WORLD CUP 2014: Match Reports (15/06/14)

SWITZERLAND 2 -1 ECUADOR
Sunday 15th June 2014

Switzerland goals: Mehmedi, Seferovic
Ecuador goal: E.Valencia

The opening Group E game played host to sixth ranked in the world Switzerland and in contrast, a nation twenty places lower ranked twenty-sixth, Ecuador. Switzerland who predictably came into the game as favourites named a strong side with Gokhan Inler captaining a side which has a whole host of talented individuals spread throughout Europe. As for Ecuador, it’d be fair to say as a nation, they’re one that leave a lot of questions unanswered in regard to how good they really are on the international footballing stage. Rarely travelling out of South America for friendlies, Ecuador seem a mystery and as England learnt recently in a friendly shortly before the World Cup, you simply cannot take anything for granted and merely expect to win against sides ranked much lower than the top ten or fifteen. This proved to be the case as both sides looked for an opening goal yet it was Ecuador who drew the first blood in the tie. A pin-point cross from Walter Ayovi from a free-kick was met by the head of Enner Valencia who scored his fifth goal in successive games for his country and put the Ecuadorians 1-0 up.

Switzerland pushed for an equaliser using the likes of Shaqiri and Rodriguez on either wing to deliver balls into the box but Drmic struggled to create any kind of real scoring opportunity despite frequent service. Although Switzerland weren’t short of chances, corners often followed and after seven corners in the first half alone for Switzerland, they still found themselves trailing 1-0 to a very organised Ecuador who really dominated the first half, making it difficult for Switzerland to really assert themselves in the match. However the second half was the polar opposite and began quickly with Switzerland vying to snatch an early goal before the game developed to a point where they’d struggle to break down Ecuador’s defence.

Rodriguez continued to impress whilst Enner Valencia also shown why he is Ecuador’s first choice striker, working well up-front to create several goal-scoring opportunities. Despite the change in play by Switzerland in comparison to their first half offerings, it was Ottmar Hitzfeld substitutions which made all the difference and changed the game. Shaqiri’s corners had frequently been overhit throughout the game and when Rodriguez stepped up and took the honours, it was all change. A direct corner into the box was met by substitute Mehmedi who fired home from close range and put made use of Switzerland’s dominance in the second half; a fully deserved goal.

It then looked as if we were going to have our first draw of the very high scoring tournament as both sides struggled to make an impact in front of goal and snatch the game. Yet there was to be one last sting in the tale. After a crucial interception within his own penalty area, the Swiss charged up-field with Valon Behrami deserving full credit for charging forward with pace and strength and changing the balance of play with just over two minutes to go. His big charge forward was helped by a very good advantage played by the referee and after squaring the ball out wide to the in-form Rodriguez, his low and powerful delivery resulted in his second assist of the game as Seferovic scored well into injury time to secure all three points for the Swiss in the dying embers of the game. And although the game on paper may not have seemed like the most exciting of all, it certainly proved to be a good advert for the world cup as it had a good mixture of everything you expect to see in football, none more so than drama and a late goal which was met with both celebrations and of course, a large sigh of relief.

FRANCE 3 – 0 HONDURAS
Sunday 15th June 2014

France goals: Benzema x2, Valladares (o.g)

This years World Cup has been most memorable so far for a variety of things. Firstly, none more so than the free-scoring nature and high goals we’ve witnessed already. It is refreshing to see sides actually trying for positive results rather than simply parking the bus, eleven men behind the ball, looking for a tactical, crucial point. For some, the referee’s evaporating spray has caught the imagination of many, whilst some are more concerned with the level of refereeing regardless of any spray which may make his job all that bit cooler. However for me, the overuse of Goal Line Technology has definitely been a talking point and an issue which doesn’t seem to go away (even when all the right procedures are set in place).

Overused every time the ball crosses the line we witnessed our first real example of how important it can really be in the second Group E game but we’ll touch more on that later… France meanwhile began the game in an attacking style as they looked to dominate from the outset. Pogba looked lovely whilst Valbuena and Griezmann did their best to get involved. The main talking points of the first half began with Stoke City midfielder Wilson Palacios and his encounters with Juventus’ Pogba. Two unnecessary, clumsy challenges = two yellow cards, with the second going one step further and gifting France their opening goal of the competition. Karim Benzema slotted home his penalty from close range and put Les Bleus in the driving seat.

The second half continued in similar fashion with Honduras offering little resistance whilst France pushed for another goal. It was then only three minutes after the re-start where we seen goal line technology in action. A Karim Benzema shot was judged initially by the referee to have crossed the line but an initial look at the hawk-eye suggested otherwise. As Benzema’s shot ricocheted off one post to the other, two snaps of hawk-eye later revealed it crossed the line following it hitting the left hand post and consequently bundled over the line by Honduras keeper Valladares.

Discussions continued between both managers on the bench however goal line technology certainly proved its worth and made certain of France’s 2-0 lead. And for further clarification, my man of the match Benzema was involved again smashing home his second of the evening and France’s third of the night with a powerful shot into the roof of the net from close range. Honduras seemed content with an expected defeat so all in all, a reasonably predictable outcome for both sides with France v Switzerland now looking like the game which should decide who will qualify from Group E as group winners.

ARGENTINA 2-1 BOSNIA
(featured commentary game on @talkingtikitaka)
Sunday 14th June 2014

Argentina goals: Kolasinac (o.g), Messi
Bosnia goal: Ibisevic

Ranked second favourites in several bookmakers following the early capitulation of Spain in their opening Group B game against the Netherlands, the pressure was (and still is) on the likes of Aguero, Di Maria and of course star man Lionel Messi as Argentina try to repeat the success of a bygone era and win the World Cup this year. And with opposition in the form of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country making their debut in qualifying for the World Cup finals, on paper it should be a walk in the park of Sabella’s Argentina men.

Yet perhaps in the grand scheme of things, with the added pressure and a fearless Bosnia who go to Brazil with few expectations, could it be a possible banana skin waiting to happen? Argentina named a strong attacking three of hotel roommates Aguero, Messi and Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria, with Sabella opting for three at the back with two overlapping wing backs in the form of Rojo and Zabaleta. Meanwhile Bosnia’s attack was shaped to suit Edin Dzeko playing as a line striker with support coming from the midfield through the likes of Misimovic, Besic and AS Roma man Pjanic. As the game got underway, Argentina shown early glimpses of the gulf in footballing ability between the two but as the half progressed their FIFA rankings proved nothing and couldn’t be any further from the truth as Argentina didn’t necessarily struggle but instead played with such a negativity where a goal didn’t seem anywhere near close.

After six minutes an inswinging corner met poorly by the head of Rojo took a cruel deflection of Bosnia defender Kolasinac and gifted Argentina 1-0 lead. The scrappiness of the goal set the tone for the half as both teams struggled to make headway in the game, with Bosnia happy to sit back and counter attack on the very few occasions they managed to press the ball upfield. Dzeko was passenger like but this is to more so with the way both teams were set up and not a reflection of his work ethic or contribution to the side. As the half trickled by without anything to shout about, as the latest kickoff of the day, BBC pundit and commentator Mark Lawrenson hit the nail on the head in his summary of the first period with his tongue and cheek remark, ‘I wouldn’t blame anybody going to bed’ referring to an earlier comment made about how the likes of Aguero, Dzeko and Messi made staying awake all the more worthwhile.

Although Argentina’s selection had more than enough quality to challenge anybody, they simply didn’t gel in the first half with the likes of Messi and Aguero looking disinterested and far from their individual best whilst the wing backs found themselves defending rather than attacking on the front foot. Yet despite the negativity and criticism, one positive could that they still at least had the all important lead heading into the second half.

Both sides obviously unimpressed with their first half showings made use of substitutions, none more so than Sabella who further demonstrated the strength in depth he has at his disposal, bringing on former Real Madrid team-mates Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago immediately after the break. And these substitutions seemed to do something for Argentina as they sprung into life in the second period. Both sides adjusted and you could sense a difference from the first period in how much they both wanted something out of the game and you could always sense a goal was on it’s way. Aguero got more involved, Di Maria looked more lovely and Higuain settled quickly as all eyes remained on Messi who many believe that he needs a good World Cup with now being his time should he want to be remembered as one of the best players in history.

And after a quiet first half, he certainly made a good claim for the latter as he got the all important goal he’d been looking for. On the 65th minute, Messi danced round three Bosnia players on the outside of the box taking a delicate touch away from goal and firing the ball past Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who had little to do during the game. His goal was met with an outpouring of emotion and relief as Lionel Messi finally did it on the worlds biggest stage. And although the game looked done and dusted at 2-0, Bosnia once again readjusted and brought on VFB Stuttgart man Vedad Ibisevic, a prolific goalscorer whose goals in qualifying ultimately led the Bosnians to where they are today.

His introduction resulted in what proved only to be a consolation goal yet a historical one for his nation, their first ever in a World Cup competition. And after such a spirited attempt at a comeback, there was to be no Fairytale ending for Bosnia as Argentina held on to a 2-1 win in what was perceived as their hardest game of the group stages. And even at second best, you wouldn’t put it past Sabella’s men topping the group on nine points where they’ll next come up against Iran and Nigeria. As for Bosnia, they can take many positives from the performance and many, me included, would still expect them to make history and qualify from a reasonably weak group, especially if the likes of Dzeko and Pjanic follow in the footsteps of Ibisevic and chip in with vital goals and match winning individual performances.

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