Sunday, 8 June 2014

World Cup 2014: The Key Games (Part 1)

Thursday sees the start of the 20th World Cup Finals, held for the first time in 64 years in Brazil.  Fan With A Laptop takes a look at the key matches in the first two rounds of the group stages.

Brazil V Croatia; Sao Paulo, 12 June 17:00 (21:00 BST)
The hosts kick off their bid for a sixth World crown against Croatia.  Their previous attempt to win on home soil was thwarted by Uruguay in the final group game (there was no final in 1950).  In their way is the side that finished second in our qualifying group – and faded badly before the end of the qualifying campaign – before beating Iceland in the playoffs.  Their last meeting was Brazil’s opening match in defence of this tournament in 2006, a Kaka goal settled matters in Berlin.

Spain V Netherlands; Salvador, 13 June 16:00 (20:00 BST)
Iniesta about to score the winner against the Netherlands four years ago
Four years ago these two sides slugged it out in the final itself (left).  For the first time in World Cup history, both of the finalists have been drawn together in the opening round of the following World Cup.  Neither side will want to concede ground given that the runners up in this group will be seeded to play Brazil in the second round.

England V Italy; Manus, 14 June 18:00 (23:00 BST)
Our nearest and dearest kick off their campaign against the side that knocked them out of the European Championships two years ago.  England are traditional slow starters (they’ve won their opening game twice since 1990  - Beating Tunisia in ’98 and Paraguay in 2006) while Italy are…  well slow starters too (they’ve won their opening game three times since 1990 – beating Austria in ’90, Ecuador in 2002 and Ghana in 2006).  Both sides will want to avoid defeat given that they will still have to face the current South American champions Uruguay.

Argentina V Bosnia-Hertizovina; Rio di Janerio, 15 June 19:00 (23:00 BST)
First sight of the Argentinians, Higuain, Messi, Di maria et all.  Like Brazil, Argentina are up against another former part of Yugoslavia.  Unlike Croatia, Bosnia are making their Finals debut and may well wind up being one of the surprise packages of this tournament.  As well as Manchester City’s Dzeko, their key player may well end up being Roma’s Pjanic.  Argenine legend Maradona witnessed Pjanic’s talents first hand when he scored in Roma’s league defeat of Napoli in October last year.

Germany V Portugal; Salvador, 16 June 13:00 (17:00 BST)
Two years ago, Germany looked likely winners of the European Championships when they unexpectedly lost to Italy in the semi-finals.  Those championships were Joachim Low’s first setback as Germany manager.  The target for Germany will be the semi-finals at least, which given the bad draw handed to Germany.  First up for Germany will be the team they beat to third place on home soil in 2006.  Since then, Germany have knocked Portugal out of Euro 2008 and drew in their opening game of the last European Championships.  Still, Cristiano Ronaldo looks like he might miss this match, which would be a blow to Portugal.

Belgium V Algeria; Belo Horizonte, 17 June 13:00 (17:00 BST)
The team that finished top of Scotland’s group and many people’s choice as dark horses for this tournament.  The current crop of Belgian footballers (Hazzard, de Bruyne, Mirallas & Lukaku to name but four) hints at a second golden age for Belgian football.  Given that the first golden age reached the final of the European Championships and the semi finals of the World Cup within 6 years of each other, a tournament win would see this team usurp that generation, even if it’s been 12 years since their last tournament appearance.  Belgium’s opponents will be the side currently ranked as the best team in Africa.  Four years ago, they were a tight disciplined defensive unit that nearly beat England.  The suspicion is that they are set up in the same manner this time.  A test for the attacking prowess of Belgium.

Spain V Chile; Rio di Janerio, 18 June 16:00 (20:00 BST)
Spain’s second match comes against another side they faced four years ago on their way to World Cup glory.  Spain’s 2-1 victory helped them to recover from the shock defeat to Switzerland and top the group.  Then, Chile were a promising but young side under the tutelage of Marcello Bielsa, with four years experience under their belts they could be due a run at a major tournament.

Uruguay V England: Sao Paulo, 19 June 16:00 (20:00 BST)
England’s second match in their own “group of mutually assured destruction” is against the current Copa America holders Uruguay.  Yes there’s Luiz Suarez (if he’s fit) but there’s also PSG forward Edinson Cavani while at the back both Godin & Gimenez have had outstanding seasons for Atletico Madrid.

Switzerland V France: Salvador, 20 June 16:00 (20:00 BST)
In sharp contrast to Spain, four years ago France spontaneously combusted big style as the players rebelled against their coach Domenech.  Taking France into this tournament is their World Cup winning skipper from 1998 Diddier Deschamps, France having to qualify through the playoffs after finishing behind Spain in the qualifyers.  Whether they combust this tournament remains to be seen – though Deschamps has left out the Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri.  This match represent’s France’s toughest tasks in their attempt to qualify and avoid a second round tie with Argentina. Coached by double European Cup winner Otmar Hitzfield, Switzerland boast the Juventus defender Lichtsteiner as well as the Bayern winger Shaquiri and the Napoli midfielder Inler.

Germany V Ghana: Fortaleza, 21 June 16:00 (20:00 BST)
Four years ago, Germany’s second match ended in defeat at the hands of Serbia.  For them to qualify they had to beat Ghana in their last match.  After a tight match, a single Ozil goal on the hour (right) was enough to seal Germany’s qualification.  This time, Germany’s second match will be against the Ghanaians, who once again found themselves last African team standing four years ago.  Arguably rather than equal Cameroon’s achievement of reaching the World Cup quarter finals, they should have become the first African team to reach the semi final stages – Luiz Suarez handball permitting.

Belgium V Russia: Rio di Janerio, 22 June 13:00 (17:00 BST)
Belgium’s second tie will be against the Russians who have not made the progress that they should have.  Since reaching the semi finals of Euro 2008, Russia failed to reach the last World Cup, beaten by Slovenia on away goals in the playoffs while two years ago they were knocked out of the European Championships in the group stages by Greece.  There’s no Arshavin or Pavlyuchenko for Russia, but their most impressive performer from two years ago, Alan Dzagoev is still there for a side building towards hosting this tournament in four years time. 

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