Internationals

World Cup semi-finals: Then there were four…

Football fans’ mouths are watering worldwide as two very tasty World Cup semi-final fixtures are set to be played. The last four will see Brazil take on Germany tomorrow night at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, while on Wednesday The Netherlands face Argentina in the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.

Brazil overcame Colombia in Fortaleza in the quarter-finals. Many, myself included, were doubtful if they would. Colombia have been playing some excellent football led by 22-year old superstar James Rodríguez. Two goals from defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz put the hosts ahead before Rodríguez’s 80th minute goal pulled one back for Colombia but it wasn’t enough.

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Colombia

Germany squeezed into the semis after their 1-0 victory against France. The goal came within the opening quarter of an hour as Mats Hummels’ header shot past Hugo Lloris from (future Real Madrid player according to the Spanish press) Tony Kroos’ free kick. Didier Deschamps’ men failure to produce an equaliser meant that they were eliminated disappointingly early, while Germany reach a record fourth straight World Cup semi-final. 

germany france

Argentina deservedly went though to the semis following the 1-0 victory over Belgium in the Brazilian capital Brasília. It’s the South American nation’s first time to reach a semi-final since finishing runner up at Italia ’90. Belgium didn’t have the wit to overpower Argentina who could have scored more than the one goal. 

messiarg

The Netherlands just about made their way into the semis, following a dramatic penalty shoot-out against everybody’s second favourite World Cup team Costa Rica. After a goalless 120 minutes in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Louis van Gaal made the gamble of bringing on goalkeeper Tim Krul in place of Jasper Cillessen. It was a gamble that paid off as Newcastle ‘keeper Krul saved penalties from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to put the Dutch through. Cue every newspaper praising both van Gaal and Costa Rica, even if it was a Krul way to be eliminated from the World Cup.

krullvg

This festival of football is in my opinion without a doubt the finest World Cup from memory. It has had so much memorable moments from the good, the bad, and the ugly – but we’ll talk about that next week.

Now we are down to the last four. Imagine if we got a Brazil v Argentina or Netherlands v Germany final. Two historic and geographical rivalries. These really are tasty fixtures coming up.

This week it is:

Tuesday
Brazil
21:00
Germany
Wednesday
Netherlands
21:00
Argentina
All times are Irish times.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals

And then there were eight…

I must say, and I know I’m not alone in saying this, but the standard of football and the entertainment value in the matches during this World Cup is, from my memory, the best one yet.

I’ll start off with James Rodriguez‘s smashing goal against Uruguay last Saturday is not the firm favourite for goal of the tournament (sorry, RVP). And what a talent the Colombian is. Just don’t expect him to move anywhere after the tournament – Monaco only signed him last summer – for €45 million. Forty-five million!

Speaking of players moving, you can be guaranteed that Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will easily find a new club having run out his contract with French side Ajaccio. His performances in the tournament have been frankly unbelievable. (You remember Guillermo from this blog back in 2010, right?)

Another player on the move is the most talked about player in it – and not for the right reasons. Yes, Luis Suarez seems to be likely on his way to Catalonia to join giants Barcelona from Liverpool. The Uruguayan was, as you know, banned for four months for biting into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini‘s shoulder last week but Suarez apologised publicly 24 hours after dismissing the incident as malicious.

The apology is widely reported as being at Barça’s insistence for the transfer to go ahead which seems likely as being the case. The deal could mean that Chilean superstar Alexis Sánchez could be on his way to Anfield as part-exchange. Which, believe me, is a serious addition for Liverpool. (In fact, when Alexis was at Udinese, I wrote on this blog: “Lucky the club will be that signs Alexis Sánchez“)

But back to the World Cup itself…now there are just eight teams left:

Brazil, who haven’t been amazing this tournament except Neymar, will face Colombia in Fortaleza on Friday. It will be one tasty fixture. As will be the day’s other fixture - France v Germany. Can the French upset the mighty German team who many pick as favourites to make it to the final? Don’t write off Les Bleus just yet.

Salvador will play host to an interesting fixture in The Netherlands versus everyone’s new second favourite team, Costa Rica. The Dutch are still a powerhouse in international football, but aren’t without their flaws as the Mexicans exposed last Sunday. In fact, the Dutch were lucky to get through. What Costa Rica lack in technical skill, make up for in heart. And that can win games this far into a tournament. The pressure is on The Netherlands, not Costa Rica. And both managers will know that.

Finally the other quarter final is Argentina v Belgium. It’ll be an interesting tie, and Argentina will be favourites. But I’m not so sure. They seemed weak at the back at times and their superstar player Leo Messi made a few mistakes that had previously been unseen at club level. But they’ve got some ridiculous amount of talent. Even their bench is made up of superstars. Belgium, on the other hand, are hungry for success. They can be pushed in a corner and put under pressure, as the USA showed last night against them. This one, I predict, might go to extra time and possibly beyond.

So to recap:

Quarter-finals
(Friday)
France
17:00
Germany
Brazil
21:00
Colombia
(Saturday)
Argentina
17:00
Belgium
Netherlands
21:00
Costa Rica
All times are in Ireland Time
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals

Cristiano crashes out as the World Cup second round begins

That’s the group stages out of the way and players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandžukić, Andrés Iniesta, Yaya Touré, Andrea Pirlo and Wayne Rooney all waved goodbye to Brazilian shores as they were eliminated from the World Cup.

Below is a list of how the groups finished.

 

#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Brazil
3
2
1
0
7
2
5
7
2
 Mexico
3
2
1
0
4
1
3
7
3
 Croatia
3
1
0
2
6
6
0
3
4
 Cameroon
3
0
0
3
1
9
-8
0
Group B
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Netherlands
3
3
0
0
10
3
7
9
2
 Chile
3
2
0
1
5
3
2
6
3
 Spain
3
1
0
2
4
7
-3
3
4
 Australia
3
0
0
3
3
9
-6
0
Group C
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Colombia
3
3
0
0
9
2
7
9
2
 Greece
3
1
1
1
2
4
-2
4
3
 Ivory C.
3
1
0
2
4
5
-1
3
4
 Japan
3
0
1
2
2
6
-4
1
Group D
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Costa Rica
3
2
1
0
4
1
3
7
2
 Uruguay
3
2
0
1
4
4
0
6
3
 Italy
3
1
0
2
2
3
-1
3
4
 England
3
0
1
2
2
4
-2
1
Group E
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 France
3
2
1
0
8
2
6
7
2
 Switzerland
3
2
0
1
7
6
1
6
3
 Ecuador
3
1
1
1
3
3
0
4
4
 Honduras
3
0
0
3
1
8
-7
0
Group F
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Argentina
3
3
0
0
6
3
3
9
2
 Nigeria
3
1
1
1
3
3
0
4
3
 Bosnia &Herz
3
1
0
2
4
4
0
3
4
 Iran
3
0
1
2
1
4
-3
1
Group G
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Germany
3
2
1
0
7
2
5
7
2
 U.S.A.
3
1
1
1
4
4
0
4
3
 Portugal
3
1
1
1
4
7
-3
4
4
 Ghana
3
0
1
2
4
6
-2
1
Group H
#
Country
GP
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
PTS
1
 Belgium
3
3
0
0
4
1
3
9
2
 Algeria
3
1
1
1
6
5
1
4
3
 Russia
3
0
2
1
2
3
-1
2
4
 S.Korea
3
0
1
2
3
6
-3
1

There was no football on Friday (yes, I was sweating), but the 2nd round continues tonight in Belo Horizonte as Brazil take on Chile.

The second round in full is:

Brazil v Chile

Colombia v Uruguay

Netherlands v Mexico

Costa Rica v Greece

France v Nigeria

Germany v Algeria

Argentina v Switzerland

Belgium v USA

Roll on 5pm Saturday.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Mavericks

Suarez four month ban the final straw for Liverpool?

Bad news for both Uruguay and Liverpool as FIFA have banned Uruguay’s Luis Suarez from all “football-related activities” for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, ruling the star player out for the rest of the World Cup as well as the start of the domestic season.

It if of course the third time Suarez has bitten an opponent. Once is too many.

 

Social media understandably exploded following the incident on Tuesday. People were calling for a lifetime ban, others were calling for an international ban. Suarez, who had the support of all the Liverpool players, staff and indeed fans following previous incidents, will now miss nine Premier League matches and three crucial Champions League games.

Liverpool can feel hard done by. Essentially they are suffering for his actions while on international duty. But ultimately it is Suarez let the club and himself down.

So what are Liverpool’s options?

They can stand by him and keep one of the world’s greatest players. Or cash in on what some might see as something of a liability as well as a genius.

Suarez has a market value of around €80 million. But he is so often the difference between winning and losing for Liverpool and played an enormous role in the club’s impressive winning streak towards the end of last season.

According to Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague that both Real Madrid and Barcelona, as of this morning, knowing a punishment was imminent, still want the Uruguayan striker.

Luis Suarez

Liverpool would obviously need a replacement for Suarez. So a cash-plus-player deal would be tempting for Brendan Rodgers with Barcelona rumoured to be willing to offer €45 million plus Chilean star Alexis Sanchez.

Whatever the outcome, Suarez is still a supremely talented player. But he needs to take a look in the mirror and ask himself why he does these things.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Internationals

Could hosts Brazil fall at the next hurdle?

That’s a good question. They played fantastic tonight and Neymar, the superstar youngster and poster-boy of the Seleção, was in fine form with a double against Cameroon. 

They have an advantage with the home support no question. But Brazil, who started the tournament as the bookies’ favourites, haven’t impressed me enough to believe that they are a World Cup winning team.

Brazil now face Chile on 28th June in Belo Horizonte and Luiz “Big Phil” Scolari will be more than aware of Chile’s performances. Despite losing 2-0 at the hands of The Netherlands (who I am tipping to win the tournament dare I say it), Jorge Sampaoli’s men have been extremely organized and can be a very dangerous opposition for the Brazilians.

But it’s a tasty fixture for the neutral fan.

Tomorrow’s games are:

Group D
Costa Rica
17:00
England
Group D
Italy
17:00
Uruguay
Group C
Greece
21:00
Côte d’Ivoire
Group C
Japan
21:00
Colombia

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals

So how is everyone enjoying the World Cup so far?

It hasn’t exactly gone to plan has it, this World Cup? It seems like nobody has read the script. But it sure is, at least in my view as a neutral, an incredible tournament. I mean, did Costa Rica really beat Uruguay? It appears that they in fact did. Did the Netherlands put five past current holders Spain? They most definitely did. Did Cristiano Ronaldo, the current World player of the year, really appear almost anonymous in Portugal’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany? Why, yes he did.

It’s been quite the World Cup so far. Pressure is mounting. Tensions (as a poor ball boy discovered at the hands of Joe Hart) are building. Watching it at home has been nothing but a treat.

The current holders Spain are out. OK, I’ll admit it, I did not see that coming. Don’t pretend you did because you didn’t. La Roja’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Chile and the Netherlands proved fatal. Tiki-taka RIP.

But what went wrong for the Spanish?

Was it tactics? Team selection? A little bit of both in my view. To begin with, Iker Casillas, who spent much of last season as Real Madrid’s second choice ‘keeper, was starting because of Del Bosque’s loyalty towards his 2010 World Cup-winning captain. And Fernando Torres was there on reputation, but I assume Del Bosque hasn’t been to Stamford Bridge for the past twelve months.

But, for the neutral, this makes compelling viewing.

Hosts Brazil have been incredibly underwhelming, haven’t they? In most bookmakers, they were the favourites, and Neymar was the favourite to become the top goalscorer. But judging by their first two games, they aren’t blowing everyone’s minds. Yes, they may qualify. A draw or a win against Cameroon next Monday will see them through to the next round. But then they face either Chile or the Netherlands – two of the most impressive teams in the competition.

England face Uruguay tonight. It’s a must-win game for both teams as they both tasted defeat in their opening games – England to Italy and Uruguay, amazingly, to Costa Rica. It was Roy Keane who said on ITV that England will “struggle” in the competition (and right beside England captain Steven Gerrard). He’s not wrong. Though Uruguay were a shadow of themselves the other night, but with star player Luis Suarez likely to start, it could be the kick the team needs.

Interesting times on football’s biggest stage.

Tonight’s games are:

Group C
Colombia
17:00
Côte d’Ivoire
Group D
Uruguay
20:00
England
Group C
Japan
23:00
Greece

Let Rob Smith know what you think of the World Cup so far on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #8: Pelé

I hope you enjoyed the profiles of World Cup heroes I have been blogging daily for the past week. With the day that’s in it, I finish up with a Brazilian and one of the greatest ever players of the sport, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to you or me simply as Pelé

He famously burst onto the scene at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he was the star of the tournament at the tender age of 17 and scored no less than two of the goals in the final. Injury prevented him from competing in nearly all of the 1962 competition, but with Garrincha leading the troops, Pelé, who was then rated as the best player in the world, earned his second World Cup winners medal.

Injury again kept the striker out for almost all of the 1966 tournament, but it was the 1970 World Cup, where Pelé led what is known was one of the greatest teams of all time, to World Cup triumph. Even his near misses are as glorious as his actual goals and assists. Watch below.

Anyway, the 2014 World Cup is starting. Shall we…?

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

 

Internationals, Mavericks, Superstars

World Cup heroes #7: Maradona

The Vatican has the Pope, Argentina has Diego Armando Maradona. There is nothing that can be said about el Diego that hasn’t been said before. I am not sure if I even have the words to correctly sum up his genius. I can only show you a video of his sheer brilliance.

Watch the video at the 2.28 mark again. Take a bow, son. Take two.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #6: Rossi

The 1982 World Cup will be mostly remembered for two things: that celebration from former Republic of Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli, and the brilliance of goalscoring machine Paolo Rossi.

Rossi, whose fitness appeared to be very sub-standard in the opening two games, found his second wind by scoring six goals in Italy’s final three matches – including the final itself against West Germany. He even scored a hat-trick against a Socrates-led Brazil side famously dubbed “the greatest Brazilian team never to win the World Cup”. Paolo Rossi single-handedly left them for dead.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Entertainment & media

Join the official Hot Press World Cup fantasy football

So who is up for a World Cup edition of fantasy football then? I thought so. Here’s how to join the official Hot Press World Cup fantasy football league in just three easy steps:

  1. Click here to go the Fantasy Football section on FIFA.com
  2. You will need to register, but it takes a minute. (Or less if you sign in with Facebook.)
  3. Once you have registered, select your team and then click here and join the league by simply clicking “join league” once you get there.

And that’s all there is to it. The format is the same – €100 million to spend on players. Some of the best players are around the €8 m/€9 m mark. But I know what you’re thinking – this will be easy, right? Wrong! You will need to select far more substitutes than previously in the Premier League fantasy football. Then of course there are the injuries…

There will also be some prizes and bits and bobs up for grabs too.

torresireland

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #5: Kempes

There’s no denying how brilliant Argentina were at the 1978 World Cup, and at the forefront was the frankly brilliant and easily recognizable Mario Kempes.

‘El Matador’ was the hero for the home fans and finished the competition as top goalscorer with six goals. It may be Maradona, Messi or Batistuta that the Argentines adore the most, but Mario Kempes can go anywhere in that country and someone will buy him a pint of Quilmes for his triumph in the 1978 World Cup.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #4: Roger Milla

It was Toto Schillaci who scored the most goals at the World Cup in Italy in 1990. But he didn’t celebrate them in sheer style like Cameroon’s Roger Milla.

Milla was 38-years-old during the tournament. In footballing terms, that’s incredibly old (in fact he would play at the next World Cup in USA 1994 at the age of 42). Considered a legend in the continent of Africa, he will forever be remembered for his agility, his sharp eye for goal and that celebration.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #3: Cruyff

The Netherlands came close to winning the 1974 World Cup with their “total football” system which had dazzled the competition. At the forefront of this extremely attractive style of play was the country’s captain, Johan Cruyff.

Many will say that Cruyff is one of the greatest players to never win the World Cup. But he remains undoubtedly one of the greatest men to ever play the game. Watch this video below to get a glimpse of total football at it’s finest.

Follow Rob Smith on (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #2: Zidane

Not many expected France to win the 1998 World Cup despite it being on their home turf. But perhaps many didn’t realise the sheer brilliance of their number 10 – Zinedine Zidane.

Zizou was remarkable in the ’98 World Cup. And indeed in the 2006 competition in Germany. Yes, he’ll be remembered for that incident in the final. But I choose to remember Zidane for the way he played in that tournament. Spectacularly.

Check out this footage of Zizou making a show of an extremely strong Brazil side that featured Roberto Carlos, Kaka, Cafu, Ronaldo as well as the then-best player on the planet Ronaldinho.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #1: Garrincha

Every single day between now and kick-off at the World Cup next week, I will be paying tribute to seven of the great World Cup players in history with footage that will make your mouth water. The seven wonders of the footballing world.

I’ll start with this genius: Brazil’s Garrincha. Check out this footage from the 1962 World Cup against a strong England side.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)