Luckily, Nigeria has an excellent goalkeeper behind their unspectacular back four. Vincent Enyeama had a career year in 2013-14. The Lille goalkeeper kept 20 clean sheets in 37 games, the most in Ligue 1. He also allowed a measly .70 goals per game, trailing only PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu in that department.
Enyeama pretty much singlehandedly beat Bosnia and gave great performances in a losing effort against Argentina and France. He did exactly what he did in Ligue 1.
Ghana is much like a lot of other teams in the tournament: their defense is the biggest question mark. One of their defenders is just plain Afful. (No I will not leave.) Jonathan Mensah made 26 appearances for Evian in Ligue 1. But Evian finished 14th in Ligue 1 and allowed 51 goals in 38 games. John Boye only made 10 appearances. Everyone else plays in a lower quality league.
Unlike other teams with a dodgy defense, Ghana doesn’t have a great keeper available to them as a safety net. Fatau Dauda plays in the ABSA Premiership, South Africa’s domestic league. He has only five caps for Ghana and he’ll have to make a huge adjustment between facing the best South Africa’s league has to offer compared to Ronaldo, Muller and even Dempsey.
Ghana failed to keep a clean sheet in their three group stage games, allowing two goals to the USA, two goals to Germany and two goals to Portugal. I particularly highlighted John Boye, who got beat badly on Dempsey’s goal and had an own goal against Portugal.
Argentina doesn’t need Messi to be at his very best to be successful. Obviously it wouldn’t hurt for Messi to return to his 2012-13 form in Brazil but if he doesn’t, Argentina will still be in good shape in attack.
Messi carried them to the quarterfinals all by himself. If he’s not as his very best who knows if Argentina finishes first in their group, let alone makes it to the final.
Italy’s team doesn’t really seem to have a weak spot, they are solid and have depth in nearly every position. The quarterfinals seem to be the most likely place for Italy’s World Cup journey to end, but as Euro 2012 proved, never count out Italy when they’re the underdog.
I was two rounds off for how far Italy advanced. I was really convinced that their Euro 2012 squad plus guys like Verratti and Insigne would lead to them a pretty successful World Cup and after their England victory I was sure of it. Then they forgot how to attack against Costa Rica and Uruguay.
Just 22 years old, James Rodriguez is already one of the world’s most promising playmakers. He created 97 total chances in Ligue 1 with Monaco, which was best ahead of Mathieu Valbuena. He’s the creative force behind Colombia’s style of play, someone who can thread a needle in a haystack. He’s even been compared to Colombia’s most transcendent player Carlos Valderrama (minus the hair of course). He’s an attacking midfielder who can play on the left hand side or play as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1, which Colombia have used during qualifying. For only a 22 year old, Colombia will depend heavily on the genius of his play.
James Rodriguez was easily the breakout star of the World Cup, and one could argue that he has been the best player in the World Cup despite the quarterfinal exit. He’s only 23 years old and we’ll get another shot to see the genius work more magic in Copa America next summer.
Out of the four teams in Group B, Chile will be the people’s choice to see progress into the knockout stage. They certainly play the most attractive football from the four teams (unless you want to argue about the ideals that Tiki-Taka football bring at its peak form), they have the singular talent in Vargas, Sanchez, and Vidal that also sublimate very well with how Chile play, and there is some merit to a South American team playing in an environment that suit their collective team mentality. Their defense is where the talent dries up rather quickly and will perhaps be Chile’s ultimate doing if they do in fact not progress through the group stage. There’s something really special about this Chile iteration and it just maybe the best team Chile has ever trotted out since 1962. No matter what their World Cup story will eventually tell us, they’ll do it with the type of flair that’ll make them a meta-fans’ wet dream.
They were sooooo close to beating Brazil in the Round of 16, and though they were exhausted to the point of parking the bus versus Brazil in Extra Time, we all got our money’s worth with Chile.
Africa currently hasn’t had a team progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup despite coming painstakingly close with Ghana in 2010 and Cameroon in 1990. It’s be quite the sending off of the Ivory Coast’s golden generation to be the first team to do so, and with the abundance of talent that they possess combine with the world class ability that Yaya Toure possesses, Cote D’Ivoire may just be crazy enough to pull it off.
Greece are just the worst and ruin everyone’s fun. The Ivory Coast will probably qualify for Russia 2018. There’s still enough talent to get through the qualifying process in Africa and perhaps there’ll be ample talent coming through the pipeline that could finally achieve the dream of advancing past the group stage in the World Cup. But it’s very sad that this was the last dance for Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, especially considering that this was by far their best chance to get through.
The roster selection could be argued in a number of different directions. On one hand, it’s best to have a team that has some semblance of continuity going into a international tournament where the sample size is at max 7 games if you win the tournament. We have no way on quantifying chemistry in football (or in sports generally) so there’s probably an advantage in going back to the well if there’s something left. Some of these players Scolari chose could simply outperform relative to their normal production and justify why they were selected. International football perhaps more so than club football is where destroyers can reign supreme over creators. The 2006 and 2010 World Cup provided a template for that sort of thinking and the lineup Scolari could trot out would be leaning towards that. The Brazilians have the defensive midfielders and even individuals like Oscar and Willian to make this work.
The lesson learned from this is simple: never try to talk out of your ass. The 2014 FIFA World Cup proved the exact opposite, that we are transitioning into an era full of attacking prosperity and tactical flexibility. Brazil played the game as if this was 2010, which would’ve worked if again… it was 2010. Neymar was a one man offense, who had to drag a team that had no quality fullbacks. Scolari left out the likes of Lucas Moura and Coutinho, attacking midfielders that would’ve been huge upgrades over Hulk/Willian/Bernard and even Oscar. Paulinho and Fernandinho were alternating poor performances, with the latter having a crap game versus Germany. There’s a lot of questions to be answered for Brazil, and what they’ll look in Copa America 2015 will be very interesting.
South Korea have a young team that will look to play an exciting style, but it suffers from a lack of consistent finishing, and this defence conceded more goals from set pieces during qualifying than all but one country. The opening salvo with Russia may end up proving decisive in the race for second-place. If South Korea get forward play good enough to break down a tough Russian back line, it should win–or at least produce a satisfying result. More likely, however, the South Koreans will have trouble finishing off opportunities created by its midfield, and will miss out on the round of 16 for the seventh time in nine appearances.
I was dead-on here. South Korea were young, with a manager who had been on the job for one year. The team managed three goals in group play, but two came against Algeria in a wide-open affair which saw six goals scored in total. Son Heung-min was a nice surprise and received a larger role than I anticipated, but overall, South Korea had trouble finishing and conceded six times in three games. It did receive that satisfactory result against Russia, but the demolition at the hands of Algeria proved fatal. Hong Myung-bo resigned from his post three days ago.
Daley Blind is a name you need to know. The “Dutch Lahm”, as some have called this 24 year-old, has been utilized as a left-back and holding mid to great effectiveness at Amsterdam ArenA, and was named Dutch Footballer of the Year for the 2013-14 season. You can read a great profile on him by Mohamed Moallim (@iammoallim) here, and how LVG deploys him could be crucial.
Blind played a huge role in Holland’s run to third place, registering one goal and three assists over seven games. The deep-lying playmaker averaged 53 passes per contest, completing them at an 87% clip and creating seven chances. Blind averaged nearly seven long balls per game and threw in four tackles, two clearances, two interceptions, and a partridge in a pear tree (okay, strike that last one). Blind’s performances opened some eyes in England, as Manchester United and Liverpool will be working to acquire him this window.
It’s nearly impossible to see how Costa Rica don’t finish dead last in Group D, even if Navas plays his tail off in goal. The defence will get exposed by the world-class strikers in the group, the midfield is poor, and Saborío’s injury will lessen the attack’s effectiveness. But even then, Los Ticos won’t advance. Better luck next time.
Welp. Just gonna have to wear this one. Costa Rica were the surprise of the tournament, riding a stellar back line and a world-class goalkeeper to the quarterfinals, where it went out on penalties to Holland. Los Ticos conceded only once in a group that contained three former World Cup winners, and that goal was an Edinson Cavani penalty in the 24th minute of the opening game. Costa Rica weren’t exactly lethal in the final third; Bryan Ruiz was responsible for the team’s two goals in the 420 minutes following the Uruguay game. But it was usually Navas’ incredible keeping that…well, kept Costa Rica around. Tremendous tournament for the Central American nation, and a huge win for CONCACAF.
Spain’s back line and midfield will have a nice mixture of experienced and youthful, and its midfield in particular is STACKED. But aside from Diego Costa, forward is an issue, although the strength in the midfield could negate Fernando Torres playing without feet. Very, very difficult to see Spain falling short of the final four, and I’d say there’s a decent chance it makes the final.
Spain’s goalkeeping sucked, its back line sucked, its midfield sucked, its forwards sucked. Nothing went right when it counted at the 2014 World Cup for la Roja. I discussed a reason for the massive disconnect between midfielder and forward (along with Ahmad) here.
While boasting a lot of talented defenders, the Belgian national team have a glaring weakness: they have no established full backs. Wilmots’s defense is comprised of eight defenders, seven of which play center back at club level. Belgium will probably line up with four center backs across the back line. Luckily, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen have deputized as left backs for their clubs at times.
Eden Hazard was perhaps most effected by this. Belgium’s lack of full backs hindered his attacking prowess, and in a competition that highlighted how effective the full back was, the Red Devils suffered.
Iran has a host of other issues plaguing them this campaign, chief among them a lack of first choice goalkeeper and their locker room being out of sorts. These things take a toll on even the most talented teams, and will probably cramp up Iran’s chances of advancing in the group.
Iran were awful to watch. Their game against Nigeria was perhaps the worst game in this World Cup, and while they effectively stifled Argentina for 91 minutes, Carlos Quieroz’s side didn’t win them any fans.
The World Cup champions didn’t really miss Marco, riding their team of “non difference makers” to the championship. Mario Gotze’s extra time winner against Argentina was enough to propel Germany to their fourth World Cup.
There are many other standouts in this squad, with the rest of the Real Madrid contingent plying their trades in defense. Pepe and Fabio Conterao didn’t have the most stellar of seasons, but they were very capable and did the job when called upon.
Pepe gonna Pepe. His red card against Germany probably ended their World Cup. That along with Conterao’s injury in the same game really highlighted how poor the Portugal side was, despite having the second best player in the world – albeit in an injured state.