Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 World Cup: Goals, despair, joy and even more goals

Eight days. 23 games. 66 goals.

So far this has been a World Cup to savour.

There’s been the odd disappointing game. That’s football. But there’s also been just about everything else you could want from a World Cup.

And, so far, no clear indication of where the winners will come from. Take a look at and you'll find great deals - but no clear contenders looking certain claim the trophy.

The champions humbled and sent home to think again. The Netherlands imperious against Spain and then almost tripped up by Australia.

Goals, scrappy goals, tap-ins, spectacular goals. Goals.

Goalkeeping errors, refereeing errors. Goalline technology and commentators spontaneously combusting.

Messi scoring but apparently still disappointing many of those who expect nothing but brilliance. Ronaldo a passenger as Germany thrashed Portugal.

Wayne Rooney finally getting that World Cup goal. An ultimately futile goal. Futile not because Rooney was playing left or centre, past his best or because his is another tale of unfulfilled potential. Rooney was the story but never England’s main problem. Uruguay knew that. Luis Suarez took full advantage.

Brazil entered the fray carrying the baggage of 1950 and the baggage of a fractious build up, counting the cost of paying big bucks to give FIFA the run of your country.

A nation reliant on a team doing well. A team reliant on Neymar doing well. A 3-1 win over Croatia looked generous. A scoreless draw with Mexico looked laboured.

A World Cup in Brazil seems to have inspired many to commit to attack and turn their back on caginess. Could it be that the weight of expectation will prevent Brazil themselves from doing the same?

Or are the hosts, like Spain and England, simply not equipped to perform at this World Cup. Suddenly the standard bearers for Spain’s cherished continuity looked to be shown up as tired old men.

England arrived without the attacking thrust needed to cover for their deficiencies in defence and in defensive midfield. 2-1, 2-1 was the inevitable conclusion.

And Neymar seemed strangely isolated against Mexico, Brazil’s midfield struggling, Fred only rarely conceding that breaking into something more than a jog might give his side more of an attacking focal point.

At times against Spain the Netherlands looked irresistible. At times against Australia they looked vulnerable.

Germany stomped past Portugal but need other tests to prove their mettle. Argentina have a win and they have Messi. Do they need more than that.

And the winner is...

So who will it be?

Checking my own World Cup predictions I see my four semi finalists listed as:

  • Spain
  • Brazil
  • Portugal
  • Argentina

One defintely won’t be there. Portugal probably won’t be there. And right now I’d be surprised if both Brazil and Argentina make it.

If not them who?

The Netherlands and Chile have the luxury of qualifying from what looked like this year’s Group of Death with a game to spare. But one of them will face - barring a Monday night shock in Group A - face Brazil.

Italy will look to close out Group D, perhaps flinging England an unlikely lifeline in the process, and - if Colombia close out Group C - back themselves against Ivory Coast, Japan or Greece.

Colombia against Uruguay - if they capture second place behind Italy - could be a cracker but Uruguay need to prove they are not too reliant on the goals of Suarez.

Just one game into their tournament and Germany’s progress through Group G looks assured - and on the evidence of the opening games they’ll be relatively untroubled by the prospect of facing a Group H team in the last 16.

France and Switzerland meet tonight - if that game dictates the winner of Group E it’s likely also to decide who faces Argentina in the last 16.

Suarez completing the journey from operating theatre to hammer of England is maybe the most predictable to happen at this World Cup.
Few saw the total collapse of Spanish hegemony coming. The glut of goals has been a pleasant but unexpected surprise.

And the more unpredictable the tournament is, the more open it becomes. Long may that continue. But I might need to invest a little something in Germany, just to be on the safe side.