Tomorrow morning will be my happiest moment of the last four years and probably the next four years combined. The morning before the opening match of the FIFA World Cup.
You wake up and you get that feeling that the next one month is going to be so damn special you’re gonna remember every bit of it for a long long while – a ride worth every second. You find yourself at that ever so sweet spot where the agonizing and exhilarating 4-year long wait is finally over, but you still have the entire phenomenon ahead of you, in all its entirety, in all its glory, ready for you and the world to savour and celebrate. Bliss. Behold, the FIFA World Cup.
I don’t think its possible to overestimate the grandeur of this extravaganza that unfolds every 4 years. The World Cup is such an occasion where it trumps most other priorities. Travel schedules altered, sleep cycles forcibly disrupted, regular social meet-ups aggressively avoided, spouses and girlfriends sidelined and of course, lives changed.
For one, I’m glad I live on my own in a city without too many acquaintances outside the football-loving sphere. I don’t have to make unwanted excuses to avoid people. I’d gladly sit and devour a Morocco vs Iran match, stuffing some junk nonsense in me, rather than go get a healthy meal and drink and have conversations.
But I do miss home. This will be the first World Cup I’d be watching away from Calicut. North Kerala is an absolute carnival for the month, some places even humbling local festivals Onam or Vishu. The levels to which people go nuts for Brazil and Argentina is an incredible sight. Streets glittering in either yellow-blue or the sky-blue and white. Traffic on the roads quite often halted to let local fans’ association Samba dancing processions to finish, complete with loud drums and bright flags. I’ll miss that.
But wait, there’s something I’m missing out. Something’s different this time.
BECAUSE I’M BLOODY GOING TO THE WORLD CUP.
I don’t think the sheer magnitude of it has sunken in yet. I’m still dazed and confused. I’m going to the World Cup!! A 2-week trip into the heart of the monster. I’d always wondered what the cliché “dream come true” was all about, and I think its happening. People from every nook and cranny of the world are converging in Russia and I’m going to be a part of it. A big huge gigantic shout-out to Appa (who’s joining us too) and Amma for sponsoring this.
(Resisting the urge to swear, but I think I’ll keep this one clean)
I’ll be writing about the travels to Russia in more posts, so let’s just get back to the World Cup.
The most beautiful part of the World Cup is its ability to bring people together. It’s so much more than the football on the pitch. The aftermath of a World Cup is distinctly felt in all our lives, let alone the players. It serves up such incredibly fascinating and emotional moments for the ages, many becoming regular anecdotes in conversations for years to come. We’ll all remember exactly what we were doing when these moments happen. We live it, we experience it, with the entire world. And we are yet again left with a longing to fast forward the clocks to four years later.
This blog was my first ever real venture into writing and it was yet again the FIFA World Cup which drove me into starting it in 2014. But just like its inspiration, haven’t posted on it for 4 years. But another World Cup comes around and I thought it’d be best to get back on the horse, as rusty as my writing could be. This time, it’ll hopefully be a lot more personal. And with the Russia travel, I hope to be sharing with you the travel and fan experience at one of the biggest global events ever.
The next month could change your lives. Hope you’re ready. Good luck, folks!
It’s true when they say that time flies when you’re having fun. The past month has been nothing short of sheer exhilarating, nail-biting fun. But, the business isn’t finished yet. There’s the one last bit of action to come and as always, the best is saved for the last. Yes, the 20th FIFA World Cup Final is upon us, and we have a cracker.
Germany vs Argentina – Winner Takes All.
THE STORY SO FAR
The age-old war between Europe and South America still wages on. At the start of the World Cup in South Africa four years ago, the two continents stood neck to neck at 9 World Cup wins each, but with Spain’s victory, Europe now has edged out on top. But, football’s greatest trophy has come back to South America in 2014. No European team has ever won the World Cup in the Americas and so an equalising 10th trophy for the South Americans was very much on the cards.
But one single result, has changed it all. Ruthless German efficiency prevailed in emphatic fashion against the hosts and favourites, Brazil who were just all passsion and no substance. The merciless 7-1 thrashing has made them clear favourites going into the final at the iconic Maracanã Stadium in Rio. They’ve come through in shining colours, without any single hero, although top scorer Thomas Müller might disagree. As their towering defender Mertesacker recently said, “Germany have stars in every position.” I couldn’t agree more. They’ve found the net 17 times already, more than any other team, with 8 different players scoring. They’re in the company of the World Cup’s All Time top scorer, Klose. Confidence couldn’t be higher in the German Camp. If they carry on their form, captain fantastic, Philip Lahm could find himself holding that Golden Trophy in a few hours.
Lahm – One last hurdle for the ultimate prize.
Their opponents however, are no piece of cake. Although they were among the favourites for the tournament, I’d say Argentina has exceeded a lot of expectations. Battling criticism and doubts for years now, they have finally answered their call. And at the center of it all is none other than the world’s best player, Lionel Messi. With four goals already, Messi is favourite to grab the Golden Ball even if Argentina doesn’t win today. Injuries have been a problem for the Argentines though with key man Di Maria struggling to be fit for the final and Agüero just returning to full fitness. But with a player like Messi, who can single handedly win games, the German juggernaut is in for a storm. Reaching their first finals since Diego Maradona retired, the new generation are pumped up and ready for the ultimate glory.
Messi – The Best at his Best.
Argentina and Germany (including West Germany) have met 6 times in World Cups previously, with the European side having the happier of memories with 4 wins and 1 draw. The first two meetings were both in Group Stages. The first one in Sweden 1958, where the Germans were defending champions, and convincingly winning 3-1, leaving the opponents to finish bottom of their group. The next one came 8 years later in Birmingham, England, where the match ended in a drab 0-0 draw. This was the tournament where the world saw the first glimpses of the young Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer. Both sides went on to face the hosts and eventual winners England in the knockout phases, Argentina in the Quarter-Final and West Germany in the final. The foundation had thus been set for a great rivalry.
The biggest years of the German-Argentine rivalry came in the late 1980s. This was the only time in World Cup history where the same two teams appeared in consecutive World Cup finals. It started off in 1986 in Mexico, a tournament which saw the arrival of the diminutive genius, Diego Maradona on the world stage. With mesmerising performances all throughout the tournament, Maradona set up a final clash against the Germans in Mexico City. Argentina cruised to a 2-0 lead early on, but the Germans came back brilliantly as ever to level 2-2, until a scintillating pass by Maradona to Burruchaga, found its way into the net thus cementing his place among the World Cup greats. But that victory remains their only victory over the Germans in World Cup history.
Diego Maradona – Lifted Into Glory. (FIFA WC Final, 1986)
Four years later, the final in Rome, was a chance for revenge for the Germans. Argentina had limped their way into the final with narrow victories. Their talisman, Maradona wasn’t at his best as an ankle injury hindered his performances all the time. The Germans, led by the great Lothar Matthäus and managed by none other than the Kaiser, Beckenbauer himself, did manage to get their revenge, but in a rather dirty fashion. The 1990 final is considered one of the worst finals ever in terms of quality and discipline. Two red cards for the Argentines resulted in a German victory thanks to a solitary penalty goal in the 85th minute.
Beckenbauer’s Boys conquer the world. (FIFA WC Final, 1990)
Moving on to recent times now. The 2006 Quarter-Final clash between these sides clearly underlines the rivalry between the sides. Both Argentina and hosts Germany had cruised through the Group Stages and set up a mouth watering QF tie. Argentina took the lead early on through Ayala and were heading for a famous victory when an incident which every Argentine has sore memories of, happened. In the 71st minute, German striker clashed into the opponent goalkeeper, Abbondanzieri, leaving the latter injured and had to be substituted. The second choice keeper proved why he is not first choice when he let in Klose’s equaliser in the 80th minute. The match went into shootouts and as history always says, Germany simply cannot be beaten on penalties, especially with the first choice keeper out. Anger, frustration and disappointment prevailed in Argentina.
Nasty Scenes between German manager Klinsmann and the Argentine players as the young Messi watches on. (FIFA WC Quarter-Final, 2006)
Four years later, the same situation arose. Quarter-Finals clash, both teams looking really strong. But it proved out to be a a lot different from the previous time as the Germans ran rout winning 4-0. With that, the intensity of the rivalry between Argentina and Germany had reached new heights.
Germans run riot against the helpless Argentines. (FIFA WC Quarter-Finals, 2010)
The Germans are favourites going into the final, but take nothing away from Argentina. Messi and Co are out for revenge for the past two World Cups and hardly anything can stop him when he gets going.
This has arguably been one of the best World Cups ever, and I hope we see a fitting end to this tournament. Should be a cracker.
My Prediction : Germany 2-0 Argentina
Joachim Löw and Alejandro Sabella. Glory up for Grabs.
It seems just yesterday, that I was gearing up to watch the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 2014. Time surely has flown over the past 3 and a half weeks. After 60 matches, the World Cup has its Final Four.
For many of us fans, our favourite teams might have already bowed out of the competition (including myself). So, if you’re still undecided on whom to support among the last four, let me help you.
Here’s 3 reasons to support each of the 4 teams! Read and choose wisely.
1. For the Maracanãzo Revenge
The year was 1950. Brazil was hosting the World Cup for the first time. Being the top scorers of the tournament, they were clear favourites going into the final showdown with Uruguay. Everyone expected them to clinch the title in front of the 200,000 fans at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio. With the score tied at 1-1 with 11 minutes to go, Uruguay scored the winner and silenced the stadium and the country. The result, known as the ‘Maracanãzo’, still remains one of the biggest upsets in world football and brings nightmares to every Brazilian.
The goal that silenced 200,000 people.
64 years later, Brazil are hosting the World Cup again. With this year’s final happening in the same iconic Maracanã stadium, every Brazilian knows this is an opportunity for revenge. They may not have produced the most convincing performances so far, but I’m sure every hardcore football fan has a small part of him/her wishing that Brazil get their long-awaited revenge.
2. For Neymar
This may come as an obvious inclusion, but I just had to put it in. When you go into the tournament as hosts and favourites, the pressure is just immense. On top of that, to be called your country’s ‘Golden Boy’ and a million fans are expecting you to lead the team to glory, the pressure becomes too huge for any person to carry, let alone a 22-year old.
But Neymar did carry that pressure and did not, for one second, succumb to it. He has led his team so far, scoring 4 goals in the process. He was expected to carry on his performances into the final and strengthen his claim to be included among the Brazilian greats of the past. But, in the matter of seconds, all his dreams were shattered, almost literally. In the last minutes of the Quarter-final game against Colombia, he fell victim to a vicious challenge and suffered a broken vertebrae, thus ruling him out of the remainder of the World Cup.
3. For the Country and the Fans
This has arguably been one of the best World Cups in history. And a lot of the credit goes to the amazing atmosphere in the country of Brazil. Every stadium had a carnival feel to it. The colours, the decorations, the music and sheer passion from the fans. Its true what they say about Brazilians that they live and breathe football. For all the efforts that the people of Brazil have put in in making this World Cup such a joy to watch, I think they deserve to be rewarded with a World Cup trophy.
1. For their Consistency
Over the past 12 years, Germany has been undoubtedly the most consistent team in the world. In this period, Euro 2004 was the only major competition where they didn’t reach the semi-finals. But the sad part is that their trophy cabinet has nothing to show for this dominance. They were Runners-up in World Cup 2002 and Euro 2008, semi-finalists in WC 2006, WC 2010 and Euro 2012.
Agony in the end.
I’m sure nobody can deny the fact that the country of Germany deserves a trophy after all that. And, with the current crop of players, they really can do it.
2. For the ageless wonder, Klose
Age is just a number. Miroslav Klose proved that statement, when his instincts led him to be positioned at the perfect spot to tap in the equaliser against Ghana in Germany’s second match, in vintage style. That goal, propelled him into the top of the World Cup record books. With 15 goals in 4 World Cups, Klose has equalled the great Ronaldo in becoming the joint top scorer in World Cup history. He also became part of an elite trio of players to have scored in 4 different World Cups, joining Uwe Seeler and unsurprisingly, Pele.
Sheer Goalscoring Talent.
Although he will be considered a World Cup legend, he will always at a level below many others simply because he hasn’t won the trophy yet. At 36 years of age, this will be his last chance for that glory. For one of the finest goal poachers of the game, support Germany. He deserves it.
3. Their Penalty Shootout Expertise
The Germans have never lost a penalty shootout in a World Cup. Four times and four wins. Morover, they’ve scored 17 of the 18 penalties in those. That is just an outstanding record. They just cannot be beat if it goes to penalty shootouts. This just shows how well Germans can handle pressure. To be able to do that consistently, it deserves respect. Their opponents just know that a draw simply will not do as Germany cannot be defeated from 12 yards.
1. For Messi
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Many years from now, the players who will be remembered the most are the ones who are heroes of World Cups. Like we remember Pele for his 3 WC wins and Maradona for making the 1986 edition his own. From Beckenbauer in 1974 to Ronaldo in 2002 and Zidane in 1998 and 2006 – these players will always be remembered for these performances. Lionel Messi is one player who deserves to be talked about alongside these legends. The best player in the world today, needs that elusive World Cup trophy to squash all those critics about his lack of commitment to the national team.
Messi – The Best at his Best.
His feet is magical. His 4 goals already in the tournament have proved that. Now, he has to carry on that magic onto the remaining two games and take home that small piece gold.
2. For moving out of the Brazilian Shadow
Argentina have always been under the shadow of their neighbors, Brazil. While Brazil has 5 World Cup wins, Argentina just have two. Although they are easily the next best team in South America, they were always second-best to Brazil. With the new crop of players coming in, including the world’s best player with them, they know that they can equal the Brazilians. And this is a chance for them to edge closer to moving out of that shadow. And there is no better way to do it, than in Brazil’s own backyard.
3. Their Loud and Passionate Fans
Loud and Passionate.
This World Cup has seen plenty of colourful fans in the stands. Obviously, the hosts Brazil make up a considerable number among those, but among the rest, no country has better fans than Argentina at this World Cup. The loudest, the most colourful. The noise is deafening. Songs and chants are ever-present throughout their games. Such brilliant fans deserve to take home the trophy.
1. For ending their Bad Luck
The greatest nation never to have won the World Cup. Without a doubt. And they have come agonisingly close on so many occasions. Three finals, all lost. After having dominated world football in the 1970s, where they reached the final of both the 1974 and the 1978 World Cups, only to lose to the home team on both occasions. The next one came in the previous World Cup where they lost to Spain in Extra Time. They again came very close to another final appearance in 1998 where they lost in a penalty shootout to Brazil in the Semi-Final, a tournament which always reminds me of one of my all-time favourite goals – Dennis Bergkamp’s last minute winner against Argentina in the Quarter-Finals. For a country that has produced such great players and such brilliant football over the years, to not have won a World Cup is a shame. Their history deserves that trophy.
2. For Total Football
Total Football is a style of play that was developed by the tactical genius of Rinus Michels in the club, Ajax during the early 1970s. In this method, every outfield player was trained in every position on the pitch and is capable of replacing any other player in the team, whether it be a striker or defender. Whenever a player moves out of position, another takes his place, thus maintaining the structure. This style has produced some of the most beautiful football in history especially the Dutch national team in the 1974 World Cup, led by the Great Johan Cruyff, where they dominated the tournament even knocking out Brazil and Argentina with relative ease, only to lose to West Germany in the finals. The best team in the tournament, by far, but still couldn’t get the ultimate prize.
The Maestro – Cruyff.
This style was a revolution in football tactics. The current tiki-taka style employed by Spain and Barcelona has roots in Total Football, brought by Cruyff himself. For bringing such beauty to the game, the Dutch deserve this trophy. That 1974 team deserves it.
3. For Robben and revenge for 2010
That night in Johannesburg is Arjen Robben’s worst nightmare. Put through to a one on one with the keeper twice, but he couldn’t get it past Casillas. They lost the final and Robben sunk in despair. Four years later, the same player is close to reaching the same stage and he is stronger, quicker and smarter than what he was. Robben has been one of the best players in the last few years in club football. He was one of the linchpins in the all-conquering Bayern Munich team of last year. He is out for revenge and he deserves it. With magnificent performances in the Group Stages, scoring 3 goals and 2 assists. He was vital in their comeback victory over Mexico and was looking dangerous as ever in their win over Costa Rica. He may very well get that revenge.
Man on a Mission.
So, tell us who you are supporting for the Semi-Finals !
Colombia had come a long way in the tournament. Longer than many had predicted. With their star striker Radamel Falcao injured, not many would have put their money on Colombia to reach the quarter finals of the tournament. Yet, they played some brilliant football and managed to beat the likes of Uruguay on their way to the 3rd round of the tournament. James Rodriguez had caught everyone’s attention by playing some fine football and scoring some good quality and quantity of goals.
Colombia met the hosts Brazil in the Quarter Finals of the tournament. The Seleção entered the Quarter Finals of the tournament after beating Chile on penalties. The performance wasn’t what Scolari or The Brazilians would have liked but the result was definitely what everyone wanted. The Seleção were on course of their 6th World Cup triumph.
The hosts came out in yellow while Colombia, playing the away side in this fixture came out in red. Brazil started the game as expected, with pace and energy as they got an early free kick in the 3rd minute in a somewhat dangerous position. Neymar’s shot just wide and the Colombians took a deep breath. The Brazilians did not take their foot off the gas and a corner in the 7th minute lead to an early goal for the hosts. Woeful defending from the Colombians as Thiago Silva was left unmarked and he netted home from close range. The Colombians had a great chance to equalise in the 11th minute when winger Juan Cuadrado found himself in a brilliant position to score but he couldn’t capitalize. The Brazilians made sure that James Rodriguez was well marked and didn’t see much of the ball. In the 17th minute, David Luiz took the ball out of defence and went on a brilliant run but Colombian legendary defender Yepes was on his toes and the attack lead to nothing.
Silva – Captain Stepping Up. Brazil 1-0 Colombia.
Colombia soon had another chance in the 22nd minute when James Rodriguez brought the ball out of defence and went on a great run from the half line. He passed the ball to Cuadrado who made a mess of it and missed a brilliant chance to score. Colombia started to look threatening which lead to some trouble on the pitch between Rodriguez and Hulk. The ref intervened and avoided a brawl from taking place. Colombia had some free kicks in some brilliant positions, a few on the edge of the box but nothing came off any set piece. Ref blew his whistle for Half Time. The Seleção had a goal to their name but they did not look in full control.
The start to the second half was completely opposite to that of the first. The Brazilians and The Colombians looked out of ideas when it came to that final ball in the final third of the pitch. After about 15 mins of dull football from both sides, Colombia started to find their stride in the game. A good 10 mins spell of pressure from the Colombians lead to some desperate defending from The Seleção. That lead to a foul from Thiago Silva which lead to the referee showing out the yellow card for the Brazilian captain. That was the second yellow card of the tournament for Silva which meant he would miss the Semi Final if Brazil managed to go through. Yepes found the net in the 66th minute but his strike was correctly ruled offside. In the 69th minute, Brazil scored their second goal from a rather unlikely source, David Luiz. Luiz stepped up to take a free kick from 3o yards, and the former Chelsea defender fired a brilliant free kick. The Colombian goal keeper, even at full stretch could not prevent the ball from going in. It flew in like a rocket.
Luiz – Bringing alive the dead ball. Brazil 2-0 Colombia.
Luiz had, what seemed to be, wrapped up the game until Júlio César brought down Carlos Bacca in the box. James Rodriguez made it 2-1 after scoring his 6th goal of the tournament from the spot. The goal brought back life to the game as the Colombians played their hearts out for the next 10 minutes while The Brazilians defended for their lives. The Colombians had all the ball for rest of the game but they couldn’t find the equaliser. The Brazilians somehow held on to the slender lead and booked a spot in the semi final.
James – A consolation to end a magnificent World Cup for him. Brazil 2-1 Colombia.
Colombians went home with their heads high as they played some brilliant football during their journey. The Brazilian crowd stood up to applaud the heroics of James Rodriguez who surely has a great future ahead.
The Brazilians did progress but their progress came at a heavy price as their star striker Neymar Jr got injured in the 88th minute. The Barcelona forward broke his vertebra after being fouled by Zúñiga and was rushed to the hospital. Their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari announced that Neymar would miss the rest of the World Cup due to injury. Also, Brazil would play the semi final without their captain Thiago Silva who was cautioned for the 2nd time in the tournament during the game.
Both these teams come today leaving so much drama behind them in their games so far. Costa Rica has been the story of the tournament so far. Put in the Group of Death with 3 heavyweights and they have come out on top and unscathed. They are in their first ever Quarter-Finals and they really have nothing to lose, having exceeded expectations hugely.
As for the Oranje, they have had a surprising run so far, especially their thrashing of the champions, Spain and finishing as top scorers in the Group Stage. Although they were given a run for their money by the Mexicans, they came through strongly. I’m sure they fancy their chances of going all the way now.
Let’s get straight into the battle face-off!
Representing the Oranje (Netherlands) – Bhavuk Dheer
Representing Los Ticos (Costa Rica) – Ram Narayan
Let the battle begin!
Dutch Probable Line-Up (3-5-2): Cillessen; de Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi; Janmaat, Wijnaldum, Blind, Kuyt, Sneijder; Robben, van Persie
With star midfielder Nigel de Jong being ruled out of the rest of the World Cup due to a groin injury, the Dutch line-up is up for a shuffle, though they will most probably still start with the 3-5-2 formation, as they have been doing all tournament. Daryl Janmaat may come in for Paul Verhaegh at right wing-back, with Blind being moved forward into the midfield to fill up for de Jong, which means Bruno Martins Indi would return to the back three. Either of Wijnaldum and de Guzman could start in the middle.
With key defender Oscar Duarte suspended for this tie, the new Acosta will probably be given a chance at the back. His lack of match time might prove costly. Otherwise, its an unchanged line-up with Ruiz and Campbell leading the attack with the wing backs Gamboa and Diaz whipping balls in.
1. Dutch Defence vs Costa Rican Attack
How their defenders fare will hold key to the outcome of the match for the Netherlands. If they can prevent Costa Rica from scoring (or scoring more than once), then the Netherlands should get the win because RvP, Robben and Sneijder can be trusted to find the net. The Oranje defenders will have to keep an eye on frontman Brian Ruiz, arguably the most crucial player for Costa Rica, who scored against Italy and Greece. Though the Oranje will most likely start with a 3-5-2 combination, I expect them to revert to the more common 4-3-3 form as the game progresses because Costa Rica are a decent counter-attacking side. Manchester United target Stefan de Vrij will be the center of gravity of the Dutch defence and he will have to be at his best to stop the young and fast legs of Joel Campbell from doing any damage early on.
de Vrij – Calm down, I got this.
Their lead striker is Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell, who has been one of the biggest revelations of this tournament. His Man-of-Match performance against Uruguay in the first game, where got a brilliant goal and an even better assist to announce his arrival in the world stage. He will need to be in clinical touch tonight to get past the Dutch defence. Supporting him are two livewires Ruiz and Bolanos. Both these players have had amazing seasons. The captain Ruiz has delivered when needed most with goals against Italy and Greece. They will need to capitalise on the inexperienced Dutch defence. If the Dutch continue playing their 3-5-2 formations, Los Ticos will have many opportunities to catch them on the counter. And that is exactly what they’ll have to do to continue their fairy tale story.
Campbell – Brimming with firepower.
2. Dutch Midfield vs Costa Rican Midfield
The Oranje midfield will be without Nigel de Jong, so Brian Ruiz and Christian Bolanos will look to drift inside to find space, as they have done throughout this World Cup. Netherlands have struggled the most when they have been forced to take the ball and make the play themselves, but luckily for them, Costa Rica doesn’t plan to do so. Luis Pinto has hinted that he plans on taking the game to the Dutch. The key midfield battle will be between Daley Blind and Brian Ruiz. Blind has done well this World Cup and should play in a defensive midfield role stepping in for Nigel de Jong. Brian Ruiz is the biggest strength for Los Ticos. He will have to outplay Blind today if Costa Rica are to put in a fight. He will also have to curb Blind from aiding the Dutch attack.
Sneijder – Classy as ever.
The Costa Rican midfield will consist of two holding central players Tejeda and Borges, the latter of which will be making runs into the box often. With key midfielder Nigel de Jong ruled out of the tournament, this will be the area where the Ticos can beat them. Daley Blind ought to be deployed in de Jong’s role, but his erratic performance against Mexico can be taken advantage of. The full backs Diaz and Gamboa will also play a very important role in attack as they are forever bombing down the flanks. With the Dutch playing the likes of newcomer Verhaegh and even Dirk Kuyt in the last game at full-back positions, Gamboa and Diaz will have an important role to play in getting the goals.
Ruiz – Captain Fantastic.
3. Dutch Attack vs Costa Rican Defence
The Netherlands are a (notoriously) top-heavy team with top of the brass players like Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder to brag about, and attack is not going to be a problem area for them going into this match. Watching them play, one can’t help but notice how extremely adept they are at attacking, though in context of this World Cup, I will have to confine that to (counter)-attacking. They have been on a scoring spree this World Cup and the Costa Rican defence (at least on paper!) does not show any credible signs as to why that should stop. But having said all that, and considering the stature of the match, the Dutch will obviously not take Costa Rica lightly, especially so because Costa Rica have literally played out of their boots against top notch teams like Italy and England (Hence, the nickname – “Giant Killers”).
The Dutch escaped elimination by a whisker against Mexico and will need to perform better this time. Oscar Duarte’s absence (due to suspension) makes the Costa Rican defence vulnerable. With Roy Miller injured (don’t confuse him for Tom Cruise from Knight & Day), Johnny Acosta is the most likely replacement, and I don’t think his presence will make the Costa Rican defence any less prone to penetration by two of the finest forwards in the world. And though one must admit that Keylor Navas has been in great form during this World Cup, but against a team that has scored 12 times in the last 4 matches, he will not be able to hold for long unless the defence steps up to the task, which seems a little improbable.
Robben – Lightning Pace.
The Dutch should be content on playing on the counter, which has proved successful till now, and Robben will be the key player for them. As he so often does at Bayern Munich, he will look to drift right and cut inside, which will make life difficult for the Costa Rican defence, not to mention van Persie, who likes to lurk in the middle, and once they smell even the slightest stench of space, they will pounce. These two will be supported by the creativity of Wesley Sneijder, and expect Memphis Depay to come in later. He and Dirk Kuyt can widen the play.
Oh boy, this is going to be a real tight battle. The Dutch are the top scorers of the tournament scoring 12 goals, while Costa Rica have conceded just 2 goals in the 4 games so far. The bad news is that Oscar Duarte will miss the game due to his red card against Greece, but Johnny Acosta will be his replacement. This will be the major cause for concern as the formidable Dutch attack could prove to be too much to handle for these inexperienced defenders. But nothing is impossible for this Costa Rica team at the moment. Everything seems to be going their way. If they have the belief and stay strong and solid at the back, they can keep the Dutch from scoring, just as they did against England and Italy. The biggest priority will be to mark Robben. He is a player who can change a game in the matter of seconds single handedly. with the form he is in, the Costa Rican defence will have to be at their top level to win the game.
Navas – Solid Wall.
The biggest part of this defence is their goalkeeper Navas. He has been in sublime form this tournament and I’m sure the big club scouts are watching him. His brilliant save gave them victory over the Greeks in the Round of 16 penalty shootout. Having just conceded 2 goals so far, of which one was a penalty, Navas is in red hot form. Robben and RVP will need some real effort to get past him.
4. Louis van Gaal vs Jorge Luis Pinto
Both van Gaal and Pinto have had a ball in Brazil so far. Pinto, in particular, has had a dream run. Beating heavyweights Italy and Uruguay, and drawing against England to advance and make the quarters past Greece is no less than a miracle for a team that was least expected (out of all 32 teams) to lift the Cup.
Unlike a lot of managers, Van Gaal has not stuck with the same line-up for all the matches. He has been making frequent changes, both to the starting XI and in between matches. He will be reshaping the squad again to dilute the absence of Nigel de Jong. He is a proactive manager who adapts well to the situation and moulds his tactics accordingly. He has made intelligent substitutions throughout the tournament and luckily, they have all clicked. (Memphis Depay against Australia and Chile; Huntelaar against Mexico). But as he himself admits, his team are not so good when it comes to ball possession, so its almost certain he will play on his strengths against Costa Rica, that is, play on the counter.
Important piece of information, this match will be played on the same ground as the one in which the Oranje brutally annihilated Spain in the group stages, and I won’t be surprised if this World Cup has, in between all the thrills and chills, a Déjà vu to give.
Undoubtedly, Jorge Pinto has been one of THE managers of the tournament. What he has achieved with this Costa Rican side is just unbelievable. Underdog Success at its best. It is clearly obvious that Pinto has instilled a lot of belief in this team. They all look for each other, putting any individual egos aside. And most of the praise must go to the manager. Even if they don’t go through today, they will have already created history. But, that doesn’t mean they’ll go easy today. Pinto will have thoroughly drilled the team for the match. He just has to do what he has been doing so far today. Play it simple, be solid at the back and catch them on the counter. Who knows, maybe the fairytale isn’t over yet.
Its the best player in the world against a bunch of talented kids. Its one of the favourites against the dark horses of the World Cup. Its South America vs Europe. Its going to be epic. Let’s get straight into our next battle between our experts!
Representing La Albiceleste (Argentina) – Sriram Paravastu
Representing the Red Devils (Belgium) – Abhishek Talwar
Let the battle begin!
1. Argentine Defence vs Belgian Attack
The defensive line of Argentina is going to see the absence of Marcos Rojo, thanks to his second yellow in the Round of 16 clash against Switzerland. We might find one of Basanta or Campagnaro as a backup for the left back position. I’d go with Campagnaro, given his solidity at the back and his experience. We might find Zabaleta playing much forward than we used to and hence letting Higuain play a bit more towards to centre. They key would lie on how well Zabaleta checks his runs and makes sure Hazard is kept calm. Origi has shown great composure in the few games he has got, but Garay- Fernandez pair would be a handful for him to deal with given his lack of experience. With Campagnaro staying back most of the time, I don’t see Kevin Mirallas posing a threat to this veteran.
Zabaleta – will need to be at the top of his game.
How to Win:
1. Stay compact
2. Check hazard’s run
3. Mark Lukaku.
Although the Belgian forwards haven’t as yet reached perfect understanding, they still possess enough quality to terrorize any defence. Either of Origi or Romelu Lukaku are expected to started up front. I expect both to be involved during the match. Both of them have starred only when they’ve come on as substitutes so far. They should be changing that. Playing in the Number 10 role is Kevin de Bruyne who has been Belgium’s main attacking threat.
The main threat however, will be from the wings with Hazard and Mertens bombing from the flanks. With the pacy Mirallas also on the bench, the Argentine full backs will be in for a big test tonight.
Hazard – Dribbling King.
All the goals Belgium have scored so far have been late goals. This will be a concern for Wilmots. He will be looking to start matches well for a change.
How to Win:
1. Get an early goal.
2. Hazard and Mertens/Mirallas should find space to work their skills.
2. Argentine Midfield vs Belgian Midfield
The midfield trio of Gago – Mascherano – Di Maria is likely to be repeated. Mascherano would have to take up the responsibility of keeping the talented lad, Kevin de Bruyne in check. Di Maria who plays a slightly tricky role might create a problem because of his versatility. Argentina, when on counters, Di Maria turns into a fourth forward. Like, we’ve seen in the goal against Switzerland, Di Maria popping up on the wings from nowhere giving Messi an option. But, this move by Di Maria makes the midfield open in the centre to left midfield region. With Mascherano tracking De Bruyne and Gago who rarely drifts to the centre, this gap in the midfield leaves Argentina vulnerable for counter attacks. This gap has to be covered by Gago by drifting towards the centre and being compact in the middle. This would force Belgium to go onto the flanks and hence pacifying the intensity of the counter. In the meantime, Zabaleta gets time to trackback and hence giving Argentina a solid and compact 4 man defence. On the other hand, Belgium is likely to field a double pivot pair of Fellaini and Witsel. Both of them, along with the center backs Kompany and Van Buyten would be trying to box out Lionel Messi to prevent his magical moments. With De Bruyne in #10 role, Belguim would need his creativity more than anything to break the Argentine defence. In conclusion, the midfield needs to be organised, compact and well co-ordinated amongst them, wherein lies the key to Argentina’s success.
Di Maria – It’s not all about Messi.
HOW TO WIN:
1. Win the ball as quickly as possible.
2. Masche should mark De Bruyne tightly.
3. Keep possession in the midfield and orchestrate counters when Belgium come far into the Argentian box.
In my opinion, the Belgian mid field shall undoubtedly dominate the center of the park. Axel Witsel shall screen the defence and also distribute the ball effectively. He shall be forming the foundation for every attack and also break up any offensive play the Argentines shall be initiating. His ally Moussa Dembelle shall be the more attack minded of the two and shall attempt to link up play between the attackers and the men behind. The right blend of elegant and powerful, he shall press the Argentine midfield and also seek to initiate play. The Argentine pair of Mascherano and Gago shall not be able to cope up with the duo. Throughout the game the Argentine pair shall find it difficult to slip balls in pockets of space as Witsel and Dembele shall not give them much breathing room. In the later stages of the match, I expect Messi to drop deeper for the ball to lend a hand to the Argentine midfield. To counter the threat of Messi initiating attacks from deep, Vertonghen should push forward and form a three man screen alongside Dembele and Witsel.
De Bruyne – Young Hero.
The midfield battle will be won by Belgium and this should form the basis for victory tomorrow.
3. Argentine Attack vs Belgian Defence
The strike force comprising of Lavezzi, Messi and Higuain is likely to start against the dark horses. With Messi occupying a slightly deeper ‘false 9’ role, Higuain gets the freedom to play a bit more centre allowing Zabaleta to make his overlapping runs far towards the right. Vertonghen needs to be vigilant in his runs forward as Zabaleta and Higuain might just combine and produce something. Moreover, we’ve seen Messi drift far right to evade the plethora of markers and if Messi does that, it would be very hard for Vertonghen to cope up. With attack mostly concentrated towards the right the left flank might seen a little deserted and that’s where the speed of Lavezzi and Di Maria comes in. Toby Alderweireld will need to be on his toes to quell his pacy duo.
Messi – Need I say more?
HOW TO WIN:
1. Messi should make sure he evades his markers.
2. Di Maria should make intelligent runs into the box.
3. Better final ball and conversion into goal.
In perhaps the most vital clash to fare out tomorrow, the Belgian back four have to limit the potency of Argentina’s free flowing attack. Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria are two footballers of the highest possible pedigree and can enchant opposition with the wands they conceal in their left feet. With Strongman Zeki Lavezzi bombing the right flank and the clinical and dainty Gonzalo Higuain up front, Argentina have attacking flair and zest to say the least. However, it is my belief that Belgium possesses one of the meanest defences amongst the teams left in the competition with the excellent Thiago Courtouis keeping behind them. Spurs man Jan Vertonghen has been excellent for Belgium so far both defensively as well as offensively. He will be able to match the speed and skill of Lavezzi and will nullify the considerable threat he poses. As mentioned earlier, Argentina play free-flowing football with players often exchanging positions. Messi is expected to drop deep as well as push forward and continuously interchange positions with di Maria on the left and Higuain up front. Axel Witsel has been Belgium’s player of the tournament thus far and will be expected to keep the ball off Lionel.
Kompany – Towering Presence.
The versatility and intelligent linkup between Angel, Lionel, and Gonzalo will be carefully observed and hustled by Capt. Vincent Kompany, Munich man van Buyten, and Atletico’s Toby Alderweireld. Kompany is an incredibly skilled defender and provides the perfect balance between strength, speed and tactical understanding. He is an effective leader and will ensure perfect synchronization between the Belgian back four with the assistance of Axel Witsel. Messi and his men shall be hardpressed to break down a defence of this quality. Especially after considering how difficult it was for them to score against Switzerland. The Argentine attack is not fulfilling their undeniable potential and this bodes well for Belgium.
4. Alejandro Sabella vs Marc Wilmots
Argentine manager after his failed experiment of experiment of 3-5-2, will stick to the’ tested and tried’ 4-3-3 (false 9). We have seen Argentina resembling Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid in the previous two games, i.e, the last game of the group stage and the Round of 16 clash against Switzerland. A skewed 4-3-3 of sorts, providing Messi his triangles to help him combine with players effectively and at the same time be ready of a lightening counter attack. Argentina have shown their attacking prowess in the last two games, except for dreadful finishing and lack of a proper final ball. They need to find their rhythm going and sing in line with Messi who is capable of winning them the match. Belgium on the other side have not particularly been impressive given the loads of talent they have. They have lacked proper co-ordination and their manager Marc Wilmots has failed to strike a proper balance and implement his system in the team. Although, a fact to be admired is his substitutions have been spot on in each and every match. Football fraternity usually talks about Spain and Barcelona not having a Plan B. But, this guy has a Plan B but no Plan A.
HOW TO WIN:
1. Keep possession.
2. High pressure on the inexperienced Belgium midfield.
The Belgian national team comprises of a stunning crop of footballers. At the clubs where they ply their respective trades, most members of the Belgian squad are mainstays and would waltz into the starting lineup of the best footballing teams in the world. However, questions have been raised regarding the lack of significant experience the players have had representing their nation. The sheer quality of the Belgian players and the minimal exploitation of their significant talents at the hands of Manager Marc Wilmots have together propelled Belgium to the Quarter Final stage. In order to progress against Argentina, they will need to put on their best show yet. Marc Wilmots will need showcase his tactical acumen and make some tactical alterations to diminish the threat of Argentina’s attackers. In what shall be Belgium’s sternest test yet by far, players and manager will need to work in perfect cohesion.
The manager deserves some credit for his work with substitutes so far, because almost all their goals have come from substitutes. But that also shows he has been weak in initial tactics. Wilmots will be hoping for a strong start to the game, preferably an early goal.
When Falcao was injured during the starting of this year many predicted that Colombia would not even clear the group stages. Most of the pundits even tipped other teams in their group equally strong or much stronger than Colombia. But this is a team that have silenced all their critics with their performances. Until now they have no even been challenged by any other team they have faced and this makes them the second best goal scoring team in the tournament. James Rodriguez has been a Colombian hero and their previous hero Andres Escobar’s soul will be happy on seeing his country’s recent form. On the other hand the Selecao has not been as impressive as people might have expected them to be. Most of the fans wanted them to be the team that has lifted last year’s confederation cup, but they should know the fact that other than Brazil all other teams that has participated in last year’s confederations cup has been knocked out! Now that is some alarming fact indeed. For me the Selcao seems to improving after each match and their ability to handle pressure situations too have improved. Though there are some players not finding form as a team the Brazilians are integrating much more better as each match passes. But will they be able to overcome the Colombian attack?
What a match this is going to be. The favourites against the best team in the tournament so far arguably. Should be an absolute cracker of a game. Who will have the last laugh today? Will it be the Golden Boy, Neymar? Or the star of the World Cup so far, James Rodriguez? Let’s see as our panel of experts battle it out!
Representing the Selecao (Brazil) – Vivek Venugopal.
Representing the Coffee Growers (Colombia) – Srivats Venkateswaran.
Let the battle begin!
1. Brazil Attack vs Colombian Defense
Line-Up: Neymar and Hulk will play on the wings along with Fred or Jo upfront. Both Neymar and Fred will look to cut inside, allowing the wing backs to get forward.
The thing that worries Brazil most is their limited striking options. Both their strikers Fred and Jo have been in horrible form. The joint top scorer of the last Confederation Cup seems to be not getting his rhythm. With just 1 goal scored, the Colombian defenders will be more interested in marking Neymar, Hulk and Oscar. The Colombian defence too has been strong with the team just conceding 2 goals until now. All their four defenders has until now looked solid. But until now they haven’t faced an attacking team like Brazil. Last time they faced a good attacking team was Ivory Coast in which they won by a 2-1 margin. So they haven’t been much tested until now. The defence have also made a lot of mistakes in their last games but Uruguayans were not able to exploit those chances.
Neymar – Center of Attraction.
How to Win
1. The main striker Fred will need proper service, or else he is as good as useless.
2. Neymar is key, and should try to find space to work his magic.
No doubt, Brazil has been good on their attack, scoring 8 goals in the past 4 matches. But let’s face the facts. Chile was the first big team they faced in this world cup, and they struggled. Brazil’s attack didn’t seem very clinical. They weren’t shining they way they are known to. Colombia has what it takes to keep the Brazil team back to the spectator stand and march ahead to the semis.
Line-Up: With their defense performing quite spectacularly this time, Peckerman shouldn’t change their team. Having conceded just 2 goals yet, and keeping the likes of Cavani and Forlan away, they can handle the Brazilian wings quite well. The fullback pair of Zuniga and Armero can very well keep the underperforming Hulk/Willian covered. The central experienced pair of Zapata and Yepes know the tricks of the game well and won’t be easily tricked for by the fancy flair of Neyamr. Fred won’t be much to handle either as he is clearly out of form.
Yepes – The 38-year old youngster.
How to Win: The trick to beating the Brazilians is to keep Neymar at bay. If Colombia successfully box out the poster-boy of the tournament, they might as well have won the game. For this, the central pair has to be really alert, for he can be tricky with his inside runs. Also, keep Thiago Silva marked well during corners, and listen to the quite stadium as the home fans see their beloved team down.
2. Brazilian Midfield vs Colombian Midfield
Line-Up: Luis Gustavo is suspended for this tie and will be a huge miss for the hosts. Paulinho and Fernandinho will be forming the central midfield pair, with Oscar forward.
For Colombia their major share of goals have come from their Midfield with the tournament’s biggest revelation, James Rodriguez being the top scorer. If Brazil are to get through this test, their first priority would be to contain him. He has been assisted well by the Fiorentina midfielder Cuadrado, who has also looked dangerous. Brazil like Colombia, have most of their goal scoring options in midfield. The attacking trio of Neymar, Oscar and Hulk seems to be integrating more after each match. Though Neymar has been their top scorer , Hulk had a better game against the Chileans and was unlucky to get a goal denied as well as to miss a penalty. Oscar has been inconsistent and the fans will be hoping for the same performance that he had given against the Croatians. With Luis Gustavo suspended, Scolari is more likely to include Paulinho. Fernadinho has been impressive but Paulinho is yet to regain his form. If Hulk and Oscar rises to the occasion then more goals can be expected and the Colombian defence will have a tough time.
Oscar – Tireless Worker.
How to Win
1. Stay close to James Rodriguez. Don’t give him much space.
2. Fernandinho and Paulinho both like going forward. This can be bad. So they must have a good understanding between them.
The Colombian midfield was quite under-rated until they showed what they are capable of. With the likes of Rodriguez and Aguilar playing the game of their lives, it wouldn’t be so hard to be more critical than their counterparts, even if they have lower possession. Let us also not forget that Brazil can’t play their unlikely hero, Gustavo.
Line-Up: Colombia, playing a 4-2-3-1 would go for Sanchez and Aguilar in the midfield, Sanchez taking a slightly deep role whereas Aguilar would take his free-running role will not help the Brazilians any better. They would also prefer more balls to the wide rather than the center.
Cuadrado – Tricky Winger.
How to Win: The coffees must take advantage of Gustavo’s absence. Playing a pressing game and maintaining a high line would be a closer to winning tactic for them, as..
1. The pressing game would help them utilize the center midfield better.
2. As Brazil would be playing a orthodox 4-3-3, playing a pressing game and pushing the striker back would just crowd the center midfield.
Playing crisp ,short and accurate passes in play, like they have been doing, might make the Brazil midfield sweat for their worth.
3. Brazilian Defence vs Colombian Attack
Line-Up: Brazil’s defence is fixed throughout this tournament. The big two center backs Thiago Silva and David Luiz, supported by the high flying Marcelo and Dani Alves.
For me this will be the most interesting encounter within the match. The Brazilian defence has conceded just 3 goals until now whereas the Colombian attack has scored 11 goals. The advantage should lie with the Brazilians as they have faced attacking teams like Chile, Croatia and Mexico before and their performance against an attacking Chile has been good. Their goalkeeper despite having a horrible club season has rose up to the occasion and his two spectacular penalty saves is the only reason why Brazil is still in the tournament. The major concern is the form that Marcelo is in, he has not put up an inspired performance as of now. Though he had an injury during training he is expected to make it to the line-up. Colombia goes with a 4-4-2 formation with Martinez and Guitierrez as the centre forwards. But they have just scored 3 among the total 11 goals. Martinez has been impressive in the match against Japan with 2 goals but the main player that the Brazilian defence should worry of is the world cup top scorer James Rodriguez. Though until now Colombian attack has not faced any team of much defending ability as that of Brazil goals like the one Rodriguez scored against Uruguay can make any defender clueless. But this time Thiago Silva and his men won’t allow Rodriguez much space to score.
Silva – The Backbone.
How to Win
1. Deny Rodriguez space. Priority one.
2. Full backs shouldn’t leave their posts unguarded too often. They could be caught on the counter.
Colombia and the World Cup has found their hero in James Rodriguez. With his impeccable skill and strike power, he might ruin the day for the already infamous Brazil defense. Colombia prefer to play on the wings and with the two pacy fullbacks similar to the opposition. The game would be won on who catches the other, off-position.
Line-Up: Colombia’s attack is double attacker play with Rodriguez playing as Center forward and Jackson Martinez as the main striker. Cuadrado and Ibarbo would play on the wings, with Rodriguez switching occasionally.
J-Rod – The Star of the tournament!
How to Win: Pekerman’s team would be happy considering that their strong part is against their opponent’s weak link. Luiz hasn’t been performing very well, and against that game against Mexico as well as against Chile was often caught off position. Martinez has to take those forward runs breaking the trap and catching them open.
Also, the fullback pair aren’t known to track back, and Cuadrado has punished teams when he is given a green open signal. This is where Colombia can assert their dominance.
Luis Felipe Scolari vs Jose Pekerman
“Brazil has received a wakeup call” This is what Scolari said after the match with Chile. According to reports the manager is also not getting proper sleep because of tension. But the major worry for him would be Neymar’s fitness as well as Fred’s form. When he won the 2002 world cups the squad was too good to make him worried this much. But Brazil has not qualified to semis since 2002 and with this fact in his mind his squad will be putting everything that they could in the coming match.
Pekerman on the other hand has been the major reason for Colombia to be in the quarters. His substitutions seems to working in every match but will he be able to survive the Brazilian test? Let’s wait and watch!
When Pekerman in his early years was signed by Argentina to coach their under 20 team, many doubted him. He had no special achievements or a trophy. He went ahead and proved them wrong. His team won 3 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship, along with 2 South American Youth Championships.
His story doesn’t end there. He denied an offer to coach the Argentine national team, recommending Biesla for the job. Later he was again chosen for the same, and led Argentina to a quarterfinal position in the 2006 World Cup, where his team lost to Germany. Clearly, he knows his football, and he knows it well.
He is known to bring the attacking flair Argentina always had into the previously defensive Colombian side. His flank attacks and long passing is what qualified Colombia this time around, with him considering “One of the greatest joys of his life” and earning his respect from the supporters.
Scolari on the other hand is very well in quick-sand. Criticized by many for his defensive tactics and formation, he has huge pressure to perform. Quite different from the fluidic beautiful play they were often known for, he had left out players like Kaka and Ronaldinho. What about the legendary no. 10 position? He decided not to have one. He might play all of his mind games, but they don’t usually work when supposedly the team’s strongest link seems a teeny bit loose.
It was said that Colombia’s football back in the late ’80s and early ’90s tried to resemble the style of the spectacular Brazilian game. Ironically, now that Colombia has found its own identity and that Brazil is lacking its own, Colombia’s playing style looks as spectacular as Brazil’s once looked like. This Colombia is more Brazilian in its way of playing than the current Brazil side is.
An absolute peach of match awaits us! European giants go head to head in a real mouthwatering clash. Both teams have had strong runs in the tournament so far, thus making the clash utterly unpredictable. With that, we kick-off our battle face-offs between our experts’ panel.
Representing Les Bleus (France) – Mehul Purohit.
Representing Die Mannschaft (Germany) – Samarth Jain.
Let the battle begin!
1. French Attack vs German Defence
Line-Up: Benzema is likely to be paired with Antoine Griezmann, who has looked a much more natural partner for the frontman than Olivier Giroud. The little genius Valbuena, will play on the right.
How to Win: If Griezmann is played, it should allow Benzema to run at defenders through the middle and while Mertesacker has had an excellent season at Arsenal, Benzema could exploit his lack of pace on the ground. With Lahm NOT at right back the French will be pleased as the left wing will now be “easier” to exploit.
Howedes and Boateng are strong but susceptible to small bursts of pace by opposition wingers which is exactly what Griezmann and Valbuena will be hoping to achieve.
Benzema – In red hot form.
The centre backs are a perfect combination, both complimenting each other and this is exactly what Les Bleus will be looking to exploit. Hummels moves forward in an attempt to help his team mates and it is in this moment where Benzema could use his pace against Mertesacker(BFG). All this won’t matter much if the French aren’t able to land the perfect shot on goal. With Neuer in sublime form the French supporters will be hoping to see him making a mistake with his “brave” runs ahead to help the defence.
Crosses can be well intercepted by the Germans and an intense passing game will have to be adopted by Les Bleus to tackle what looks like a very strong German defence.
The Les Blues may have scored 10 goals already but this time around they’re up against a much steelier defence than the likes of (with all due respect) Honduras, Switzerland, Ecuador and Nigeria possessed. The Germans have conceded 4 goals in their 4 World Cup matches. And although they had a tough time keeping the Algerian attackers in check expect the Germans to raise their game for this crunch clash against their UEFA rivals.
Line-Up: With Mats Hummels declared fit to start, Benzema and company are likely to find it tough to break through this German wall. Manned by the vastly experienced Hummels, Boateng, Howedes and the giant Gunner Per Mertesacker; expect fellow Gunner Olivier Giroud to be man marked out of the game leaving Benzema and Valbuena to create and convert the very few chances that might fall their way.
Hummels – Defensive Powerhouse.
How to Win: If Die Mannschaft can succesfully keep Valbuena and Benzema from cutting in from their wide positions and push them out wide forcing them to cross; expect French attacks to be reduced to shots from distance; and howls of frustration from the crowd.
2. French Midfield vs German Midfield
Line-Up: The midfield trio will consist of Cabaye, Matuidi and Pogba, all three of which have had a good tournament so far. Cabaye will play the holding role, with the other two further forward.
How to Win: Germany are predominantly a team who like to play through the middle, with a false nine and a lack of width. If they continue with that tactic against Les Bleus, it should be easy for Deschamps’ men to nullify the German threat. In Pogba and midfield partner Blaise Matuidi they have two of the most athletic midfielders in the World Cup. Germany like to pop the ball around quickly in the middle third, dragging teams and players out of position, but Pogba and Matuidi, along with Yohan Cabaye should he start, are up to the challenge of keeping up with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Pogba – Young Genius.
German midfield is as efficient as their engines. Strong and well composed, Gotze, Ozil and Kroos are well supported by Lahm and Schweinsteiger. They look invincible, they are not. With a three man holding midfield, Les Bleus are perfectly capable of handling the German threat. Pogba and Matuidi are the powerhouses with Cabaye possessing the skills to distribute play and slow it down when needed.
Valbuena and Griezmann will provide for the striker up front with both of them capable of delivering exceptional crosses and defence splitting through balls.
Having said that, the German midfield can’t exactly be “conquered”. It will take a great deal of pressing and probing by Pogba and co. to stop the likes of Kroos and Ozil.
Style: It’s the battle of arguably the 2 strongest midfields of the tournament. Combining technical prowess, tactical astuteness, an almost telepathic understanding and leadership; this German midfield has provided the Germans the platform to attack fearlessly, nipping opposition attacks in their bud and providing the perfect passes to convert defensive situations to the goal scoring opportunites.
Line-Up: With the indefatiguable Philip Lahm excelling in his Anchor man role, his Bayern team-mates Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos have been given the license to move further up the field and pick the trademark off-the-ball runs of Muller and Oezil.
Schweinsteiger – Simply Classy.
Up against the Manchester United reject, and Juventus star Paul Pogba, the Germans might well need to pick Sami Khedira over Schweinsteiger to negate the physicality and powerful box-to-box runs that Pogba offers. And if Loew pushes Lahm to the full back role then expect Khedira and Schweinsteiger to start in the deeper midfield positions to keep Pogba and Matuidi in check.
How to Win
1. Keep Pogba’s powerful runs in check
2. Do not allow Cabaye time on the ball
3. Play their natural ‘Bayern game’
3. French Defence vs German Attack
Line-Up: Debuchy and Evra will start at right and left back respectively. The preferred center back pairing should be Varane and Sakho.
How to Win: With a five man midfield and immense attacking prowess in the form of Thomas Mueller, Germany would boast of a really impressive attack but with Varane and Sakho (now fit!) at the Centre Back positions and Debuchy and Evra at Right and Left back respectively one would expect them to handle the German attack well. The real problem lies with the fact that the German midfield joins the attack in grandiose. Gotze, Ozil and Kroos all three of them are capable of getting inside the enemy defence with their pace and agility.
Varane – Solid at the back.
So, do Les Bleus have a problem? Yes. The solution? Sakho and Varane. They may be young but are fast and masters at tackling at such a small age. They can cover, clear, mark and do whatever Deschamps wants them to do. They will do whatever needs to be done to handle the bursts of attacks and of course they will be helped by the experienced Evra at left back stopping in the crosses and Debuchy at right doing the same. The French defence seems pretty sorted out as they are further helped by Matuidi and Pogba who pretty much keep the opposition attack in check.
Hugo Lloris will be asked to step up to the fore and justify his reputation as one of the best in the world (okay, exaggerated a bit there).
Line-Up: With ‘German Messi’ Mario Götze failing to live upto the rather high standards set up by his Argentine counterpart, and coming up a cropper against Algeria; it is likely that his substitute Andre Schürrle will replace him to complete Die Mannschaft’s attacking triumvarate.
Style: Masters of innovation, the Germans rely on clever off-the-ball running, excellent technical skill and intelligent through balls to create chances. With Golden Shoe holder and contender Thomas Müller almost guaranteed to start as a Deep lying forward, under fire Mesut Özil will be tasked with providing Muller the through balls that he so delightfully feeds on. Andre Schürrle will offer Özil another option with his tireless and intelligent running besides harassing the French wingers with his tenacious tracking back.
Muller – Scoring at will.
How to Win
1. Exploit the space between the French centre backs and full backs.
2. Make sure they are not pushed out wide, as aerial duels will likely be dominated by Sakho and Varane.
3. Run directly at the French centre backs, and make the most of the few mistakes that they make.
4. Provide Müller with adequate service in the penalty box.
4. Didier Deschamps vs Joachim Löw
French teams are prone to implode, it’s happened all too often before. But this time, Didier Deschamps has overcome the infamous Gallic mood to create a harmonious dressing room that contains genuine quality. They may have needed until the final 10 minutes to score past the brilliant Vincent Enyeama – one of the keepers of the tournament, by the way – but make no mistake, this is the best French team since they won the 1998 World Cup and European Championships in 2000. Deschamps has a settled first team that is a mix of youth and experience, pace and craft and in Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema they have two of the best performers of the tournament so far.
For a man once belittled by Eric Cantona as “a water carrier,” Didier Deschamps has certainly made a habit of carrying lots of trophies. French reporters like to ask Deschamps, now the French national team manager, if he was born under a “bonne étoile,” a lucky star. But there is clearly much more than good karma and good timing involved at this stage of the game. As a matter of fact Didier Deschamps has never lost a world cup game as a player or as manager.
His counterpart, Joachim Löw on the other hand will be looking to compose Germany as a group again after a stuttering win against Algeria and a worn out draw with Ghana in the group stages.
Deschamps will be the happier of the two managers as his French side are slowly improving their game with each match whereas the German coach will be a bit concerned with the “below potential” performances of his players.
Former captains Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthäus have all questioned Löw’s selections, with playmaker Mesut Ozil struggling and centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Hoewedes played out of position as wing-backs. “That was the worst performance for years,” Ballack reflected after the Algeria match, while Kahn was equally unimpressed: “This line-up isn’t working anymore.”
Having been brought up under the wings of Jurgen Klinsmann, Joachim Löw is among the crop of the modern, continental style of managers. Preferring slick counter-attacking football and putting emphasis on “complete” offensive and defensive performances, he prefers fluid formations meant to maximise the abilities of individual players than adhering to strict formations that rely on tactically cancelling out opposition attacks. Up against a similar minded Didier Deschamps; it will be very interesting to see the tactical battle of the two stalwarts. And since both coaches prefer to concentrate more on getting their team to attack and win; than on nullifying the opposition’s attack expect an open match with both teams playing to win than not to lose.
The Mind Games begin.
So you have seen both sides of the coin. Who do you think will win the match?
This World Cup has never ceased to amaze everyone. The people who make the official movie of world cups will have a tough time including all those goals, upsets, comedy and drama. As we head towards the end of the Round of 16, the excitement and curiosity gets into a whole new level. This excitement will be given a greater push when the red devils battle it out against the North American giants USA. Picked as the dark horses by some, the Belgian horses have not started galloping to the extent of what was expected of them. Meanwhile USA who had an inspirational group stage are looking forward to make a mark in the sport what they call as “soccer”. The Belgian team had won all three matches for the first time in World Cup Group Stages but all of them were pretty close ones. But the amount of young talent will surely give them an upper hand. Meanwhile USA has been one of the silent heroes in the competition. Being in a group including Ghana, Portugal and Germany, very few expected them to make it to the last 16. But Klinsmann’s tactics as well as the team’s reliability has made a great impact on them. The encounter will surely be a close one for me and hopefully an exciting one.
ROAD TO THE SECOND ROUND
With the amount of talent present in the team many had expected Belgians to progress from Group H without much fuss and they did the same by winning all three for the first time in their World Cup history. But honestly the Belgians were expected to perform much better in these games. All the three games were won by just a one goal margin. What worries them more is that all the goals have come on the second half. Their first match with Algeria was a good comeback with 2 goals at the second half by the substitutes Fellaini and Mertens. The match ended with 2-1 as the final score line but their first half performance was disappointing. The same happened in their 1-0 vicory over the Russians where a late 88th minute goal from Orig i(again a substitute) ensured victory for the Red devils. The third match had a 77th goal from Vertonghen against the Koreans and this time we know that its not scored by a substitute. So as we say Belgians have been good on “paper” but not on the field as many expected from them.
On the other hand USA had a start that every other team could dream of. A very first minute goal from Dempsey was enough to make Ghana realise that the game wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. Surprisingly though Ghana equalised, a late goal by John Brooks gave victory to the Yanks and that 3 points turned out to be the crucial one for them. The second game against Portugal was a close one but their goalkeeper Tim Howard turned out to be their star. The game ended 2-2 when USA got a taste of their own medicine as Portugal scored a late goal. The team lost the third game against the mighty Germans but their manger Klinsmann will be satisfied with the performance that his team has put forward against his old team.
Howard – In Brilliant Form.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS – BELGIUM
Thibaut Courtois; Jan Vertonghen, Daniel van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld; Mousa Dembélé, Axel Witsel; Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Nacer Chadli; Romelu Lukaku.
Alternate : If Vincent Kompany is not playing then Lombaerts is the likely replacement.
Belgium is dealing with several injuries including their inspirational captain, Vincent Kompany who has a recurring groin injury that caused him to miss their group stage match against South Korea last week. He has been a great leader for the Belgian defence which has conceded just one goal in the group stages. The manger seems to be a bit disappointed with the injury when he stated that there is no person who can replace Kompany as the leader of the team. Another major concern is of Thomas Vermaelen who has a pulled hamstring. The defender has already been injured previously during the warm-ups which caused him to miss the first group stage match against Algeria. The team lacked the spark in attack with players like De Bruyne, Lukaku and Witsel not performing upto what is expected from them. A 4-2-3-1 formation is employed by Marc Wilmots but still he has been unable to find a good replacement for their injured striker Christian Benteke. He tried to make a number of changes in the squad but still there has been a lack of goals. Mirallas and Januzaj started against the Koreans but still failed to find the net. Eden Hazard has also been average when compared to the season he had in Chelsea. Young forward D. Origi has looked good and has created some chances too. He has scored the much needed goal for the team against the Russians. The good thing for Marc Wilmots is that he has plenty of players to choose from but the bad thing is that the desire and hunger to create chances and score goals is missing.
The team’s main strength lies in its defence with Thibaut Courtois as the goal keeper and Vincent Kompany as the centre-back. But with the latter in doubt for the next game, USA can really fancy their chances of getting past this defence.
Their attacking has been too dull. Other than Origi no other forward has scored a goal for them. Lukaku has looked in bad form until now and Mirallas too hasn’t impressed a lot against the Koreans.
With Vincent Kompany likely to miss the match, the Belgians will be counting on Eden Hazard to deliver. The attacking midfielder hasn’t scored a goal but has created some chances and the Red Devils will be hoping for him to get back to his top form in the forthcoming match.
Courtois – Greatness Awaits.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS – USA
Expected Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
Tim Howard,DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson; Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones; Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Davis, Clint Dempsey.
The USA will be the first top 15 team the Belgium team has faced so far in Brazil. The team has been instrumental in their game against Ghana where Clint Dempsey scored the first minute goal. Their injured forward J Altidore is doubtful for the coming match but his presence has been compensated by C Dempsey. The team’s dynamics and attack looked much better under the leadership of Klinsmann and indeed a German flair is seen in their football. Tim Howard has been also looking in good form but he has been not given a proper support by their defenders. The team has gone with 3 different formations in each of the three matches. If it was a 4-1-4-1 formation against the Germans, they have gone with a 4-2-3-1 against the Portuguese and a 4-4-2 formation against Ghana. Though the team lost to the Germans by one goal, the team has looked more solid in their defence in that game.
The team will be relying on their attack which has looked in good touch until now. Though they have failed to score in the last match, the pace and finishing has been perfect.
The weakness lies in their defence where conceding late goals have been a problem. The team saw late goals from Ghana and Portugal of which the latter even denied them a victory.
With two goals until now, the team will be counting on their star Clint Dempsey to deliver against the Belgians. His finishing has been perfect in the goals that he had scored against Portugal and Ghana.
Jones – Powerful Presence.
KEY PLAYER BATTLES
Fabian Johnson Vs Eden Hazard
The knockouts can make the team and players come with all guns blazing and Hazard is indeed expected to do the same. But it will be made tough by the experienced defender Fabian Johnson. The Borussia Mönchengladbach defender can cause trouble to the Chelsea starlet and whoever wins this battle can eventually win the game.
Hazard – Dribbling King.
Clint Dempsey vs Vincent Kompany
Though he is suffering from an injury, Vincent Kompany will try every possible way to try to get in the squad. His presence in the defense has been the main reason behing the team conceding just a single goal. Clint Dempsey has looked impressive but the strong defending by the Belgian captain will make his chances less and tougher.
Dempsey – Captain America.
Kompany – Towering Presence.
VERDICT AND PREDICTION
This World Cup has been full of surprises and I expect one of them to happen from this match. The Belgians has faced weaker opponents in their group compared to what USA encountered in their group. I expect the game to go all the way down to penalties if the Belgian attack fails to impress. And if Kompany doesn’t play then it could make things easier for USA.
While the best player in the world, Lionel Messi has finally started to stamp his class on this tournament, Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri has at last found the back of the net in impressive style, with a hat-trick against Honduras in the team’s last group game. That 3-0 win, of course, put the Swiss through to the last 16 where they meet Messi’s Argentina tomorrow and comparisons will inevitably be made. Argentina’s holding midfielder Javier Mascherano has a vital role to play in order to contain the Bavarian Xherdan Shaqiri.
The Switzerland coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, in an attempt to take away the pressure from the players has told that they have nothing to lose and much to gain. With the Swiss expecting the Brazilians to cheer for them in Porto Seguro, we are in for yet another enthralling 90 mins (or wait, let us not be so sure) of footballing class. The Argentina captain, Lionel Messi is hell bent on proving his critics wrong and making it point to lead his country to its destiny, the world glory. Let us recall that he also scored his first international hat-trick the last time Argentina and Switzerland met, in a friendly in 2012. Here is a glimpse at what he did to Switzerland in their previous encounter.
Lionel Messi has led the side almost single-handedly into the Round of 16. We would not have seen La Albacieste battling it out against Switzerland here, if it wasn’t for his masterclass in the first three group stage games. Argentina will be without the injured Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, with Ezequiel Lavezzi set to take his place in a continued three-man attack also comprising Messi and Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli.
ROAD TO THE SECOND ROUND
It was a rather dull start for Argentina. They started with a 3-5-2 in the first game surprising everyone only to be as pathetic as possible in terms of football. However, Messi has come up on top with his pin point delivery in the box and a lovely link up play with Higuain which ended up in the back of the net. Even after reverting back to 4-3-3, Argentina have struggled to get the rhythm in their second game against Iran. All credit to Messi, for a late winner. Despite their lack-luster football in the first two matches La Albacieste have seemed to find their rhythm in the third game against Nigeria but they have been a mess at the back. However, with a 100 percent win record in the group stage Argentina look all set for their Round of 16 battle against the Swiss.
Switzerland started off their World Cup campaign with a nail biting victory against Ecuador. A memorable match. A goal from the substitute Haris Seferovic from a Ricardo Rodriguez cross after Behrami intercepted the ball near the Swiss penalty box. In the second game, they had to face the mighty French who have mortified them completely with putting 5 goals in Benaglio’s net. Although, they have managed to muster a consolatory 2 goals, the performance has not been a memorable one for the Swiss. In their last group match against Honduras, Switzerland had shown their resolve with a hat-trick from Shaqiri, placing them second in the group. Their defence has been tested against both France and Ecuador. It’d be interesting to see how they come about in their endeavor to upset Argentina.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS – ARGENTINA
Argentina Tactical Diagram.
Alejandro Sabella has found the right balance between defence and attack and his 4-3-3 formation will get the best out of many of his players, not just Lionel Messi. It is easy to assume that, because the Albiceleste count on the attacking talents of Lionel Messi, their play would roughly reflect that of the Rosario-born genius’s Barcelona employers. That has indeed been tried at international level by previous coaches such as Sergio Batista, but to little effect. A typical Argentina team will adopt a 4-3-3 formation, with Messi taking up the forward position more towards the right giving space for the overlapping runs from Pablo Zabaleta. Gonzalo Higuaín would be playing as a striker with Lavezzi flanking up the left side. Di Maria who will be starting from the left central midfield position will take his role as a fourth forward towards the left during counter attacks. The team more or less revolves around the philosophy and tactics of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid. A skewed system where Di Maria keeps switching from midfield to a winger and Higuain playing more of a forward role.
At the back, Javier Mascherano plays a vital role breaking up opposition forays before they have the chance to unsettle a still largely unproven central defensive pair of Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez. With the other role of right central midfield to be occupied by Fernando Gago, La Albacieste are well on the road to success.
Di Maria – Creative Genius.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS – SWITZERLAND
Switzerland coach, Ottmat Hitzfeld, in all probability would be going for the well tested 4-2-3-1 against Sabella’s La Albacieste, allowing his fullbacks to go as forward as possible as torment the fragile Argentinean defence.
Switzerland Tactical Diagram
Looking at the defence, the central defence remains a major weakness of the Swiss team after their 5-2 against the French. I see a pairing up of Fabian Schar and Senderos at the back supported by Ricardo Rodriguez and Lichsteiner. Full backs have been brilliant in the opening three group stages. However, the center back pairing of Djourou and Von Bergen did not work as expected against the French. the youngster Fabian Schar of Basel has been impressive both for the national team and the club. His goal scoring ability in particular provides an interesting option for the coach. Lichsteiner has established himself as one the best full backs in Serie A with Juventus. The right back is full of energy and often overlaps the right wingers to provide an attacking threat. His understanding with Shaqiri is getting better and better as they continue to play together.
Captain Gokhan Inler will be paired in the central midfield with club team mate Blerim Dzemaili. The due won the Coppa Italia with Napoli this year. They make a great pair and being club team mates makes thing easier as they have a thorough understanding of each other’s game. In case Switzerland switches to 4-3-3 formation, Valon Behrami is likely to come on, and he too, plays for Napoli. Together, the Napoli trio can provide a decent shield for the shaky centre – backs.
Shaqiri and Stocker will play as right and left winger respectively. Both of them offer plenty of pace on the wings and love to cut inside to make room for the flying wing backs. Shaqiri’s pace and ability to cut inside is well suited to his coach’s tactic and he makes a formidable winger for the side with Stephan Lichsteiner behind him, forming an impressive combination. Stocker too, like Shaqiri, has excelled greatly under Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Granit Xhaka of Borussia Moenchengladbach will play in between the wingers. Once touted as the “Young Schweinsteiger” by Coach Hitzfeld, Xhaka possesses excellent anchoring ability to create goal scoring chances for his attacking players. Xhaka will be provided the freedom to move around the pitch to combine the play together with the midfielders and the attackers. The versatility of the player provides options for the coach as he can also play as a winger if needed, allowing Admir Mehmedi to take his place behind the striker.
Upfront, we are most likely to see Josep Drmic starting ahead of Haris Seferovic. The injury of Mario Gavranovic would reduce the attacking option for Ottmar Hitzfeld, but that should be a problem demanding great attention. Switzerland will look to maintain a close and compact defensive line and also we might be seeing the midfielders getting compact to take the ball away from Argentina. It’d be a great midfield battle and would a game with loads of thrills and spills promised.
Inler – Mighty Captain.
Lionel Messi vs Xherdan Shaqiri
Although Xherdan Shaqiri seems to be ahead of Lionel Messi in a few areas, I predict Lionel Messi is going to shine and put Argentina through to the quarterfinals.
Shaqiri – Fresh off a Hat-trick.
1. Lionel Messi vs Ricardo Rodriguez
The Liverpool target Ricardo Rodriguez, the kind of player who likes to go front should be vigilant at the back specially because the world’s best player looking to exploit any space he gets. It’d be interesting to see how frequently he goes forward and his ability to track back fast and match up Messi’s pace.
Messi – Need I say more?
2. Granit Xhaka Vs Javier Mascherano
The versatile midfielder will be put in check by the Barcelona center back Javier Mascherano. This battle would play a key role in determining overall control of the game.
Mascherano – Dirty Work Champ.
3. Federico Fernandez/ Garay Vs Drmic/ Shaqiri/Xhaka
The defensive pair need to hold their ground and stay strong and compact to quell any attack from the Swiss. Defence has been the problem for Argentina in the previous three group stage games, let us hope they do not repeat the same.
Xhaka – Always a threat.
VERDICT AND JUDGEMENT
The game would be a battle of possession, with both the teams trying to get hold of the ball. I expect Argentina to hold onto the ball and dominate the game. But, if the Swiss manage to get control in the first half, expect a change of tactics wherein you will see Argentina not really interested in the ball and trying to counter given the pace of Messi and Lavezzi coupled with brilliant vision from Di Maria. I go for a 3-2 win for Argentina, (Messi with a brace) considering weak defences of both the teams and better attacking prowess of Argentina.