Group Stage Review: Part 1

It’s been a fabulous World Cup thus far; full of excitement, drama and some wonderful performances. In this article @0riginalfooty looks back at groups A-D and picks out the highlights of the group.

Group A

Brazil              7pts
Mexico            7pts
Croatia            3pts
Cameroon       0pts

Star Man: Neymar – There could only be one winner in this group. Neymar has carried the weight of expectation placed upon his young shoulders without batting an eyelid and has scored 4 goals in 3 matches.

Best Match: Brazil 3-1 Croatia – It was the opening match of the tournament and what a match it was. Both sides played their part in an open and attacking match with plenty of free-flowing football played by both sides, but it was Scolari’s men who came out on top.

Biggest disappointment: Croatia – The Croatians were tipped to join Brazil in the last 16 but, ultimately, came up short. Their most disappointing moment came in a final match defeat to rivals Mexico where a victory would have sealed qualification.

Side that will go furthest: Brazil – Mexico have an extremely tough draw against the Netherlands who have suddenly become one of the favourites in the tournament. Brazil also have a tough match against Chile but will still be confident of reaching the quarter-finals.

Neymar has been one of the stand out players at the tournament so far.

Neymar has been one of the stand out players at the tournament so far.

Group B

Netherlands    9pts
Chile               6pts
Spain              3pts
Australia         0pts

Star Man: Arjen Robben – Arguably the player of the tournament so far, Robben has been in scintillating form and was a constant thorn in the side of any defence he has played against so far. He has scored 3 goals and provided 1 assist at this stage of the World Cup.

Best Match: Australia 2-3 Netherlands – One of the best matches of the tournament so far. Australia may have finished bottom of the group with 0 points but they pushed the Netherlands all the way in this one. Tim Cahill’s goal is also the best goal of the tournament so far.

Biggest disappointment: Spain – Spain endured a miserable World Cup campaign and have quickly made the transition from World Cup heroes to World Cup zeros. They were landed with a tough group but will be extremely disheartened with a series of poor performances that cost them their place in the last 16.

Side that will go furthest: Netherlands – The Netherlands have a relatively easy passage to the semi-finals of the World Cup, although the Mexicans will be no pushovers. Chile, conversely, face the hosts Brazil in the next round who will be very difficult to overcome.

It was an extremely disappointing campaign for the Spanish

It was an extremely disappointing campaign for the Spanish

Group C

Colombia       9pts
Greece           4pts
Ivory Coast    3pts
Japan              1pt

Star Man: Juan Cuadrado – The Colombian winger who plays for Fiorentina has been brilliant for the Colombians so far and epitomises their pacey and committed attacking style.

Best Match: Greece 2-1 Ivory Coast – This group was not blessed with many classic encounters, however, this was an enthralling contest that ended up deciding the fate of both sides. The Ivory Coast needed just a draw to qualify alongside the Colombians against a Greek side that had not scored in the competition prior to facing them. The Ivory Coast were level until giving away a penalty in injury time that Georgios Samaras calmly slotted away, securing the Greek’s progress to the next round in the process.

Biggest disappointment: Ivory Coast – Qualification was in their own hands against the worst side in the group and they bottled it. This was a 3rd successive group stage exit at the World Cup for the Elephants but this was by far the most disappointing. They really should have reached the last 16.

Side that will go furthest: Colombia – On paper, Colombia’s draw looks tougher than Greece’s but the Costa Ricans have shown they are no pushovers at this competition and will fancy their chances against the Greeks. Uruguay on the other hand look average without the banned Luis Suarez, therefore Colombians will be favourites for this clash and should reach the quarter-finals.

Juan Cuadrado scores vs Japan

Juan Cuadrado already has 1 goal and 3 assists to his name in Brazil

Group D

Costa Rica       7pts
Uruguay          6pts
Italy                3pts
England           1pt

Star Man: Luis Suarez – There weren’t too many contenders for star man in this group as the best side in the group, Costa Rica, worked best as a collective rather than any one individual. Uruguay, on the other hand, were heavily reliant on Luis Suarez and he single-handedly fired them to victory over England. It’s just such a shame that such a talented player will be remembered for his non-footballing actions as opposed to his genuinely terrifying talent.

Best Match: Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica – When Uruguay scored in the 24th minute through an Edison Cavani penalty, few would have predicted an emphatic Costa Rican victory. However, the Costa Ricans announced themselves on the World Cup stage in style and thoroughly deserved their win.

Biggest disappointment: England – Having offered a promising performance against Italy and, having seen Uruguay fall short against Costa Rica, English hopes were high. However, individual errors at the back proved costly and with probably the worst chance conversion rate in the World Cup England crashed out of the World Cup with a measly 1 point.

Side that will go furthest: Costa Rica – Having come through what on paper looked like such a challenging group, it would be very disappointing for them to fall to a relatively average Greek side. Uruguay showed against Costa Rica that they struggle without Suarez and following his hefty ban, Colombia should prove too much for them.

Luis Suarez' 2nd vs England

Suarez shows his class to knock England out, but later lets himself and his team mates down against Italy


Gerrard’s Curtain Call

So England crashed out of the World Cup after two disastrous group games against Uruguay and Italy. The inquest has begun as to why England have performed so badly in this tournament. Many argue that the decision to leave out Ashley Cole and take Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw is a huge factor. Neither player have vast experience in tournament football and it is easy to see why Cole would have fared better in the squad. Some point to the tactics that Hodgson employed in the two games. When the squad was announced, the decision to include so many young players was heralded as brave and adventurous, but the Young Lions needed their captain to lead by example on the pitch. (more…)

England 1 – 2 Italy : match report

A disappointing but not unexpected result in Manaus has left England’s hopes of group qualification looking somewhat precarious.

After a highly spirited performance, England will find themselves hard done by to finish the game without a point to show for their efforts.

England started so promisingly with early long range efforts from Sterling and Henderson, the former cruelly rippling the side netting in a manner that sent many England fans into a state of mistaken euphoria.

Antonio Candreva, who caused England’s left hand side no end of problems, forced Joe Hart into a less than convincing save from distance twenty minutes in. The Lazio man kept Leighton Baines constantly busy, who in truth could have done with more protection from his winger Rooney.

Shortly after, the first clear cut chance of the match fell to England. Welbeck beat his man on the right before sliding a low cross towards Sturridge who was ready to pounce in the centre, only for Andrea Barzagli to get a crucial touch, flicking the ball just inches away from the Liverpool striker.

The tempo dropped around the half hour mark, with both sides keeping the ball well when in possession and Pirlo looking increasingly threatening when allowed space.

England will be disappointed to have conceded in such a manner, but it was a well worked corner routine which put the Italians in front on 35 minutes. A clever dummy from Pirlo on the edge of the box allowed Marchisio to drill home from 25 yards. His low shot slotting through the legs of both Rooney and Cahill before finding the bottom left hand corner.

Just two minutes later however, England found themselves level. It was the perfect response, with an incisive counter attack allowing Rooney space on the left to play a perfectly weighted cross to Sturridge who still had a lot to do, but England’s number 9 made it look easy, converting coolly on the half-volley.

A nervous moment just before half time saw Joe Hart rush out to close down Mario Balotelli, who’s smart chip required a vital goal line header from Jagielka to see England in level at half time.

After the break Welbeck switched sides with Rooney to try and sure up England’s left hand side. It was to little effect however as once again Candreva had the better of Baines and supplied one of many superb crosses over Gary Cahill, leaving who else but Balotelli to nod in at the back post.

How England needed another quick response, but the Italians had learnt from their earlier mistake and bought on Motta for Veratti to sure up their midfield and suffocate the game.

Despite this, the best chance of the match fell to Wayne Rooney who picked up Baines’ excellent pass before cutting inside and fooling Sirigu who went the wrong way, but his shot rolled agonisingly wide leaving Roy Hodgson with his head in his hands.

In the last twenty minutes however, as England tried desperately to create chances, there were only free-kick efforts from specialists Baines and Pirlo to speak of. Pirlo’s strike was by far the more promising as he wickedly whipped the ball from right to left, only for it to plant the crossbar and fly over, leaving Joe Hart motionless and the crowd awestruck.

All in all, Italy probably deserved their victory but England will rue that Rooney miss which would have made their position in the group look far more promising. That said, with Uruguay’s shock loss against Costa Rica, England will fancy themselves to come out victorious in their next match if they can put in a similar performance, even if talisman Luis Suarez returns for the game.

England player ratings:

Hart : 6
A few nervous moments but generally solid. Couldn’t do much for either goal.

Baines : 5
Had a very tough afternoon against Candreva who was allowed to cross all too often. Did provide a good pass for Rooney’s chance.

Johnson : 6
Showed good attacking intent and generally solid, but perhaps should have been covering for Italy’s second.

Jagielka : 7
The best of our back four, looked assured and confident. Impressive.

Cahill : 6
Generally solid but caught out for Italy’s winner.

Gerrard : 6
A quiet night by his high standards, and wasn’t involved much going forward but kept the ball well on the whole.

Henderson : 6
Promising early on, with some good runs and a decent effort. Faded before being substituted.

Sterling : 8
Adventurous and dangerous for large parts of the match. Had a few great dribbles and put in some decent balls, also hit an excellent strike just wide.

Rooney : 5
Very quiet for much of the game. Didn’t provide adequate cover for Baines to help quell the threat of Candreva and Darmian. Missed the chance of the match but provided a sublime ball for Sturridge’s leveller.

Welbeck : 7
Never stopped running and showed his importance by winning the ball back on numerous occasions. Criticised for lacking drive going forward and taking easy options, but almost found Sturridge early on to put England in front.

Sturridge : 8
Found him self in good positions on a few occasions, had some good link up play with both Welbeck and Sterling and put away a superb finish for England’s equaliser. He should take a lot of confidence from that performance.

Subs: Barkley : 7 (on for Welbeck ’61) Showed promise, looking fearless and threatening going forward.

Wilshere : 5 (on for Henderson ’73) Looked to make things happen but gave away possession too easily.

Lallana : 6 (On for Sturridge ’79) Not given much time to make an impact, but looked good when he got the ball.


England Team Analysis vs Italy

I wrote an article a little while ago on what I thought England’s best Starting XI would be in the World Cup, as I stated then that was what I viewed as our ‘best team’ but necessarily the one I would play in our opening match against Italy in Manaus on Saturday. In this piece I will explain the team I would select vs Italy taking into account various factors such as Italy’s style of play and the conditions we will be playing in.

As has been well documented ever since the draw took place for the World Cup; our first game is in Manaus, a tropical rainforest in the north of Brazil. On Saturday the humidity is expected to be around 76% and temperature at 30 degree Celsius, they are extremely challenging conditions in which to be playing football. Despite preparing for conditions like this through our training camps in Portugal and Miami it will still be virtually impossible to play a high intensity pressing game. These conditions will be a perfect example of how this World Cup is going to be a 14 man game; substitutions will be of vital importance, as the differential in energy levels between the players that come on and the ones already on the pitch will be larger than usual.

The back 5 picks itself (not helped by the lack of options at right-back) with Joe Hart in goal, Glen Johnson at right-back, Cahill and Jagielka at centre-back and Leighton Baines at left-back. As with the majority of the matches England has played in the past few years under Roy Hodgson I would play a 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders. One of whom would be Steven Gerrard, who has performed that role so well for Liverpool in the second-half of the past Premier League season. I would start with Jordan Henderson alongside Gerrard not purely because of the natural chemistry that the two already possess from Liverpool but also because of the energy that Henderson gives to the team. Jack Wilshere would be a fine player to have coming off the bench for a game like this as he showed against Honduras on Saturday.

I believe Ross Barkley would also be best served as an impact player coming off the bench after about 65 minutes if all is going well, he is still perhaps not defensively up to scratch and in a game of this magnitude it’s important all players are tactically aware of what their roles are. If Ross Barkley played he would be playing in the hole behind Daniel Sturridge most likely, this would hand him the job of nullifying the threat of Andrea Pirlo. If lessons are to be learnt from Euro 2012 where Pirlo ran the show, it is important that we have someone dedicated to ‘doing a job’ on Pirlo and practically man-marking him. This is where the controversial selection of Danny Welbeck comes into place, Welbeck whilst not being the most technically gifted player England possess, has bags of energy and is willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team. I would start Welbeck and play him on the left when we are going forward but importantly when we are defending I would give him the job of closing down Pirlo in the central area of the pitch. In my starting XI, Wayne Rooney would interchange with Danny Welbeck depending on whether or not we are attacking or defending, going forward I would have him in the hole behind Sturridge but defensively on the left allowing Welbeck to mark Pirlo.

The final selection decision that has to be made is who to start on the right-wing, it’s between Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana as to who gets that last space. Personally I would give Adam Lallana the nod in this game, I can just see Sterling being a complete nuisance coming off the bench in whichever situation we are in – winning, losing or drawing. That pace he possesses will terrorise defences when they’re mentally and physically tired after 70 odd minutes of the Manaus heat. Lallana is a brilliant, technical player and one who is unlikely to give the ball away often which will be of vital importance in this match.

With this starting XI on the bench we would have lots of options in both attack and defensive. Sterling, Wilshere and Barkley can all come if we need some more attacking impetus; Ricky Lambert can offer us that plan B if the Rooney-Sturridge link-up isn’t quite happening and the ever versatile James Milner could come on in holding-midfield to sure things up late on or even do a job on either wing if needed.

I would also like to add that this is also the team I think will start vs Italy, the Honduras match was the last chance Roy Hodgson had to look at his team vs Italy and he chose the same team as I mentioned above. The only thing he could possibly change is bringing Sterling in for Lallana as Sterling was somewhat controversially suspended for the Honduras game.