Facts: 7 truths – England’s betrayal, impressive France and Italy in trouble

The Rio Report

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England betrayed their form players

Roy Hodgson picked players on form to take to the World Cup but then attempted to shoehorn them into a formation that didn’t suit them. Take, for example, Leighton Baines, who had a standout season at Everton. He works well as an overlapping full-back but needs protection from a defensive-minded player ahead of him a la Steven Pienaar. Instead he was left exposed time and time again. Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson have been fantastic in a midfield three for Liverpool this season but were played in a two and struggled. Pick players on form and play then in a system that suits.

France look great but have yet to face a serious challenge

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Of the teams that have played two games, France have, by a stretch, been the most impressive side. After a comfortable opening win against Honduras, Didier Deschamps made slight changes for the second game against Switzerland – who sit sixth in the FIFA rankings. Olivier Giroud delivered with a performance of maturity that saw him score and assist as Paul Pogba was dropped to the bench. While they have been very impressive, they are yet to face a side of proven tournament quality. Provide another swashbuckling performance against say Germany or Argentina and then they can be spoken of as genuine contenders.

Italy will do well to qualify for the last 16 from here

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The heat in Recife was stifling, but Italy looked a team struck down by a collective malaise shorn of ideas; while Uruguay, who they face in a winner-takes-all shootout on Tuesday in Natal, are a team clearly buoyed by the return to fitness of Luis Suarez. Play as insipidly as they did against Costa Rica and Suarez will have an absolute field day. Issues run throughout the spine of their team: Giorgio Chiellini has been uncharacteristically sloppy, Andrea Pirlo was subdued in the face of Costa Rican pressure while Mario Balotelli was profligate upfront. England’s encouraging performance against this Italian team in Manaus no longer looks so encouraging.

Team ethos bearing fruit for Costa Rica

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Without being disparaging regarding the depth of quality in their squad, Costa Rica’s success has been firmly rooted in a strong team ethos. They are crafty and clever in possession but work devilishly hard when they lose the ball. Against Italy, they consistently won the ball high up the pitch in sweltering heat – in doing so, they suffocated the considerable talent of Andrea Pirlo. If they can sustain their intensity, they could go far.

The Swiss are on a hiding to nothing

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Despite being heavily beaten 5-2 by France, they should still get through to the last 16. Ecuador, who sit above them on goal difference in Group E, face France in the last round of matches while they will play a Honduras side who are yet to garner a point. Circumnavigate that though and they are likely to face Argentina in the round of 16, where they will likely come unstuck.

Goal-line technology has been a rip-roaring success

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The Chilean officials in charge of Italy-Costa Rica game were far from infallible as they missed a nailed-on penalty for Costa Rica while some of the offside calls looked debatable. Therefore it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that they may not have given Bryan Ruiz’s header which came down off the crossbar and over the line before bouncing out. However, the goal-line technology that was in place ensured that there was no question as to whether the ball had crossed the line. It has been an incredible success.

This level of entertainment cannot continue

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Who would have thought at the start of this World Cup that Ecuador-Honduras at 11pm on a Friday night would provide such entertainment? Well, not many. The fact it did says much about this thoroughly entertaining tournament. However, it can’t keep happening. As the tournament enters the knockout stages then expect things to get more and more cagey – enjoy this absolute feast of goals while you can.

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