Spain vs Netherlands

Robert Van Persie June 2014

In a matchup of the 2010 World Cup Final, Spain took on the Netherlands in what was the first marquee matchup of this edition of the World Cup.

These two world soccer powers had this date circled on their calendar since the draw was announced and they did not disappoint the fans gathered in Salvador.

Spain controlled the ball in the midfield early, relying on the distinctive brilliance of Andres Iniesta and Xavi to set the pace. Spain had opportunities moving forward early on and were able to break the scoreless tie in the 27th minute thanks to a controversial penalty which Xabi Alonso banged home.

That is where the Spain highlights ended.

The Dutch side took over with their quick and precise counter attack as Holland had the Spanish playing from their back line for most of the rest of the match.

Just before half, Daley Blind sent an aggressive cross to Robin Van Persie from the left sideline just at midfield. Persie finished with a sublime leaning header that caught Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas out of position and the Dutch drew even at the half.

In the second half, the rout was on.

Eight minutes in, Van Persie chipped a ball into the box, finding Arjen Robben on the other end. Robben settled the pass and cut to his left to shake past the outstretched foot of Sergio Ramos before hitting the back of the net to extend Holland’s lead to 2-1.

A frustrated Diego Costa applied a headbut to Bruno Martins Indi, but luckily for Spain it was out of view of the referee and no card of any color was shown. The Netherlands answered with yet another goal as Wesley Sneijder sent a free kick to the far post where Stefan De Vrij was waiting to apply the slightest of touches to send it in.

At 3-1, the defending champions’ worst nightmare had already come true, but there was more suffering for Spain on this night.

Iker Casillas misplayed a pass back to him and Van Persie made him pay by depositing the errant ball into the goal in the 72nd minute. Another long ball from Sneijder sprung Robben free over midfield as the veteran striker battled Sergio Ramos for possession into the penalty area.

Robben cut back on the eager Casillas and used a deft touch to give Holland the stunning 5-1 victory over Spain.

Spain lost their opening match in 2010 and was still able to to win the cup. This time around that could prove more difficult as the second place finisher in Group B will face the Group B winner.

If Spain can muster a second-place finish in Group B, then they may be rewarded by facing Brazil in the knockout stage.

Uruguay vs Costa Rica

Uruguay vs Costa Rica June 2014

Los Costa Riqeños came in as underdogs despite Uruguay’s struggles in qualifying.

Uruguay had to best Jordan in order to punch their ticket to Brazil but remained heavily favored due to general perceptions about the quality of South American (CONMEBOL) soccer when compared to the Central and North American (CONCACAF) version.

Uruguay was not at the height of their powers due to the injury concerns surrounding Luis Suarez. Suarez grew in notoriety for his brilliant play in the 2010 World Cup and his controversial handball against Ghana.

Suarez underwent knee surgery 23 days prior to the match against Costa Rica and the Liverpool striker was held out of training while he recovered and was thus not in the starting lineup.

After a well won foul, Uruguay was awarded a free kick in a dangerous spot. The ball entered the box and Uruguayan defender Diego Lugano was virtually form tackled in the area. Edinson Cavani buried the penalty kick in the 25th minute.

Uruguay owned the lead at the half, but Costa Rica could not be denied.

Off a deep cross, Joel Campbell settled the ball with his chest and had time to collect himself before drilling a shot past the keeper in the 53rd minute. From there, Uruguay had the look of a defeated team.

Three minutes later, Costa Rica won a free kick that was looped into the box onto the head of the streaking Oscar Duarte who arced the ball to the far post for his first international goal.

Uruguay was listless the rest of the way while Costa Rica seemed emboldened by their earlier successes. In the 83rd, minute the Costa Ricans put the icing on the cake with their third goal coming off a well calculated pass from Joel Campbell on the left side which Marco Ureña fed into the back of the net.

It was a stunning upset for the Uruguayans in attendance. The loss left them as the only South American side to come up without a point in their opening match to that point in this World Cup.

England vs Italy

Mario Balotelli June 2014

In what was one of the most anticipated matches of group play, England took on Italy.

Both of these squads had been mired in controversy since their poor performances at the last World Cup. Both former powers returned with revamped lineups and down a few of their most familiar faces.

For the Italians, goalkeeper Gigi Buffon was unavailable due to injury but his absence did not prove to be damning for his national side. The noted Italian defense was uncharacteristically leaky, allowing seven shots on goal, but replacement keeper Salvatore Sirigu was up to the task.

The Italians opened the scoring when their pressure won them a corner kick. Antonio Candreva played the short corner which was played back to the wily veteran Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo over ran the ball drawing his English defender with him and opening up Claudio Marchisio for the unmolested shot, which found its way through a series of legs and tucked itself inside the far post for the game’s opening goal.

England replied two minutes later when a masterful cross by Wayne Rooney found it’s way to the front of the net where Daniel Sturridge popped it in on the half volley. The counterattack was one of England’s best opportunities in transition all night and they capitalized.

In the second half, the English came out playing and looking tired. It seemed as if the jungle heat was not agreeing with them as they chased the ball continually.

Italy was able to break the tie for good in the 50th minute when Candreva found the head of Mario Balotelli on the far post. The big, mercurial forward was able to head in the go-ahead goal.

The English had a few opportunities thereafter but were unable to their shots on goal.

Errant passes and terrible crosses, including a bizarrely awful corner kick attempt from Wayne Rooney, marked the English effort in the last twenty minutes as they fell to Italy, 2-1.

Switzerland vs Ecuador


Heading into this World Cup many thought that the resurgence of the second tier South American teams (Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Columbia) would be amplified due to the event being held in their home continent.

That optimism had some thinking that Ecuador could be candidates to improve on their run through qualifying during this World Cup. Many have questioned the Ecuadorians’ ability to play outside of their home country with the dizzying altitude and rightly so given their record away from the friendly confines of Quito.

Switzerland qualified for the World Cup by beating up on one of the weakest groups in UEFA and were seen by some as a paper tiger heading into this tournament. On Sunday, they showed why they might be one of the surprises of this World Cup.

Ecuador won an early free kick near the corner flag that provided Walter Ayovi with the opportunity to play the part of hero. Ayouvi lobbed his kick into the box and it found the head of Enner Valencia in the 22nd minute to put Ecuador on top early.

Though Switzerland had many opportunities in the first half, they were unable to convert any of them and went into halftime down by a goal.

Two minutes after the teams returned from the break, the Swiss were on the attack. Ricardo Rodríguez launched a corner kick down the goal line and the Ecuadorian goalkeeper did not make an aggressive play, allowing Admir Mehmedi to get his head on it and poke it in for the equalizer.

Down the stretch both teams had their chances to break the tie.

The Swiss had a two on one opportunity but the shot was sent into the side of the net. Ecuador had a chance when the Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio made an aggressive move outside of the box that almost backfired, but his central defender was able to recover the loose ball and clear it from danger. E

cuador’s best chance came in the 86th minute when Walter Ayouvi’s free kick got a deflection from one of the defenders in the wall forcing Benaglio to make a stellar save.

The game remained tied into the 90th minute when three minutes of added time were announced.

With a minute remaining in extra time, Ecuador was knocking on the Swiss door. Michael Arroyo cut around defenders to give himself an open shot at the top of the box but was dispossessed by a sliding block from Valon Behrami.

Behrami popped up to take the ball toward midfield as the clock ticked ever closer to full time. Behrami was tackled by an Ecuadorian defender near midfield but regained his feet to work the ball over to Ricardo Rodríguez on the far left sideline.

Rodríguez sent a low cross through the box and it found the foot of Haris Seferovic for the goal a mere 20 seconds from full time.

It was the signature moment of the tournament to this point and the thrilling finish will not soon be forgotten by either side.

USA vs Ghana

USA vs Ghana June 2014

For two teams that rarely face each other, these two sides have a lot of history.

Ghana has knocked the US out of each of the last two World Cups. In 2006, Ghana’s victory over the US eliminated them in the group stage. In 2010, Ghana once again terminated the run for the Americans, this time in the Round of 16.

It is no secret that when the groups were announced for this World Cup that American soccer fans had this date circled on their calendars with revenge on their minds.

The match started with history being made.

Clint Dempsey corralled an overlapping pass along the left edge of the box and used two nifty touches to gain space before slipping a shot past the Ghanaian keeper. The goal was scored in the 34th second into the match.

It is the fastest US World Cup goal ever and the sixth fastest in the history of the tournament. With the goal, Dempsey becomes the first American to score in three World Cups.

But the elation of the goal would yield to heartbreak for the US side in the 21st minute. Michael Bradley spotted a streaking Jozy Altidore on the left wing and a Jozy tracked the ball he came up limping, clutching his left hamstring.

Altidore was taken from the field and will be evaluated back in Rio on Tuesday. The loss was a big blow to the US squad and their chances of advancing out of this so called "Group of Death." Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore by position only, as Jozy’s abilities are tough to match.

As the match wore on, the US side seemed to be incurring many more fitness problems than the Ghanaians. Matt Besler, Alejandro Bedoya, and others were seen stretching their calves and hamstrings at various points in the match.

John Brooks replaced Besler on the back line after halftime. Dempsey appeared to have broken his nose battling for a 50-50 ball in the air. He stayed in the game because he’s a soccer player.

The Americans were dominated by the ball control of the Ghanaians. Ghana routinely maintained possession in the midfield before finding runners on crosses inside, outside and through the penalty area. American goalkeeper Tim Howard was on his game and easily handled each Ghanaian attempt. In the end Ghana had 60% of the ball possession.

The game remained in the Americans’ favor through the 81st minute, despite their struggles in controlling the ball. But the Ghanaians would not be denied the entire night.

In the 82nd minute, Ghana had the ball outside the penalty area on the left when Asamoah Gyan received a through ball to the left of the box. Gyan played a sharp backheel pass to an advancing Andre Ayew, who beat Howard for the tying goal.

With how much pressure had been applied to the American back line over the course of the game, the Ghanaians had earned their equalizer and the point to go along with it. But these Americans would not quit.

With full time on the horizon, the Americans mounted one final push into the Ghanaian zone and were able to win a corner kick, just their third of the game, with four minutes remaining. Second half substitute Graham Zusi sent the ball in eight yards from the goal line.

Geoff Cameron missed the header, but 21-year-old John Brooks did not.

Brooks bounced his head ball past the keeper to regain the lead for the Americans. Brooks became the youngest American to score in a World Cup since Landon Donovan in 2002. Brooks also became the first ever substitute to score a goal for the US.

The path to the Round of 16 got a little easier for the Americans with this crucial win. More help for the Americans came in the Germany-Portugal game where Portugal’s central defense took a hit when Pepe was ejected with a red card.

If the US can capitalize on a weakened Portuguese defense and pull out a victory, then their pass to the Round of 16 will be all but stamped.


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