After Brazil had faltered in their second fixture of the tournament, the focus would now shift to a few of the other title favorites in the form of the Netherlands and Spain. For the Netherlands, it was a question of “how many” they would score against Australia, and for Spain, it was a chance to erase their opening match embarrassment. Then, in the last match, Cameroon and Croatia would hope to take full advantage of the current point totals in Group A by jumping up into the mix with a full three points.
Australia vs Netherlands
Considering how many were entering into this match with the assumption that the Netherlands would walk all over the Socceroos, the Australian players had obviously chosen to ignore the preconceived notions and give the Dutch all they could handle. Within the first 20 minutes, it actually felt as if Australia would be the more likely to draw first blood as they created some lightning quick attacks that only lacked a proper finish. Then, with a quick counter of their own, Robben and the Netherlands took the lead. If you have to ask “what foot did he finish with?” then you have not been watching soccer for long. However, moments later, Tim Cahill scored a goal that will be shown long after Australia has left the competition. A left-footed volley that crashed against the underside of the crossbar and into the net will certainly be one of the goals in contention for goal of the tournament. A fantastic, free-flowing half of football that fully embodied the 2014 Cup up to this point.
The second half started as the first ended, with a very presentable Australian attack that nearly punished the Dutch. However, the first few moments would give way to some extended Netherlands pressure that made it seem like the Netherlands might start to assert their dominance. Then, just as quickly as the Dutch had started to show superiority, a handball in the Dutch box would hand Australia a second goal and one of the most unlikely scorelines to this point in the Cup. But this match rarely has long stretches without a response, and Van Persie would bury a chance after some slack Australian defending to tie the game up at 2-2 in the 57th minute. While this situation would topple many mighty teams, Australia continued to attack and search for a winner…very admirable for such an underrated squad up against a team chocked full of world-class talent (we can see where Jordon gets it!). Despite the Australian effort (and several more good chances), a long distance shot from Dutch substitute Depay would sneak past the keeper and into the net. Three points for the Dutch, but a valiant Australian performance. It hurts to see Tim Cahill leave the international stage and Robben and Robin were obviously a bit off their best, but champions and would-be-champions have to win tight games…so, mission accomplished.
Chile vs Spain
The question of whether Spain would stamp their dominance on this game early and change their fortune from their first match was answered within about 60 seconds as Chile attacked fiercely and Spain still looked wobbly. The boos that rained down on Diego Costa seemed to reverberate through the Spanish side and make the smooth and slick passing and moving that we have come to expect from Spain look slow and labored from the opening whistle. Despite Chile giving the ball away several times in fantastic positions for Spain, the goal that would supply the need relief seemed like it would never come. Almost as if to respond to the inability of Spain to score, Chile decided to pile the pressure on the 2010 champs with a goal of their own. Resulting off of a misplaced Spanish pass and a rapid-fire Chilean counter, Vargas put the first nail in Spain’s 2014 WC coffin. The rest of the half followed a simple description: Spain looked lethargic while Chile looked intent on three points.
Then, as Spain were attempting to get into halftime in order to regroup, a blocked Alexis Sanchez free-kick (that Casillas could have caught easily OR punched away from the middle of the field) got turned in by Aranguiz to double the Chilean lead and send Spain spiraling down to a quick exit. From the second the goal went into the net, Spain never looked like they believed they could come back and remain in this competition. Costa continued to capitulate, Busquets spurned a FANTASTIC chance to score in the 52nd minute, and despite the occasional glimpse of a chance for Spain, an era was ended before the last match day in the group had even arrived. Considering the advancing age of a huge portion of this Spanish team (Alonso, Iniesta, Xavi, Casillas, Torres, and others), perhaps this will be a good platform for a changing of the guard. The upcoming Australia/Spain match will certainly be an interesting affair…but, will it be interesting for the right reasons? Congratulations to Chile for earning their qualification and the respect of their peers.
Cameroon vs Croatia
A first half that can be accurately described by a tweet from Grant Wahl during the first 45:
Cameroon is the worst team I’ve seen at the World Cup.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 18, 2014
While Croatia did not seem to be up to proving that they were better than their scoreline against Brazil suggested, they were the first to find the back of the net as Olic ghosted to the back post to turn in a low cross after a bit of pinball in the box. While the first half felt like it lacked World Cup level build-up play, the main headline from the opening half will be Alex Song flinging his elbow into the back of Mandzukic and receiving a straight red card. The second half would need Cameroon to score in order to avoid going out of the World Cup.
The second half would start in the best possible way for Croatia/worst possible way for Cameroon. Cameroon’s keeper (who had been poor the whole game) gave away a pass that Ivan Perisic gathered at the halfway line before sprinting all the way to the six yard box and calmly passing into the goal as Cameroon’s keeper fell over to the side. It quickly was becoming a question of how many the Croatian team could score as their attacks seemed increasingly dangerous. After seeming to be camped in the Cameroonian half, Mandzukic turned in a corner to take the score to 3-0 and completely out of reach for Cameroon. To leave the spearhead of Bayern Munich’s lethal attacked unmarked in the box is to take your life into your own hands, and Cameroon paid the price…not once, but twice as Mandzukic was on hand to tap the ball in the net after a shot was parried into his path. While it could have easily been five or six goals conceded by Cameroon, they will relish the role of possibly spoiling Brazil’s World Cup…
It seems that it may be impossible to jinx at this point, because no matter how often someone mentions it, this tournament continues to boil over with goals. Only seven days in, and we have drama, red cards, yellow cards, big-time injuries, upsets, shellackings, enthralling draws, penalties, and SO MANY GOALS!!! The only bad aspect of the Cup to this point? The ridiculous standard that 2018 will now have to follow…poor Russia…