2014 World Cup: Some quick thoughts on each team so far
This may be completely incoherent. If so, I apologise. Also my track record in predicting this World Cup has been a complete disaster so feel free to ignore what I predict.
Brazil: They seem less than a sum of their parts, which is unusual for a Scolari team. It’s just not gelling – they look a shadow of the team of the Confederations Cup. Defensively they look very nervy (which isn’t particularly surprising considering they play two attacking wing-backs and David Luiz is one of their centre-backs), and Neymar is carrying them in attack, although the addition of Fernandinho helped against Cameroon.
Mexico: Although I predicted them to go through originally, I wasn’t sure if they could withstand the loss of Montes, who had been a key player for them. But they have done very well. Not sure they go much further, though. I don’t think they’ve quite got the ability.
Croatia: Disappointing at the World Cup again. Lacked bite in midfield, which was always going to be a concern with their choice of playmakers over holding midfielders. They threatened Brazil in the opener but that may say more about Brazil than themselves.
Cameroon: Just dire. Created very little in the crucial first game against Croatia. From there on, without Eto’o, it was always going to be tough. Played well against Brazil but again, it probably says more about Brazil than Cameroon.
Netherlands: Very sharp in attack, clearly, but questions over the midfield. De Guzman was mediocre at best in the first two games and Sneijder has been a passenger. Also that defence has at times demonstrated why it wasn’t particularly highly rated before the tournament started. They played well against Chile, especially considering Van Persie was suspended, but I still think they are slightly overrated and I can’t see them winning the tournament.
Chile: Not sure what to make of them. Clearly that defensive situation can’t hold forever – there’s no height or physical presence at the back, and they are mostly midfielders. Sampaoli is clearly doing a very good job with very little beyond their star attackers, who fortunately have been mostly good. However, it’s not just about losing to the Netherlands – they didn’t look great against Australia. Yes, they beat Spain, but it was a disorganised, rattled, downcast, under-pressure Spain – I’m not sure it says much.
Spain: Del Bosque messed this up, but he messed it up a long time ago by continuing to stick by the same players all the way through qualifying. Xavi and Alonso should have been gradually taken out of the side after Euro 2012 in the way Villa was, and continuing to trust Casillas, captain or not, was always going to be very risky. I think Del Bosque realised what he had done after the Netherlands game, which ironically looked worse than it actually was, and threw in some changes, but at that short notice, changing key players and the style of play was always likely to be a step too far. He should have mixed the team up two years ago, or even after the Confederations Cup Final disaster.
Australia: Well, they didn’t get tanked in every game, which was better than they expected. They gave the two teams that qualified for the group a good run. If there is one disappointment, it is that the performance against Spain was disappointing, which makes you wonder what’s going to happen to the team without Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano. They lacked presence up front without their captain.
Colombia: Ewing Theory in action! Before the start, I thought the loss of Falcao would hit them but they are playing wonderful football. Turns out the key man all along was James Rodriguez, who is this tournament’s new star. I do wonder if they can keep it up, though – many young teams like this start well but fall away when they come up against a tough, experienced heavyweight. Their next opponents? Uruguay, who could definitely be described as a tough, experienced heavyweight, even if they are without their best player.
Greece: As in Euro 2012, they were poor for two games and then won the last with an unconvincing display to somehow sneak through. And now they’ve got a plum draw too. Boo.
Ivory Coast: Very disappointing. Aside from a bright second half spell against a very average Japan team, inspired by the arrival of Didier Drogba, they never really looked like clicking. In particular Yaya Toure did not perform as we know he can, though in the circumstances that is certainly excusable. Even so, they could and perhaps should have made it out of the group, but for Samaras’ stoppage time dive.
Japan: Another disappointment. It just never came together going forward. Failing to score against the ten men of Greece pretty much summed up their tournament, and helped screw Ivory Coast over as well. They need a change of coach and a striker.
Costa Rica: The surprise package of the World Cup so far, although much of this seems to be based on their performance against Uruguay. In all three games, they were very solid and organised at the back, and they have utilised the talented Joel Campbell well on the break. However, I’d caution against saying they can go far because they never really threatened a flat England side with their leaky second choice defence in the last game, and didn’t even offer that much against Italy.
Uruguay: Poor in the first game, which ultimately came down to not having enough going forward due to the lack of Suarez. They threw players forward to compensate and got stung on the break. But after that, they solved their defensive issues with Lugano replaced by Gimenez, and Suarez’s return made them look threatening up front. However, they have now lost him, but what they have gained is a chip on their shoulder in response to his ban. I think they are still being underestimated and could yet go far.
Italy: They used the ball intelligently against England and defended well (Paletta aside), but when the onus was on them to attack and score goals, they didn’t do so. Their two goals in this tournament were a well-worked set piece and a handy bit of wing play (exposing the weak Baines) with a good header from Balotelli. Prandelli’s negative tactics against Costa Rica were bizarre, but they were outfought by Uruguay.
England: For all the talk of promising signs, they created very little across the three games, and what they did create was usually blown by Rooney, who was crap as usual. They carried two luxury players in the team who are both at least four years past their peak. If England are to progress, they have to ditch Rooney and Gerrard instead of pandering to them – a team is not made up of the best eleven individuals, hence why Costa Rica have seven points and England have one. Defensive organisation helps as well, and that includes the midfield – the England defence wasn’t great but it received no protection, which comes from Hodgson not picking a defensive midfielder. If there is anyone to blame, it is him.
France: Impressive. I still don’t understand how they flew under the radar – they have some great young players. They are even managing to get the best out of Mamadou Sakho. Benzema has generally looked like the great striker he can be instead of the average striker he often is. Cabaye has held the midfield together well. Even Moussa Sissoko has played well. The draw against Ecuador was slightly disappointing but Ecuador needed the win more than them so I doubt it’ll be a major issue with Nigeria ahead.
Switzerland: A mixed bag, because they have looked very good going forward and have scored some great goals, but defensively they have looked very vulnerable, especially after Von Bergen was replaced by Senderos and his partnership with Djourou was as bad as it gets. But they did at least limit the damage at the end, which suggests they have some character in the team, and battered Honduras, although they are only Honduras.
Ecuador: Probably the most impressive side not to get through. Considering they were coming back from tragically losing their best striker a year ago, and didn’t have an awful lot of major tournament experience in the side, they played admirably. Going out on four points is unfortunate, especially considering they only lost the Switzerland game in stoppage time – had they held on for a draw, they would have gone through.
Honduras: They entertained with their mindless thuggery, but that’s about it. At least they scored this time.
Argentina: Again hard to fathom. The games against Iran and Nigeria exposed their defensive frailties, and the games against Bosnia and Iran suggested how the attack could be stopped. Across the three games, they were made to look a beatable team. And yet they won all three, mainly courtesy of Messi. Maradona’s 1986 team was probably better than we remember but this must be quite close to it. It’s odd but I am more confident of their chances now than I was at the start, mainly because Messi is clearly now capable of carrying this team.
Nigeria: A lot of people were writing them off after the Iran game but it wasn’t until after Argentina were similarly stifled by them that people started to accept that the lack of goals was because Iran were so well-organised defensively rather than Nigeria being poor. They have a great attack with plenty of options, but they are fragile at the back, particularly without Elderson Echiejile.
Bosnia & Herzegovina Without wanting to sound too patronising, it was a great effort for a first appearance. In the first game, they genuinely looked like they might snatch a draw against Argentina. In the second, they should have led but for a legitimate goal being disallowed. And in the third, they found a way to break down Iran, something the other two teams in the group struggled to do. There is promise there but Spahic and Misimovic are probably done internationally, which is an issue.
Iran: Performed as well as they could considering the lack of ability in the squad, and I’m delighted they got a goal. It is at least a bright spot in a dreadful tournament for Asia.
Germany: A lot of people raved about the performance against Portugal but it wasn’t particularly exceptional – Portugal were just terrible. They then looked wobbly against Ghana but just about survived. We can’t really judge much from the USA game because it was turgid, but they were at least more solid defensively. The return of Schweinsteiger to the midfield will help as the tournament goes on. Still one of the favourites but they have a tough draw.
USA: It’s odd that the worst team can go through and yet that is what has happened here. The bus-parking against Ghana somehow worked even though they couldn’t hold on for 90 minutes, they also couldn’t hold on against Portugal, and they offered little in attack against a largely disinterested Germany today. And yet they are through. John Brooks’ goal was the difference between going through and finishing bottom of the group.
Portugal: As with the USA and Ghana, this all rested on the first game. The pounding they took after Pepe’s reckless red card killed their goal difference, otherwise they would have been firmly in contention to go through going into the last game instead of only having a slim chance, which would have helped psychologically if nothing else. Otherwise, they seem to have gone backwards since Carlos Queiroz’s reign, which is bizarre considering that itself was so limiting. And yet without Brooks’ winner against Ghana, they would have still qualified.
Ghana: Another team that has regressed in recent years. The “loss” of Kevin-Prince Boateng (well, he was there in body but not in mind) was important as he made such a difference to this team four years ago. Waris’ pre-tournament injury also made a big difference up front, although Andre Ayew had a good tournament. And yet despite all that has happened, but until Dauda’s haphazard attempts at collecting a cross at the end, they were only a goal away from qualifying. Fine margins.
Belgium: I’ve seen comparisons with England of the past (2006-era) and it makes sense. This is a team with so much attacking talent you’d have expected them to put multiple goals past every team in this group, and yet they won all three games by one goal with late winners. But they were never really threatened in any of those games – even against Algeria when they were behind it always felt like it was against the run of play. But they are defensively solid, which is a big bonus over some of the other contenders. They could grow into the tournament, or they could go out in the quarter-finals on penalties in order to continue the England comparisons.
Algeria: Clearly the second best team in this group, even if it was largely off the back of one performance against South Korea. But what a performance! So glad that the demons of 1982 have been laid to rest. Even if they are battered in the next round, they can be delighted with their performance and go into the 2015 Cup of Nations as serious contenders. They have already achieved more than Ivory Coast’s “golden generation”.
Russia: Of all the teams in the tournament, this lot were the worst. Yes, Cameroon got pounded by everyone, Iran and Honduras only scored one goal, and they didn’t even finish bottom of their group, but considering they have talented players, they have underachieved enormously and have been soul-destroying to watch in the process. Fabio Capello has sucked the life out of this side. And it’s not a young side either, which is a concern heading towards 2018.
South Korea: Barely any better than Russia, but at least they scored two goals against Algeria and at least made it look like they were putting the effort in. However, their tournament was ultimately summed up by the bland performance against a Belgium side reduced to ten men. They never really threatened and ended up losing despite Belgium having no real reason to win the game.