I'm not a football (or soccer, as I grew up in New Zealand calling it) fanatic, but with saturation coverage on free-to-air television here in The Philippines, I have to admit being caught up in World Cup Fever and I must say, thoroughly enjoying most of the football I've seen.
Two things, in particular, have struck me over these first two weeks of games:
Two more goalkeepers who have provided some fantastic performances for this first two weeks are Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Tim Howard of the United States. Navas was superb for his unfancied Costa Rican team, in the shock victories against Uruguay and Italy. He was equally unperturbed by anything England could throw at him in their scoreless draw this morning.
Tim Howard's moment of brilliance, for me, was in the game against Portugal. One-nil down, with half-time looming, Portugal looked set to add to the scoreline and head to the break two-nil up. Had the US fallen behind by two at that point it is doubtful they could have come back to almost take the game. His superb double save, tipping wide from Eder, after having diverted Nani's initial effort onto the post, gave his side the boost it needed heading into the break. The US were cruelly denied an historic victory only by a perfect Christiano Ronaldo cross in the final seconds of the game that found Varela's head and flew like a guided missile into the roof of the net. Tim Howard can take much of the kudos for the US's excellent results thus far.
As the tournament moves out of the group stage, long may the goalkeepers continue to provide us with breathtaking acrobatics and stunning examples of their craft. I love it!
1/ Are England as awful as they appear to be?
In a word - YES! I'm thrilled they've gone home now. I expect a lot more from an England team than this team delivered. Their 0-0 draw against Costa Rica this morning was symptomatic of their entire tournament. They couldn't hold onto possession, their passes were woefully inaccurate and their shooting at goal was appalling. Yes, I realise you were in the "Group of Death" with Italy and Uruguay, but Costa Rica? Really boys, is this the best you can do? The commentator was trying his best not to rubbish his own team and find some positives to take out of the tournament, but really were there any? Their new superstar, the 19-year old Raheem Sterling had a few glorious moments against Italy, but against Uruguay and as a substitute against Costa Rica, was virtually non-existent, well; when he wasn't giving the ball away to the opposition, anyway. Another who offered a glimmer of hope for England was Daniel Sturridge, who scored a pearler of a goal in their first game against Italy, but despite working hard in every game frequently showed his inexperience in front of goal. He had many, many shots in the three games, few of which troubled the goalkeepers. Who else did they have to offer us? Steven Gerrard and Frank Lamphard, both at the end of long and distinguished careers for their country, were shadows of the players they once were. The indomitable Wayne Rooney, did show flashes of the brilliance he is capable of, but all in all, it was just too little, not often enough. England are known in the Footballing World as "The Three Lions" but at Brazil 2014, they were more appropriately, "The Three Pussycats!"
Two words: Time and Fame!
Time has caught up with the great Spanish side of the past eight years. Since winning the 2008 European Trophy, this Spanish team has ruled the world. They followed Euro 2008, with victory at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and continued on their winning way at Euro 2012. This Spanish team was the best in history. The Coach Vincente Del Bosque stuck with the veterans who had won the back-to-back European titles and the 2010 World Cup when there was a wealth of young talent pushing to break into the team.
For six years Spain ruled the footballing roost with their wonderful, crisp, possession fueled style of play, but they left it too long to bring in their youngsters. They did manage a final respectable result against Australia, with a 3-0 scoreline, but if Spain is to rise to its former glory again in time for the defense of their European Title in 2016, they need to let go of the elder statesmen and embrace the exciting young players, many of whom play in the Spanish Club Scene. The early exit in Brazil may offer a chance to usher in change. It's probably time for Xavi, Alonso and Cassilas to hang up their international boots and see if a new, younger breed can turn Spain around for their Euro 2016 defense in France.
I think the other problem that Spain faced is that they started to believe their own press. They started to believe that they were unbeatable. That is a sure sign that the fall is about to come. Innovative and creative sides throughout history that have created dynasties, always tend to crash once they start to believe in their own superiority and infallibility. A team that creates a new style and leads the world somehow seems to forget that every other team then sets about coming up with a way to beat that new style. You only have to look at the Rugby World Cup to see evidence of this. The New Zealand All Blacks, had been the dominant rugby side in almost every year since 1986, yet in the 25 year period until 2011, they had only won the Rugby World Cup twice, in 1986 and in 2011. Too often they believed their own press, that they only had to show up to win and they forgot that in the period between World Cups, all the other teams were frantically searching for one thing...a way to beat them! Invariably, someone did. I think probably Spain suffered from this malady also in 2014.
Put simply: I don't know! What I do know is they haven't performed up to expectations.
I guess Iran have done OK, but I don't really think of Iran, as an Asian team, despite them playing in the Asian Confederation. The same applies to Australia, I don't think of them as Asian either, plus of course with 3 straight losses they haven't really done anything worth writing home about.
The two "truly" Asian teams in the competition are Japan and South Korea, both of whom I suspect, were expected to do much, much better than they have. Japan have been pretty abysmal really. Their results included being thumped by Columbia, well beaten by The Ivory Coast and managing a 0-0 draw against lowly Greece. The J-League is one of the world's more exciting and competitive club leagues and much was expected of this team of J-League stars boosted by overseas based players. Japan had one of the easier groups of the World Cup to fight its way out of, and yet they performed only average at best. There was no way this team would emulate the 2010 team and qualify for the round of 16. A disappointing campaign for all concerned in the Blue Samurai.
What about South Korea, Asia's most prolific qualifier for World Cup Finals? As I write this they still have one game to play tomorrow against group high-flyers Belgium. If they manage to unseat Belgium AND Algeria lost to Russia they could still qualify for the final 16, but the odds are stacked against them, as they sit at the bottom of Group H, on one point. I've seen both Korean games...their 1-1 draw against Russia and their 4-2 loss to Algeria. Frankly, they are not a team that inspires. Their defense is suspect and although they never stop trying, they have not impressed me at all. The glory days of a semi-final appearance in 2002 are long gone., I suspect South Korea need to go back home and study the way the game has changed. They still appear to be playing a style from a decade ago. They need; defenders prepared to commit themselves, and their bodies, to tackles; some strikers who know how to score; and a coach who understands what is necessary to win these days.
My Dream Finalists: I would love to see some real flair in the final. My dream final would be:
Columbia vs The Netherlands
I have absolutely no idea if the draw would allow such a final...they might meet in the round of 16 or the quarter-finals or something, but I think this would be a great final. Why?
I've loved watching Columbia in the group stages. They are a team with no real superstars, but tons of flair and play well as a team. They love to score goals and they are exciting to watch.
The Netherlands: I've always had a soft spot for them. They always show so much style and flair in the early parts of the tournament but so often seem to come crashing down to a boring Germany or Spain or someone else, later on. I'm a big fan of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie and I would just love to see them do well at Brazil 2014. Also, I like their orange strip...a very logical reason for loving them.
Lets face it...the Yellow of Columbia versus the Orange of The Netherlands, would be an interesting sight.
The most likely finalists:
Brazil vs Germany
Again I have no idea if the draw will allow this final to happen, but I strongly suspect Germany will be there or thereabouts when the spoils of victory are handed out. They usually are. Brazil...well, it is their tournament after all. They've played well to date, without being totally spectacular, but they do have the players to make it happen.
All I can say; is bring on the round of 16!
I can just hope that the second two weeks of this awesome tournament lives up to the excitement and goals of the first two weeks. For a non-football fan, it's been a really enjoyable experience thus far. Long may it continue!