Missed opportunity for Chile: The Chileans are through to the second round, having clinched their berth with a game to spare after smacking around Spain. But how much will the South Americans be kicking themselves after a lacklustre performance against the Dutch? The Netherlands were there for the taking, playing without suspended captain and striker Robin van Persie and defender Bruno Martins Indi (concussion). Dutch manager Luis van Gaal also experimented with his tactics, reverting to 5-3-2 formation featuring Dirk Kut at left back. With van Persie watching from the stands, it was up to substitutes Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay to finally score and punish Chile, who asked few questions of the Dutch defence. One of the most dangerous attacking sides in this tournament, Chile looked flat, and could have badly used influential midfielder Arturo Vidal, who was given the day off. Chile’s “reward” for finishing second in Group A? A second consecutive Round of 16 clash with Brazil in Belo Horizonte—the Brazilians beat them 3-0 in South Africa four years ago. With Brazil flying high after a third straight win, it’s a tough task for Chile, and it could have been avoided.
Ode to David Villa: On his 97th—and probably his last—appearance for Spain, David Villa added to his record goal tally for La Roja with his 59th goal, bringing to an end a fabulous international career. Villa has been a loyal servant for Spain, and was a key member of the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup winning sides—remember his late goal against Paraguay in the quarterfinals in South Africa? An injury prevented him from competing at Euro 2012, otherwise he would have collected another winner’s medal. Villa was considered by many a spent force coming into this tournament, but he’s one of a few Spanish players who can leave Brazil with his head held high. What a wonderful performance against Australia from the former Atletico Madrid star—his dangerous runs and silky smooth skills on the ball were a joy to watch. And it was his goal that opened the scoring for Spain, a cheeky and audacious strike that perfectly encapsulated the kind of player he is. When he was subbed out in the second half on Monday, Villa kissed the badge on his jersey as he walked off the pitch and was reduced to tears when he sat on the bench. Villa’s fabulous effort and his wonderful goal (reminiscent of Alessandro Del Piero’s famous back-heel in the 1997 Champions League final) underlined why he should have started Spain’s first two games instead of the ineffective Diego Costa—not that it would have made much difference to Spain, but still. At 32, Villa has plenty of game left in him, but with his upcoming move to MLS, chances are he won’t get recalled for national team duty.
Brazil finally comes good This was the performance that all of Brazil was waiting for after two laboured efforts. The Selecao finally dropped the hammer, out-playing and out-classing Cameroon by a wide margin in a game that was never in danger of slipping away from the hosts. Neymar continues to shine in this tournament, putting his team on his back at times and coming up with individual acts of brilliance to lift Brazil out of the doldrums—like he did with both of his goals against the Indomitable Lions. Fred finally got off the mark with his first goal, and although it should have been ruled offside, it stood and should give the Fluminense striker a major boost of confidence. Luis Gustavo continues to hold things together in the centre of the park—the defensive midfielder has been his country’s unsung hero. His tenacious play against the Africans was complimented by smart attacking instincts—his steals, runs and passing was a major highlight of Brazil’s build-up play. Still, you get the sense that Brazil has been holding back, that they haven’t yet shifted into top gear. They’ve paced themselves, and are hitting their stride at the right time with the knockout round looming.
What about Mexico?El Tri completed a remarkable group stage with a classy defeat of Croatia to book their spot in the second round for a sixth consecutive time. Credit the Mexicans for containing Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic on the day, and for overcoming a number of blown calls before they exploded for three goals in a wild 10-minute span in the second half. With a miserly defence (just one goal conceded, and they shut out Brazil) and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in fine form, the CONCACAF kingpins are one of the stories of the tournament following a laborious qualifying campaign that saw them seconds away from being eliminated, only to be rescued by the United States. Manager Miguel Herrara has transformed his players into world-beaters, especially Rafa Marquez, the veteran defender who’s turned back the clock in Brazil and who is playing his best soccer in years. Netherlands awaits, and while on paper you’d have to give the advantage to the Dutch, don’t think for one minute that Luis van Gaal’s side won’t enter their second-round contest with a bit of trepidation.
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Game within the game
Spain garners a lot of attention for its passing skills and ability to retain possession. But what about their tackling ability? It’s long been a key component of their tiki-taka philosophy—you have to win back the ball by getting “stuck in,” and not just rely on turnovers. Spain was effective in its tackling against the Aussies (see map below), as their opponents weren’t even able to register a single shot on net. Koke led the charge for Spain with four tackles and four recovered balls.
In the 36th minute, Andres Ineista played a gorgeous through-ball that released Juanfran down the right. The fullback ran into the box and got to the end-line before cutting a pass back to the edge of the six-yard box where David Villa cheekily back-heeled it past Australian goalkeeper Matthew Ryan.
Save of the day
Midfielder Hector Herrara’s corner kick in the 65th minute looked to be heading into the net. But Croatian defender Vedran Corluka made a vital goal-line clearance to turn away the Mexican threat—only temporarily.
Match of the day
The 3-1 score line suggested it was a bit of a blow out. Actually, Mexico vs. Croatia was a pretty competitive and engaging contest, with long stretches of end-to-end action.
Best moment of the day
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera celebrating his team’s second goal. Best facial expression of all time:
1) Neymar: Bagged a brace for Brazil, as the Barcelona star carried his team forward against Cameroon. 2) Arjen Roben: The Bayern Munich man was a one-man dynamo, using his speed and ball control to terrorize Chile’s defence. 3) Rafa Marquez: The veteran marshalled a Mexican defence that frustrated Croatia. Also scored the opening goal.
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