World Cup Day 23: Shootout sends Argentina to Germany clash

It was powerhouse vs powerhouse as South American juggernauts Argentina came up against Europe’s historic Oranje.

With Germany already waiting in the final, the Netherlands and Argentina would battle to decide who would have the impossible task of toppling the Germans.

After the explosive meeting between Brazil and Germany, this game would need to be spectacular to come anywhere close.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Right from the off it was evident that this game wouldn’t be as action-packed as the previous semifinal.

Louis Van Gaal set his Dutch side up with their typical five at the back, and an Argentinian lineup packed full of defensive midfielders (and sorely missing Di Maria) couldn’t break through them.

The first half passed in a blur of failed attack after failed attack.

Neither side improved much in the second half – Argentina, who were showing more intent to actually go and try to win the match, were thwarted time and time again by a resilient Dutch side.

Robben and co. were uncharacteristically toothless on the counter attack, and the full time whistle brought an end to an extremely predictable (and rather boring) 90 minutes of semifinal action.

It was now do or die time – like so many other knockout games this World Cup, it was primed to explode into life in extra time.

But just like regulation time, the 30 additional minutes failed to provide anything meaningful.

With a spot in the World Cup final on the line, Argentina and the Netherlands would contest a penalty shootout.

The Dutch were no strangers to penalties, having relied on them just one game prior to advance over Costa Rica. They would be hoping that the experience in the previous shootout would aid them.

Their hopes were quickly smashed.

Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar stepped up first…and fired a shot right at goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Lionel Messi (of course) dispatched the next spot kick, and just like that Argentina had the result in their grasp.

Romero came up big again to save the third Dutch penalty, this one from Wesley Sneijder, and Argentinian veteran Maxi Rodriguez converted the fourth consecutive penalty for his country, sending them through to the World Cup final.

For the Dutch, it was a disappointing way to cap what started as a phenomenal World Cup. Their dismantling of Spain and brilliant showing in Group B proved to be their peak – they started fantastically, but like many teams have in the past, they peaked far too early.

Argentina are a different story altogether. Messi and co. started slow, winning games by single-goal margins, and they’ve still yet to hit top form. In fact, they’ve hardly even looked like a cohesive team.

They’ll come up against a Germany team that is coming to life at the perfect time, and Argentina will need to have saved their best showing for last if they’re to claim this trophy.

Lionel Messi in particular will be having sleepless nights – he is now one game away from the ultimate prize. The four-time Ballon D’or winner has won everything possible with Barcelona, but his detractors will always point to his lack of international success.

If he can lift the World Cup trophy on Sunday, he’ll go down as the greatest player of all time. He just needs to perform the small feat of carrying his country to victory over the best team in the world. Simple.

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World Cup Day 22: German rampage stuns Brazil

Brazil and Germany met in the first semifinal of the 2014 World Cup to settle an age old grudge – who is the ultimate football nation?

The teams, with eight World Cup trophies between them, are two of the games biggest superpowers. This was about more than just another shot at the final, this was about making a statement.

Three-time winners Germany had yet to hit top form coming into this, but there were signs that they were finally starting to click.

For five-time winners Brazil, they would have to cope without injured superstar Neymar and suspended captain Thiago Silva, undeniably their two best players. Others needed to step up in their absence.

The last time these two met, Brazil won to claim the 2002 World Cup trophy. They’d be seeking a repeat, Germany a redemption.

An explosive start to the game saw Brazil drive forward at Germany dangerously, but it was the Germans who drew first blood.

Only 11 minutes into the match and the roles were reversed – Brazil, who had taken the lead early in their last two knockout games thanks to a set piece, were behind. Thomas Müller expertly dispatched the ball into the back of the net from a corner, and Germany had an early lead.

Only 12 minutes after and Germany had doubled that lead – a clinical German attack gave Miroslav Klose the chance to finish his own rebound. The veteran striker netted his 16th career World Cup goal (one more than the Brazilian Ronaldo) – a new record.

It was at that moment that logic ceased to exist.

One single minute later, and Brazil were picking the ball up out of the back of their net once again. This time it was midfielder Toni Kroos, who fired a ferocious left-footed strike into the bottom corner past a stunned Julio Cesar.

Brazilian fans around the stadium (and the country, for that matter) stood with their mouths wide open. This was not supposed to happen.

They didn’t have much time to process the three-goal deficit.

Kroos added another goal just two minutes after his first, slotting the ball into an empty net, leaving Julio Cesar stranded in the middle of his box.

Brazil’s nightmare refused to end, and three minutes after Kroos’ double, box-to-box midfielder Sami Khedira scored a fifth.

The Brazilian back line was in tatters – without Thiago Silva, they crumbled embarrassingly. The Germans cut through them like a knife on butter.

An 18-minute period brought an incredible five goals for Germany.
For Brazil, it brought the darkest period in their country’s footballing history.

The half time whistle sounded: Germany 5, Brazil 0. History, embarrassment, madness.

Brazil came out better after the break (they couldn’t come out worse, could they?) but Manuel Neuer refused to allow the Brazilian players the consolation goal that they tried so hard to get.

Germany, although still dangerous, understandably slowed down. They didn’t need any more goals today.

Substitute Andre Schürrle clearly didn’t get the memo, though.

In the 69th minute, the wideman scored a sixth goal for Germany, tapping in from fullback Phillip Lahm’s cross.

Ten minutes later and Schürrle, who decided mercy was not an option, scored again. This time he controlled a lofted pass from Thomas Müller before smashing a left-footed volley in off the underside of the bar.

Brazil’s consolation goal finally came when Oscar broke the offside trap and cut by Manuel Neuer, smashing into the net.

The full time whistle brought an end to a dream day for Germany, and a nightmare for Brazil.

Germany 7-1 Brazil: the heaviest loss in Brazil’s history, and the biggest semifinal defeat in the history of the World Cup.

Brazil came into this tournament hoping to make history, but they’ve done so for all the wrong reasons.

Neymar will be glad that his injury ruled him out of what would have been a massive stain on his international career.

For Germany, they are now one game from the illustrious trophy. They will play the winner of Netherlands and Argentina, and after today’s rampant showing, neither will be looking forward to the game.

The Germans have been slow and steady throughout this World Cup, but today they truly arrived. You wouldn’t bet against them lifting that trophy on Sunday.

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World Cup Day 20: Brazil and Germany edge into semifinals

Germany edge France in clash of titans

Day 20 opened with a truly mouth-watering clash; footballing powerhouses Germany and France met in a quarter-final match-up that would have been worthy of being a World Cup final.

France started with a lethal front three of Griezmann, Benzema and Valbuena, targeting Germany’s slow fullbacks (two centrehalves playing out of postion) with pace on the flanks.

But Joachim Löwe finally gave in to the demands of the German public, moving captain Phillip Lahm back to rightback, and bringing Sami Khedira into midfield instead.

The change of personnel worked wonders for a Germany side that had lately been lacking in efficiency and cohesiveness.

They took an early lead when towering centreback Mats Hummels flicked a header, assisted by a free kick from Toni Kroos, in off the underside of the bar, leaving the man marking him, France’s Raphael Varane, sprawled out on the floor.

France were almost level 35 minutes in, but Manuel Neuer added another outstanding save to his highlight reel, this one a point-blank one-armed parry to deny Valbuena from drawing level.

Hummels’ goal was the only one of the half, and Germany went into the break with a 1-0 lead.

France stepped up their game in the second half, testing Manuel Neuer on a few more occasions. Striker Loic Remy was subbed on with 10 minutes to go – France were going for this.

But Germany remained resolute, holding the French at bay and counter-attacking with speed. Many times Germany threatened to double their lead on the break, but a poor final ball or final touch prevented them from doing so.

Manuel Neuer threw up an arm to deny Karim Benzema with seconds left, and it sealed the 1-0 victory for Germany, sending them into the semifinals for a record fourth time in a row.

It was an improved showing from Germany, who struggled against Algeria, but you the feeling is that they can still move up a gear or two. France will go home disappointed, but after their dreadful showing at World Cup 2010, they can hold their heads high.

Germany play the winner of the day’s later game between hosts Brazil and the brilliant Colombia – what a semifinal match-up.

While nothing is certain in football, many people would bet their house that the winner of the World Cup will emerge from that tantalizing semifinal game.

Brave Colombia fall short at Brazil hurdle

The second game of the day featured the best team of the World Cup so far – and no, that’s not Brazil.

The Brazilians were indeed playing, and Neymar and co. would expect to be center stage as they attempted to take one step closer to their ultimate goal.

But it was their opponents, Colombia, who had so far taken the World Cup by storm. Colombia, led by Monaco’s wonderkid James Rodriguez, have been the most attractive team to watch this summer, bar none. The Colombians have been fantastic in their approach, defeating team after team with their silky, smooth football.

It was Brazil, however, drew first blood.

Only seven minutes into the match, a Neymar corner evaded everybody and fell to a wide-open Thiago Silva at the back post. The captain duly obliged, diverting the ball into the open net and sending the stadium into an explosion of happiness.

Silva’s goal set things up perfectly for Brazil, who have shown the tendency to grow more and more nervous if the match is progressing without them on top. And with it, Brazil put in their most encouraging half of football of the World Cup so far.

The half time whistle brought the game to a close with a slim Brazilian lead, but moreso than the result, the performance was looking very good.

The second half went about in much the same way – both teams looked great on the ball, but Brazil in particular looked rapid on the counter.

With just over 20 minutes left to go, David Luiz scored a sublime free kick to all but seal the Brazilian victory. The free kick, from some distant out, flew over the Colombian wall and dipped spectacularly, flying past David Ospina and into the back of the net.

There only seemed to be one winner from that point on; the Brazilians were looking (for the first time in the tournament) extremely confident, and Colombia’s dream looked to be at an end.

But as so many times before, Colombia’s hero, James Rodriguez, stepped up to the plate.

Rodriguez played a fantastic ball in to teammate Carlos Bacca, and when Julio Cesar brought the Colombian down, it was left to James to convert the penalty. Cool as ever, the playmaker put the ball into the net with 10 minutes to go (his sixth of the tournament) and gave his country a glimmer of hope.

The waves of Colombian attacks became relentless – they piled forward, trying desperately to get one more goal to force extra time.

Unfortunately, James’ penalty proved only to be a consolation, and the final whistle sounded, sending Brazil through to the semifinals.

Colombia exit after a fantastic World Cup in which they won over neutral fans all over the world. James leaves as the tournament’s top goal scorer, and his country will undoubtedly be back next time around. Watch out for them – with Falcao back spearheading the attack and an older, wiser Rodriguez, they will be back better than ever.

Despite the late scare, this was Brazil’s best performance of the tournament. Perhaps, finally, they are hitting form. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

With Germany next up in the semifinals, the Brazilians will have their hardest test of the tournament so far. They should treat the match like a World Cup final – because it very well could be. Whoever progresses from that incredible encounter should go on to claim the entire thing.

Brazil are just two games from the ultimate glory: will they write history, or will they crumble under the pressure?

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World Cup Day 19: Extra time sends Belgium and Argentina through

Messi bails Argentina out with minutes to go

In the World Cup’s penultimate round of 16 game, Lionel Messi’s Argentina came up against a Switzerland side who boast a left-footed wizard of their own.

The Swiss, led by none other than talented youngster Xherdan Shaqiri, came out of Group E in second place, as expected. They hit top form in their final game, when Shaqiri scored a hattrick to open his account for the tournament.

Their opponents, Argentina, topped Group F with three one-goal leads; it was the expected outcome, but their slim wins left a lot to be desired for a team expected to have a star-studded front line.

The Swiss are renowned for their defence, Argentina for their offense – the game had a predictable pattern to it.

Argentina dominated possession, with two-thirds of the football, but they looked the same as they have all tournament – a team of individuals who just look at Lionel Messi and hope he provides a moment of magic.

The Swiss, like every other underdog so far in the round of 16, gave the favourite a very tough test. They were solid at the back, and dangerous on the counter.

It made for an exciting, but scoreless, 90 minutes. With the game still tied, it became the fourth game of the round of 16 (the same number as World Cup 2010 had in total) to go into extra time.

The start of extra time reinvigorated the Swiss, who came hard at Argentina, looking for the goal to topple the favourites.

But the first half of extra time flew by, and the game remained scoreless. Switzerland were 15 minutes away from a penalty shootout that could send them to the quarter-finals.

With two minutes left of play, Argentina’s team of individuals was bailed out by the individual once again.

Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the left flank, dribbling past an opponent and drawing everyone else in his direction before squaring the ball for compatriot Di Maria to finish and give the Argentines a late 1-0 lead. Messi had bailed them out yet again.

Switzerland had two fantastic chances to equalize late and take the game to penalties – first, Dzemaili turned a point-blank header onto the post, and with the final kick of the game Xherdan Shaqiri fired a promising free kick into the Argentine wall.

The last-gasp win sees Argentina through to the quarter-finals where they will face the winner of Belgium and the USA.

Like so many other massive favourites, they’ve continuously squeaked by in this tournament and they’ll need to stop relying on one man (albeit one incredible man) if they want to lift the trophy at the end of this mad World Cup.

Records broken as Belgium edge USA in thrilling encounter

The World Cup’s final round of 16 game (we’re getting to the serious stuff now!) saw Belgium take on the USA in an action-packed, dramatic encounter.

Belgium, who came through Group H unscathed, had yet to hit top gear – despite being the massive favourites in undoubtedly the World Cup’s easiest group, the Belgians needed three extremely tight wins to put them through in top spot.

For the USA, the path was more promising – the Americans came into Group G as the team that most people predicted to finish last place, yet they claimed a tight victory over Ghana, a tie against Portugal, and a tight loss to Germany. All three games were encouraging performances for the stars and stripes.

The game followed the pattern of almost every other round of 16 game so far this tournament – the favourites had possession and relative control of the game, but the underdogs were threatening on the counter-attack.

Belgian looked like breaking through multiple times, only to be thwarted by Tim Howard. A scoreless ninety minutes sent the game into extra time – the fifth of eight round of 16 games to do so. In comparison, World Cup 2010 only had four games in total.

Howard put on the goalkeeping performance of the tournament, turning away Belgian shots like it’s his job (it is), but he was finally beaten when substitute Romelu Lukaku charged down the flank and centred the ball to teammate Kevin de Bruyne, who fired low to give the Belgians a 93rd-minute lead.

The game looked to be sealed when de Bruyne and Lukaku swapped roles, with the midfielder setting up the powerful striker, to grab a second goal for Belgium in the final minute of the first half of extra time.

But the USA had other plans.

Just two minutes into the second half, substitute Julian Green (who had only been on the pitch for those two minutes) took the ball out of the air and volleyed home first time to score with his first ever touch at a World Cup – it sparked an explosive half of action to life.

From then on in, the USA were relentless, constantly whipping the ball into the box and frequently looking like they were going to pull back another for a historic comeback.

Unfortunately for the Americans, it wasn’t meant to be – Belgium sealed the victory, and for the first time ever in a World Cup, all eight group winners went on to win in the round of 16.

It was an admirable performance from the USA. Tim Howard in particular was outstanding, making 15 saves in the match to set a new World Cup record.

For Belgium, it was the fourth victory in a row, but the fourth incredibly tough contest.

They move on to face an Argentina side who has had an almost identical tournament – both teams have four victories from four, but both sides have won each of those by a slim one-goal margin.

Both teams advanced from groups (and a knockout round match) where they were clear favourites, but neither has looked anything like a cohesive unit.

It will be an interesting encounter. Argentina are certainly beatable, but so too are Belgium.

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World Cup Day 18: Germany and France cut it close

Late goals seal hard-fought French victory

Two French-speaking countries, France (duh) and Nigeria, came up against each other with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.

France, who have been one of the best sides in the tournament so far, eased through Group E, dismissing Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador to erase the memories of a horrible group stage showing at World Cup 2010.

Group F’s Nigeria surprised many people by coming through the group in second place. Bosnia, although competing in their first ever World Cup, were the bookies’ favourites to progress, but a solid showing from Nigeria (especially in a great match against Argentina) earned them a deserved spot in the round of 16.

Despite being favourites, the French would have been well aware of the threat posed by their Nigerian opponents – and the men in green did not disappoint.

The two teams battled in a very tight first half where Nigeria gave as good as they got, any pre-match predictions of this being an easy win for France were quickly discarded.

Both teams performed well up until the half time whistle, but thanks to good defending (and good goalkeeping from Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, in particular) neither side was able to get on the scoresheet.

And the second half progressed in much the same way.

While both sides were threatening with the ball, neither team could seem to put it into the back of the net. France’s Yohan Cabaye almost scored the goal of the tournament when his long-range dipping volley swerved incredibly and crashed against the underside of the bar, but still, there was no breakthrough.

That finally changed when Vincent Enyeama came out to claim a corner, only to see all of his hard work undone as a mistimed punch floated the ball right on top of Paul Pogba’s head, and the talented French midfielder nodded home to give France a 79th-minute lead.

The victory was sealed when a last-minute short corner routine from France was executed perfectly, forcing Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo to turn the ball into his own net.

France had to work for it, but they finally ran out 2-0 winners – a result which sees them through to the quarter-finals, where they would meet the winners of the day’s later match between Germany and Algeria.

It’s safe to say they were hoping for an Algerian surprise.

Algeria so close to upsetting Germany

And in the day’s second game, Algeria almost gave them just that.

They met a Germany side that had come through Group G relatively untested, and remained one of the favourites to win the World Cup.

The Algerians, huge underdogs in Group H, were not predicted to make it this far, but their success has all been on merit. They were easily the most interesting side in their group (including winners Belgium) and they threatened to give Germany a very tough game.

Right from the off, it was evident that Algeria would definitely give Germany something to think about.

Despite Germany dominating possession, it was the Algerians who looked the most dangerous. Their tenacious pressing often left Germany scrambling as they were pressured heavily on the ball, and Algeria’s rapid tempo meant that every time the Germans turned over the ball, they were left chasing lightning-fast counterattacks.

A scoreless first half gave Germany the chance to collect themselves, and the ineffective Mario Götze was replaced by Chelsea winger André Schürrle in an attempt to give the Algerian defenders something new to think about.

But even then, Algeria refused to lay down. If not for Manuel Neuer, who defined what it is to be a “sweeper keeper” with his performance, Algeria could have won the game by the time the 90 minute mark rolled around.

Instead, an increasingly nervous German fan base would have to endure two halves of extra time, hoping that finally their team could make the breakthrough.

They didn’t have to hope for long, as substitute André Schürrle bundled home a cross from Thomas Müller to give Germany the lead just two minutes into the first half of extra time.

The goal knocked the wind out of Algeria’s sails, and Mesut Özil finally rounded off the victory when a scramble inside the Algerian box ended with Özil capitalizing on a stranded goalkeeper and smashing the all into the roof of the net.

Just a minute later Algeria replied, when Abdelmoumene Djabou finished from a fantastic right-wing cross to Germany’s back post, but the goal was too little, too late. It would only be consolation, and Germany would claim the incredibly tight 2-1 victory.

Credit must go to Algeria, who did themselves proud and won over neutral fans around the world.

But Germany must use this as a wake-up call. They are now through to the quarter-finals, but they’ve yet to come close to playing their best football – only a 4-0 drubbing of Portugal (which was aided by a red card and an implosion by the Portuguese) could be considered a dominant German performance.

While it bodes well that they can continue to win despite not being at their best, their best will need to come soon – France waits for them in the quarter-finals, and the real Germany will need to show their face if they are to claim the crown that many people, and especially the German public, are expecting.

 

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World Cup Day 17: Incredible comeback sends Oranje through

Netherlands win in incredible comeback

In the second day of round-of-16 action, Louis Van Gaal’s free-scoring Netherlands met Miguel Herrera’s defensively-sound Mexico; it set the game up for an interesting contest.

But the game was never going to be wave after wave of Dutch attacks while Mexico tried to keep them at bay – the Mexicans may have come into this game with a rock-solid defence, but they are potent in front of goal as well.

Mexico, despite being underdogs, were far and away the best team in the first half – they were characteristically resolute at the back, but they were also eager to break at speed and run at the Dutch back line.

Unfortunately, the scorching heat (in the region of 38 C) didn’t allow much flow to the game. Thirty minutes in, and the World Cup’s first ever “cooling break” allowed players on both teams a moment to hydrate.

The game came to a close after a scoreless half, but the Mexicans were, surprisingly, looking like the likeliest team to break the deadlock.

Mexico finally got the rewards for their brilliant play after the break.

Just three minutes into the half, the Dutch defense failed to close down Giovanni Dos Santos quickly enough, and the Mexican winger fired in a 20-yard strike through a cluster of bodies and into the bottom corner of the net.

The goal sparked the Dutch into life, and Robben in particular grew more and more dangerous as the game progressed.

Once again, the “cooling break” broke up the flow – with the Dutch finally exerting their dominance, the break came at the worst possible time.

Guillermo Ochoa was once again in unbeatable form for Mexico – the shotstopper threw his body in front of everything, keeping his country in control of the game.

But with only two minutes of play left, a hero came to the fore for the Dutch.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar rose to knock down a high ball, heading back into the path of Wesley Sneijder just inside the 18-yard box. Sneijder met the ball with a perfect connection, firing a low, thunderous strike past a helpless Ochoa.

And from that point on, there only looked like one winner.

The Dutch kept throwing men forward, and Robben’s persistence at driving into the box eventually produced the inevitable result – with only minutes left of stoppage time, Robben, the master of winning penalties, was taken down in the box by Mexican captain Rafael Marquez.

Substitute (and creator of the first goal) Huntelaar stepped up to take it, the weight of the world on his shoulders. If he converted, his country would go through.

The striker dispatched the ball into the back of the net, breaking Mexican hearts but completing a sublime comeback for the Dutch.

The dramatic 2-1 comeback victory maintains the Netherlands’ perfect record (they are now four wins from four) and sets them up for a quarter-final match against either Costa Rica or Greece.

Regardless of which of the two they face, the men in orange will be huge favourites to advance to the semifinals. Incredible counter attacking football has taken them this far, and they are looking more and more likely like going all the way. Beware of the Oranje, they want revenge for World Cup 2010.

Costa Rica triumph in the battle of the underdogs

The second game of the day saw a bizarre match-up; Costa Rica and Greece, both of whom were predicted to finish dead last in their respective groups, defied the odds and met in a round-of-16 encounter.

Greece came through Group C, despite being predicted to be beaten to second spot by either Japan or Ivory Coast.

The Costa Ricans had an even bigger challenge – being drawn in this year’s Group of Death, La Sele claimed shock victories over both Uruguay and Italy, usurping the latter’s place and progressing from Group D.

Both teams progressed on the back of being extremely organised defensively – it didn’t take an expert to predict that this game would be a tight, cautious encounter.

An inevitable goalless first half didn’t give viewers much to get excited about, but less than 10 minutes after the break, the deadlock was finally broken; Costa Rican winger Bryan Ruiz finished excellently, receiving the ball at the top of the box and finishing with a first-time shot into the bottom corner of the Greek goal.

But only fourteen minutes later, Costa Rica put themselves in big trouble. Oscar Duarte received his second yellow card and was dismissed from the match, giving Greece a man advantage with just under a third of the match still to be played.

The tables were turned on Greece – notorious for scoring one goal and then sitting on their lead, the Greeks now had to throw everything at an opponent who was using their own tricks against them.

With the game looking more and more likely to be the end of the Greek World Cup dream, Sokratis Papastathopoulos gave his country a lifeline; in the final minute of play, the big defender found the ball right at his feet with the Costa Rican goal at his mercy – he did not disappoint, and extra time was on the cards.

Greece threw everything they had at Costa Rica, but they were unable to break through before the referee decided that this game would be decided by a penalty shootout.

A perfect penalty record gave Costa Rica the win, and left the Greeks heartbroken.

Costa Rica (incredibly) is now in the quarter-finals, where they will meet up against an in-form Netherlands.

They’ll be huge underdogs, but if they can come out of Group D unbeaten, they can definitely cause problems for the Dutch.

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World Cup Day 16: Shootout sends Brazil through, James sparkles for Colombia

Brazil edge through on penalties

Day 16 kicked off with the World Cup’s first knockout match – an intriguing round-of-16 clash between South American sides Chile and Brazil.

Host nation Brazil had the weight of an entire population on their shoulder. Despite coming up against a formidable opponent in Chile, anything besides a comfortable win would be seen as a disaster.

The stadium exploded into life when David Luiz provided the final touch on a flick-on from a corner to give the Brazilians an early one-goal lead and spark an electrifying atmosphere in the Belo Horizonte.

But the ecstasy soon turned to nerves, when nonchalant play from a Brazilian throw-in deep in their own half gave the ball away to Chilean striker Vargas, who quickly passed the ball into compatriot Alexis Sanchez; the superstar slotted the ball past Julio Cesar to draw the score level.

An enthralling half came to a close all square – Brazil had drawn first blood, but the feisty Chileans responded quickly.

The second half continued with the same dynamism, Brazil and Chile swapping turns to test the opposing defense.

Brazilian powerhouse Hulk looked as if he broke the deadlock in the 55th minute, when he controlled the ball with his chest and rolled it into the back of the net; but referee Howard Webb quickly disallowed the goal, claiming Hulk had used his arm to control the ball and giving the striker a yellow card.

The home crowd grew increasingly tense, as Chile became more and more threatening, pinning Brazil back and disrupting them from playing their natural game.

Both teams had opportunities, although Chile was on top, but a scoreless half meant that the game, tied at 1-1, would go to a dramatic extra time. Tired legs took to the pitch for an extra 30 minutes, and inspiration was needed from somewhere.

A combative but goalless first half of extra time set the stage for a historic final 15 minutes – somebody had the chance to become a hero.

With seconds left of play, Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla was millimeters from doing just that – the substitute striker received a pass, but his thunderous effort smashed off the crossbar. It was the final chance, and the action would be decided by a penalty shootout.

After a tense shootout, a successful fifth penalty from Neymar meant that Chile had to score to take it to a sixth shooter – but Chile’s Gonzalo Jara had the unenviable fate of hitting the post.

Brazil’s Julio Cesar was integral, saving Chile’s first two penalties.

The dramatic victory set Brazil up for a quarter-final matchup between Uruguay or Colombia (which would be determined by the day’s later game).

Brazil are now three games from claiming the ultimate glory – hoisting the World Cup trophy in their own backyard.

Chile caused them all sorts of trouble, but the Brazilians will improve with each passing game. Good luck to any team that stands in the way between them and destiny.

James steals the show as Colombia dismiss Uruguay

In the day’s second and final match, two more South American sides battled for a spot in the quarter-finals.

Colombia, one of, if not the, most impressive sides in this tournament met a Uruguay side without their star striker.

Despite the quality of both teams, all of the pre-match talk was of the banned Luis Suarez – the enigmatic Uruguayan was banned for nine international matches and 4 months of football after an alleged bite on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.

But despite all the talk of Uruguay’s front line, it was their defense and midfield that were under the most pressure early in the match. Colombia’s speed (of both movement and thought) was extremely hard to contain for the Uruguayans.

With the game finally starting to settle, Colombia’s player of the tournament so far, James Rodriguez, decided in the 28th minute that he was having none of that.

Rodriguez sublimely controlled a lofted pass from teammate Abel Aguilar and left-foot volleyed in the goal of the tournament, which crashed in off the underside of the bar.

The half time whistle brought the game to a halt at 1-0 in Colombia’s favour, but the game wasn’t done just yet.

More specifically, James Rodriguez wasn’t done just yet.

Just five minutes after the match resumed, Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado headed down a cross directly into the path of Rodriguez. The playmaker swept home the ball for a tournament-leading fifth goal, giving his country a 2-0 lead and control of the match.

Uruguay fought hard to get back into the match, but without you-know-who, they lacked both creativity and cutting edge.

Colombia ran out 2-0 winners, and despite an already impressive showing this tournament, this was the match that James Rodriguez announced himself on the world’s biggest stage.

Rodriguez, who now has five goals and a handful of assists, is the driving force behind an incredible Colombia side. The young attacking midfielder was always expected to be his team’s creative inspiration, but nobody expected him to ease Falcao’s absence with such a phenomenal goal return.

If Rodriguez and Colombia (with four wins from four, playing beautiful football) can keep performing like this, then quarter-final opponents Brazil will have much to be worried about.

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