal is going to be limited in any way, the inconsistent Valdivia needs to be more lethal in his passing. Australia were not great, but they were also far from awful. Unfortunately, this was their most winnable game and the best they can do now is help Chile by playing spoilers against Spain.


  • Alexis Sanchez is always dangerous. Look around you. Can you see Alexis Sanchez? Doesn’t matter. Still dangerous.
  • Chile need a Jordan Henderson. Against a team with more mobile strikers, Chile is going to have major issues in the space in front of their back line.
  • Vidal’s health. Is he done? If so, his team is too.

Greece 0-3 Colombia

For a team that made it’s mark on the international stage with defense, Greece did not make it five minutes with a clean sheet against a Colombian offense missing one of the world’s top strikers. Pablo Armero finished Juan Cuadrado’s sleek cutback as the Greek defense chased a James Rodriguez dummy and the 2004 European champions never fully recovered. Teo Gutierrez doubled the lead in the 58th after Abel Aguilar’s touch helped a sharp, low corner kick into the six yard box. Theofanis “Holy crap this guy has been around forever” Gekas almost pulled one back three minutes later when his diving header struck the crossbar. Greek manager Fernando Santos took off Dimitris Salpigidis to add Genoa’s talented 23-year old Ionnis Fetfatzidis and push the eternally mediocre Giorgos Samaras up front. The second striker opened the game up and Colombia responded by beefing up the midfield with Alexander Meija. Why so much about the substitutions? They quickly became the most exciting part of the game as Greece impotently pushed for a goal and Colombia played an almost playground mixture of possession and counterattack, depending on who picked up the ball in midfield. It was a disjointed display from two teams that should feel fully capable of sneaking into the knockout rounds. Japan and Cote D’Ivoire were hardly more cohesive in their encounter Saturday evening, and Colombia’s opening twenty minutes were the best display of soccer by anyone in the group thus far.


  • James Rodriguez was The Other Colombian that Monaco picked up along with Radmael Falcao. Everyone knew he was good. But at age 22, his ceiling looks sky high. Movement, passing, and four of five shots on frame from the young playmaker on Saturday after a season that saw him collect 9 goals and 12 assists for Monaco.
  • Colombia’s midfield and strikers conceded 15 fouls against Greece and picked up a single caution. Victor Ibaro alone had four and wasn’t carded. That aggression will have to be reined in. How many referees will be that forgiving going forward?
  • Say hi to the oldest player at the World Cup: Colombian backup goalie Faryd Mondragon, aka the losingest playoff goalie in Philadelphia Union history (just kidding, Faryd).
  • That third goal hurts. With a -3 goal differential, will Greece come out with two strikers against Japan? It will mean opening up the midfield and inviting Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa to run at the defense, but there may be no choice.

Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica

Oh, I’m sorry. Was Spain giving up 5 not surprising enough for you? Well then here is Uruguay sleepwalking through their opening match against a far inferior opponent. An early penalty looked to be enough for the men in blue to slip past Costa Rica, but once Joel “Diver! This guy is a dirty diver!” Campbell tied the score in the 54th, there only looked to be one outcome to this game. Without Luis Suarez, Uruguay showed little of the creativity that characterized their 2010 World Cup run. Edinson Cavani, for one, looked like he was just trying to make serious-faces because he couldn’t figure out what else he was supposed to be doing. For all his success as a center forward for Napoli and PSG, Cavani played more as an advanced winger in 2010. When Suarez returns, he may need to move out wide to rediscover his form.


  • Set pieces are the great equalizer. Oscar Duarte’s game-winning header came after Costa Rica (and Duarte, in particular) threatened through the air in the first half.
  • Are we seeing the limits of high pressure? Good teams are giving up too many fouls trying to high press all over the pitch. With the previous point about set pieces in mind, should good teams relax their modern pressure game against lesser opponents?
  • Uruguay need Suarez. Rumor is he’ll start against England.
  • Costa Rica need to play for ties now. With Campbell and Ruiz up top, the Costa Ricans can play eight deep and outlet. But can they do it well?

England 1-2 Italy

Leading up to this game, the only real question was… will it be even reasonably exciting? And it was! Italy was typically methodical in their approach before pulling out a brilliant corner kick play to open the scoring. That Man Andrea Pirlo dummied a ball toward the top of the box, creating space for Claudio Marchisio to drill a low strike into Joe Hart’s net. Daniel Sturridge equalized two minutes later as Raheem Sterling firmly grasped the reins of the English offense. The teenager’s Pirlo-esque ball release Rooney on the counterattack up the left wing, and the heavily-criticized number ten spun a gorgeous cross into the box that Sturridge couldn’t miss. From there, the pattern was disturbingly familiar for English fans. Though their side created opportunities, they couldn’t disrupt the Italian offense, which chugged along first through Antonio Candreva drifting into space on the right, and later with Thiago Motta closing up the center of the park and releasing Matteo Darmian up the wing. It never felt like England was the lesser team, but it did feel as though Italy was able to operate a gameplan without much interference. And when you operate a gameplan with Mario Balotelli at the tip of the spear, you will often score. Renowned for his power, Balotelli’s movement improved by leaps and bounds under Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. His quick first step allowed him to pull off of Gary Cahill’s shoulder and nod in Candreva’s unpressured cross in the 50th. From that point forward, it was The Pirlo Show. England threw on every player that has been called The Next Gerrard in the past 12 months and Pirlo had them all chasing shadows. Jack Wilshere was the worst of the lot, but Ross Barkley’s Carmelo Anthony impression only produced occasional sparks and Adam Lallana appeared to have no tactical direction upon joining the fray.


  • Wingers be tracking. Or not. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck didn’t follow their runners and Italy figured it out mighty quick. That’s a huge problem for England, since covering wide pulls Jordan Henderson out of the middle and leaves Gerrard on an island.
  • Balo is special. He hardly got a look in all game before finishing his one good chance. When England followed his checking runs, he started drifting to the far post for crosses. He was already scary good, now he’s scary good and smart.
  • Sterling or bust. Everything good for England came through Raheem Sterling. Will Hodgson stick with the teenager or accede to Rooney’s needs and move the Man Who Can’t Score into the middle?
  • Fullbacks. Where were they? Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson were ineffective at best. Good fullbacks win championships. England’s should be good. They were not.

Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan

Everybody that plays well in this World Cup will be linked to Manchester United. So it is no surprise that Serge Aurier is getting lots of ink after he scooped in a pair of wondrous crosses to help his team overcome an early Keisuke Honda tally. This group should be fun, as nobody looks particularly dominant, but everyone sets up to score. Japan kept pouring forward even after their early goal, and with better marking in the box they could have walked out with three points.


  • Tactical responses. With so many teams crowding the center of the pitch, the place to be is juuuuust wide of the middle. That’s where Aurier found space for his crosses, and that’s where Candreva found a gap to drop an assist onto Balotelli’s head.
  • Japan needs a finisher. Good movement, good passing, no end product. Can anyone give the Japanese attack more umph? If so, they could be trouble outside of the group stage.

Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador

Pure coaching porn in this one. Ottmar Hitzfeld watched his team control the game but rarely threaten for forty-five minutes. A sucker punch goal off – of course – a set piece put Ecuador ahead going into the half. So Hitzfeld added a second striker and pushed his playmaker more central to add some verticality to his attack. Boom, set piece goal right back at ya and the Swiss starting passing with purpose. Then another substitute gets the dramatic winner in the 93rd minute.


  • Xherdan Shaqiri is going to have to be a lot more precise for the Swiss to make a mark on this tournament. He has all the moves, but was a touch slow in the opener.
  • The Swiss can control them some midfield. What do you get when you put out a holding midfield duo that played together under Rafa Benitez? You get patience, positioning… and more patience. Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami were role models in the middle of the park. But neither can hit the Xabi Alonso pass to open a defense.
  • Ecuador has the speed, but the movement is lacking. It’s all upfield, all the time for Ecuador. They need to hit the breaks and find the players that can play the unlocking pass if they want to break down an international defense.

France 3-0 Honduras

“Wilson Palacios sent off” should be the center square of World Cup bingo. The guy likes tackling and doesn’t give a toss whether it’s near a ball or not. Honduras never got close to France in this one, even though the French weren’t fully in sync going forward.


  • If Antoine Griezmann and Matthieu Valbuena can get on the same page as Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, this French midfield can waltz through lesser opponents.
  • Olivier Giroud. Really? Him? He’s like the Djibril Cisse of being big and heading the ball.

Argentina 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Every World Cup, Argentina looks like they should score 5 goals a game on paper. So why do they end up looking like lost five year olds on the pitch? Leo Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria are capable of thinking a step ahead of everyone else, but for their country they often think different things. A moment of Messi brilliance saved what could have been a worrying opening match for the Argentinians. Their midfield was a mess in the first half, the defense was sitting deep and giving up more space than Javier Mascherano could cover, and the offensive studs were trying to do it without support. Fernando Gago added a measure of calmness to the middle of the park in the second half, but as Bosnia got more of the ball, Argentina completely lost defensive shape and almost lost two points.


  • Messi dribbling right to left is essentially a goal. You can’t control a ball that well in video games.
  • Di Maria needs to be more influential (and more calming) for Argentina to reach their potential.
  • Gago needs to start. Playing that first ball out of midfield was an issue in the first half. Gago is a limited player, in that he isn’t very interested in defense, but he can get the ball to Di Maria and Messi at the speed it needs to move.

One Comment

  1. Spain is going to have find another gear for my bracket to survive.

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