Although not a fan of the World Cup as there’s too much hype and dishonesty (so how’s it different? I hear you asking) I have forced myself to watch the games in order to report on them for you. Sometimes, to give myself an authentic experience, I have forced myself to drink beer while watching. You’ll appreciate that this can’t have been pleasant for me but it had to be done, and it underlines the dedication of the Salut team. Maybe one day I’ll get an OBE or a liver transplant in recognition of the effort I’ve made but for now I have the satisfaction of knowing my duty is done, as well as an almost empty barrel in the shed.
You’ll recall that I left you anticipating some the games on the Monday and Tuesday might be tasty. First came France v Nigeria, then Germany v Algeria, with the winners of these two games to play each other in the next round.
I was part right, part wrong about tasty. I’d say 6.5 on the taste-ometer. Nigeria were well marshalled and held it together against France until the last quarter of the game. They nullified attacks and looked dangerous in parts, even having a goal disallowed. Peter Odemwingie looked sharp and I’m glad he won’t be playing against us on the opening day of the Premiership, given his record against us and his footballing intelligence during this World Cup. Then in the last quarter it all went wrong for them. A period of sustained pressure from France resulted in a corner. Not having read Sobs’ match reports Nigeria didn’t put anyone on the posts and when the goalie flapped the ball onto the head of Pogba there was no-one to stop his header. How many times has Sobs said put someone on the post? No-one ever listens.
That goal probably would have been enough but then Nigeria switched off and allowed a coup de grace. Odemwigie gave away a corner unnecessarily and the eight Nigerian players who had dropped back kept out of the way as four Frenchmen moved the ball goalwards. Two-nil and a minute to go, enough said.
Then came Germany against Algeria. Algeria were tremendous in the first half. Not necessarily in the skill department (they bottled any number of last ball crosses and passes) but in the way they harried Germany, pushed up and broke forward at speed and in numbers. The second half saw more of Germany, who increased the pressure as the game progressed. Towards the end of normal time they looked the only team likely to score, despite some enterprising Algerian breakaways, but poor luck rather than poor finishing took the game into extra time. I wasn’t surprised, however, when Germany scored within a couple of minutes of the restart. Algeria didn’t give up, not at all, but after that one goal turned into two on the 120th minute they didn’t have time to overcome the deficit. They came close, though, ‘cos they went up the other end and scored a peach and then got back into the German box for a final header. Germany must fancy their chances of making the final but a team with a bit more guile and experience might have done for them tonight.
On to Tuesday and (after reading that Suarez is a little bit sorry and promises not to do it again while maintaining he didn’t really do it anyway) Argentina against Switzerland. The Swiss double marked and/or kicked Messi every time he got the ball, thus rendering Argentina ineffective, but weren’t particularly creative. It opened up a bit in the second half but the Swiss plan continued to work, giving us another game with extra time and themselves another 30 minutes to contain Messi. And it was too much. With two minutes left the Swiss gave away possession and Messi, who a few minutes earlier had been trotting down the wing and looking very tired, sprinted through the middle and set up the single, winning goal, one that, like Algeria before them, Switzerland just couldn’t overcome despite coming close in the added minutes of stoppage time.
In a way it was similar for the USA against Belgium. They didn’t have an all-out star to contain but there were players to harry, balls to chase, chances to close down. What was different, though, was their willingness to mount attacks when the opportunity arose. It was a good enough plan, with the help of a canny goalie, to keep the USA in with a chance right until the end of the 90 minutes.
There were times last season where we saw who was coming off the opponent’s bench and thought “oh, bugger”. Extra time must have been like that for the USA. They were knackered and on came Romelu Lukaku. Last season, for Everton, Lukaku scored on his debut, on his home debut, in a derby, on his return from injury and on coming off the bench. And in this game? He made a goal within two minutes and scored another before extra time had moved to the second half.
“Anything you can do…” thought Klinsmann and sent on 19 year old Julian Green. Within a minute he had pulled one back, giving us a final session to remember as the USA pressed their weary bodies forward. 8/10 on the taste-ometer but it wasn’t the USA’s day.
So it’s four teams from the old world and four from the new, with at least one from each region guaranteed to be in the semis. I won’t be reporting on these games, I have things to do before my hols. I might just, however, be watching them. It’s turning out to be a cracking competition. Besides, there’s a barrel to finish.
England, Spain, Italy, Portugal…all maybe out of the World Cup but these classics from @CampoRetro will last the test of time. Now £20 for 72 hours only. Offers ends 5pm Friday. http://bit.ly/1pjaVA2. NB: cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer and the offer ends at 5pm on Friday before the first quarter finals kicks off.