World Cup Last Minute Wonders

Despite the fact that the favourites have progressed so far in every knockout match played, it’s been a tense affair so far. No side has been able to completely overpower their opposition side in terms of ability level, and what has followed has been intriguing tactical battles to get the upper hand. It has been so close in fact that of the 10 knockout games played so far, 5 have gone to extra time.

But what’s been truly amazing about these knockout matches so far has been the amount of late magic that have arisen. Moments that have either changed or potentially could have changed fate with the clock seconds away from full time. There have been goals to decide or save a game, and misses which have cost teams dearly at the end. Here’s a list of those memorable last minute moments so far in this knockout phase.

Brazil v Chile – Mauricio Pinilla

With Brazil controlling possession in the last 5 minutes of extra time and with Chile seemingly happy with taking the game to extra time, Chile take a goal kick. A long goal kick that Mauricio Pinilla receives about 30 yards from goal. He plays a 1-2, running across the box to receive the ball and unleashes a searing shot. Past the defenders and past a goalkeeper who can only watch. But not past the crossbar. Inches away from knocking out the tournament hosts, instead his team go home after losing in the penalty shootout

In the land of Christ the Redeemer, it would have been fitting for Pinilla, a journeyman bad boy whose career has been filled with controversy, to have achieved hero status in Chile in what would have arguably been one of their greatest ever results. Alas, it was not to be.

A moment like that would be seared into your brain forever. However, that wasn’t enough for Pinilla. He also went out got a tattoo of it. Guess that’s one way to remind yourself how close you were from being a national hero.

Netherlands v Mexico – Arjen Robben

With only 5 minutes remaining in the game, Sneijder produced a pile driver of a shot to equalise for Netherlands. 1-1 it remained going into injury time. Then disaster struck for Mexico.

Robben, running into the box, gets to the byline and then tries to cut back. Rafael Marquez sticks out his leg, which Robben then theatrically tumbles over. Penalty. Huntelaar steps up and buries it. 2-1 to Netherlands and Mexico are out.

After the match, the Mexican manager raged, claiming that Robben’s “penalty was invented”. However, it wasn’t. By the letter of the law, Marquez impeded Robben’s movement to the ball, and hence the correct decision for the penalty was made.

But I can understand Mexican frustrations at Robben. In 2006, Australia took on Italy in a Round of 16 match. Going into the last minute still at 0-0, Fabio Grosso had the ball in the box. Lucas Neill dived in, Grosso fell over, penalty awarded. Australia out of the World Cup. I was heartbroken. I hated the Italians at that moment. Dive I screamed for days, months, even years now. Despite watching countless replays suggesting that it was a legitimate penalty, I still claim it was a dive. And if the Mexican fans feel even half the emotions I felt, then Netherlands v Mexico could be a tasty encounter for years to come.

Costa Rica v Greece – Keylor Navas

The Greeks just wouldn’t die. Holding onto a 1-0 lead going into injury time, with 10 men on the field, the Costa Rican players would have been dying to hear the whistle blow for full time. Instead, Papastathopoulos equalised in injury time. And suddenly Greece, with the extra man and the momentum after the goal, looked like the favourites to qualify.

Up step Keylor Navas, my goalkeeper of the tournament so far. Later in normal injury time, Mitroglou diverted a long ball towards the goal, which Navas did well to deflect behind goal, keeping his side in the game. What happened during injury time at the end of extra time was even better.

With both teams dead on their feet, both teams scrappily losing possession as the time wound down to penalties, the ball comes to Mitroglou in the box. Goal, he must have thought, as he shot towards goal with the neatest of touches. But alas, Navas was there. The hero of Costa Rica spotting the danger, rushing off his line to close the angles and somehow managing to get a knee on the ball to deflect it wide of the goal. Saving his side from defeat and instead sending his team to penalties. And we all know what happened next.

If there has been one pleasant surprise from this World Cup, it has been the attention that has been placed on the goalkeepers. Keepers like Navas, Ochoa, Howard, Neuer have all had either match-winning or almost match-winning performances to match the likes of Messi and James Rodriguez. And if there is a football occupation that deserves its time in the sun, it’s the keepers. With relentless criticism coming their way whenever they make a mistake, it’s about time we appreciate the great performances as well.

Argentina v Switzerland – Blerim Dzemaili

Di Maria had just made it 1-0 to Argentina, after an inspired Messi run and pass. Switzerland were on their way out, seconds ticking down as they stare down the barrel at a World Cup exit. A corner comes in, gets cleared out by the Argentinian defence, ball lands to Shaqiri on the right, who then crosses it in.

Up step Dzemaili. Rising above the crowd, he gets a good head to the ball, steering it towards the goal as Romero, the Argentine goalkeeper, can only watch.

Alas, the ball does not find the back of the net. Instead it hits the post, rebounds off and hits Dzemaili in the knee as he stumbles, trying to regain control of his body. Alas again, the ball goes wide, and Switzerland’s last chance of survival is gone.

Belgium v USA – Chris Wondolowski

In the last minute of normal injury time, the ball lands in the Belgium box to Chris Wondolowski, 6 yards away from goal. Wondolowski, twice the Golden Boot winner in the MLS, was the perfect man for this opportunity, a poached goal for the ultimate poacher. Instead, he skies it, game goes to extra time and USA lose 2-1.

Landon Donovan was left at home, USA’s greatest ever goal scorer told he wasn’t good enough to make the best 23 of the USA. Wondolowski, the striker who took his place. A man whose fame does not lie much beyond the USA, with the chance to establish his name in the headlights of the World Cup. Instead, he will go home disappointed, a man who has made a career out of scoring goals unable to score the simplest of goals at the most important of times. Such is football.

My World Cup Diary

Well, the World Cup has been exciting hasn’t it? It’s been an attacking bonanza in almost every game I’ve seen. Even normally defensive teams, such as England, Germany and Australia, have come out of their shell and tried to play the game the ‘proper’ way. And it has produced goals, a lot of them.

Teams have scored 21 more goals than at this time of the last World Cup. And it hasn’t really been because of demolitions of the smaller sides. Only Honduras can be said to have been a disappointment in regards to their ability to compete. And the two games with the biggest goal difference (4 goals)? Netherlands Spain and Germany Portugal. Definitely not minnow bashings.

World Cup Year Goals Scored in Round 1 Games with under 3 goals
2014 46 3
2010 25 14

But it is not in the first round of the group stage where memories are created to last a lifetime (except for van Persie’s header, more on that later). It is in the knockout rounds where eternal glory is made, and it is there that one hopes that this newfound love of attacking football will carry on. And if it does, this may just be remembered as one of the greatest World Cups ever.

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Do the ends justify the means for Chelsea?

They say that a Machiavellian is a man who lives his life using pure logic, not letting emotion cloud his judgement. If that is the case, then Mourinho’s plan to nullify Liverpool was the ultimate Machiavellian ploy. Media making this out to be one of the biggest games of Chelsea’s season? Reduce expectations by promising to send out, and then sending out, a “B” team. Liverpool will attack like a guided missile at the start of a game? Waste time from the start so they have less time to dominate. Liverpool are devastating in transition? Make sure everyone is back within seconds of losing the ball. Decisions that will no doubt annoy neutral fans of the game, but, when analysed in the cold light of day, decisions that were spot on. Continue reading

The race for fourth, Bye Bye Moyes and Defensive Masterclasses

Arsenal always comes 4th

For a minute after Everton’s victory over Arsenal, I thought that Arsenal might not make the top 4. Everton had the advantage (they could afford a draw and still come 4th if Arsenal won all their games), and looked in red-hot form. I even started looking at the fixtures, trying to work out whether Everton could get a point from Manchester City’s visit, and whether they could beat Man United (which they have) and Southampton (which they probably will).

In_Arsene_We_Trust

‘In Arsene We Trust’ by Wonker, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonker/3561563065.

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West Brom’s inability to win

One of the more intriguing stories about this season’s relegation battle is that of West Bromwich Albion. If football was all about not losing a match, they would be 9th, having only lost 13 of their 34 matches. They have proved to be a tough side to beat, with even the top sides struggling to beat them (in the matches where they have played the current top 4 teams, they have only lost 3 of their 7 games).

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Hope in the future for Tottenham?

In January 2011, Liverpool sold their star striker, Fernando Torres, for a record 50 million pounds. And in the two transfer windows in 2011, Liverpool spent over 100 million pounds on 9 players to try to make their squad even stronger, with the aim of making the top 4 in the 2011/12 season. They failed, coming 8th, and despite cup success, the manager, Kenny Dalglish, was sacked.

Replace a couple of words in that paragraph, and you would have Tottenham’s story for this season. For Fernando Torres, see Gareth Bale. For Kenny Dalglish, see Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. 1 transfer window instead of 2, 7 players instead of 9. And at least Liverpool had a League Cup success to provide happy memories for the season. Continue reading