In the knock out stage of the FIFA World Cup 2014, we are down to the best 16 teams on the planet. The show-piece event of world football has been entertaining to say the least. Brazil, the spiritual home of football has provided some of the most picturesque settings to play and watch football. As the Round of 16 has already kicked off, we review the good, bad and the ugly bits of the tournament so far.
Lionel Messi vs Neymar:
If the power of choosing the finalists had been vested in the romantics of world football, Brazil v Argentina at the iconic Maracana on 13 July 2014 is what they would opt for. That match of course would be a tantalizing prospect even if one was not a football romantic. At the end of the Group stage, a Brazil-Argentina final is well and truly on. It is also evident that the talisman players of both teams – Neymar and Lionel Messi, are locked in a battle for the Golden Ball. Both have beaten the goalkeeper on four occasions each. It is almost like a free-style street dance competition where in one does the act and the other matches it.
Neymar scored two in the first match. Messi`s had his moment at the Maracana. With the Brazilian not scoring in the second match, Messi delivered a dagger through Iranian hearts in the dying minutes of the match to deny them a historic point. In Brazil`s last group game, Neymar scored a brace against Cameroon to take his goal tally to 4. And as if on cue, Messi replied with two stunning left footers. So, a Brazil-Argentina final, with Barca duo fighting for the “Golden Boot” would be some occasion if it did happen. Of course, a certain Thomas Muller from Germany with four goals as well, would think it is about time he had his say in this matter.
The Year of the Underdogs – Costa Rica and Algeria:
Costa Rica and Algeria have the biggest stories of the 2014 FIFA World cup so far. Costa Rica, who were drawn in the “Group of Death” with past winners England, Italy and Uruguay, not only emerged out unscathed but also went on to top the group. From being the punching bags of this group, they delivered the knock-out punch to England and Italy. Apart from Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal reject Joel Campbell, majority of the Costa Rican players aren’t really household names, which makes their achievement truly remarkable. By winning their group, Costa Rica have been rewarded with a Round of 16 match with Greece, which has suddenly multiplied the probability of them making it to the quarter-finals.
After being drawn in a group with Belgium, Russia and South Korea, most pundits would have written the obituary of Algeria. The golden generation of Belgian football was given a scare by the tiny African country who then went on to beat South Korea, semi-finalists from the 2002 World Cup. That is when the group opened up for Algeria due to favourable results in other matches. With most players playing in second-division leagues across the world, it was hard to imagine Algeria would manage to avoid defeat against Russia in their last match. Fabio Capello has been paid an exorbitant amount to take Russian football to the next level. Yet when it mattered, Algeria`s determination overcame the tactical nous of Capello.
Big Guns Firing....Except Ronaldo and Rooney:
Both Portugal and England were drawn into the two toughest groups of this World Cup. Rooney and Ronaldo failed to drag the giants of European football out of their respective “Groups of Death”. They managed to score one goal each. Ronaldo had been nursing a knee injury before the group stages commenced and his no-show in the first two games could be attributed to that. Wayne Rooney was deployed on the left by Roy Hogdson, instead of his preferred number ten position, which meant more defensive duties were shouldered by him. There were no such problems for Rooney`s Manchester United teammate Robin van Persie and Ronaldo`s Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema, who made substantial contributions to help their teams advance. Arjen Robben has been arguably the player of the tournament with his goals and assists. The Bayern Munich winger was Holland`s tormentor-in-chief during their 5-1 drubbing of Spain. Other big names, like Chile`s Alexis Sanchez, Germany`s Thomas Muller, Uruguay`s Luis Suarez, Colombia`s James Rodriguez and even Australia`s Tim Cahil were key architects of wins or good performances for their teams.
Luis Suarez – It had to be about him!
Luis Suarez arrived and exited the 2014 World Cup with his reputation intact. During his cameo, he exhibited the bizarre and the utterly brilliant aspects of his personality. Within a matter of few weeks, he vindicated his admirers and critics. Like most mavericks, the Uruguayan attracts extreme emotions from fans across the globe. He is the player you`d hate playing against. He is the player you`d want in your team every single time. Yet he continues to be an enigma. The image of him on a wheelchair before the World Cup had an entire nation hold its breath and pray for his fitness. When his moment arrived, he delivered in the most devastating fashion by scoring two goals against England, leaving them on the brink of exit.
Yet in the match against Italy, he made fans revisit a side of him that they seldom want to see. He bit Italian defender, Giorgio Chiellini on his shoulder. That`s the third time he has done it on a football ground. It`s almost as though he mesmerises fans with his football, forcing them to ignore his eccentric behaviour because he is so bloody good with the ball. However, FIFA, with so many billions in dollars at stake through sponsors, and more importantly, with millions of young kids watching, had to bring down the curtains on Suarez`s World Cup.