World Cup 2014: The Story Of The Group Stages

Mark O’Brien takes us through the highlights of the group stages of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

This week has seen the end of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in what has been one of the best football tournaments in recent history. In my eyes it’s arguably the best tournament since the European Championships of 2000. 

While it stared against a backdrop of FIFA corruption allegations, safety issues over very recent finished stadia and protests by local Brazillian workers over terrible working conditions and pay, the tournament, with the attacking football encouranged by many of the coaches and the gung-ho nature of many of the games, has restored many jaded football fans faith in the beautiful game.
With Neymar’s first goal in the 3-1 victory over Croatia on match day one, we have seen over 100 goals in a tournament that has featured many upsets, high scoring games and many established nations being knocked out at the group stage.

SPAIN – THE DOWNFALL OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONS

On yer bike - or bus as the case may be

On yer bike – or bus as the case may be

Arguably the biggest shock of the competition so far has seen champions Spain knocked out by the second game of the group stages. From holding their own in the first half against Holland in their Group B opener, they were torn apart in the second half by the pace of Robben and the finishing of Van Persie. Holland were aided by the inglorious error of the former world number one goalkeeper Iker Casillas, a harrowing sight for most football fans to see. This was then followed up by defeat to a vibrant Chile side in their second group game to confirm their sorry elimination.
Vincente Del Bosque, who has bought an era of statesmanship to the holders after constructing an excellent Real Madrid team at the start of the millennium, put too much faith in the old guard. With the problems at Barcelona over the last few years, the stagnation of their high tempo game since Guardiola left, Xavi getting older and the ineffectual form of Iniesta, Busquets and Pique, all largely affecting the national team on the biggest stage.
Add to this the striker problems – too much faith in the half fit Diego Costa, resulting in a change of their previous fluent system. The poor form of Fernando Torres, with the loss in confidence of all time top scorer David Villa and the negligence in blending in hungry players like Tiago, Isco, Moreno, Navas, Negredo, Llorente and Herera, it all led to the shocking early exit by the champions, who will now be looking for a revamp of their squad at Euro 2016.

ENGLAND – BACK HOME – EARLY

Suarez fattening up Gerrard

Suarez fattening up Gerrard

Perhaps you could see it coming. Expectations had been lowered considerably for the former world cup holders England, apart from among the most unrealistic, such as Alan Shearer or assorted Sky Sports News pundits…….who haven’t got a clue anyway.
England also lucked out in their Group D “Group of Death“, drawing Italy and not banking on the emergence of Costa Rica and Uruguay as forces in the tournament. While our noisy neighbours have introduced youth, or at least younger internationals (but not necessarily great players) and had a good performance in patches against Italy (ultimately getting bet 2-1), they resorted to the outdated longball against Uruguay, playing into the South American sides gameplan, with a very shaky central defense in Cahill and Jagielka helping to ensure their early elimination.
This has resulted in the predictable hysterical media reaction and re-examining, for the 200th time in 2 years, of their grass root level. Roy Hodgson should be safe in the job for another two years with his backing from the English FA, who are being absolutely trounced by the Death Star of the English Premier League. A domestic league that has no interest in blooding young English talent, only the billion dollar signs made from their TV contracts, to the accelerating detriment of their national game.
In hindsight, as their pundits are fed up telling you, they should’ve went more “German” with the younger players being fully blooded in this tournament. They would love an upcoming young coach in the job like Joachim Löw, but with a dearth of good English coaches to pick from, and no young ones who could put up long term with the unrealistic media spotlight, they are stuck with Roy, who with a bit of luck and more blooding of his young team, might just have a better Euros in 2016.

ITALY – PIRLO LITE?

Pirlo - Terrific beard and a nice fella apparently

Pirlo – Terrific beard and a nice fella apparently

“Group Of Death” Group D has resulted in not one but two established countries departing the tournament early. After winning the cup very recently in 2006, the Italian’s have stalled badly this time, maybe with an over reliance on the ageing Andreas Pirlo, underestimating Costa Rica in their second group game and bad luck in the Marchisio sending off against Uruguay when they were looking to close out the game to progress through to the last 16.
The England game aside, Italy looked very lightweight up front. Mario Balotelli contributed very little in the last two group games, firing wide after a great chance against Costa Rica then picking up an early booking in the Uruguay game, resulting in him being subbed at half time. Prandelli failed to fire up the squad enough to progress out of the group stage and resigned straight after the Uruguay game.

NEYMAR’S BRAZIL

Neymar has been the best thing about Brazil

Neymar has been the best thing about Brazil

Neymar had a lacklustre first season at Barcelona but has found himself revitalized at this World Cup, enjoying hero status in the host country, scoring four goals already in the two games against Croatia and Cameroon and inspiring the side to top Group A. While Brazil have been stodgy in midfield and defence, shown in the 0-0 draw with Mexico, they are happily through to the knock out stages, with Scolari looking for a second World Cup Victory……with Neymar helping to inspire the side.
It may be a bridge too far for this Brazilian team to win the tournament outright but they are set up for a competitive last 16 tie against Chile. Can Neymar and Brazil go all the way?

THE RESURGENCE OF FRANCE

Giroud - Best hair at the World Cup

Giroud – Best hair at the World Cup

After the very bitter mutiny in the camp in South Africa in 2010, France have successfully qualified from Group E topping the group with 7 points. This is largely due to the excellent form of Karim Benzema who, under Carlo Ancelotti at Read Madrid, has really improved his workrate and touch to become a real team player, scoring nine goals in his last eight games for France. Coupled with the excellent form of Cabaye and Valbuena, Didier Deschamp has installed a real club team spirit to the French side, coping well with the loss before the tournament of Ribery to injury and also after not taking suspected mutineers of 2010, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.
Not bad for a French team declared the worst in their history in the French media a few months ago. They are now one of the tournament favourites.

RELAXED HOLLAND

Goal of the tournament so far?

Goal of the tournament so far?

Since their disastrous Euro 2012 campaign Louis Van Gaal has restored Holland. After Kevin Strootman got injured in the lead up to the finals, Van Gaal ditched the Total Football of 4-3-3 for a flowing 3-5-2, which better accommodated his teams strengths, catching Spain on the back foot and allowing Robben to terrorize the Spanish defense with his blistering pace as they ran out 5-1 winners, putting down a marker for the rest of the tournament. After a scare against Australia, where the Aussie’s had some excellent chances, they managed to win the game and thereby qualified for the last 16.
Van Gaal then rang the changes as Holland beat Chile 2-0 in the last group game, thereby topping Group B on 9 points and setting up the last 16 tie with Mexico. Holland’s experienced players, Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder and De Jong have all performed, beside Martins, Blind and De Vridj well.

ARGENTINA AND THE RETURN OF LIONEL MESSI

Catch me if you can

Catch me if you can

Big things have been expected of Group F Winners Argentina (as always) and their star player, and arguably the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi. It has been flung at Messi time and time again that it he wants to be on a par with Pele and Maradonna, he has to win a World Cup (well to some) and its always annoyingly flung in his face that he’s only scored one World Cup goal (Yawn).
Messi, after a disappointing season by his standard (only scoring 28 league goals!), has made his mark already in the tournament, scoring four goals in three games and matching joint leading tournament goalscorer Neymar. He showed his absolute will-to-win with a last minute match winner against a stubborn Iran side, allowing Argentina to qualify out of group F to the knock out stages.
In the Nigeria game with his two excellent goals he showed more of his sinclialating top form. With Aguero and Heguain partnering him in the forward line, and Angel Di Maria, getting steadily better with more games, he’ll now be looking to get as far in the tournament as possible, starting against Switzerland in the last 16. Could this be Messi’s World Cup?

THE SHOCK TROOPS

His name.....is Bryan

His name…..is Bryan

Chile and Costa Rica have both greatly added to the tournament. Chile finished second in Group B, with their dogged result against Australia in their group opener and their deserved shock win in their second game, knocking out holders Spain and being dubbed the “Spain of South America”. Sanchez and Vargas have formed a solid partnership up front, with the team a mix of craft and flair under coach Jorge Sampaoli, setting them up for a great last 16 clash against hosts Brazil with keeper Claudio Bravo earning a move to Barcelona.
Costa Rica topped Group D on 7 points, beating both Uruguay and Italy, while drawing with England. Jorge Luis Pinto’s team has shown no fear in the group stages, epitomized by Bryan Ruiz’s goal to beat Italy and will now play Greece in the last 16. Both of these teams have added excellently to the tournament.

SUAREZ CONTROVERSY

Thats weird my teeth hurt for some reason.

Thats weird my teeth hurt for some reason.

Uruguay can be considered shock troops after their opening Group D defeat against Costa Rica. Luiz Suarez then returned from injury and inspired good wins against England (2-1) and Italy (1-0), knocking both teams out of the tournament respectively with Suarez nearly scoring a hat trick but settling for two crucial goals against England.
Everything looked great in the sunny garden of Uruguay and Suarez, then came that bite on the shoulder of Giorgio Chellini in the Italy game. While Suarez denied it and Chellini says it happened, it has been the most controversial moment of the 2014 World Cup so far. Suarez has previous and it has now resulted in a 4 month ban for him from all football competitions.
Uruguay now have their star man out, hampering their chances of progression in their last 16 tie against Columbia. Liverpool also have their star man out (If he dosen’t run for cover to Spain). A great player, but a horrible horrible sportsman.

GREECE’S UNLIKELY SECOND PLACE

Hi Honey

Hi Honey

In great contrast to Suarez, later on that Tuesday night, Ex Celtic striker Georgios Samaras showed the world what real sportsmanship is all about. Greece lost their opening Group C game to Columbia, drew their second with Japan and looked likely to go out against a disciplined Ivory Coast side, inspired by Yaya Toure. Sami and the Greek side wouldn’t have a bit of it, adventurously attacking Ivory Coast in numbers with Sami delightfully setting up sub Samaris for their opener.
Then after Bony’s equaliser, Samaras won a penalty in the last minute and with the pressure of a nation on him, delightfully converted to put Greece into the knock out stages against Costa Rica. After celebrating with his team mates, he went over to check on the Ivory Coast goalkeeper Barry. The keeper was absolutely inconsolable at his sides exit as Samaras showed real respect to his opponent by helping him up. A great positive against Suarez’s negative, which of course would grab all the tabloid sports press headlines.

U-S-A!

Now this, THIS is a World Series

Now this, THIS is a World Series

In no small thanks to Germany’s opening 4-0 win over Portugal, the United States find themselves runners up in Group G, qualifying through goal difference. After one of the fastest goals ever by Clint Dempsey in their 2-1 opener against Ghana, they finished the stronger team against Portugal, although losing a goal in the last minute to earn a 2-2 draw when they were on the verge of qualification.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s side have won the respect of many with their youthful attacking approach and will to win and right deserve to be in the last 16 to face Belgium.

EFFICIENT GERMANY

Insert your own witty comment

Insert your own witty comment

Jogi Löw’s German side topped Group G on 7 points after a blistering 4-0 opening win against Portgual, with Müller scoring a hat trick. They then had a pulsating 2-2 draw against Ghana, with Klose scoring to equal Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals at the World Cup. They then rounded it off with the 1-0 win, to ultimately top the group, against the USA.
Mario Götze has replaced the injured Marco Reus, while both Bender brothers, Gomez and Guendogan failed to make it. Germany have been building up to this World Cup since 2010, with the nucleus of their squad playing in successful and attractive Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund sides, They are a big favourite to win the tournament outright and can start now to try and progres through the knockout stages with the last 16 tie against Algeria.

NO CLEAR WINNER SO FAR

The Precious

The Precious

Who will win the World Cup 2014? who knows? Its been a great if unpredictable tournament so far, with three of the big football nations – Spain, England and Italy knocked out early, with the best players on show, Messi, Neymar, Van Persie, Robben and Müller driving their nations on.
Unlike the stagnant 2010 effort, every game has been played like a knockout, with the smaller footballing nations, Australia, the US, even Iran, all adding to the games. Predictions and bets have been shot to pieces as all teams keep going for the attack rather then the pragmatic conservative option and when the tournament ends, it will be remebered glowingly as a great time in football that made the game beautiful again. (apart from that bite)

What are your highlights from Brazil so far? Who will take the big cup home? Comment below or tweet us @90minutecynic

Follow Mark on Twitter: @sparco1979


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90 Minute Cynic is a football website covering the important issues in the modern game. We follow European football with a distinct focus on the Scottish & English Premier Leagues. As part of the Hail Hail Media network, we cover Glasgow Celtic on our very popular podcast. We also seek out interesting and funny stories from all corners of the globe, bringing an analytical yet enjoyable spin on football podcasting.


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