Saturday 21 June 2014

World Cup Observations 6: Costa Rica makes history and proves not only everyone wrong, but that Group D is in fact a Group of Death

I half regret not paying enough attention to Costa Rica in this group - I truly had no idea that they would be capable of upsetting the odds twice in this very tough group! Besides the opposing teams and those who bet for the favourites, who doesn't love an underdog fairytale?

What a victory for the underdog (and the neutral fan)!!! Who would have thought that Costa Rica would be the first to qualify from the group - everyone from the get-go assumed they would come last in the group. How wrong was I?! We all love it.

As fate would have it, Brian Ruiz timed his run to perfection and headed the ball in to seal Costa Rica's Round of 16 qualification in a very very tough group. (Do note that they have qualified for the knockout stages before at the 1990 World Cup - but this is the first time they've done it with 1 match to spare and against such tough opposition)

A common theme between this game against Italy and the other match against Uruguay was the fact that, on both occasions, it seemed to me that Costa Rica were fired up from a perceived injustice on their end. In the Uruguay match it was the Cavani penalty (though, arguably, that was a clear penalty as the skipper Lugano was grabbed from behind - but of course, the Costa Rican perspective might argue otherwise..); and in this match, it was the failure of the referee to award Arsenal striker Joel Campbell with a penalty.

Balotelli will rue his missed opportunity to put the ball in after having a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper, failing to time his chip over the keeper's head properly. His other shot fell directly in the path of the keeper. Looks like he won't be getting his kiss from the Queen after all.

(It will be remembered that, after England's loss to Uruguay, Balotelli tweeted, in these exact words:
"If we beat Costa Rica i want a kiss,obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen.")

 Costa Rica220041+36

England are out because they have no opportunity to take points off their other two rivals for second spot.

This means that the Italy-Uruguay match will be a stunner, and it also means that, if Costa Rica finish first in their group, they might have an easy run to the quarter-finals as they play the runner-up of Group C which is very winnable for them (likely to be Ivory Coast or perhaps Greece). Even if Costa Rica lose to England (say 1-0), for them to top the group, Italy will need to win by 3 goals over Uruguay to make up for goal difference [bear in mind that goals scored and head-to-head record is the third and fourth tie breaker respectively, and Costa Rica win on the latter if Italy only win 2-0]. (Alternatively, Uruguay will need to win by 4 goals to top the group).

Hence it's quite likely Costa Rica will top the group.

One really does wonder though, given Suarez's crazy performance against England, whether Costa Rica would be in this position had our Uruguayan friend been fit enough to play the opener. But that's just speculation - history has in fact been made.

France v Swiss

  • I didn't watch the whole match, just some highlights and bits and pieces of the replay.
  • France went on a rampage, scoring 5 and conceding 2. Most of the damage was done in the space of a minute or so - the 16th and 17th minutes. Giroud's opener was France's 100th goal at the World Cup Finals. Easy for me to say but the second goal really should have been saved by Benaglio, the Swiss goalkeeper. After that the Swiss were chasing the game; if the second was saved, perhaps the Swiss would have recovered their composure and not conceded any further.
  • Being an Arsenal fan, I really enjoyed Giroud's pass to Valbuena for the third goal. It came off a Swiss corner where the Swiss had committed most of their players forward and France were able to quickly break through a great pass downfield from a French player (whom I can't recognise). Giroud had acres of space.
  • Benzema's 4th goal showed he is a great poacher, making the right run to meet the ball over the top.
  • I will make the obvious point though that it is easy to score lots of goals when you are leading by some substantial margin because the opponent is chasing the game - so perhaps one shouldn't read too much into this result when it comes to France's title credentials (though of course, it shows that they can score - but can they score when they are behind?).
  • The French will be upset though with the fact that they conceded two cheap goals to the Swiss at the end. Their first goal off a free kick also shouldn't have been a goal, as the French wall didn't hold together properly. Their second goal from Xhaka was quite nice, though a French defender walked off his line and played him onside.

Ecuador v Honduras 

  • Again I didn't watch the whole match, only the end and the highlights, but the Ecuadorians came from behind to steal a win from Honduras. Mr. Enner Valencia was something of a sneaky poacher, scoring 2 goals, one off a cross that took an awkward deflection from a defender and nicely into his path near the goalkeeper's right post, and the other coming off a header from a free kick.
  • The talking point of this match appears to be the penalty shout at the 57th minute and the disallowed goal at the 45th + 1 minute. 
  • In the former incident, Caicedo ran into the penalty area and was tripped by a Honduran defender. As many commentators have said, there was definitely contact but it appears that, to Caicedo's credit, the Ecuadorian refused to fall over and kept on running, even though he was stumbling along. Had Caicedo fallen over, it may have been a different story. On the other hand, there was minimal contact so perhaps the fact that Caicedo stayed on his feet was irrelevant.
  • In the latter incident, it appears that Bengston was not only offside but he used his arm to get the ball in the net. 

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