May 312019
 

Milan is in a historical crisis. The gap between Milan and the so called big teams – of which Milan supposedly is one – looks set to increase. The years of mismanagement and inability to build teams, the years of spending money on signing and extending old and/or mediocre players were always going to catch up to a Serie A team. An English team may be, just may be, can spend their way out of problems, but not most other teams. Not Milan. Not in a Financial Fair Play era. Berlusconi left the team in a decidedly not safe hand and the eventual take over by a hedge fund may not guarantee much, even though it promised to at first.

Whether it be due to the aforementioned FFP or any other reason, Elliott Management seems to be embarking on a cost cutting, young team building mode. Instead of the initial promise of increasing the value of the team in order to sell high later.

On the footballing side various unproven or unsuitable coaches have come and gone since the day Allegri left Milan. Three management teams have insisted on relying on former players as coaches and all have been a miss. Coaches were confirmed on shaky ground only to be fired or resign not long after. The latest, a true Milanista, left graciously and left money behind but on the pitch he proved not good enough. Gattuso insisted on a 4-3-3 too predictably often, made late or perplexing subs often and remained loyal to out of form players for too long. A defensive mode – highlighted in a 1-0 win! – adapted after 1 goal or even zero goal game and a collapse like the one vs Olympiakos – a 3-1 loss when anything better could have sufficed – last fall had provided plenty of evidence that Milan has long needed a proven and veteran coach, at least. Milan, stuck with Gattuso and rode a hot player in Piatek for a month before it all went down hill and a Champions League spot was lost.

This brings us to the management team. Maldini who had ran away when the Chinese ownership of Li offered him a role came back to the fold as sporting strategy and development director when Elliott seemed to promise much more. Even though his role was ambiguous and not fully defined. Leonardo returned as sporting director and although bound by FFP they set out on positive changes. Piatek and Paqueta (at a whopping €70 million total) provided youth and new life, for a few weeks. The insistence of playing Calhanoglu as a left winger or left attacking midfielder was a failure. That combined with a predictable and off form Suso on the other side chocked the offense and left the once hot Piatek on his own up front. The three in the middle had ups and downs and Bonaventura’s long term injury didn’t help. Caldara’s injury riddled season added a depth problem at the back. The full backs were mostly mediocre and Conti’s long expected return from injury was like an interrupted anticlimax.

The season has now ended. Austerity and frugality seems to be the order of the day with Gazidis seemingly set to fulfill his money man reputation by starting anew. Leonardo and Gattuso have left, Maldini may accept a more defined role but most bets are off without cash to spend. A high profile coach would normally be a big statement and step up but without Champions League or any money that seems off the table too. In a summer when all of Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri, Max Allegri (and more) are possible none will arrive. The team might settle for Simone Inzaghi or March Giampaolo for the start of another year zero.

 

May 262019
 

The sometimes dreadful and frustrating 2018-2019 season is coming to an end with a must win game, if a Champions League spot is to be gained. Much has been said about how the season derailed in February and how the rivals matched the incompetence to allow Milan to stay inside the top 4 and drop out of the spot only after weeks of poor losses. Gattuso is likely to pay the price for it all, he of defensive and stubborn tactics. It may even transpire that there are more management casualties. Leonardo could leave too and set the stage for a Gazidis mini austerity revolution. More will be known, said and written very soon after this week 38 match.

Milan remain without Paqeuta through suspension and Calabria through injury. The way the squad is built and the way the coach insists on a 4-3-3 that leaves very little doubt as to what the starting line up is going to be. Piatek, Suso and Borini will form the front three. Bakayoko, Kessie, and Calhanoglu will be in the middle. Abate, playing his last ever Milan match, will be at right back alongside Musacchio, Romagnoli and Rodriguez. Donnarumma, of course, starts in goal.

Three points will be enough for a top 4 spot if one of Atalanta or Inter drop points. Both are playing home matches, versus Sassuolo and Empoli respectively. Empoli have relegation – one solitary point ahead of Genoa for the final relegation place – fears and may give it all but other than that Milan’s chances of playing in Europe’s money generator are low to even lower.

SPAL may lose their highly rated and long time coach after the season. The Emilia-Romagna team have over achieved under the guidance of Leonardo Semplici.

Follow the match as it happens, on the forum.

Dec 062014
 

Many years ago as Michel Platini started up the ladder of European and World football first as coach then as organizer of World Cup 1998 many speculated and expressed positive hopes that Platini might eventually succeed Sepp Blatter at FIFA. Times passed and as history has recorded he decided against running for the FIFA job and instead ran against and replaced Lennart Johansson at UEFA. His image was and has remained a clean one, especially compared to the many tainted faces at FIFA and football federations the world. His promises as he campaigned for the UEFA job were inclusive and hinted at a bigger role or chance for Europe’s minnows or small nations. The Europa League was a rebrand of sorts early on and was met with indifference with most. It reshaped the previous UEFA Cup and was to be often dismissed as second class by sponsors, top coaches and teams.

Next, Platini led the charge for another set of changes. The first was the expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams. The World Cup had already shown the absurdity of having 24 teams as it involved third placed teams qualifying for later rounds in a less than obvious format. In UEFA’s case the format was not the only cause for negative reactions but the number itself meant that a hefty 44% (24/54) member teams qualified for a final tournament. A much too big a number that rendered the qualification process less meaningful and at first try in 2014 is already showing its effects with odd qualifying results.

All this was in line with Platini’s “inclusive” promise. He is giving smaller national teams more chances at the big match and participation in bigger events like the Euro finals itself.

Around the same time UEFA presented the idea of having a European Championship held in several countries. Turkey was close to grabbing hosting rights for the 2020 edition but complications and Platini came up with a spread up championship. One can presume an expanded tournament lowers the number of countries capable of hosting a tournament all by themselves therefore arguably that counts as another negative for a 24 team Euro. After all was said and done 13 venues were selected to stage matches and by football standards the list included a few from smaller hosts. Baku Azerbaijan being one example with it set to host a quarter final.

Fast forward to December 2014 and the latest idea truly deserves the confusing term. The UEFA Nations League is the latest reshape of national team calendar and the often maligned friendly fixtures.

In the UEFA Nations League the 54 UEFA members will be divided into groups or divisions based on recent results to play each other on international friendly dates. The complication starts when the format is to be explained, it is as follows and the first edition starts in September 2018:

  • Countries are divided into 4 divisions – 12 teams, 12 teams, 14 teams, 16 teams – with the top countries in group A.
  • Each division will be divided into four pools of three or four therefore each team will play four or six matches within their pool and division.
  • There will be a relegation and promotion between divisions.
  • The games will run from September to November and a final four in June of the following year to determine a winner.
  • There will be an incentive as teams doing well here will be involved in a playoffs for four spots in the European Championships (starting with Euro 2020), one team from each division will qualify for the Euros.

It is perhaps best to just look at the graphic below!

UEFA Nations League

The format of the UEFA Nations League

The fixture list is full with the clubs being most responsible for providing no meaningful rest to players who in turn get burnt out and injured more easily. UEFA, led by Platini, has added layers of confusing formats and competitions which while not without a beneficiary – the aforementioned smaller teams for example – are not helping keep the simple game as beautiful as it has been.

Sep 222014
 

Today brings the news that Theo Zwanziger, the former German Football Association president and current FIFA executive committee member, has expressed an “opinion” that Qatar will lose the 2022 World Cup because of heat or weather issues.

I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar, Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions. They [the Qatari organisers] may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there.

qatar-2022Heat is of course difficult to play in and it can be dangerous but Qatar’s bid has included expensive plans to keep stadiums cool from the start and the hosts have started testing the system too. Indications are players will be even more comfortable than other World Cups and fans might even enjoy the same cooling while inside stadiums too (due to costs and feasibility it may be that cooling will be limited to pitch level).

 

There are plenty of other reasons to want Qatar stripped of the World Cup. There are bribery allegations, working conditions are way below normal if not down right inhumane and have led to slave labour accusations. Security considerations are important as well as the middle east region is not and has rarely been the safest and this can get even get worse by 2022.

It must be noted that this doesn’t mark the first time a World Cup is awarded to a controversial host or staged in questionable circumstances. History notes World Cups being staged with brutal military leaders in the background and hosts being awarded via controversial voting.

Weather should not be politicized, however. If the World Cup needs to be moved it should be because of concerns briefly stated above and recent reports that the FIFA bribery report will never be public may make that less likely.

Jul 022014
 

tim howardBelgium 2-1 USA

Kevin De Bruyne 93 Romelu Lukaku 105 – Julian Green 107

Jozy Altidore was again available but not in the USA starting line up. Divock Origi started for the Belgians. Origi tested Tim Howard inside the first minute taking a Kevin De Bruyne pass and shooting from an angle. The first threats to the Belgium goal arrived in the 20th minute from a header off a corner and moments later a Clint Dempsey shot troubling Thibaut Courtois. Three minutes later De Bruyne wasted a good chance on the counter when he shot just wide. An Eden Hazard shot/cross was saved almost off the line by DaMarcus Beasley. Belgium had more shots on goal and corners but were never overly dangerous. The half time had many wondering if Belgium will be caught on the break. The 55th minute provided the next good Belgium chance as a Jan Vertonghen cross was missed by both De Bruyne and Origi. Belgium kept trying and Origi got another chance as his header hit the top of the crossbar and a Vertonghen volley went wide. US countered and provided uncomfortable moments in the Belgium box. Tim Howard kept USA in the game when Belgium’s possession resulted in shots on goal. Sub Kevin Mirallas injected good speed and forced Howard to be at his best again. Time and time again either Howard was there or Belgium just missed. Into added time Chris Wondolowski had the chance to steal a win but he shot way high with only Courtois to beat. It was one of the bigger misses in memory. Early in extra time Romelu Lukaku, only just on for Origi, beat the defender ran over 30+ yards and crossed to De Bruyne. De Bruyne turned and shot past Howard into the far corner. With the US pushing forward Lukaku finished off well. Youngster Julian Green was thrown in to provide some offense, the Bayern Munich player almost immediately scored when he collected ball shot into the box and beat the offside trap, this game was only his third cap. A late flurry didn’t lead to further goals. The US did well but it was mostly due to Tim Howard.

Argentina 1-0 Switzerland

Angel Di Maria 118

The first half was relatively eventless with Argentina mostly disappointing. The best chances of the first half were probably by the Swiss and in particular Josip Drmic wasting a chance to run at the Sergio Romero goal. Argentina then began to take more control but wasted chances with missed headers in particular. Lionel Messi was often covered well. Xherdan Shaqiri gave Argentina defense a few small scares and Romero did look tentative. Angel Di Maria wasted a good chance to cross. The second half was somewhat more open but had few shots on goal. Argentina controlled more but didn’t threaten the Swiss goal too often. A few poor fouls and tackles and a relatively quiet Swiss threat meant the game needed extra time. The game trotted along with more of the same wasted and not good enough chances for Argentina. With less than three minutes to penalties Stephan Lichtsteiner could have done better but he let Messi start a run and pass right to Di Maria. The latter shot into the far corner. The Swiss had a chance to equalize when a corner found its way to the other side where Shaqiri crossed back into the area. Blerim Dzemaili headed off the post and the rebound bounced off him just wide. A last second free kick just outside the area offered a last chance for the Swiss. Shaqiri hit the wall and the whistle sounded.

Germany 2-1 Algeria

Andre Schurrle 92 Mesut Ozil 119 – Abdelmoumene Djabou 120

Odd makers gave Algeria almost no chance. The first minutes were much more even than anticipated. The German central defense was not exactly solid and lacked pace. Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng left a lot to be desired and Mats Hummel was perhaps missed. Playing a bit too high meant that Manuel Neuer seemed to be needed as a sweeper. Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani starred for the North Africans. Thomas Muller was the main target for Germany and Mesut Ozil created for him. Andre Schurrle came on at half time to add another dimension to the German attack. Rais M’Bolhi remained solid when called upon. Algeria continued to threaten too. A lack of finishing meant that both teams were inevitably heading to extra time. Extra time was quick to produce a goal. Andre Schurrle was assisted by Thomas Muller. Algeria kept trying but the game was pretty much over but not before Ozil shot in from Schurrle and Abdelmoumene Djabou from a Feghouli cross.

France 2-0 Nigeria

Paul Pogba 79 Joseph Yobo 90OG

Laurent Koscielny started in place of Mamadou Sakho. The opening minutes were balanced with perhaps Nigeria doing better. The game opened up when first Emmanuel Emenike and then Karim Benzema were called offside. Shortly after those offsides a Mathieu Valbuena cross found its way to Paul Pogba who forced a good Vincent Enyeama save. Both teams had chances and Nigeria could had a penalty because Patrice Evra was virtually hugging the Nigerian when late in the half the Africans had a corner. Early in the second half Blaise Matuidi was lucky to stay on as he went in hard on Ogenyi Onazi. At the 70th minute an exchange between sub Antoine Griezmann and Benzema led to the latter almost beating Enyeama. The ball continued towards the empty goal but was shot away by Victor Moses before it crossed the line. Minutes later Yohan Cabaye hit the crossbar. Benzema forced a good punching save but some of credit Enyeama had accumulated was lost when during the resulting corner he let himself get stranded and Pogba headed in. Griezmann had a chance to double the lead soon after. Into added time a simple Peter Odemwengie mistake led to a corner for France. The resulting corner was relatively easily sent into the box and a Valbuena pass/cross was deflected in by Joseph Yobo. Griezmann wanted to claim it but it went down in history as an own goal.

Jun 302014
 

James RodríguezGreece 1 (3)-(5) 1 Costa Rica

Sokratis Papastapoulos 90 – Bryan Ruiz 52

Not the likeliest round of 16 match up. The first half didn’t feature many chances or shots on goal. The early part had Costa Rica looking more comfortable. Joel Campbell, in particular, continued to show flashes of brilliance. On the Greek side Georgios Samaras found himself offside on more than one occasion. The first shot on either goal didn’t arrive until the 28th minute. The half’s best chance fell to Dimitrios Salpingidis whose shot from a cross hit Keylor Navas’ leg. The first goal came when a Christian Bolanos cross was half shot, half diverted into the far corner. The Greek goalie didn’t move. Soon after a Vasilis Torosidis handball in the box was not spotted by the referee. Konstantinos Mitroglou came on for Greece. In the 67th minute Costa Rica’s Oscar Duarte was sent off for a second yellow. Greece tried to create, the extra man gave them more space so the last minutes were often spent in the Costa Rica zone. Right at the 90 minute mark Greece scored. A high ball into the box was shot by sub Theofanis Gekas and saved, the rebound came to Sokratis who shot past Navas. Mitroglou had a chance to end before full time but his header was pushed over. Any chance Costa Rica had to mount an attack evaporated, it was plainly obvious they had ran out of gas, especially Joel Campbell. Deep into extra time Greece had the chances to seal the win. First via a counter but Lazaros shot at Navas when he had other options. Second Mitroglou had his shot diverted into a corner. The game headed into penalties and Gekas’ was saved so Costa Rica advanced.

Holland 2-1 Mexico

Wesley Sneijder 87 Klaas Jan Huntelaar 90P – Giovani Dos Santos 48

The second day of the quarter finals had Holland play Mexico in the extreme heat and humidity of Fortaleza. Dirk Kuyt started for the Dutch. Early on Nigel De Jong had to be subbed off and Bruno Martins Indi came on. The first half had Mexico troubling Holland more often as the Dutch defense looked a bit vulnerable. Carlos Salcido got the start for Mexico and had a good first half in the middle of the park. The heat meant that the World Cup had its first official “cooling break”. The three minute break was one of the highlights of the first half, if it’s possible to call it that. Other than that both team had a penalty shout turned down. First two high Dutch legs brought down Giovani Dos Santos and then Robben seemed to be brought down after a defensive mistake allowed him to get to the ball. Early in the second half Mexico scored. Dos Santos received the high pass, moved centrally and shot in between two Dutch defenders and beat Jasper Cillessen on his left. Memphis Depay came on to find some offence for Holland. Moments later a Stefan de Vrij header from the corner was well saved by Guillermo Ochoa and it rattled off the post. Wesley Sneijder came close when his shot was deflected into the corner. Dos Santos was subbed off, perhaps a bit too early. In the 74th minute Arjen Robben ran with the ball, beat a defender and Ochoa covered the angles and saved his shot well. Just before the second cooling break Klaas Jan Huntelaar made his first World Cup appearance. Ochoa was again the star when the Dutch did manage to use their greater possession to actually get close to the Mexico goal. The goal finally came when a corner was headed back and Sneijder ran to the ball and shot hard and low from the edge of the box. Into injury time Robben made one of his trademark runs into the Mexico box and was eventually brought down by Rafa Marquez. Huntelaar scored the penalty.

Colombia 2-0 Uruguay

James Rodriguez 28 50

The second all South American round of 16 match was missing Luis Suarez. He was of course suspended for his Giorgio Chiellini bite days earlier. Diego Forlan started in his place. As with their group games Colombia had the better of the ball and used their pace to attack well. James Rodriguez who had three group stage goals was again the focal point. He added one of the best of the World Cup with a one touch volley that beat Fernando Muslera just under the crossbar. Uruguay were strong and physical but produced relatively little offense with Edinson Cavani neither getting good service nor executing well when he got any. The second half started with a similar shape to the first and before long Rodriguez got his fifth of the World Cup. A scramble deep in Uruguay’s zone led to Juan Cuadrado cutting the ball back and Rodriguez shot it in. Cuadrado was becoming assister in chief. Uruguay got more chances and possession but David Ospina in the Colombia goal was good enough when troubled. Colombia made the last eight for the first time.

Brazil 1 (3)-(2) 1 Chile

David Luiz 18 – Alexis Sanchez 32

Fernandinho started in place of Paulinho and Arturo Vidal was back in the Chile starting 11 after missing the third group game. The early story was a concern for Neymar who was limping after a foul. Before the 15th minute both teams had a penalty shout denied by Howard Webb, replays showed that the referee was probably correct. A Neymar corner was headed on and then diverted into goal by David Luiz or was it an Gonzalo Jara own goal? With the game proceeding with mostly tackles and fouls a defensive mistake – Marcelo’s throw in was carelessly headed back to him by Hulk – meant Alexis Sanchez was able to collect the ball in the area and hit low into the far side. Brazil came close to retaking the lead via a scramble in the Chile box and a bit later by Neymar, Fred and long Dani Alves shot. Just before half time another defensive giveaway led to a scramble in the Brazil box. The second half featured a Hulk goal called back for hand ball, it was almost a shoulder. Chile had their best chance saved well by Julio Cesar in the 64th minute. Later Neymar headed well but right at Claudio Bravo then Hulk kept the ball well and forced a good punching save from Bravo. Nervous moments for both didn’t produce a goal and the game headed to extra time. Hulk’s low hard shot was the first fifteen’s best chance in an otherwise foul filled time. In the second fifteen Brazil had more of the ball but it was Chile sub Mauricio Pinilla’s 119th minute shot that came off the crossbar. The game headed to the penalty kicks. Chile missed their first two penalties and never really recovered. Neymar took Brazil’s fifth and scored their third. Brazil won 3-2 on penalties.

Jun 272014
 

algeria footballBelgium 1-0 South Korea Jan Vertonghen 78
Algeria 1-1 Russia Islam Slimani 60 – Aleksandr Kokorin 6

Belgium started a much changed side with Kevin Mirallas (in the forward spot), Steven Defour, Adnan Januzaj, Nicolas Lombaerts and Anthony Vanden Borre getting starts. S G Kim got the start for Korea in goal. Korea showed more urgency and tried to up the tempo but only tested Thibaut Courtois twice in the first half. Belgium had chances too and Dries Mertens wasted the best ones. As the first half was nearing its end Steven Defour was given a straight red for a stamp on the Korean’s leg. As Korea searched for the lead a Divock Origi, on as a sub, shot rebounded off the goalie and a possible offside Jan Vertonghen shot it in. South Korea left the World Cup and Asia was as a whole did worse than it hoped. In the other game Algeria caused a shock of sorts by finishing second in group. Russia disappointed in their first game and didn’t do much better in the second or third. The 2018 hosts will need to improve their young squad and perhaps employ a more offensive outlook, one that is probably not Fabio Capello will be willing to go for.

Portugal 2-1 Ghana John Boye 31OG Ronaldo 80 – Asamoah Gyan 57
Germany 1-0 USA Thomas Muller 55

In a game where both teams needed a win – and even that may not have been enough if Germany and USA tied – the pre-game wasn’t the best preparation for Ghana. Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng were suspended by their own team. Disagreements and confrontation stories were added to earlier bonus money problems. The game had Eder, William Carvalho and Amorim starting for Portugal. The best action arrived via Cristiano Ronaldo with a cross/shot hitting the far side crossbar, a bit later Ronaldo had a close range header saved well by Fatau Dauda. The first good Ghanaian chance came when Asamoah Gyan managed to fend off Portuguese defenders and shoot at Beto, who saved well. The first goal of the game came when a cross was deflected or sliced into his own goal by John Boye. Late in the half Boye wasn’t far away from adding a second own goal. Ghana equalized in the second courtesy of Gyan. He headed a long cross behind Beto. The chance to take the lead was missed by Majeed Waris, unmarked and open he headed the cross just wide. In the 72nd minute Portugal had a penalty claim denied when Boye seemed to push Ronaldo. Ghana were extremely wasteful and Portugal took the lead. A cross was punched out by Dauda but he was almost trapped in between two of his own defenders, the punched ball fell to Ronaldo who shot in. Both teams exited the World Cup with Ronaldo one of the match stories for number of chances missed. In the other game Germany won in the rain courtesy of another Thomas Muller goal. Lucas Podolski got his first start. Both Germany and USA reached the round of 16.

France 0-0 Ecuador
Switzerland 3-0 Honduras Xherdan Shaqiri 6 31 71

The French started a much changed side with PSG’s Lucas Digne, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Morgan Schneiderlin and Antoine Griezmann starting. Ecuador’s sole change was Michael Arroyo in for Felipe Caicedo. France were good enough with their so called B team and did create openings if not the best of chances throughout the game. Ecuador needed more than they could deliver and despite some relatively good minutes didn’t seem likely to overcome the deficit that got bigger due to the score of the Switzerland – Honduras game. To add to the difficulty captain Antonio Valencia got himself sent off in the 50th minutes for a poor, but not malicious, challenge. In the other match Honduras enjoyed a surprisingly large percentage of possession by were undone by a hattrick and questionable defensive shape.

Bosnia & Herzegovina 3-1 Iran Edin Dzeko 23 Miralem Pjanic 59 Avdija Vrsajevic 83 – Reza Ghoochannejhad 82
Argentina 3-2 Nigeria Lionel Messi 3, 45 Marcos Rojo 50 – Ahmed Musa 4 47

The Bosnia – Iran match was largely for pride. Iran had an outside chance of qualifying but had to win and then hope Nigeria lose by an equal or greater margin. It was never very likely and Bosnia would almost certainly have their say. The game featured more of the inability of the Iranians to generate concerted attacks and Bosnia more wasteful than not. Bosnia coach Safet Susic deserved some criticism for waiting until his country are eliminated to start both Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic together. Dzeko scored first from outside of the box. Miralem Pjanic added Bosnia’s second and he may have been offside but only by inches. Iran had more intent and managed to get their first via a good control and better cross. The response was quick as Iran were caught up the pitch. The game then got a bit choppy and there was little rhythm. Bosnia claimed the bulk of the possession without being overly clinical. Both teams exited the World Cup.In the other game Argentina again showed their vulnerability and reliance on Lionel Messi. Nigeria gave a good account of themselves and showed some promise for the round of 16th match to come.

Jun 252014
 

SuarezbiteColombia 4-1 Japan Guillermo Cuadrado 18P Jackson Martinez 55 82 James Rodriguez 89 – Shinji Okazaki 45
Ivory Coast 1-2 Greece Wilfried Bony 74 – Andreas Samaris 42 Georgios Samaras 90P

Colombia already qualified and unlikely to finish anything but first in this group started a much changed side with all of Mario Yepes, Cristian Zapata, James Rodriguez and Teofilo Gutierrez rested. Early Colombian balls soon changed and the game turned into more Japanese control. Keisuke Honda wasted or missed several set pieces. It was Colombia who scored first, however. Yasuyuki Konno appeared to bring down Adrian Ramos and Colombia were awarded a penalty which was converted centrally. Japan finally made their possession count and equalized right at half time. James Rodriguez came on at half time and provided the pass for Colombia’s second. As Japan went forward in search of a needed goal Rodriguez provided the assist for Colombia’s third. Later goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon came on for David Ospina to break the record for the oldest player ever – 43 – at the World Cup. He beat Roger Milla’s record. Rodriguez finished a beautiful pass just before the 90 minute mark.

In the other game Ivory Coast disappointed in the first half and went behind. There was more urgency in the second half and the equalizer came. It was all not to be as a dubious penalty was awarded to Georgios Samaras and he scored it himself to send Greece through.

Italy 0-1 Uruguay Diego Godin 81
England 0-0 Costa Rica

A draw would be enough for Italy. Cesare Prandelli still undecided about his best line up started Ciro Immobile and for a second time Marco Verratti. Italy had the better control of the ball but most of the final ball or two were poor. Both teams had their share of fouls and somewhat rough play. Mario Balotelli was given a yellow and would miss any round of 16 match. To some surprise Balotelli was taken out at half time in favour of Marco Parolo. The second half contained more whistles and complaints by both sides. The first controversial moment of the game arrived when Claudio Marchisio was red carded for a high boot that some thought might only deserve a yellow. For a while it did seem that Italy could actually escape with a poor 0-0 but Diego Godin jumped and headed into the right side. The second and bigger controversy came when Luis Suarez appeared to bite Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder. Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez didn’t take any action. After the final whistle Suarez received some condemnation for a repeat – third – biting act. Coach Cesare Prandelli and federation president Giancarlo Abete resigned upon Italy’s early exit.

In the other game a much changed England side with Jack Wilshere, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, James Milner, Ben Foster and Frank Lampard starting played out a somewhat uninspired tie. Two more European teams left for home early.

Brazil 4-1 Cameroon Neymar 17 35 Fred 49 Fernandinho 84 – Matip 26
Croatia 1-3 Mexico Ivan Perisic 87 – Rafael Marquez 72 Andres Guardado 75 Javier Hernandez 82

Brazil achieved what was expected with a bit more style than their first two games. An already eliminated Cameroon withstood the few opening minutes which had Neymar close on two occasion. Neymar finally did score but it was Cameroon who seemed to settle into the game. The reply came when Alves was unable to handle the Cameroon winger and his cross found Matip who tapped the ball in. David Luiz’s nonchalant reaction to the ball passing in front of him – with him facing his goal – highlighted Brazil’s defensive vulnerability. But before long Neymar got the lead back with a somewhat weak shot. The second half settled the match with Fred collecting the cross and shooting into a corner and substitute Fernandinho finishing late.
In the other game Mexico knocked out Croatia with a three goal in 10 minutes span. The Europeans hadn’t done enough and when they did Ochoa was good enough. Ante Rebic got himself sent off late not long after Ivan Perisic had scored a consolation. Mexico coach Miguel Herrera added his name to World Cup folklore with his wild celebrations.

Holland 2-0 Chile Leroy Fer 77 Memphis Depay 90
Spain 3-0 Australia David Villa 36 Fernando Torres 69 Juan Mata 82

A Holland win or tie would have them finish first in group B, a win would be required for Chile. Robin van Persie served his one game suspension for two yellows in the opening matches and Arturo Vidal was on the bench for the Chileans. The start had lots of whistles and a wrong offside call against Chile in the 15th minute. Chile had the better of the ball and a couple of penalty shouts as well. However, neither team really took control of the first half. The deadlock was broken when a cross from a corner was headed in by Leroy Fer. Fer had only come on less than two minutes earlier. Memphis Depay assisted by Robben finished off the game via a counterattack. Chile had several other complaints for fouls and corners and continued to enjoy more of the possession until the end.
In the other match Spain dominated Australia and David Villa, one of many of a changed squad, opened the scoring with a nicely placed goal. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored the other two. Spain insisted that no wholesale change is needed and declared themselves set for 2016 and 2018.

Jun 232014
 

Boateng vs BoatengPortugal 2-2 USA

Nani 5 Varela 90 – Jermaine Jones 64 Clint Dempsey 81

MOTM Fabian Johnson

Beto started in goal for Portugal. On the 5th minute mark Geoff Cameron allowed a cross to go past him and Nani took the ball and scored. Possession was more Portugal’s especially early on but this wasn’t reflected in shots at goal where US had just as many chances. Late in the half Nani hit the post and the rebound fell to substitute Eder whose shot was saved in a great reflex punch by Tim Howard. Ten minutes into the second Fabian Johnson ran to the goal line with the ball, his cross beat on rushing Beto and Michael Bradley failed to score on the open goal, his shot almost directly at Ricardo Costa was saved off the line by the defender. US’ plan seemed to be to exploit Portugal’s left side. US’ first goal came when Jermaine Jones was able to collect the ball and shoot from outside of the box into the far corner. Beto barely moved. Moments later Howard made another great save off a Raul Meireles shot. A series of passes that were almost offside in two instances led to the ball getting to Clint Dempsey who scored off his body from six yards out. Just as it seemed Portugal were exiting the World Cup Ronaldo delivered a cross which Varela diverted behind Howard to save Portugal.

Algeria 4-2 South Korea

Islam Slimani 26 Rafik Halliche 28 Abdelmoumene Djabou 38 Yasine Brahimi 62 – HM Son 50 JC Koo 72

MOTM Yasine Brahimi

Algeria looked more comfortable on the ball and South Korea managed only one real attack on the Algeria goal in the first half. On the other of the pitch side poor defending and goalkeeping allowed the Algerians to go up 3-0. First Islam Slimani took advantage of a central defensive mistake to go through on goal and score then Rafik Halliche jumped and headed in before Sung-Ryong Jung could punch away the corner. Ten minutes later Abdelmoumene Djabou took advantage of some ball watching in the Korea defence to shoot freely past the Korean goalie. Early in the second half Korea started what they hoped would be a big come back. Heung-Min Son managed to hold the ball, dummy the defender, turn and shoot in between Rais M’Bolhi’s legs. South Korea continued to dominate for a while. It was Algeria who got the next goal however. A one two between Yasine Brahimi and Sofiane Feghouli opened space for the former to score. Korea’s Ja-Cheol Koo diverted a short pass into goal to make it 4-2 but that was it.

Belgium 1-0 Russia

Divock Origi 88

MOTM Vincent Kompany

Still no room in Russia’s starting 11 for Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Alan Dzagoev. Jan Vertonghen missed out for the Belgians. Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini did get starts for Belgium. Early parts of the game featured more Belgium possession especially attacks down the right side by Mertens. Russia’s fewer attacks may have resulted a penalty in the 27th minute when Toby Alderweireld seemed to make contact with Maksim Kanunnikov but the ref didn’t whistle. Thomas Vermaelen had picked up an injury during the warm up and couldn’t continue beyond the 31st minute and was replaced by Vertonghen. The half’s best chance fell to Russia as Alexander Kokorin headed a cross just wide. The second half saw more Russian movement and a better share of chances. Mertens and Eden Hazard struggled somewhat and Romelu Lukaku was again withdrawn in favour of Divock Origi. Later Mertens was subbed out too. Very late in the game Hazard and Belgium seemed to come to life and after two half chances Hazard provided the assist for the winning goal. He drifted in near the goal line, passed to Origi who then shot high past Igor Akinfeev.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 0-1 Nigeria

Peter Odemwingie 29

MOTM Emmanuel Emenike

The game started poorly with a more offensive Nigeria having the slight better of play compared to their first vs Iran. In the 22nd minute Edin Dzeko was wrongly judged to be offside otherwise Bosnia would have been up by one somewhat against the run of play. Two minutes later Dzeko shot hard and Vincent Enyeama saved well. Bosnia started to get into the game. Just before the half hour mark Emmanuel Emenike ran and crossed to Peter Odemwingie for the opener. Bosnia protested that Emenike had fouled Emir Spahic just before delivering the pass. Nigeria’s attack seemed exclusively down the right with Emenike playing the role of right winger and provider well. The second half featured lots of running and half chances. After having made all the attacking subs possible Bosnia only really threatened Nigeria’s goals just once before full time when a Dzeko shot was half saved half deflected by Enyeama and hit the post. Bosnia joined some big and bigger names in being eliminated from the World Cup. The surprise table after two matches meant Nigeria could afford to lose their last game vs Argentina and still progress.

Germany 2-2 Ghana

Mario Gotze 51 Miroslav Klose 71 – Andre Ayew 54 Asamoah Gyan 63

MOTM Harrison Afful

Kevin prince Boateng started for Ghana and the Africans made a change in goal starting Fatawu Dauda in place of Adam Kwarasey. Ghana had slightly the better and more of the ball as the first half progressed but the final ball was missing. The second half started rather quietly until Mario Gotze ran in between the two central defenders and almost unknowingly scored off head then knee. Less than three minutes later Andre Ayew jumping over sub Shkodran Mustafi (on for Jerome Boateng at half time) equalized by heading on a cross into the far side. For Ghana’s second goal Sulley Muntari passed to Asamoah Gyan who was probably only onside because of Mustafi and he shot well past Manuel Neuer. Germany reacted by bringing on Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Within minutes Klose poked the ball in from a corner and in the process tied Brazil’s Ronaldo for most goals at the World Cup. The game ended tied and with Muntari set to miss Ghana’s third game after getting a yellow in his first two games.

Argentina 1-0 Iran

Lionel Messi 90

MOTM Lionel Messi honourable mention to Alireza Haghighi

Very much a David and Goliath match up on paper and the possession was, as expected, lopsided. Chances, especially on the ground, were few and Argentina only really threatened via corners with one notable being a Marcos Rojo header. Iran had similar chances from the corners too. First half possession was 73% for the South Americans. Argentina started the second with some more purpose but the best first best chances were arguably Iran’s. Ashkan Dejagah ran to the ball and was brought down by Javier Mascherano. There was a penalty shout. A bit later Reza Ghoochannejhad headed a cross straight at Sergio Romero. Lionel Messi had a shot miss narrowly and the game seemed to open up and surprisingly Iran created some nervous moments for the South Americans. Dejagah forced the best save so far by heading the ball which Romero managed to divert over the crossbar. Angel di Maria forced a save and a bit later another which Alireza Haghighi saved well. Argentina withdrew the largely ineffective Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero for Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio. Most Argentine balls were well dealt with but in added a time curled ball from outside of the box had the quality needed to beat the Iranian goalie.

Jun 212014
 

costaricafootballEcuador 2-1 Honduras

Enner Valencia 34 65 – Carlos Costly 31

The two teams exchanged chances with Enner Valencia and Victor Bernandez missing good chances for their respective countries. Before long Carlos Costly found an opening in between Ecuador’s central defenders and shot past Alexander Dominguez. Three minutes later a slightly deflected cross allowed Enner Valencia to poke the ball in and tie the game. Just before half time Carlos Costly thought he had a goal. The referee, but not the assistant, called it back for offside. Replays showed that referee was right. The second half had several less than half chances until Enner Valencia scored yet another goal by easily heading in a free kick. More chances but not so close calls and Ecuador got the three points they really needed.

Switzerland 2-5 France

Blerim Dzemaili 81 Granit Xhaka 87 – Olivier Giroud 17 Blaise Matuidi 18 Mathieu Valbuena 40 Karim Benzema 67 Moussa Sissoko 73

MOTM Karim Benzema

The Swiss started the two goal scoring subs, Haris Seferovic and Admir Mehmedi, from the Ecuador game. French looked livelier to start and it paid off. The first goal came from a strong Olivier Giroud header and the second followed immediately when Valon Behrami passed behind him without looking. The French took the ball and Blaise Matuidi finished from a tight angle. The Swiss woke up and game opened up. The Swiss came close on two occasions but it was a Benzema run that resulted in a penalty. The replays showed contact but the penalty questionable. Diego Benaglio jumped correctly to stop the penalty and Yohan Cabaye hit the post instead of the wide open goal on the rebound. A third came after a French counterattack and good final Karim Benzema pass to Mathieu Valbuena. The second half featured a few Swiss half chances and some of the best attacking movement of the World Cup so far by Benzema, Giroud, Valbuena et al. France’s fourth came when Swiss sub Philippe Senderos didn’t deal with the ball properly and the French cross fell to Benzema. Late Switzerland efforts consisted of long range free kick squeezing in via the middle of the wall and a nice pass and quick shot.

Italy 0-1 Costa Rica

Bryan Ruiz 44

MOTM Christian Bolanos

A relatively uneventful start featuring several Italian offsides began to change with a couple of Mario Balotelli shots on Keylor Navas and Christian Bolanos testing Gianluigi Buffon, having started the game. Late in the half Giorgio Chiellini lost the ball and seemed to take down Joel Campbell but no penalty was given. As far as a lead goes Costa Rica got theirs moments later when a cross was headed over Buffon and off and down the crossbar by Bryan Ruiz. Antonio Cassano replaced Thiago Motta at the half and so the midfield three featuring Motta, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi didn’t last for long. The game didn’t change much early in the second and Lorenzo Insigne soon replaced Antonio Candreva and a bit later Alessio Cerci replaced Claudio Marchisio. Italy were poor in possession and passing and Costa Rica played and fought well and certainly well enough to win their second in two matches. The result meant that England were eliminated early.

Japan 0-0 Greece

MOTM Keisuke Honda

The match was a likely candidate for the least interesting of the day and it delivered. Both teams had lost their opening match and needed a win. Any chance Greece had was dampened when Greece captain Konstantinos Katsouranis received two yellows and was gone within 40 minutes. Shinji Kagawa only came on in the second half as Japan tried to take advantage of being a man up but a high number of passes and chances were wasted in the effort to score. Yoshida, Uchida and Endo were most guilty. Greece wasted a few chances of their own and the end result was unsatisfactory for almost every fan and neutral.

England 1-2 Uruguay

Rooney 75 – Luis Suarez 39 85

MOTM Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez announced he is healthy and started the match. The matched featured numerous hard tackles and fewer efforts. For the first goal Suarez evaded both English central defenders and curled the ball past Joe Hart. In the second half England tried to equalize but most of their attempts failed to generate danger. Finally Rooney ran on to a cross and shot past Fernando Muslera for his first World Cup goal. As England tried to go for the win there was a goal on the other side as a long shot made its way to Luis Suarez and he shot strongly over Hart. The long shot would have been offside but it went off Steven Gerrard before getting to Suarez.

Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast

James Rodriguez 64 Juan Quintero 70 – Gervinho 73

MOTM James Rodriguez

Ivory Coast had Didier Drogba on the bench once again. The game started relatively quietly but picked up as time went by. Colombia often looked like a young team on the verge of becoming a goal machine. Both teams started getting chances with Colombia’s Teofilo Gutierrez having the one notable big miss. The second half featured some good tackling and defending by Mario Yepes and some good runs by Serge Aurier. Man of the match James Rodriguez opened the scoring and substitute Juan Quintero added another beautiful goal but the best goal of the match belonged to Gervinho whose solo effort added some life to Ivory Coast who then tried but failed to equalize.

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