Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Brazil 2014: First round impressions - part 1

Quick spoiler warning: This is going to involve more football talk, so if you're not interested, then this may not be a good read.
Any way, just thought I'd make some kind of passing comment on this whole shin-dig going on in Brazil, and rather than going in-depth, best way I can see it going is if I take a quick cursory glance after each round of games. So with less waiting around than a gerbil near a food-dish, let's get cracking with groups A-D. I'll polish off the other 4 groups at another time.

Brazil look decent, if not outstanding, their first win against Croatia showed they're not slouches, but at the same time, if last night's draw against Mexico shows anything, it's that they could use a change of tactics as the tournament moved on, Fred in particular living up to his name-sake as utterly unremarkable. They seem to start slowly and turn the tempo up later on, perhaps relying on the conditions to wear their opponents down rather than actually playing them off the park. Whatever happens, some new ideas would be useful. They should top the group, especially if they confirm my suspicions by showing what they have in reserve, which they may have to do to avoid another struggle against Cameroon.
Mexico, you could say similar of, although they had 2 incorrectly ruled out against Cameroon, so there is potential there. I don't see them going beyond the last 16, especially as they have one of Chile, Netherlands or Spain to face up against, but they were solid against Brazil, Guillermo Ochoa in particular showing what he can do. It's not out of the realms of possibility for them to top the group, but they would need a big goal-difference swing or Cameroon to pull a big upset.
Croatia were lucky to go ahead in the opening game, but I don't see them getting out of the group stage, they've got more about them than Cameroon, but it's an upward struggle to get any further, with both been must-win games. While I'm always impressed with the regular performances of a nation that's not been independent for 25 years yet, I suspect they'll be 3rd in this group.
Cameroon did not impress against Mexico, I have to be honest. The 1-0 score-line was a little flattering, and while they did get close a couple of times, I felt Mexico had them under control. Eto'o looked past his best, and there wasn't too much that intrigued me about them. They may bring some new ideas against Croatia, and they could well have to if they are to stand a chance of avoiding the wooden spoon of the group that I suspect has their name on it at moment.

Obviously the big result here was Netherlands' 5-1 drubbing of Spain in their first attempt to defend the title they won in South Africa. Granted, normally dependable keeper Iker Casillas had more off moments than many have come to expect from him, but at the same time this was not so much a poor showing from Spain as it was the Dutch finding a higher level of play Spain had no answer for. The main problem the Spanish seem to have is trying to work a central forward into their style of play, which their borrowed Brazilian Diego Costa didn't work well into, and while Torres did wonders in that role in Euro 2012, his time at Chelsea seems to be taking its toll. 
Spain against Chile should be a spectacle in itself, especially after the Dutch should overcome Australia to book their place in the next round, with both sides knowing who-ever wins that game should be through, with Chile having to face Netherlands in the final round of games. Even with Spain's final game against Australia in mind, I'm thinking Chile to go through, as on performances so far, they should be able to be an equal to Spain, and goal difference is in their favour.

Both of these games went completely against how I was originally gauging them, with Colombia brushing Greece aside with nary a second look, while the Drogba effect inspired the Ivory Coast/Cote D'ivoire (delete as appropriate) to come back against Japan, leaving those two in the driving seat. Greece are one of a few sides in this tournament that pride themselves on been well organised in defence with the hope of sneaking a goal on the counter, but it's only worked when fortune has gone in their favour, so unless their two remaining games improve rapidly, it's safe to say they won't be needing to have a quiet whip around to extend their stay. 
I would like Japan to go through alongside Colombia, as they always bring an energetic style of play that I enjoy to see, but without the ability to see out a result, I expect Ivory Coast will take the second knock-out place, and perhaps be the only African team to progress.

I will say this one to get it out the way - watching England in the recent past has bored me. I will say I wasn't able to see much of the Italy game, as I was otherwise disposed of at the time, but I'm tempted to think a close, but no cigar performance against Italy, even and Italy without Buffon seems encouraging going forward. What really impressed me was Costa Rica dealing with Uruguay the way they did, that throws the scrap for second place behind I expect Italy in the group wide open. 
I'm sensing the final game between England and Costa Rica will have a similar feel to Spain against Chile, with the winners going through. I'd expect England to come out on top, but I wouldn't be too annoyed if Costa Rica manage it instead, although that may be my personal wishes for an underdog to go far speaking.

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