Shades of Korea 2002 last and Argentina 78. In other words, some dodgy decisions and questionable performances last night. (Michael) Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal had crisp packets for hands and without trying to sound racist in anyway, that referee looked like he had his eyes closed at certain times. On this evidence, Brazil will not win the World Cup with their performances alone, although we know that most countries need the game like a ‘green’ horse needs its first run.
They were visibly nervous and Neymar could have been sent off for that double armed effort on Luka (given his hair to Ivan Rakitic, in order to confuse the rest of us) Modric. He really was lucky to get away with it. Lo and behold, he goes and equalises just minutes later and the nerves both on the pitch and in the stands are suitably reduced. But Croatia continued to show what they have in the short-time that Niko Kovac has been head coach. As Clive told us, he hadn’t lost in his six previous games as boss and his short tenure as manager of their under-21s. So, to say that this was his first defeat and in the way it arrived was harsh to say the least.
Luckily for Brazil, Mexico are woeful and Cameroon are Cameroon. They will top the group and while the other two may place out a score-draw today, neither of them will trouble the win-result Brazil are craving, to see them comfortably through as group winners.
In other World Cup news, I am very much looking forward to Spain v Netherlands tonight and it will be interesting to see how Louis van Gaal is in shape before the Manchester United job begins and also how Oranje have recovered in tournaments from the debacle that was Euro 2012. The in-fighting (not as bad as France, but bad enough to contribute to their quick exit two years ago) may have disappeared and main man Robin van Persie led the way in the scoring charts for the European section of qualifying. But quite a few of the players in the squad have not had great seasons going into this tournament and that can go either way as to whether the form suffers because of it or they are determined as a group and as individuals.
Spain’s Barcelona contingent, so vital to their country’s chances in tournaments gone by, also suffered a dip – one so bad that it saw the club not picking up silverware for the first time since 2008. But as you recall, Spain’s good run began with the Euro title in Austria and Switzerland that year, so it can be done; the proof pleasing their flat-land rivals, no doubt.
Vicente del Bosque’s men will hoard the ball as ever, so it will be interesting to see if the Netherlands can learn from their mistakes in the 2010 World Cup final clash, when they were arguably in much better form – especially Wesley Sneijder – and succumbed to Andres Iniesta’s sole effort, only in extra-time. Spain will win tonight, but if Diego Costa isn’t yet fit enough to start the game, then they may struggle to convert all their possession into goals. Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble…Tight game, few goals, Spain win.
Chile play Australia in the late game at 11pm and I would think that this will be a marker for Chile to show what they can offer. Australia’s squad is packed with more home-based players ever, save for the much-travelled Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Mark Schwarzer but that will not save them, unfortunately. Chile demonstrated how dangerous they can be by upsetting England at Wembley in November last year and Alexis Sanchez will again lead the line.
Verdict: Chile 3-0 Australia.
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