Having seen half the sides in the World Cup in action so far, we have a much clearer understanding of who will be a threat, who will underachieve and who could spring the biggest shock of the tournament. Below are 5 things we have learnt about the tournament so far.
1. Brazil can win ugly
Despite having one of the worlds best front lines, Brazil demonstrated the importance of their high pressing game and ability to stop opposition attacks before they even begin! Oscar and Neymar in particular are immediately pressing whenever the opposition get the ball and they aren’t afraid to get stuck in and commit the foul. If it means stopping the opposition playing, Brazil will do it. This is a quality that should serve them well throughout the tournament.
2. The Netherlands could be contenders
When I drew the Netherlands in a sweepstake with 8 of my friends, my reaction was fairly reserved. They were placed in a tough group with Spain and Chile and it seemed likely they would at best manage a second place finish which would almost certainly involve playing the side I consider to be the strongest outfit in the tournament; Brazil. On paper it looked like they would struggle to progress beyond the last 16, however, fast forward to Friday night where they thumped Spain 5-1 and suddenly things look a whole lot brighter for van gaal and his men. An attack containing Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder is enough to send shivers down most oppositions side but under Van Gaal there seemed a togetherness and tactical astuteness that could allow them to really go deep into the tournament. I’m still not convinced they can win it but if they can win this group they will certainly have given themselves a better chance.
3. Spain need to freshen things up
I was in a bar in Ibiza with some Spanish locals during the match on Friday night and the mood was very flat, but they almost didn’t seen surprised about what was unfolding before their eyes. We have seen a real shift of power in European football recently from Barcelona’s and more recently Guardiola’s Bayern Munich’s tika taka style to the likes of Heyncke’s Bayern Munich’s, Ancelotti’s Real Madrid’s and Simeone’s Athletico Madrid’s more direct and quick attacking styles where the ball is manoeuvred quickly and effectively and where possession is less important. As always with football, when a team’s style is effective and dominates, opposition try different ways to get around it until something works and then that becomes the dominant style. That is what we have seen recently in European football and the transition has occurred on the international stage too. It is too early to rule Spain out of winning this completion, there is such a depth of talent to their squad that you can never write them off but they need to perhaps freshen up their personnel or adopt a different playing approach, just to spring a tactical surprise once in a while. They have become too predictable and possibly even arrogant in their “live or die by tika taka” attitude and teams have, frankly, sussed them out.
4. Group C will be very tight
Group C containing Colombia, the Ivory Coast, Greece and Japan always looked a pretty tough group to call on paper but having seen the first two matches, I would say it is even tougher to call now. Greece are the weakest team in the group, as was predicted in our World Cup preview, but there really isn’t much between the other 3 teams. The Ivory Coast narrowly edged Japan in a tight match and whilst Colombia did comfortably dispatch Greece in exciting attacking style I saw enough of them defensively to suggest that they could really struggle at the back against the likes of Drogba, Yaya Toure, Honda and Kagawa which should make for some entertaining viewing. Ivory Coast and Colombia are now the favourites to come through but Colombia have played the easiest game in the group so far and much sterner tests lie ahead.
5. Costa Rica are no pushovers
At the beginning of the World Cup many people branded group D as one of the toughest groups in the competition, largely due to the presence of England, Italy and Uruguay. Despite having a strong qualification campaign few people gave Costa Rica much hope in progressing through a very difficult group. However, they have exceeded expectations and thrown a spanner in the works by beating Uruguay in their opening match and proving that every member of this group is competitive as opposed to just the big 3! It is still a big ask to see them qualify for the last 16 but they will certainly not be underestimated by future opponents in the competition and will be greatly boosted by their start to the tournament.