Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Teams of Round 1

By general agreement it's been a great World Cup so far, but who have been the teams who've really made our days? Here are our four picks - with one team who lost in Round 1, and another who only managed a draw, we hope there's a bit of controversy here.


People expressing surprise at how ordinary Brazil looked against Mexico had obviously forgotten the opening game, in which the selecao, for long periods, appeared clueless as to how to break down a spirited Croatia. In the end they relied on poor goalkeeping and a terrible penalty decision, the latter setting a sickening opening tone for the World Cup - from which it thankfully quickly recovered. Croatia make our list for showing the underdogs of this tournament the way, with a vigorous display of defend-and-counter which really deserved to be rewarded. From an unpromising starting point, playing natural centre-forward Ivica Olic out wide, Croatia consistently held their shape and made hay on the break despite a lack of pace. Every time they put ball in box it looked dangerous. If they don’t get a result against Cameroon this evening they’re out; it would be a harsh outcome, we think.


Yeah, Netherlands, obviously. There was nothing especially clever, in the tactical sense anyway, about the way they undid Spain; just sensibly applied counter-attacking and some moments of inspiration from their star twosome of Robben and Van Persie. Spain looked the better side in the first half, capably exploiting the space behind the young Dutch defence with angled balls to Diego Costa. It’s hard to remember now, but Holland seemed a bit lucky to be going in for half-time with the score at 1-1, after Van Persie rose like a salmon to equalise. Whatever Van Gaal said at half-time obviously worked, however, as in the second period Holland perfectly exploited Spain’s weakness, making high-pressing tiki-taka look uncannily like pushing a slow, under-muscled team further up the pitch than it could justify. Mistakes at the back didn’t help Spain, and once they slightly unluckily went 3-1 down, they had to chase the game, something they aren’t well equipped to do.  We’re not going to write them off, although they could be on the plane home tonight if Chile beat them. Nor are we going to make Holland favourites for the World Cup; but they were the standout stars of Round 1.


Brooks: Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Group G got off to a disappointing start as an insipid Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo anonymous, put up scant resistance to a Germany side who barely had to get out of second gear. How unlikely it seemed that the unfancied US of A (or “USMNT” as they’re known) would be the ones to liven things up. But they were out of the blocks straight away, Clint Dempsey showing the enterprise and aggression for which he’s occasionally been known to put the Americans in front after just 31 seconds. And even though for much of the game Ghana seemed to have more in their locker than did Uncle Sam’s boys, we never seriously doubted the USA would get something out of the game. After Ayew’s equalizer for the Black Stars, it fell to the big young defender John Brooks, one of Klinsmann’s German-American proteges, to convert one point to three. Next up: a real chance to take something off a dispirited Portugal and press on into the knockout phase.

South Korea

If this World Cup has seen a better display of rapid-fire technical football than South Korea’s yesterday, then we must have missed it. This is perceived as a relatively weak Korea side, but you wouldn’t know that from the way their midfield pinged the ball around against Russia. With every first touch accompanied by a perfect turn to take the ball into space, with every pass seemingly laser guided, the Koreans were easily the most attractive side we saw in Round 1. I’s just a shame they couldn’t put more of a cutting edge to it; both sides, in fact, seemed short of ideas as to how to get into the danger zone, and were forced to launch one long-range shot after another. Some of them were real howitzers, adding to the appeal of a game which had a touch of the spectacular about it. The draw helped neither side, and second place in Group H remains wide open – but we’re rooting for the zippy Koreans.

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