Higuain finds scoring boots at ideal time
During the wonderful festival of football that was the group stages, several world-class strikers were struggling to find the goals they’d hoped to at the World Cup. Gonzalo Higuain was one of them. In fact, his dry patch in Argentina colours has been quite the frustration for him and his country. However, as much as he’d like to be in the running for the Golden Boot, the timing of his return to scoring ways could be crucial. We’re now at the business end of the tournament, where the most exciting sides and feelgood stories have fallen by the wayside in favour of the ‘big guns’, pre-tournament favourites who know how to go the distance. Goals-per-game averages are ticking down. The semis and final may need a hero. One who can volley like Higuain did in Brasilia.
Wilmots ends positive Belgian campaign on sour note
"We were not impressed by the Argentinians; they were just an ordinary team” – With that post-match quote, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots undid a lot of the good work his squad had done over the last two years. Belgium did great to reach the quarter-finals, no matter what you may read about being a ‘golden generation’ and ‘dark horses to go all the way’. The last-eight still represents a strong showing and they were eliminated by one of the true favourites to lift the World Cup. And while, yes, Argentina have not been dominant in Brazil so far, what does that make Belgium if their conquerors were ‘ordinary’? There were as many emphatic Argentina wins at the event as there were Belgian ones. Both sides progressed this far through hard work, cohesive team play and mental strength. On Saturday, the former two-time world champions proved they had more of the above than their opponents did. Wilmots spitting his dummy out was a horrible end to such a productive campaign from a very young and talented nation.
World Cup quarter-finals: where altitude sickness kicks in
A friend of the Eurosport team once made the decision to train to climb Mount Everest. Alas, despite all the hard work and a commendable degree of progress up the iconic landmark in torrid conditions, he was ultimately forced to end his quest and head back down not far from the final ascent. He was showing symptoms of altitude sickness, and could not handle any further climbing, or else he may well have perished out there. It now feels as though the World Cup has a similar altitude. As with many instalments, some of the most exciting teams, the form teams and even underdogs who’ve proven themselves capable of defeating many a ‘giant’ have found the altitude a little too daunting in the second knockout round. Our Everest friend was advised to re-train and attempt it again, because his previous quest is likely to ensure his body is more accustomed to the feat the next time. Let’s hope the likes of Belgium and Colombia also find that to be true.
Forget attackers – goalkeepers are trendier
Right, show of hands: Who had Tim Howard, Kaylor Navas or Guillermo Ochoa as their pre-tournament ‘star of the World Cup’ pick? At this rate, the final decision for ‘team of the tournament’ will feature eight or nine goalkeepers, and nobody would bat an eyelid. In a world where strikers and flair midfielders get more money, more fame and more mainstream endorsements, it’s good to see the footballing community giving the goalpost custodians their due, if only for 32 days.
The pros and cons of players the calibre of Arjen Robben
Breathing heavily from covering every blade of grass, assuming responsibility in every attacking AND defensive scenario and causing the most problems for the opposition – Arjen Robben’s performance against Costa Rica was typical of what we see from Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as himself more than once. As admirable and as awesome those one-man tour de force performances are, his insistence on taking direct free-kicks as well wasn’t wise. The best set piece masters are not just capable of scoring stunning golazos from dead ball situations, but have the cool head and focus to despatch them more often than not. As stunning as a Robben (or a Ronaldo) free-kick is when they get it right, there’s a reason the likes of Juninho have a far higher success ratio than these guys.
Louis van Gaal is not lacking bottle
Manchester United fans will now be feeling extremely confident of the upcoming season. Van Gaal made the decision to substitute keeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul specifically for the impending penalty shoot-out between his Netherlands side and unfancied Costa Rica. Even more brazen than such an unprecedented and hard-to-fathom move was how late he left it: the GK switch was pulled off with just seconds remaining in extra-time. Imagine if the Costa Ricans kept the ball in play? Either way, Krul played mind games with the Central American players and saved two spot kicks to send the Oranje through to another World Cup semi. Genius or not, it certainly was gutsy from LVG.
Costa Rica are the ‘value-added’ team of the tournament
Remember all that talk about how England’s World Cup group would see two of them, Uruguay and Italy progressing with the third suffering the misery of going out with Costa Rica? Ha. It’s nice to see that, even though the semi-finals will be contested by the four big guns of the knockout stages, not everything about the tournament was decided by name value alone. Costa Rica have proven themselves as a footballing nation, they and the US have done wonders for the reputation of the entire CONCACAF region and several of the CR squad will surely enjoy a lucrative pay rise or transfer. Even bitter England fans cannot begrudge Costa Rica their moment.
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