A Colombia victory to cement their achievements?

With all the furore over Luis Suarez and the attention that inevitably circulates around Lionel Messi and Neymar, it is all to easy to overlook the achievements of the South and Central American sides in this tournament. Of the ten nations from the two American federations that qualified for these finals, eight have made it through to the last sixteen. Only Honduras and Ecuador have fallen at the first hurdle. Whilst we would all have expected Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to qualify, the feats of Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Colombia and Chile have provided us with some of the highlights of this already spectacular world cup.

When the draw was made it appeared that lady luck had deserted the USA. Drawn in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, they were seen as the whipping boys in the one genuine group of death. However, they took advantage of being drawn to play Ghana (on paper their easiest game) in their first match and stunned the African side with an aggressive brand of football that yielded an early three points that proved so vital in a tight group. Their performance against Portugal merited a victory and it was fitting in the end that they qualified at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team. The USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has achieved a minor miracle in whipping up public support for ‘soccer.’ The game against Portugal was the most viewed televised match in the country’s history with an estimated audience of 24.7 million. The squad is united under Klinsmann’s passionate approach to management and a second round tie with Belgium is not an insurmountable task.

Chile’s performance in group B was viewed as a surprise by some. However, given the events of the last year it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Their performance last November in beating England 2-0 at Wembley in distinctly un-South American conditions was highly impressive and marked them down as potential dark horses. They were equally adept in disposing of world champions Spain in their second group match in one of the most committed team displays of the tournament so far. Their squad is young and the players are able to pound every blade of grass relentlessly. Spain and Australia simply could not cope with the energy of the Chilean players. However, a defeat to an under strength Dutch side in the final group game shows that genuinely quality sides can get themselves one step ahead. Brazil in the second round may be too much for Chile.

With a population of just under 4 million, Costa Rica were by far the smallest and lowest ranked nation in Group B. However, they belied their lowly status by catching Uruguay cold in the first match. They followed that up in the second match by completely outhinking the Italians in one of the great tactical displays of the group stages. This was no plucky, lucky underdog story Instead the Ticos were superior to Italy in every area of the pitch. A nil-nil draw with England secured top spot in the group and provided us with one of the great world cup stories of recent times. Can you remember the last time that the fourth seeded team won their group? A last sixteen tie with Greece provides Costa Rica with a great chance of making the quarter finals.

Mexico have been a joy to watch from the word go. in the first match against Cameroon they were denied two first half goals in controversial circumstances yet they maintained their discipline and eventually earned a 1-0 victory. Against Brazil, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa produced one of the finest displays by a stopper in a world cup finals match. One particular save from a Neymar header drew comparisons with Gordon Banks’ block to deny Pele in 1970 and is undoubtedly the save of the tournament so far. Mexico were far too good for Croatia in the winner takes all final group match and the joy of manager Miguel Herrera as his team scored three second half goals was one of the most priceless images of the tournament. Mexico have been solid in all three of their games, Ivan Perisic’s late consolation goal for Croatia was the only goal Ochoa conceded in the group stages. They have the joint best defensive record in the tournament with Costa Rica thought they will be severely tested by the firepower of the Netherlands in the second round.

Finally, Colombia have been the most impressive of the American outfits so far. Shorn of their best player Radamel Falcao on the eve of the tournament, they have still managed to blow aside all three of their Group C opponents. James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez have struck up an impressive partnership up front that has seen the pair score five of their team’s nine goals between them. Rodriguez’s goal against Japan in Colombia’s final match was one of the goals of the tournament so far however, the 4-1 victory will be remembered for the wonderful moment when 43 year old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon was brought on as a substitute and subsequently broke Roger Milla’s record as the oldest player to appear in a world cup match. It was a gesture that epitomised the spirit of the Colombian team at this moment in time. They play Uruguay in the second round. The Uruguayans will be without Luis Suarez who has rightly been hit with a four month worldwide ban for his bite on Giorgio Chiellini. The reaction of the Uruguayan camp in the aftermath of Suarez’s latest indiscretion has been unsavoury at best. The circus surrounding Suarez has unfairly distracted from the achievements of all the South American sides, including Brazil and Argentina. To a man they have shown a commitment to entertaining and virtuoso football (Uruguay excepted) and they have each embodied the spirit of this sensational competition.

It would therefore, be a fitting and poetic moment if Colombia were to dispatch Uruguay in the second round not just for the American teams but for the tournament itself.

And the Oscar goes too…

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If one player is a poster boy for this world cup, then that player is Neymar. The man at the centre of a controversial transfer to Barcelona last summer did not exactly pull up trees in his first season in La Liga. However, his record for his country (33 goals in 50 caps including last night’s game) is staggering. It is all the more impressive when you consider he is only 22 years of age and is indeed the youngest Brazilian to reach 50 international caps. It is little wonder then that he carries the hopes of 200 millions fans squarely on his shoulders. However, despite his two goals last night Neymar was by no means the star of the show. On the right hand side, Oscar’s performance was breathtaking. Frozen out at Chelsea by Mourinho at the end of last season, the young midfielder appeared invigorated last night. His constant energy was a thorn in the side of Croatia left back Vrsaljko. His trickery was mesmerising and some of his crosses were perfectly placed (David Luiz failed to do justice to one such moment of magic late in the second half). His goal at the end, an instinctive toe poke from outside the box was a just reward for an enterprising performance.

Neymar will doubtless steal plenty of headlines throughout this tournament but the early honours go to Oscar.

Brazil 3 – 1 Croatia

Brazil: Cesar; Alves, Silva, Luiz, Marcelo; Paulinho, Gustavo; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred. Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaijko; Kovacic, Modric; Rakitic, Perisic, Olic; Jelavic.

Ref: Yuichi Nishimura
Att: 62,103

Story of the match:

  • Neymar scores twice for hosts
  • Croatia angry at penalty decision
  • Oscar also on target for Brazil
  • Vanishing spray and goal-line technology used for first time at World Cup

Brazil are off and running.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It was Dia dos Namorados on Thursday, the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day, which meant there were chocolates and flowers and couples holding hands tucked among the sea of yellow jerseys that stretched from the Itaquera neighborhood over to Jardins. From sunrise all the way until the shimmering moon peeked above the skyline, Brazilians showed their passion for one another, and for soccer, as the World Cup began.

But love — in any form — is a complicated matter. While there were moments of heat and adoration, particularly when Neymar scored the first of his two goals with a shot that bounced in off the post, Brazil’s 3-1 victory over Croatia hardly made for the perfect date. Inside and outside Arena Corinthians, emotions were mixed even before a referee’s decision in favor of Brazil plunged the tournament into controversy in the first game.

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I’m feeling rather sorry for Croatia who were quite hard done by. Neymar should have been sent off before both goals for a high elbow, a soft soft Peno, and perhaps an equaliser unfairly disallowed.

As it Happened.

  • 11′  It Was An Auto-Gol!
  • 26′ Reeee -nope YELLOW card
  • 29′ GOAAAALL NEYMARR
  • 69′  Penalty To Brazil! Brazil Leads 2-1!
  • 84′  No Goal
  • 92′  Gooooooooooool Brazil!

The moments before kick-off had been typically rousing. A passionate Brazilian crowd delivered another fervent rendition of the national anthem. Croatia were no more than an afterthought to most outside the thousand travelling fans.

Brazil actually fell behind early when Marcelo turned the ball into his own net in the 11th minute, after Ivica Olic had sprinted down the left side and sent a dangerous cross in front of the goal.

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Marcelo, who was retreating, basically ran the ball into his own net. Most in the announced crowd of 62,103 stood in stunned silence and then began booing and whistling angrily, having witnessed Brazil’s first own goal in World Cup history.

But when they needed a moment of magic, the man whose image had been splashed across every newspaper and TV station in Brazil provided it. Chelsea midfielder Oscar fought through two challenges and found Neymar. When the striker turned for goal, moving the ball on to his left foot, he had one thing in mind. The contact was not pure but the shot was unerringly accurate, creeping in from 25 yards, glancing the right post on its way.

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 50 Games 32 Goals And now Brazils 8th highest top scorer..

And he’s just 22 years old

Neymar pressed “rb” + “b” on that shot. Smart move. #fifa #fineseshot #BRAvsCRO

His second, 19 minutes before the end, was altogether more controversial. Dejan Lovren was judged to have fouled Fred in the box. Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot, despite replays showing little contact had been made. Neymar converted, the ball deflecting in off the out-stretched arm of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, to spark scenes of celebration. article-2656644-1EB7355200000578-114_634x624

Lol Neymar didn’t have the bottle to try an Abdoun #pussy #AbdounTheGreat #NottinghamForestJoke

Oscar put a gloss on the final score with a tremendous late goal that his man-of-the-match performance warranted. With Croatia committed upfield, he burst forward and toe-poked in from 25 yards, taking Pletikosa by surprise with a low drive.

It ensured a 10th consecutive win for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side but Brazil demonstrated flaws and fragilities. They did not play with the fluency or flamboyance that saw them swat aside Spain to win the Confederations Cup so emphatically last year. I still stand by my prediction that both these two sides will progress to the next round, but Brazil are going to have to play much better if they want to win the World Cup.

Man of the Match

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The Referee – Great influence in helping Brazil claim victory and excellent spray paint work! 10/10

Brazil Team Preview

The players

Jefferson goalkeeper, Botafogo

Dani Alves defender, Barcelona

Thiago Silva (captain) defender, Paris Saint-Germain

David Luiz defender, Chelsea

Fernandinho midfielder, Manchester City

Marcelo defender, Real Madrid

Hulk forward, Zenit Saint Petersburg

Paulinho midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur

Fred forward, Fluminense

10 Neymar forward, Barcelona

11 Oscar midfielder, Chelsea

12 Júlio César goalkeeper, Toronto

13 Dante defender, Bayern Munich

14 Maxwell defender, Paris Saint-Germain

15 Henrique defender, Napoli

16 Ramires midfielder, Chelsea

17 Luiz Gustavo midfielder, Wolfsburg

18 Hernanes midfielder, Internazionale

19 Willian midfielder, Chelsea

20 Bernard midfielder, Shakhtar Donetsk

21  forward, Atlético Mineiro

22 Victor goalkeeper, Atlético Mineiro

23 Maicon defender, Roma

Star man

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Neymar, a genuinely classy instinctive creative attacker, and a player who carries on his shoulders a horrible pressure not just as Brazil’s most effective attacker by some distance, but as sole keeper of the flame of the old malandro spirit. Really Brazil’s strength lies in a mobile, technically adept midfield and classy ball-playing defence. But it will still be Neymar in extreme close up when the tournament begins, a player under more pressure than any other at any previous World Cup not just to win games, but to win games the right way too.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Being both dirty and an inveterate diver, Dani Alves is a true master of football’s darker arts.

The coach

Big, loveable, flinty-eyed, 65-year-old Phil was something of a port in a storm in 2012 for a Brazilian FA spooked by the raggedness of its team under Mano Menezes and the impending all-or-nothing bid to win La Hexa on home soil. Scolari has duly remodelled along pragmatic lines, defeating Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup, performing his usual tough guy histrionics on the touchline, enforcing the usual pre-tournament sex ban among his players (“usually normal sex is done in a balanced way but some like to perform acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players”) and generally raised the spirits. Likely to be the only coach at the tournament with his own travelling shrine of porcelain saints.

Grudge match

The obvious one: Argentina, the battle of the South Americas between two nations who share an 800-mile border, the two best World Cup players of all time and a continuing sense of vitriol. The less obvious ones: the rest of South America, Italy (fond foes) and, maybe, somewhere near the back of the queue, England.

Holed up

Brazil have always been the masters of fine-point preparations, kings of sport science and training camps. The Brazilian FA training centre at Granja Comary in Rio State is a verdant, splendidly isolated luxury compound that looks like it might make a good place to train a race of teenage superhero warriors or a squadron of X-men.

How they qualified
Apparently there’s some football tournament or something going on in Brazil.

World Cup High
Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, but it is the 1970 triumph that inspires the most impassioned tributes.

World Cup low
The sad spectacle of an unwell Ronaldo and his team being rolled over 3-0 by France in the 1998 final.

Familiar faces
Julio Cesar (QPR), David Luiz (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea), Paulinho (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Title odds
7/2 fav

The stereotype is …
Samba football, silky skills,dreamy, free-flowing, barefoot fantasy of kicks set to a Sérgio Mendes soundtrack,  genius all over the pitch, playing the game as it should be played.

The reality is …
A physical presence in midfield, a ball-playing back four that’s a bit iffy, high-energy pressing and Neymar scoring the goals. Scolari has tended to go for the fashionable 4-2-3-1, with traditional overlapping full-backs in Dani Alves and Marcelo. Oscar, Hulk and Neymar will support either Fred or Jô, who sound like a pair of plasterers, but who will attempt to carry on a glorious World Cup centre-forward lineage.

What they’re known for
Football 45 per cent
Samba 25 per cent
Thonged lovelies 20 per cent
Civil unrest 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
In thy bosom, O freedom, Our chest defy death itself.
Our forests have more life. Our life in your more love sinus.

Duration
A busy, frothy 1min 58sec.

How to dress like their fans

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Better get in that gym first. Bikinis for the ladies. Washboard stomachs for the gents. Fake Tan.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Brazil covers three time zones. No doubt failure to acclimatise to jet lag will be offered as a mitigating factor in England’s disappointing performance.