Everyone loves a winner, thus a loser is required. Soccer Yanks offers a Winner and Loser list for each Group after the completion of each round of games, then the same with each knock-out rounds. Here is the first round.
Enjoy you winner, you.
- Giovani dos Santos: Looked better with 2 goals incorrectly called off than Neymar, who actually scored a brace. The call ups came less frequently after Miguel Herrera took over, but he has made the most out of his first game. He was engaged and made good runs. Can’t wait to see what he can do against Brazil.
- Brazil Home Crowd: The Brazilian national team is not the most talented, but their support can carry the team. If the first game is any indication — referees may be intimidated calling Brazil games. Yuichi Nishimura appeared overwhelmed by the moment.
- Oscar: Neymar wore the 10, but Oscar is the engine. Created the turnover in the Croatian half that led to the first goal and scored a long distant toe poke in added time. Brazil might want to tinker with their midfield or forward starting XI, but he is locked in.
- The referees: The referees were the story in both matches. Yuichi Nishimura’s mistakes were widely criticized. This World Cup is the J League official’s second, however no individual group match will be as intense as that one. Fortunately, he wasn’t the only official to blow calls in Group A. The crew of Colombian referees made two poor offside calls in the first half of Mexico vs. Cameroon.
- Cameroon’s counterattack and Croatia’s possession game: Cameroon looked poor in the first 20 minutes. They slightly improved after a few sprinkle of changes, but still they looked overmatched. Mexico was able to work the ball down the wings with little resistance. If you play personnel to keep possession then you have to do better than 40% possession and 80% pass completion.
- Dani Alves Island: This issue is less with Alves than with the scheme to isolate him on the right flank. When Hulk switched sides and Neymar started freelancing, Croatia took advantage of the space. The cross that lead to the own goal came from there, as well as some of Croatia’s better chances. If Luiz Scolari doesn’t get him some help it will be a long tournament for Alves.
Player of the Group: Oscar
Runner-up: Giovani dos Santos
- Louis Van Gaal: The man that started Barca’s golden generation by bring the boys out of the cantera and into the first team, may have ended La Rojas’ greatest generation. The Netherlands finished with deadly efficiency in the second half and the backline with big questions did enough to win. Most importantly he has a signature victory in the World Cup to buy him some favor with the Manchester United fan base.
- Flying Dutchmen: The Netherlands seemed to score on every opportunity they had in that second half. Robin van Persie had the (so far) goal of the tournament and exploited an inexplicable mistake by Casillas. Arjen Robben ride his one trick pony into the weak Spanish defense for a brace. Call it revenge, but don’t call it redemption until they raise the cup.
- The Socceroos: The losers were the winners for reminding us a well-organized and passionate side has a puncher’s chance. The Aussies took a hard combo in the first 16 minutes, but recovered to give the Chileans a true scare. Warning to the Spanish center backs (can’t assume the same pair would start) don’t sleep on Tim Cahill.
- San Iker: The first goal was beautiful, yes, but Iker Casillas was in no man’s land. The third goal was just inadequate command of his box that lead to weak goal off a corner. The fourth was indefensible, if Casillas can’t handle passes as a sweeper it’s hopeless. The fifth is the dagger in the heart.
- Spanish holding midfielders and center backs: Casillas may return for the second game, but these two pairs cannot: Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets can’t play together, even though they can be redundant, for defensive issues. The Netherlands neutralized their effectiveness with long balls. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique won a Euro Cup together, but looked like a new pairing. The issue at center back is Spain has only one replacement, Javi Martinez.
- Diego Costa: Costa is the villain of the World Cup. Unfortunately, his ability to play in the Spanish system may move him from lead antagonist to a mere cameo. If Spain fails to advance out of the group stage, Costa, who is part of the exodus from Atleti, may become a villain in his adopted country too.
Player of the Group: Arjen Robben
Runner-up: Robin van Persie
- Mark Geiger: After two days of questionable, missed and simply horrific calls, Saturday’s match between Colombia and Greece went without controversy. Geiger correctly called the advantage to Colombia in the first half. He got the Giorgos Samaras fall in the box correct early in the second half. The math teacher from the Jersey Shore and his Major League Soccer crew represent CONCACAF well. Would this be on the list if he wasn’t from the United States, only if the rest of the day had more poor officiating. With that: U!S!A! – U!S!A! – U!S!A!
- Didier Drogba: The captain enters the game in the 62nd minute with the Elephants down 1-0, by the 67 minute they had the lead. Drogba is a sun pulling defenders into his orbits. Sure he did not touch the ball on either goal, but he drew attention and helped create space for teammates.
- Fine without Falcao: James Rodríguez and Teofilo Gutierrez did enough in attack to break down one of Europe’s best defensive sides. Rodríguez got the assist on the Gutierrez goal and put one in late himself. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado was able to find space of the right side throughout the game with Rodríguez, they produced five shots, created one and scored one from that side.
- New Greece, Same Set Piece Problems: Greece did not play as bad as the final score indicated. They did not bunk down and murder the joy out of football. Greece played open and led in possession, though only slightly. Unfortunately, they failed to convert in the final third (had a header off the bar in the 63’) and once again allowed a set piece goal. That’s one in each of their last four World Cup matches.
- Whoever Scheduled Japan – Ivory Coast: When the match kicked off, it was 9:15 am Tokyo and 12:15 am in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city. If there was to be one evening game, why not a team in the Americas? Uruguay – Costa Rica was the obvious best option, good job FIFA.
- Yaya Touré or Sabri Lamouchi: Not sure who to blame, but Yaya was positioned too deep to play for a central attacking midfielder role. He didn’t impact the game as expected. If he’s going to be a deep lying midfielder drop him deeper and add a second forward.
Player of the Group: James Rodríguez
Runner-up: Teofilo Gutierrez
- Costa Rica giant killers: Despite what US fans come to believe, Los Ticos do have balls. The 1-0 at half time deficit didn’t accurately represent the first half. Costa Rica played with courage and were not overwhelmed by the moment. Joel Campbell staked his claim as the best player in CONCACAF with an excellent performance that resulted in the game-tying goal and the assist of the third goal. They sit on top of Group D, at least until Friday.
- England’s youth movement: The young and inexperienced English attack held their own against veterans that were the runner-up in Euro 2012. Daniel Sturridge finished his first goal like he was wearing the Liverpool red rather the England white. The young legs were needed to chase the Italians when they attempted to slow the game in possession, but the heat of the Amazon eventually got to them around the hour mark.
- Italy for being Italy: Gli Azzurri conquers the English and the Arena Amazônia heat by simply playing as everyone expected. They did not have many mistakes defensively despite missing Gigi Buffon. When Wayne Rooney started migrating across the pitch rather than cover the left, Antonio Candreva made the left fullback, Leighton Baines’, life miserable. Mario Balotelli was able to find space on runs and in the air. He eventually put in a header, from a Candreva cross, in the 50th minute. After the Italians took the lead they locked down for 40 minutes.
- England’s tactics: If Wayne Rooney had license to roam as the creator either slot him in the central attacking midfield role or as a two forward. Baines left on an island unable to track down and go forward. Either have Rooney defensed his position or use Jordan Henderson or Steven Gerrard to cover the left flank. We saw the same on the right side on the Brazil match when Neymar freelanced.
- Uruguay midfield: The Uruguayan midfielders were their main weakness in the match. The starting 4 midfielders together produced only 1 shot and committed 12 fouls. As a team they have 55% possession, but only 4 changes created in open play.
- Maxi Pereira: Just dug Uruguay into a deep hole with a pointless red card.
Player of the Group: Joel Campbell
Runner-up: Mario Balotelli
- Karim Benzema: Benzema earned a brace in his first World Cup and had a shot that lead to an own-goal. France has gotten more hype the closer we got to the World Cup, but Benzema remained under the radar. He is in form for club and appears to be the same for country. Benzema can be a legitimate golden boot contender with a deep run by the French.
- Goalline Technology: On the second France goal in the 48 minutes in some angles it appeared the Honduran goalkeeper knocked the ball into his own goal. In a few other angles Noel Valladares seems to just save it, however the goalline technology called it in, despite the adjunction from the Honduran coach and analyst Keller Kelly (former keeper).
- Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Substitutes: At halftime Admir Mehmedi came on for Valentin Stocker and immediately paid dividends by heading in a goal in the 47th minute. Haris Seferovic was subbed in on the 75th minute and scored the game winner in added time.
- Wilson Palacios: Honduras was surviving against France for most of the first halftime by bunkering down. After Palacios received his second yellow that led a penalty kick, Honduras had no chance.
- Ecuador out of Ecuador: Ecuador won seven and drew one at home during qualifiers, but was held winless on the road. Sunday in Brasília the trend continued. Ecuador seems likely to be the only South American team without a home continent advantage.
- Honduras’ leak of courage: What has made the World Cup great thus far is the openness and willingness to attack by every team. Honduras didn’t get the memo. France dominated possession with 71%. Honduras registered their only shot on goal after an hour.
Player of the Group: Karim Benzema
Runner-up: Ricardo Rodriguez
- Lionel Messi: Yeah, the goal was impressive, but the timing was better. The Argentina fans started booing him after taking a free kick that sailed over the crossbar, less than two minutes later he scored to put the crowd into ecstasy… Are you not entertained?
- BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: The World Cup debutants didn’t shy away from the moment. They were unlucky to have an own-goal against them in the third minute. Yet, B&H hung with one of the favorites for the entire game.
- My Nap Time during Iran – Nigeria: I have watched every game live or on replay, but about 20 minutes into this game I passed out. I wake around the hour mark and noticed no score. I check the twitter feed and saw the chatter about this dreadfully boring game. I decision I made the right call. The highlights confirmed it. I don’t get paid enough for this…
- Reporters Covering the Iran – Nigeria: You have my sympathy.
- Argentina’s Midfield: The 5 back Argentine defense during the first half kept a good Bosnia – Herzegovina quiet. The talent in the midfield should have been able to produce service for Messi and Sergio Agüero. Alejandro Sabella switched formation and tactics, still silence in the midfield. Javier Mascherano hasn’t play midfield for a few years. Maxi Rodríguez and Ángel Di María were ghosts for most of the game.
- Manchester City Forwards: Neither Edin Dzeko nor Agüero were able to produce that magic they have for club. Argentina can wait until Agüero finds his rhythm, but B&H can’t. Perhaps it was just of few bad days for the EPL champions.
Player of the Group: Lionel Messi
Runner-up: Vedad Ibisevic
- Thomas Müller: Is there still concern about the German forward situation? Just because Müller is has MF next to his name on the roster sheet doesn’t mean he can’t play forward. How soon we forget 2010. Also bonus points for getting Pepe tossed, cheating the cheater.
- The Howard-Cameron-Besler/Brooks-Beckerman diamond: The US diamond could not produce the possession Klinsmann desired, resulting in only 38% with a 79% passing accuracy. People are praising Jermaine Jones for causing chaos everywhere plus the assist, but DaMarcus Beasley was left isolated too often. When Ghana was bombing in crosses, that backside diamond handled everything in the air.
- San Zusi: If Graham Zusi delivers a third miracle, Pope Francis will need to consider canonization.
- Pepe: Keeping with the trend of a red card resulting in an automatic invite to the loser list. No one should be surprised Pepe earned himself a red. After the penalty kick Pepe got in the official’s face, and the official shoved him away. Did Müller embellish? Yes. Pepe should know better as a professional instigator.
- Physios of USA and Portugal: Both teams saw two players come off for injuries. They have a lot of work to do between now and Sunday… At least their day wasn’t as bad as English Physio Gary Lewin‘s.
- Paulo Bento: After the Pepe red card he stayed with the remaining members of the starting XI. Portugal couldn’t maintain possession or defense with their back 3. Bento can blame the officials (he has a few legitimate gripes), however, his failure to adjust and minimize the damage may have cost them a spot in the group stages.
Player of the Group: Thomas Müller
Runner-up: Toni Kroos
- Rais M’Bolhi: The Algerian goalkeeper held his own saving 6 shots and handling crosses with confidence. Another solid performance and M’Bolhi, who signed with Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia in 2013-2014, may find his names in the rumor mill.
- Fellaini gets his groove back: After a season where he struggled to find time with the Red Devils of Manchester United, he found himself starting in a familiar position with the Belgium Red Devil… the bench. Within five minutes of being subbed on for Belgium, they found Fellaini’s fro and Fellaini found his Everton form.
- Subs: Alexander Kerzhakov tied the game for Russia 3 minutes after coming up. Lee Keun-Ho was a bit of a wait. It took him 12 minutes to score South Korea’s first goal. Fellaini scored his game-tying goal in 5 minutes. Finally, Belgium’s goal-winner was scored by half-time sub Dries Mertens.
- Belgium’s Slow Jam: The decision maker for Belgium wasn’t as quick as expected. Algeria sat back and forced Belgium to unlock their defense. Fortunately, Belgium has time to improve their chemistry, perhaps an extra friendly would have help?
- Igor Akinfeev: Forwards can make a half dozen mistakes, but score one goal and they’re immortal. Goalkeepers make a half-dozen saves and one error, and they’re a bum. It is unfair, but that mistake was inexcusable.
- Kasey Keller: His work was fine, but his schedule is brutal. Check out this murder’s row: France-Honduras, Russia-South Korea, and Cameroon-Croatia. God speed, Kasey.
Player of the Group: Marouane Fellaini
Runner-up Rais M’Bolhi
On the Pitch:
- 5 Defenders: Costa Rica, Mexico, and Holland deployed three center backs with two wingbacks. Each won their matches and in total only allowed 2 goals, both penalty kicks. Argentina utilized the 5 defensive player formation in the first half of their match, but were not creating chances and switched to the 4-3-3 in the second half. An out of fashion formation and tactics finds (early) success in a major tournament brings back images of Greece in Euro 2004 against France.
- CONCACAF: The teams are 3-0-1 and the referees are not blowing games. The best winning percentage of any federation. This success might almost encourage fellow members to root for Mexico… almost.
- Comebacks: Six teams have comeback from early deficits to win the game. Teams that try to sit down and defend all game are not being rewarded. The USA was fortunate not to be added to the list.
- ACF: The Asia Football Confederation was winless in the first rounds of game 0-2-2. The ACF’s best representative thus far is Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan, who officiated the Swiss – Ecuador match. Their worst, Japanese official Yuichi Nishimura, who called the opening match against Brazil Croatia.
- Ronaldo: Portugal was a mess regardless of what Ronaldo could have been. Even with a Maradona-like performance Portugal would have lost. Adding to insult, most of the World’s stars either played brilliantly or at least got on the score sheet.
- Laser Golazos from outside the box: What about the Lee Keun-Ho goal? Can’t count it, keeper error by Igor Akinfeev. Am I reaching? Yes.
Off the Pitch:
- Cars Commercial: Enjoyed both Hyundai’s #BecauseFutbol commercials “Avoidance” and “Boom”. Boom, the Spanish pregnancy commercial needed 28 second to get to the product, but who cares. Kia, thank you, the world is a better place with more Adriana Lima in our lives. Points too for being amusing and not gratuitous, unlike the Superbowl dream commercial.
- ESPN’S Coverage: They promised a blowout production effort and they delivered. The activation between the analysts during the “Last Call” segment can be awkward, but not unwatchable. Already depressed that we need to deal with FOX for the new two World Cups.
- Landon Donovan Commercial
- #fanmaldito: *Translation required*
- Old White ESPN Personalities, not Bob Levy: Tony Kornheiser and Keith Olbermann no one is asking you to watch the World Cup except your bosses. Go whine to your producers or your boss John Skipper, because no one cares. If viewers hate soccer they will change the channel, if they like soccer they don’t need your condensing attitude. Better yet go on vacation, take a month off.
- People that use the argument “The games are only two hours long”: You mean well but if less time than other major sports is a selling point…. just give up. This goes to both people at bars struggling to explain their enjoyment of drinking before noon soccer or radio hosts (Bill Simmons and Colin Cowherd come to mind). I’m done, I’m preaching to the choir.