FIFA World Cup: Before the break

Defending champions Spain bite the dust, Suarez does worse while Messi outshines Maradona... so far.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Updated: June 28, 2014 9:34:01 am
Spain: That end of an era feeling. (Source: Reuters) Spain: That end of an era feeling. (Source: Reuters)

Group A

Brazil: The Brasileiro, your average Joao, doesn’t believe in delving in the past. And the dailies he reads, such as the Jornal de Brasilia, mirrors his mindset – having already sent the Selecao into July’s final through two distinct routes in the knock-outs. “The easiest path is Chile, Colombia, Nigeria and Greece,” says the paper. And the toughest? “Chile, Uruguay, France, Argentina —that’s the worst.” Worst for Brazil maybe, but best for this World Cup of course.

Mexico: Just twice in the past have Mexico proceeded to the quarterfinals of a World Cup – 1970 and 1986. Standing in their way from getting there for the first time when not hosting a World Cup is Holland. Not the easiest thing, but Miguel Herrera’s side have excelled in overcoming equally potent obstacles so far, such as the allergic-to-goals referee from their opening match.

Croatia: The opening goal of the World Cup summed up their campaign perfectly. Croatia needed all the help in the world, sometimes even from members of the opposition.

Cameroon: With a goal difference of -8, Cameroon could just be the worst team to participate at a World Cup, ever. Have now lost seven Cup matches in a row.

Group B

Holland: Incredibly, each of Holland’s 10 goals so far, the most by any team yet, have all been produced from open play. Six of those were netted by Arjen Robben (3) and captain Robin van Persie (3). But they will be aware that their Round of 16 opponents, Mexico, were just 180 seconds away from not conceding at all in the group stages..

Chile: The team with the most fun supporters who often burst into a most fun chant (‘Chi-chi-chi, Le-le-le, Viva Chile!’) struggled against Australia and lost to Holland. But by knocking out holders Spain from the Cup with a 2-0 win at the Maracana, the South American side reiterated just why a South American team can never be taken lightly in a South American World Cup

Spain: Have you wondered why there has been absolutely no hype around animal oracles in this World Cup? Here’s the answer. Like Paul the Octopus, they began by predicting a Spain win. Unlike Paul the Octopus, they died without notice. Quite like La Roja, actually.

Australia: Aussie coach Ange Postecoglou said he was building a team for Russia ‘18 and Qatar ‘22 when picking a young and inexperienced squad. Had he picked more old and experienced players like 34-year old Tim Cahill (who scored two out of Australia’s three goals), Postecoglou could just have built a team for Brazil ‘14.

Group C

Colombia: A research claimed that of all the countries in the world, Colombia has the greatest percentage of its population following football seriously. Yes, even more than Brazil. That number is sure to have increased following their national side’s clean sweep of the group stages. Barring Argentina, they are the only South American side to win all its matches so far.

Greece: The winners of Euro ‘04 had never made it past the group stages at a World Cup before Brazil. They didn’t look like changing that record here as well, until the final kick of their final group game. That kick was a 93rd minute penalty taken by Georgios Samaras, who slotted both the ball and his country past the reach of Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast: For Manchester City, Yaya Toure scored 24 goals and led them to the title. But he got no ‘respect’. For Ivory Coast, he scored nada at the group stages and led them out of the World Cup. He was respected with two Man of the Match awards.

Japan: Goalie Eiji Kawashima conceded six times in what was an easily forgettable campaign. Kawashima later criticised his defenders for not cleaning up well enough. Maybe he could employ the four Japanese fans who physically swept up every square inch of Arena Pantanal in Cuitaba after their 4-1 loss to Colombia.

Group D

Costa Rica: The only team certain to die in the Group of Death were the only team kicking and screaming with life after the first two rounds of matches in this group. Having beaten Uruguay and Italy – teams with six trophies between them – in succession, La Sele had entered the knock-outs for only the second time in its history.

Uruguay: Luiz Suarez’s knee, toes and teeth were the respective focal points of Uruguay’s first three matches of the World Cup. But now all of Suarez is gone and the hopes of a nation lie of 22 other nameless, faceless men.

Italy: “Italia are the best team in the world because I am the best goal-scorer in the world,” said a not-so-modest Mario Balotelli, after his header helped Italy win their opening game. Balotelli didn’t score again. And neither did Italy, crashing out of their second successive quadrennial in the group stages.

England: Before June 19: 48 years and waiting. After June 19: 52 years and still waiting.

Group E

France: The last time France topped their group, they went on to win the World Cup. However, coach Didier Deschamps (who was the captain in France ‘98) will not let his early success get to him or his players. Not when their Round of 16 opponents, Nigeria, hold a 100 per cent record over them.

Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri is from Kosovo, Serbia. As is Granit Xhaka. Meanwhile, Blerim Dzemaili and Admir Mehmedi are from Macedonia. Between them, they’ve scored six out of Switzerland’s seven goals. Swiss-born Haris Seferovic scored the other.

Ecuador: Quite like the Spanish football team, a vast number of Barcelona players make the Ecuadorian squad. No this isn’t the Catalan club, but one inspired by it in Quito, the country’s capital. Quite like in La Roja this time, these Barcelona players did precious little for Ecuador, with their only goal-scorer, Enner Valencia, hailing from rivals CF Pachuca.

Honduras: Los Catrachos, as the republic’s national team is called, hoped to have a better campaign than in South Africa, where they finished 30th. Honduras ended 31st, marginally better than Cameroon.

Group F

Argentina: Before this World Cup, the people of Argentina wondered if Lionel Messi would ever step it up for the Albiceleste. Three matches later, Messi has not only scored in every game but polished off every Man of the Match trophy as well. Something even Diego Maradona hadn’t achieved.

Nigeria: Everyone enjoys an African nation’s success at a World Cup. Cameroon — 1990, Senegal — 2002, Ghana — 2010. But the Super Eagles are far from being a surprise package. When Ahmed Musa scored Nigeria’s second against Argentina, he made the nation the best scoring African team at World Cups with 18 goals.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: For those who like to call football teams by their nicknames, the World Cup debutants were simply known as ‘Dzeko & Co’. The Man City star nearly scored against Argentina, was disallowed a goal against Nigeria and finally netted one against Iran. Now they are simply known as ‘Dzeko’.

Iran: Charlton Athletic’s Reza Ghoochannejhad was Iran’s best known player internationally before this World Cup. Having scored the country’s only goal in the loss against Bosnia, Charlton Athletic’s Reza Ghoochannejhad continues to be Iran’s best known player internationally after this World Cup.

Group G

Germany: A total of 24 World Cup goals have been scored between Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose. To put that in perspective, consider this. In all their World Cup campaigns put together, all of Colombia has scored 23 goals. In all, two men from Germany are more prolific than the combined histories of 21 different countries participating in World Cup 2014.

USA: Jurgen Klinsmann came, saw and sang USA’s national anthem. Then he made a soccer side play football.

Portugal: In the lead-up to the Cup, the Portugal faithful sniggered at the ‘one-man army’ criticism, saying that there were other stars apart from Cristiano Ronaldo in the side — such as his teammates from Madrid, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao. “They’re the three pillars,” they said. The first two pillars, Pepe and Coentrao, were gone to a red card and a bad tackle respectively by the end of the first match. On one able leg, the last pillar achieved precious little.

Ghana: First they fought each other in the dressing room. Then they allegedly attacked members of their football association. Training sessions were boycotted, stars were sent back and payments were negotiated. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Ghana tried to play some football too.

Group H

Belgium: Twenty-two goals have been scored by substitutes in Brazil ‘14, a World Cup record. Belgium, alone, have already plenty of weight to this stat, with each of their four goals scored by those coming off the bench – Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens in the first match, Divock Origi in the second and Jan Vertonghen in the third.

Algeria: Sofiane Feghouli wasn’t born when Algeria, the best-ranked African side today, last scored in a World Cup. So when he found the back of the net against Belgium, the Desert Foxes sighed. For far too long, they had been the nearly-there side — missing either Cup berths or goals by a whisker. Now, they were finally there.

Russia: The Russians perhaps won’t hire Fabio Capello again. The Italian has now won just one World Cup match in seven attempts over two editions, managing two different countries.

South Korea: Against Belgium, Korea Republic failed to score a goal in their first World Cup game since 1998. The record in fact began when the two sides met in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup, when Belgium coach Marc Wilmots and Korea coach Hong Myung-bo faced each other as players.

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