World Cup 2014: 5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the World Cup

  1. Greece will struggle to score

The Greeks struggled to create scoring chances for much of the game against Columbia. While this strategy is excusable when you don’t allow any goals, it makes for a long day when the other team is scoring against you. It won’t get easier as the Greeks will have to face the physical Ivory Coast and the technical wizards of Japan. This group is being dubbed the “Group of Life,” where everyone has a shot to advance. Greece needs to shows signs of life offensively to have any hope of advancing.

  1. Costa Rica is no pushover

That could have been the headline after a first half where Costa Rica played well and only conceived a well-struck penalty to Uruguay. However, the Ticos came roaring back for a historic win. This put a colossal dent in Uruguay’s hopes moving forward, but also gave Costa Rica a huge chance to move forward.  The CONCACAF reps not only beat their South American counterparts, but they also controlled the game and kept the likes of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan in check.

  1. No Buffon, no problem for Italy

Italy was without legendary ‘keeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon for their clash with England. His replacement: PSG shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu was superb in the 2-1 win. The Italians were deserving of the win, and Sirigu was vital in the match. The fact that the team was able to adapt so well without their leader, Buffon, speaks volumes to the quality of Cesare Prandelli’s side.

  1. Italy should have their group rapped up

One would think that the Azzurri are now in control of the “Group of Champions” as a win versus Costa Rica on Thursday would clinch passage to the next round for the 2006 champions. Especially considering that if they beat the Ticos (not a foregone conclusion, just ask the Uruguayans) they could be facing an Uruguay side potentially without Luis Suarez. The South Americans looked derived of creativity in their walloping by Costa Rica, if Suarez can’t make it back, it could be a very brief stay in Brazil for last year’s semi-finalists. Should Italy win all three games, they would face the second place team from Group C. Which, if Columbia wins, will be Japan, Ivory Coast or Greece. That’s a more pleasant route than finishing second in the group, facing Group C’s winner, likely Columbia, beat them (not a forgone conclusion) and then potentially run into Brazil. This is all guess-work and forecasting at this point, but winning the group definitely holds a much easier outlook for Italy.

  1. Is there a changing of the guard in the Ivory Coast Squad? Not yet

Iconic striker Didier Drogba started the Ivory Coast’s opening game on the bench as Wilfred Bony was handed the start instead. Bony responded with a goal, but the African side scored both of its goals in the 2-1 win after the former Chelsea legend’s introduction into the game, cementing his importance.

2014 FIFA World Cup Preview: Handicapping Brazil’s Biggest Competition

Brazil is going into the 2014 FIFA World Cup as favorites. Not only are the Brazilians a tremendously talented team with the quality to win a World Cup, they are also the host nation. These two factors put them as one of the favorites, if not the overall favorite. If the Selcao can replicate the form they showed at the Confederations Cup, they could be lifting another trophy.

Here’s a look at the home country’s biggest competitors come next summer.

Spain

The Spanish are the defending champion. That in itself makes them a favorite. Take that and add the quality of the players that Spain’s team is littered with, and La Roja will go far. Spain’s issues are in the back and up front. They still haven’t settled on a number nine, and aren’t the best in central defense. Throw in the fact that Iker Casillas may be rusty and/or slowing down by next summer, and you have some problems. Spain could face problems against complete teams like the Selcao, Germany and Italy. The midfield dominance will win del Bosque’s team some games and keep them in some more, but upper-tier countries will give Spain issues.

Italy

Spain won’t be the only European power that could upset Brazil’s apple cart. The Azzurri will also be strong. Italy may not come off as a side that belongs in the “Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany” discussion, but that may be the best thing possible for the Italians. Since Cesare Prandelli has taken over, the peninsula’s football team has gained a reputation of playing strong in big tournaments. Prandelli likes to use friendlies as a way to experiment with his team, trying different players in different formations. All that experimenting has led strong showings in top competitions. Italy redeemed themselves in Euro 2012 not only by playing Spain tight in two games, but also beating England and demolishing Germany on their way to the final. Italy has performed well in tournaments, but they are also the “bogey” team for many teams. The Italians have never lost to England in a World Cup and are unbeaten against Germany in all competitions. They also hold the distinction of being the first team to figure out how to crack the puzzle that is the Spanish.

Germany

A rare mix of technical efficiency and physical dominance, Germany are one of the favorites in Brazil. Like Spain, their strength is in their midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and friends are almost a younger, more athletic version of Spain’s midfield. Sticking to similarities with the Spanish, Germany could have problems at the number nine spot. Miroslav Klose is getting up there in age. There are injury concerns with other strikers, so goals from that spot could be a problem. The Germans will have no issues at the back as Manuel Neuer remains one of the best keepers in the world.

Argentina

Brazil’s closest competition from a geographical, the Argentines’ strength is a ruthless attacking force that includes Angel Di Maria, Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and, of course, the worlds’ best, Lionel Messi. Argentina’s attack is so absurd, I’m not even going to write about their ok defense. The Argentines’ success will depend on their attack, and to an extent, Messi. If Messi is on, the South American side will be tough to stop. On the other hand, if Messi is injured, or off his game, then this team will be somewhat easier to beat. Argentina’s offense will carry them. Whether that leads to a World Cup remains to be seen.

 

Be sure to check knowhitter on a regular basis for more about the World Cup, and sports in general.

2013 Confederations Cup Group A Primer

The Confederations Cup is a strange event, a warm up for the following year’s World Cup, and it even takes place in the same country. The Confederations Cup takes the winner of each regional cup (i.e. the winner of the European Championship gets a bid, as does the CONCACAF winner, etc.) as well as the reigning World Cup winner and the host country and throws them into a mini junket of a tournament.

The Confederations Cup is strange; let me re-emphasize, it’s strange. This year’s field features reigning World Cup champ and two-time reigning European Champion Spain. They are clustered in a group with South American champion Uruguay, surprising Oceania winner Tahiti and equally surprising African Cup of Nations winner Nigeria. The other group is the scarier of the two, with host country Brazil, CONCACAF winner Mexico, Asian powerhouse Japan and Italy. Italy is here based on the fact that they finished second in the European championship last summer. Because Spain won the World Cup and last year’s  aforementioned Euros, the team can’t occupy two slots; so Italy, as runners up,  get the Euro spot.

The Cup is strange for a number of reasons. One, participation doesn’t necessarily mean entry to the World Cup the next year. Iraq and Egypt participated in the 2009 Confederations Cup and didn’t appear in the 2010 WC. The second reason that it’s strange is because it’s hard to call this a major worldwide tournament without the usuals in the field. With a smaller field, it’s hard to imagine a tournament with this magnitude and with these implications with only one, or in this case two, of the European giants that dominate the footballing landscape. Or in other words, it’s odd to watch a major tournament and know that you are going to get as many touches on the ball as the entire German, French, Dutch and English national teams are.

The Host

A lot has been made about Brazil’s talent and that talent failing to win a WC in the last decade. The team also failed to win the Olympics last summer, further fueling frustration. But the one thing Brazil has done, and done well in the last decade, tournament-wise, has been winning the Confed Cup (as the kids call it.) Brazil is the two-time defending champion and will look to make it three in a row this summer. While this tournament’s trophy would be nice, I’m sure the South Americans would trade it in in a heartbeat if they could win the cup’s more prestigious “older brother,” if you will, next summer.

Brazilian football is often synonymous with technical genius. Thus everyone expects this of the South American powerhouse, but Brazil’s best asset may be that of its defense. The host nation will deploy some combination of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Marcelo, Dante and skipper Thiago Silva at the back. Any three or four of the group would be among the best in the world.

Prediction- The 19th ranked (lowest in country history) side in the world will have trouble with the tournament’s toughest group. All three teams have the quality and potential to make it to at least the knockout stage, not only in the field, but next summer as well. Brazil will get second in the group and likely bow out to Spain in the next round.

The Dark Horse

The Samurai Blue, as Japan is called, is this year’s dark horse. Like Brazil, they are saddled with the de-facto group of death. However, given the chance in a game Japan is very dangerous. Just ask the French, who the Japanese beat 1-0 in Paris. The Asian bread winners are very technically gifted, led by Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa and free kick master Keisuke Honda.  We’re not talking Andrea Pirlo good, but he’s still better than nine out of ten guys at free kicks. Yasuhito Endo is another to watch on set pieces.

If you give Japan too many set pieces, they will tear your goal to shreds. They could thrive against young, inexperienced squads who foul a bit too often.

Prediction- Japan will give its group a lot of trouble, and could win a game, but third place in the group and a delayed off-season vacation plan is all that’s likely in store for Alberto Zaccheroni’s troops.

The Danger Men Man

Mexico will either be in fine form come Brazil, or gasping for air. The team already drew Nigeria 2-2 on May 31st courtesy of a Chicharito brace and face an away tilt in Jamaica on the fourth of June before playing in Panama three days later against the home country before taking on Costa Rica in Mexico City a mere five days before opening the Confederations Cup against the Italians.

(Gasping for air after reading that sentence aloud.)

El Tri’s previous six games haven’t exactly been a joy ride. All six have been draws. Three of them scoreless draws. Not to mention two of the scoreless ties were at home to Jamaica and the US in World Cup Qualifying. The other three draws were the aforementioned 2-2 deadlock with Nigeria, bailed out by Chicharito’s aforementioned brace. The Mexicans were also bailed out by another Javier Hernandez brace away to Honduras in WCQ and managed a 1-1 draw with Denmark thanks to a penalty. What I’m getting at is that while Mexico has talented players with the likes of Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Aquino, the weight of the team falls on Chicharito. Stop him and you get three points, or at the very least a point by draw.

Prediction- If Chicharito (that’s four usages of the word Chicharito, oops, sorry five usages of that word for all of you playing along at home.) goes on a tear, Mexico has the talent to possibly win the whole thing. But the bold prediction is that they get last, finishing behind Japan in their group by virtue of a Honda free kick in a 1-0 win. Bold indeed.

The Seasoned Bunch

You have Euro 2012 to thank for Italy re-establishing themselves as a worldwide player in the game of football. After a disappointing performance in South Africa in 2010, Italy was picked as nothing more than group-stage fodder by many a talking head in Euro 2012. The Italians shocked everyone by not only holding eventual champion Spain to a draw in the first round, but also knocking out England on penalties as well as dispatching the in-form Germans in the Semi-Final.

Italy is a well-rounded team. They have perhaps the best “spine” in the world. The spine of Gigi Buffon in goal, the center backs Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in defense, the deep lying playmaking of Pirlo, the industry of Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio and the ruthless goal scoring of Mario Balotelli. Outside of the spine, Italy has talented players such as Stephan El Shaarawy, Riccardo Montolivo and Ignazio Abate to fill out a talented team sheet.

Italy has been very unspectacular in friendlies as of late. They lost to France in Parma 2-1. They let the Netherlands think they were going to win 1-0 before stealing the latest of equalizers to escape Amsterdam with a draw and split four goals down the middle in a 2-2 draw with the Brazilians in Geneva in late March. Almost any country would take draws against the likes of the Netherlands and Brazil, as well as a close loss to France as a good sign, but when you are of Italy’s standard, more is expected. Even though the team has been uninspiring in friendlies, it hasn’t been as bad as one might think. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli likes to use friendlies to tinker with his lineup, fine tune it and see which players play well together. This strategy seems to have worked thanks to his excellent showing at the most recent Euros and in Italy’s utter domination in WCQ where they have scored three times as many goals as they have let in on their way to sitting atop the group table.

Prediction- Italy has what it takes to win it all. They’ll win their group on the last day of the group stage before beating whichever team finishes second to Spain in Group B, finally triumphing over the Spaniards in the final. All the while being glad that a resurgent German side is watching from their couches.

So just to recap, I have Group A finishing in this order- Italy, Brazil, Japan, Mexico.

Check back soon for my Group B Primer.

How do you think Group A will play out? Tell me in the comments section below. 

Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.