A long day of World Cup football ended a few hours ago, as we witnessed as many as four games spread equally between Groups C and D in the space of 12 hours. And boy, were there some surprises!
Costa Rica Spice-up The Group Of Death
Costa Rica fired the opening shots in Group D, also called the Group of Death of this edition of the World Cup, when they condemned South American champions Uruguay to a shock 3-1 defeat. Considered by many to be the team that made the numbers in Group D, Costa Rica surprised everyone by actually finishing the day on top of the group. Not only does this mean that they have thrown their hat in the ring for qualification to the next round but, seen in conjunction with the England vs Italy game, it means that Uruguay’s game against England suddenly gains new significance. Costa Rica have shown that getting points off them won’t be easy picking for either England or Italy. The Costa Rican side is fast with Ruiz, Campbell and Balanos providing a high speed trifecta at the top of the field and even the slightest lethargy in defense may be quickly punished as the Costa Ricans demonstrated against Uruguay’s defensive frailties.
Uruguay Have Suarez-injury Worry. But That’s Not The Biggest
Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez passed on the opportunity to substitute Suarez into the game even as Uruguay were staring down the barrel. This clearly hints at the injury to Suarez being more than just an ankle tweak. In Suarez’s absence, both Cavani and Forlan looked toothless. Forlan seems to be firmly over the hill as last World Cup’s Golden Ball winner hardly made an impact against Costa Rica, dragging his feet for most of the time he was on the pitch. Cavani’s lack of training with his national team colleagues showed as he often made runs too early or too late, and one good chance he got in front of goal was squandered, as he fired the ball into the orbit. More importantly, none of the two forwards were able to provide the penetration in the final third that has become Suarez’s trademark.
That said, while many would have guessed that the Liverpool striker’s absence from the game would be sorely felt by Uruguay, it was the defensive inadequacies that should really have Uruguay and her supporters worried. For starters all three of Costa Rica’s goals can directly be attributed to defensive errors. For the first goal put in by Joel Campbell, Caceras was out on the flanks battling Gamboa for the ball. At the same time, Lugano and Godin, who were inside their box, were guilty of ball watching leaving Campbell unmarked. Even when the cross came in, Lugano failed to move across to Campbell to cover the angle and the resulting free space allowed the Costa Rican to take a touch to control the ball before firing it into the back of the net.
For the second goal, that came off a set piece, Duarte was left unmarked. This despite an exactly similar situation having gone down as a miss not ten minutes ago, when Duarte had again made an unmarked run and fired a point blank shot at Muslera at the near post. Duarte learned from his mistake and his low header for the goal was at the far post. Uruguay did not however learn and the Club Brugge defender was left unmarked to take another shot as Stuani’s last gasp defensive attempt proved futile.
For Urena’s goal, Muslera was to be blamed for coming off his line too early and then not holding on to the ball. He left the goal unprotected and Urena did well to put the ball into goal. Uruguay need to sort out these defensive issues very quickly because against Italy and England they would be punished even more severely and Suarez will not be of much use if they keep leaking goals regularly.
England Lack Of Experience May Cost Them Deeply
England have fielded one of the youngest World Cup squads in their history with an average age of less than 25 years. The young players are full of youthful exuberance and play with the gay abandon associated with players that have never faced failure on the big stage. Sturridge, Sterling, Lallana all belong to this category. Against Italy, the team played well for about an hour but then came unstuck as Pirlo and co exerted their experience and technical nous in equal measure to score a goal and then lock England out of it. Pirlo and Gerrard were the senior statesmen in midfield for each side but their game was average at best. Pirlo did contribute in the buildup for the first Italian goal but the contribution was to actually a decoy. Yet Pirlo’s experience showed in the dummy leading up to the first goal. The move pulled Sturridge out of position, thus allowing Marchisio to not only take a touch but roll and control the ball and then take a shot at goal. While that assessment of Pirlo’s contribution may sound naive, it is below average by Pirlo’s lofty standards. He did set the tempo of the Italian game reducing the pace to allow Italy to hold the ball and play to run down time. On the ball, however, he was often hassled out of possession by the tenacity and high activity levels of both Sturridge and Sterling. Gerrard’s game was even worse as he failed to make even a single key pass in the game. Rooney’s miss at a great chance for an equalizer rose to prominence post match but it has thus far hidden Gerrard’s shortcomings in the game.
Roy Hodgson had gone on record before the start of the World Cup to state that his side was young and fans should not expect too much. In light of the Italy game tonight as well as the Costa Rican victory over Uruguay, those words suddenly appear a whole lot truer.
Defenses Need To Be Sharper This Time
In the World Cup 2010, Spain scored only 8 goals, conceding only 2 en route to their championship triumph. They depended on scoring one goal and then shutting out the opponents. For some reason, in the previous World Cup we didn’t really see too many fight backs. This time around though the story has been different. Teams that have tried to settle down after getting the first goal have in general been punished with a comeback. Brazil, Costa Rica, Netherlands and Cote d’Ivoire have all staged comebacks from a goal down. Even Italy had to fight for the winning goal after England equalized within minutes of going a goal down. Add to that the fact that we have only completed 3 days and already 28 goals have been scored in 8 games. That is more than 3 goals per game. Netherlands smashed Spain 5-1, Costa Rica stunned Uruguay 3-1, Colombia thrashed Greece 3-0 and Chile put 3 past Australia in their 3-1 win. While this does mean improved finishing prowess in teams, it may also hint at some rustiness as the players are still taking time to get used to playing with each other so there are slips between midfield and defense. This however needs to be remedied quickly, at least before the start of the Round of 16 where matches would be of the knockout variety.
Refereeing Inconsistencies Again Raise Their Ugly Head
For the third straight day, refereeing inconsistencies were the highlight of more than one match. In the Uruguay vs Costa Rica game, referee deservedly awarded a penalty to Uruguay when Junior Diaz held Diego Lugano in the box during a corner kick. However, minutes later the referee chose to ignore a similar incident where Caceres was all over Campbell in front of the Uruguay goal. While this is a case of inconsistency by a referee during one game, a larger case may be made for the inconsistency across games. While it is common to have referees in leagues and tournaments that are more or less lenient than each other, the gap in leniency is rarely ever substantial. In the World Cup, however, referees have shown huge disparity in decision making.
So while the referee in Spain’s game vs Netherlands allowed a penalty even though it seemed very clear that Diego Costa had stuck out his left boot intentionally towards the defender and even then the contact was minimal, there was an incident in the England vs Italy game where Welbeck was practically mowed down in the box by an aggressive defender that went unpunished. The one redeeming factor has been the calls for offsides that have been fairly unimpeachable in the first three days of the competition with the linesmen getting their calls right on practically every occasion.