Sunday, June 15, 2014

World Cup Group D Update

One of the toughest groups this year, with three teams that have won the World Cup in the past, yielded two extraordinary results, as Costa Rica upset Uruguay 3-1 and Italy defeated England 2-1. The landscape of Group D certainly looks much different than it did just a week ago.

What We Learned About Costa Rica - Many people will account Costa Rica's remarkable win to Uruguay playing poorly or Luis Suarez having to sit out, but they really should be applauding a Costa Rica team that played a near perfect match. Uruguay went up early, but never looked like creating any chances after that, which is a testament to Costa Rica's sturdy defense. Costa Rica's efforts didn't just end with their defense, though, as the offense looked lethal on the counterattack, especially Arsenal on-loan striker Joel Campbell. They may never replicate this sort of performance again, but if they do, Costa Rica could have legitimate aspirations of making it out of the group.
Costa Rica's Best Player - Joel Campbell, Striker - Clear now why Arsenal bought him. He has an absolute rocket of a left foot to go along with a lot of pace, strength, and technical ability.
Costa Rica's Worst Player - Yeltsin Tejada, Central Midfielder - Ended up putting in a decent performance but had several poor tackles throughout the game and I was honestly surprised that he wasn't shown a red at some point.

What We Learned About Uruguay - Well, that was disappointing. Considering their fantastic display in the South African World Cup just four years ago, expectations were high for this Uruguay team, but they just didn't look very talented. The defense looked slow and vulnerable on set pieces, while the midfield seemed invisible and lacked any creativity. Edinson Cavani made a couple decent runs up top but was largely isolated and would have greatly benefited from playing alongside Luis Suarez. Certainly some of their problems will be solved by the return of Suarez, but there were problems all over the pitch for Uruguay that he may not be able to help with.
Uruguay's Best Player - Edinson Cavani, Striker - Really like picking the best of the worst here. Didn't play as well as he is capable is but also didn't look miserable.
Uruguay's Worst Player - Diego Forlan, Striker - For a guy that has a reputation of showing up big time in the world cup, Forlan left us all disappointed. His finishing was abysmal and he really didn't provide much of anything else.

What We Learned About Italy - At times Italy's 2-1 defeat of England was dull and defensive, but there is no denying that Italy's tactics worked and when they broke into offense they were crisp and effective. As always, their defense looked very solid, with Barzagli and Chiellini anchoring the unit, and the midfield, lead by Andrea Pirlo, was both organized and creative. Up top, Mario Balotelli was clinical when it counted, heading in the winning goal off of Antonio Candreva's cross. Italy absolutely look the favorite to exit Group D in first place after this complete performance.
Italy's Best Player - Andrea Pirlo, Central Midfielder - Tough to pick a single player as the win was such a team effort, but Pirlo's passing percentage was too immaculate to ignore, plus, his free kick near the end of the game was truly incredible, despite not going in.
Italy's Worst Player - Nobody - Every single player excelled in their specialized roles. Not a single player that didn't do what was expected out of him.

What We Learned About England - The entire performance, with the exception of the result itself, was pretty inspiring from England. For years their fans have admonished the defensive approach of English national teams, but this team came out with an attacking approach and an incredible amount of fluidity. The defense looked sturdy with the exception of one or two misplays by Gary Cahill and Leighton Banes, and the midfield and attackers morphed into a single cohesive, fairly creative unit (for god's sake even Danny Wellbeck looked good). If they can come with this sort of mentality against Uruguay and Costa Rica, they might just find their way out of Group D.
England's Best Player - Raheem Sterling, Attacking Midfielder - Flowed all over England's attack and generally provided a pacey outlet. Also provided the beautiful pass to Wayne Rooney that led to Sturridge's goal.
England's Worst Player - Wayne Rooney, Attacking Midfielder - Needs to step up and start performing for the national team if he wants to be considered a world class player. Squandered one great chance to equalize and also had a woefully embarrassing corner kick. 

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