Magical Messi needs just one moment

Argentina's Lionel Messi. (Victor R. Caivano/AP)

Here’s what happened on Sunday at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in case you missed it…

The results

Read match reports: Switzerland 2, Ecuador 1 in Brasilia || France 3, Honduras 0 in Porto Alegre || Argentina 2, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 in Rio

Thoughts on the day

Unsung heroes for Swiss: Haris Seferovic was the hero for the Swiss, scoring deep into injury time to propel his team to a come-from-behind win over Ecuador. But teammate Valeron Behrami and Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov deserve major assists on the play. It was Behrami who put in a perfectly-timed tackle inside his penalty area to win the ball and then launched forward in attack. He was cut down from behind inside his half, and instead of playing for the foul, he quickly got up and kept the ball moving. Credit must be given to Irmatov who recognized what was going on and played an excellent advantage to the Swiss, instead of bringing the play back to the point of the foul. Switzerland continued on and completed the sweeping move with Seferovic’s late goal. It was a great all-around moment, marked by physicality and a heads up play from Behrami, and common sense exercised by Irmatov. Well done.

France sublime in build up play : The key to France’s win over Honduras? It didn’t hurt that Les Bleus enjoyed 63 percent possession. But it’s what they did with the ball, and specifically their passing completion rate, that was the difference. The French completed 611 passes (compared to 239 for Honduras), and 151 passes in the final third. Even more impressive was that it wasn’t just one player, but several who were outstanding in distribution—Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Mamadou Sakho and Mathieu Valbuena all boasted successful passing rates. They’re direct involvement allowed France to move the ball around with aplomb and forced their opponents to chase. Honduras responded with physical play and scrappy tackles, leading to Wilson Palacios earning his second yellow card just before the break. Forced to play a man down for the second half, Honduras kept chasing shadows and was punished by Karim Benzema, who had a hand in all three French goals.

Moment of magic from Messi: For more than hour in Rio, Lionel Messi had barely influenced the game, as the Bosnians did a very good job of containing the mercurial Argentine (more on that later). The FC Barcelona star lined up to take a free kick in the 64th minute, and with all eyes on him, he skied his attempt high over the goal as the ball sailed into the stands at the Maracana. You could see the frustrated look on his face and you had a sense that this just wasn’t going to be his night. But a minute later, a moment of brilliance from Messi, who played a quick one-two sequence with Gonzalo Higuain that finally freed him from Bosnia’s shackles and allowed him to do what he does best: run at full speed through the middle with the ball glued to his feet. After sidestepping one defender, the master of the dribble elegantly stroked the ball with the side of his foot towards goal as it hit the post and went in. It was a goal 10 hours and 23 minutes in the making—that’s how long Messi went without scoring at the World Cup (he was kept off the score sheet in South Africa, in case you forgot). One moment. That’s all he needs.

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Game within the game

For more than an hour, Bosnia did a good job of taking away Lionel Messi’s space, clogging the space in front of the defence with three players to deny him a direct route on goal. Messi loves to take on defenders in full flight through the middle, but he only had four chances to do that through the opening 25 minutes (see map below) and enjoyed little success. When he did get the ball in or around the penalty area, Bosnian players quickly crowded around him and snuffed out the danger. Little wonder he was limited to one shot and made only three passes in the first half.

Stat of the day

Goal of the day

There’s only one choice. In the 65th minute, Lionel Messi finally broke free after working a one-two pass with Gonzalo Higuain. From there, he went on one of his trademark speedy runs, showing great control as he dribbled past Bosnia defender Ermin Bicakcic and then slamming a side-footed shot in off the post.

Save of the day

Just before half time, Bosnia’s Miralem Pjanic whipped a corner into the box and teammate Senad Lulic attacked it with verve, beating Argentine defender Hugo Campagnaro to the ball and connecting on a header. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero reacted brilliantly, getting down to his left to push the ball out for another corner.

Match of the day

Switzerland versus Ecuador looked to be the least interesting on paper of the three games before the day started. It ended up being the most competitive and entertaining affair, capped off by Seferovic’s late heroics.

Best moment of the day

France’s second goal marked the first time the new goal-line technology was really tested at this tournament. The goal was immediately given, and controversy was avoided. The system works. See that, Monsieur Platini?

He said it

“We were naive and that cost us the game. (The loss) is more our fault. We were not beaten by our opponent.” – Reinaldo Rieda, Ecuador coach

Question of the day

Tweet of the day

Honduran players weren’t afraid to get physical against France:

3 stars

1) Karim Benzema: The Real Madrid striker was buzzing inside the final third for most of the game, and bagged a brace for the French against Honduras.
2) Miralem Pjanic: The AS Roma playmaker was sensational in pulling the creative strings for a Bosnian side that played Argentina very close.
3) Ravshan Irmatov: Gotta give props to the refs when they make good decisions (because we’re all over them when they screw up).

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