World Cup Blog: Brilliant group stages overshadowed Suarez bite
07:30 28 June 2014
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Who were the winners and losers, heroes and villains of the World Cup group stages?
Well, there we have it, the group games of Brazil 2014 are done and dusted and you have to say we have just about seen it all already!
The first couple of weeks of the World Cup are supposed to be cagey, defensive games where teams are afraid to lose and the attacking football is at a minimum – not in this competition.
Perhaps it is because we are playing in Brazil. Perhaps the teams have got carried away by the exuberant, fiesta style of football that the hosts play because almost everyone has been at it.
Who would have thought that the group games would see the exit of holders Spain, humbled by the Dutch and by Chile? That Italy and Portugal would also be heading home? Oh and England, they are out as well, though perhaps that is not so surprising.
This has been a World Cup of goals so far. We have already seen the ball hit the net 136 times compared to 101 goals in group games four years ago in South Africa.
We have seen shocks like Holland thrashing the Spanish, Costa Rica’s superb wins over both Italy and Uruguay and Mexico holding Brazil.
There have been brilliant goals from Lionel Messi, Thomas Muller, Robin van Persie and even Tim Cahill for the Australians.
There have been controversial refereeing decisions too. Brazil have certainly been treated favourably so far, while Mexico, Croatia and Japan have suffered.
England may be out and already back home, but on reflection they only really played badly in the final game against Costa Rica when they were already out and Roy Hodgson opted to give everyone a game.
Physio Gary Lewin may even have come on as a substitute if he hadn’t twisted his ankle celebrating the England goal against the Italians! Only we could do that surely?
The team had their chances against both Italy and Uruguay, two teams higher than them in the FIFA rankings and only the clinical finishing of Balotelli and Suarez led to their downfall.
It would seem that England’s downfall came in December when the draw was made rather than on the fields of Brazil, but what is done is done.
And so to Suarez. What a shame that such a brilliant group phase of this World Cup has been so overshadowed and tainted by the actions of one idiot in a Uruguay shirt.
Like Mike Tyson in football boots, the South American can’t resist indulging in a post-match meal before the final whistle has been blown, even though the chip is more likely to be on his own shoulder rather than the opposition.
The tournament will be weaker for his absence, but he simply doesn’t deserve to be there and the teams left in the World Cup will not have to wear shoulder pads to face Uruguay.
So who is going to win the World Cup?
The knockout games start today (Saturday) with a mouth-watering clash between hosts Brazil and the skilful Chileans who have already caused one shock with victory over Spain.
That all South American clash is followed by another tonight when Colombia take on Suarez-less Uruguay in another game that is difficult to predict.
The draw is:
Brazil v Chile, Colombia v Uruguay, Holland v Mexico, Costa Rica v Greece, France v Nigeria, Germany v Algeria, Argentina v Switzerland, Belgium v United States.
So what about the awards so far for the group stages?
BEST TEAM: Colombia. Who knew that a team with West Ham loanee Pablo Armero in it would be so competent? But they have won all three of their games so far, scored nine goals and played with real attacking enterprise.
BEST PLAYER: James Rodriguez. We all guessed that the likes of Messi, Muller and Benzema were going to show their skills, but who knew about the Colombian striker? He has been superb so far, scoring three goals and adding two assists.
BEST GOAL: Robin van Persie. You will have to go a long way to see a better goal than Van Persie’s for the Dutch against Spain, but Cahill’s stunning strike against Holland certainly went close.
LUCKIEST TEAM: Greece. Having been thumped 3-0 in their opening game against Colombia, they struggled to change their defensive tactics to attacking ones and only got through to the last 16 thanks to a last-minute penalty.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: It has to be Costa Rica. They were supposed to be the whipping boys of England’s group, but they beat Uruguay and Italy and won the group with a swagger.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Portugal. I could easily have gone for Spain or England, but Portugal, with one of the best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo were thumped in their first game against Germany, would have lost to the United States but for an injury-time equaliser and then found a little bit of form, far, far too late.
WORST TEAM: Cameroon. It could have been England, it certainly could have been a cynical Honduras side who didn’t want to play football, but for a capable African team with some decent players, the accolade has to go to Cameroon. They lost all three games, scored one goal against nine and never looked like they had the desire to turn things around.
Two weeks over, here’s to the next two weeks and more exciting, drama-drenched and hopefully not too controversial football until the Germans win the World Cup on penalties.