Spain’s tepid defence of the World Cup signaled the end of an era for the global game. Like all playing systems, the time of “tiki-taka” has probably come to an end. Or has it? Was it just that too many of Spain’s team have been around for too long? I like to think it is a combination of both. Whatever the prognosis, Spain are out and the competition may have found its “people’s favourite” in little Chile.
Given that Spain took many years to discover their tournament mojo, I hope the nation is not too harsh of Xavi and his pals. Spain’s ascendancy came at a time when the country was staring into the economic abyss. Football helped deflect some of the problems that beset Spain when the financial crisis broke in 2007-2008. Although Spain’s economic situation is far from healthy, it does seem to have improved since those days. But with the national team out of the World Cup, and clearly in need of an overhaul, the “bread and circuses” effect of football may start to evaporate.
Chile, however, are living up to their billing as the “darkest of the dark horses”. But their fans did them no favours in storming the media centre at the Maracana Stadium in an attempt to see the game. What bizarre scenes as a hording fell down to catch the trespassing fans bang to rights! Chilean fans can expect to see a lot of police at their next game as local authorities and FIFA – inevitably – overreact.
On the pitch, their team has a certain attacking flair which wins friends as well as matches. It wasn’t difficult to be impressed with Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguez, who both proved too difficult for Spain to handle.
Chile and the Netherlands will meet next week and they will be both be scrambling not to meet Brazil in the next round. Group A is now quite open, with Croatia staking a claim for a place in the top two after beating Cameroon 4-0. A point for Mexico and Brazil will be enough for them to go through, but if Croatia can beat Mexico, they will qualify. Uninspiring Brazil, you have to assume, will beat Cameroon.
Although the Pentacampeoes have not hit their stride – if, indeed, they have one – everyone expects them to improve as the competition progresses. But there are too many so-so players in the Brazil side for comfort – it cannot be long before players like Fred and Paulinho are replaced. We’ve not yet seen Argentina and Uruguay in full flow, but so far, only Chile and Colombia among the South Americans have really impressed. Chile aside, the best performances have come from European sides – the Netherlands and Germany.
England’s last throw of the dice?
England are playing catch-up after their defeat in the first rubber against Italy. Uruguay’s defeat at the hands of Costa Rica was a shock result. Both teams have to win in this second game, so it could be an exciting contest or wracked with tension – probably the latter. If Luis Suarez plays, England’s defence, which looked as mobile as Easter Island Moai at times last weekend, will need to up its game, although just how fit Anfield’s favourite carnivore will be is open to debate.
Also up for discussion is whether Wayne Rooney will wake up from his recent slumbers. Although Rooney divides opinion, there can be little doubt that his effectiveness has been blunted over the past year or so. He can no longer be guaranteed a place and if England do go home early, and the smart money says they won’t have to book any hotels beyond next Tuesday, it is questionable if Rooney will – or indeed should – play a part in plans for Euro 2016.
On the positive side, people will be looking forward to seeing Raheem Sterling back in action. Rarely has a young England player excited as much as this lad. England need to make sure he is used sparingly at such a tender age, and avoid burning him out Michael Owen fashion, but he does inspire hope for the future. On the other hand, Adam Lallana needs to be thrown into action. He’s 26 years old, so he’s not a youngster and if he is seen as part of a new breed of England player, he needs to be in the side. No good saving a 26 year-old for the future.
Group C: If you’re interested
One of the least inspiring groups is C – Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece. The two first game winners, Colombia and Ivory Coast, meet (in all probability) to decide who wins the group. Japan and Greece can give themselves hope of qualifying if either of them win. Japan’s fans really endeared themselves to the world when they cleaned up at the end of the game with Ivory Coast – they actually took bin liners to the stadium! Having been to Japan, I can vouch for the high level of hygiene everywhere.
The World Cup is still shipping in goals – the average may have gone down since the first few days, but at 3 goals per game, it’s still way ahead of recent years. Crowds are also healthy with an average gate of 50,671 and aggregate attendances topping a million. Leading scorers are Thomas Mueller (Germany) and the dynamic Dutchmen Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, all on three.