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.

Top 10 promising young talent at the WC

#10 Romelu Lukaku: Belgium

Romelu Lukaku: Belgium
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku showed an example of what’s to come in this summer’s World Cup after scoring a superb solo goal in the 5-1 win against Luxembourg on May 26 in a game that also saw him bag a hat-trick. On loan at Everton from Chelsea last season, the 21-year-old scored 15 goals and made six assists in the Premier League. He’s now scored 32 goals and made 10 assists in his two full campaigns in the English top flight. Belgium are expected to go far in the World Cup, according to ITV, and with striker Lukaku in great form, they could well reach the final stages of the tournament.

#9 Paul Pogba: France

Paul Pogba: France
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is well known but has yet to play in a major international tournament at senior level for France. The 21-year-old joined Juve in 2012 and has gone on to win back-to-back Serie A titles and Supercoppa Italianas, as per Wikipedia. Pogba’s fast rise to glory has been incredible. The talented midfielder won the Golden Ball to go with his FIFA U20 World Cup triumph with France in 2013. He only made his international senior team debut in March that year. Scoring seven goals and making seven assists, while also boasting having made 74 successful dribbles and 48 key passes in Serie A, Pogba is set to play an important part in the France side this summer. Certainly one to watch.

#8 Raheem Sterling: England

Raheem Sterling: England
The Premier League’s 2014 Young Player of the Year nominee Raheem Sterling, who currently plays for Liverpool, is another England hopeful who can really make a difference in this summer’s World Cup. The 19-year-old winger scored nine goals and made five assists for the Reds in the Premier League, and he could be an important impact player for England manager Roy Hodgson.

#7 Joel Campbell: Costa Rica

Joel Campbell: Costa Rica
While Arsenal winger Joel Campbell came to the attentions of many following his superb curled effort for Olympiakos against Manchester United in the Champions League last season, the Costa Rican international has been in incredible form during his loan spell. Campbell, 21, has scored eight goals and made 12 assists for the Greek side. He returns to Arsenal following his temporary spell with Olympiakos but could be the catalyst for the Costa Rica side this summer and could hamper England’s hopes of qualifying from the group stages when the two sides meet in June.

#6 Gerard Deulofeu: Spain

Gerard Deulofeu: Spain
While it can be difficult for newcomers to the Spain squad to force their way into the first team, Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu may be one player to whom manager Vicente Del Bosque looks in the World Cup. The 20-year-old spent last season on loan with Everton, scoring threegoals and making three assists. He quickly built up a reputation for his penchant for trickery to beat his opponent, with 44 successful dribbles made, while proving to be a genuine goal threat, too. While he failed to make the initial 30-man provisional squad, Deulofeu was called up for the pre-tournament friendly against Bolivia and could put himself in the driver’s seat for a place on the plane should anyone pull out. He does have Pedro, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas and Andres Iniesta to contend with for a place in the Spain side, but Deulofeu isn’t there to make up the numbers and could be a successful wildcard this summer.

#5 Memphis Depay: Netherlands

Memphis Depay: Netherlands
Promising PSV Eindhoven winger Memphis Depay is a name to remember. The 20-year-old only made his Netherlands debut in October 2013, but he’s now a player who could play an important part in the side in this summer’s World Cup. Depay has scored an impressive 12 goals and made eight assists in 32 league games. He’s made just a handful of appearances for the Netherlands side but has more than proved he’s ready for the next step.

#4 Mateo Kovacic: Croatia

Mateo Kovacic: Croatia
The lesser-known Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan is perhaps devoid of notoriety but not quality. The 20-year-old Croatian international has featured in all but six of the Nerazzurri’s league games last season. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who drives the ball from deep and into dangerous areas in the final third. Kovacic has made four assists in the league and boasts 71 successful dribbles from midfield. He’s also made 44 tackles and 28 key passes. The Croat played a pivotal part in Inter finishing in a Europa League place, too.

#3 Julian Draxler: Germany

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Julian Draxler: Germany
Germany boast an impressive midfield in their World Cup squad, but Schalke’s Julian Draxler is certainly one of the most exciting. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a good campaign with the Bundesliga outfit, scoring five goals and making seven assists in the league and Europe. Draxler averages more successful dribbles per game than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Barcelona’s Neymar. Such is the strength of the Germany midfield, Draxler could be limited to substitute appearances, but he’s sure to impress when he does get on the pitch.

#2 Ross Barkley: England

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Ross Barkley: England
Everton’s exciting midfielder Ross Barkley is a player who could make the difference for England. Such has been the impressive nature of his performances this season, Barkley has been compared to former England attacking midfielder Paul Gascoigne by his own club manager Roberto Martinez, via ESPN. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a superb breakthrough season with the Toffees, scoring six goals and making 80 successful dribbles in 34 Premier League games from midfield. He’s more than merited his call-up for this summer’s World Cup and will look to make an impression. Fearless Barkley has shown himself to be unfazed by the occasion in games and will certainly get minutes on the pitch for England in the World Cup.

#1 Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast
Ivorian defender Serge Aurier is tipped to have a good World Cup with Les Elephants, as reported on ITV. Last season for French side Toulouse, the 21-year-old scored six goals and made six assists from right-back. He’s deadly going forward, evident with his 191 crosses being made in Ligue 1,  and he’s comfortable in possession, with 1577 passes attempted and 1213 completed.

Costa Rica Team Preview

The Players

Keylor Navas goalkeeper, Levante

Johnny Acosta defender, Alajuelense

Giancarlo González defender, Columbus Crew

Michael Umaña defender, Saprissa

Celso Borges midfielder, AIK

Óscar Duarte defender, Club Brugge

Christian Bolaños midfielder, Copenhagen

Heiner Mora defender, Saprissa

Joel Campbell forward, Olympiacos

10 Bryan Ruiz (captain) forward, PSV Eindhoven

11 Michael Barrantes midfielder, Aalesund

12 Waylon Francis defender, Columbus Crew

13 Oscar Granados midfielder, Herediano

14 Randall Brenes forward, Cartaginés

15 Júnior Díaz defender, Mainz

16 Cristian Gamboa defender, Rosenborg

17 Yeltsin Tejeda midfielder, Saprissa

18 Patrick Pemberton goalkeeper, Alajuelense

19 Roy Miller defender, New York Red Bulls

20 Diego Calvo midfielder, Valerenga

21 Marco Ureña forward, Kuban Krasnodar

22 José Miguel Cubero midfielder, Herediano

23 Daniel Cambronero goalkeeper, Herediano

Star man

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Bryan Ruiz, nicknamed “The Weasel” in his days at Alajuelense, is the side’s key creator as attacking midfielder or second striker. Unappreciated at Fulham he is thriving after being sent on loan to PSV Eindhoven.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Alvaro Saborio was top scorer in qualifying but has a hot temper, once reportedly kicking a ball at a child during an open training session.

The coach

Standing at 5ft 5in, Jorge Luis Pinto bears all the hallmarks of short-man syndrome. Never short of a terse word in press conferences.

Grudge match

Costa Rica is sometimes known as the Switzerland of Central America because of its peaceable nature but there is no shortage of passion when it comes to fighting Honduras for regional football supremacy. Any meeting between the sides would also have the added flavour of pitting two Colombian coaches against each other.

Holed up

The team have asked for the Hotel Mendes Plaza to build a large relaxation room with sofas, TVs and videogames. It’s in the port city of Santos, so they can perk themselves up at the Coffee Museum or hope some magic will rub off from the statue of the local club’s most famous player, Pelé.

How they qualified
Beat the USA and Mexico on their way to second place in the six-team North American group.

World Cup high
Reaching the last 16 at Italia ’90, beating Scotland and – more impressively – Sweden in the process.

World Cup low
Losing all three of their group games, conceding nine goals, in Germany in 2006.

Familiar faces
Bryan Ruiz (Fulham).

Title odds: 1000/1

The stereotype is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of small, compact midfielders and big, leggy strikers.

The reality is …
An impeccably-drilled outfit of defenders, defenders and more defenders. Pinto likes his 5-4-1 formation, and against the bigger nations, expect it to get another outing.

What are they known for?
Outstanding natural beauty 56 per cent
Fleeting but unbreakable bond with Derby County 44 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
In the tenacious battle of fruitful work, reddening the face of man, conquered your children, simple peasants eternal renown, esteem and honour.

Duration
Just under two minutes.

How to dress like their fans

costa-rica-national-soccer-team
Slip on a poncho and make it rain with ticker tape. Look unimpressed if anyone asks you the way to San Jose.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Costa Rica has no standing army. Cue plenty of jokes about having a shabby defence.