Surprises and goals were in equal measure during a busy group stage of the 2014 World Cup, as Richard Hall, Tony Ciriello, George Rinaldi and Livio Caferoglu round up the action.
The hosts were carried to the next stage under the wing of a care free Neymar, his four goals masking Brazil’s frailties. The hosts looked vulnerable but the will of a nation and their young starlet secured their passage.
The Mexicans left it until the final game to secure their passage, but managed to impress inspired by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in particular. Croatia played well until the final game but showed a touch of class providing the world with a terrific opening game. Cameroon lacked style, class and discipline. They continued on their voyage of self-destruction that has taken them from everyone’s favourite African side, to simply the most ill-tempered of teams. RH
21.00 Brazil 3-1 Croatia (Sao Paulo)
17.00 Mexico 1-0 Cameroon (Natal)
20.00 Brazil 0-0 Mexico (Fortaleza)
23.00 Cameroon 0-4 Croatia (Manaus)
21.00 Cameroon 1-4 Brazil (Brasilia)
21.00 Croatia 1-3 Mexico (Recife)
Netherlands topped the group with three wins including a 5-1 mauling of holders Spain, which was one of the big shocks of the World Cup. Chile snatched second courtesy of a meticulous preparation, discipline in keeping team shape and swift counter-attacks led by the dynamic Alexis Sanchez.
Spain’s fall from grace was as spectacular as it was unexpected, as it seemed to be business as usual when they took the lead against the Netherlands, only for things to capitulate just before the break. A comprehensive defeat to Chile saw them eliminated, but they recovered a semblance of dignity with a dead rubber victory against Australia.
The Australians opted for youth and emerging talent leaving out many experienced names including Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill and Luke Wilshire to name a few, so it was not altogether unsurprising that they finished with three defeats. However, Tim Cahill’s Marco van Basten-esque against the Dutch volley will live long in the memory. TC
20.00 Spain 1 - 5 Netherlands (Salvador)
23.00 Chile 3 - 1 Australia (Cuiaba)
20.00 Spain 0-2 Chile (Rio De Janeiro)
17.00 Australia 2-3 Netherlands (Porto Alegre)
17.00 Australia 0-3 Spain (Curitiba)
17.00 Netherlands 2-0 Chile (Sao Paulo)
Colombia arrived in Brazil as many people’s dark horses. Even without the inspirational Radamel Falcao they still looked like they would have enough fire power to progress. It was then little surprise that, inspired by James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez, they powered through the group stage collecting nine points and scoring nine goals in the process.
Greece and the Ivory Coast were conversely tipped to disappoint and finally achieve. The Euro 2004 winners looked like proving everybody right as they entered the final game with one point and no goals. The Ivory Coast turned up with three points but dispelled the myth that it is only tough groups that they exit from, as they conceded a last minute penalty to crash out again.
Japan had a miserable World Cup and went home with fewer hopes than points. The only thing that they could say they took away from the competition was the rubbish that their fans so respectably cleared up after themselves. RH
17.00 Colombia 3-0 Greece (Belo Horizonte)
02.00 Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan (Recife)
17.00 Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast (Brasilia)
23.00 Japan 0-0 Greece (Natal)
21.00 Japan 1-4 Colombia (Cuiaba)
21.00 Greece 2-1 Ivory Coast (Fortaleza)
Few could have possibly foreseen the hotly tipped whipping boys Costa Rica topping Group D with England and Italy crashing out. An opening 3-1 against Uruguay sent shockwaves around the world, but it proved no fluke as they then overcame Italy and drew against England.
They didn’t even concede a goal from open play. England were eliminated after just two games following defeats to Italy and Uruguay, with a 75 per cent fit Luis Suarez grabbing a brace against the Three Lions. El Pistolero then did the unthinkable. With Italy’s Claudio Marchisio perhaps harshly seeing red and the qualification decider in Natal finely poised at 0-0, Suarez dug his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini. But unlike with Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in 2006, the referee didn’t see it and just minutes later Diego Godin’s header secured Uruguay’s place in the Last 16. TC
20.00 Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica (Fortaleza)
23.00 England 1-2 Italy (Manaus)
20.00 Uruguay 2 - 1 England (Sao Paulo)
17.00 Italy 0-1 Costa Rica (Recife)
17.00 Italy 0-1 Uruguay (Natal)
17.00 Costa Rica 0-0 England (Belo Horizonte)
E stands for Entertaining as this group managed to give us 17 goals, including a seven goal thriller between qualifying sides France and Switzerland. Fantastique France topped the table with imperious displays against Honduras and in particular the Swiss, netting eight times before a goalless finale with Ecuador.
Les Bleus had slipped under the radar ahead of this World Cup, but advanced into the next stage with a new title as Europe’s dark horses.
Switzerland secured second place and a test against Argentina, as despite conceding five against Les Blues they were the only side to score in every Group E match. A late winner against Ecuador proved decisive, seeing off the South American side by two points in the final standings.
Honduras finished bottom of the group, making up the numbers having lost every match and conceding eight times, but their one goal scored was one more than 2010. GR
17.00 Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador (Brasilia)
20.00 France 3-0 Honduras (Porto Alegre)
20.00 Switzerland 2-5 France (Salvador)
23.00 Honduras 1-2 Ecuador (Curitiba)
21.00 Honduras 0-3 Switzerland (Manaus)
21.00 Ecuador 0-0 France (Rio De Janeiro)
Argentina were expected to make easy work of their progression into the knockout stages after being paired with the likes of Nigeria, who had not won a World Cup game since 1998, debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina and an unfancied Iran in Group F.
However, they were unconvincing in their opening 2-1 victory over the Balkan nation, as Alejandro Sabella rung the changes in the second half. Elsewhere, Nigeria and Iran played out a stalemate, leaving everything still to play for.
The second round of matches witnessed the Albiceleste book their place in the Last 16 at the expense of Carlos Queiroz’s troops, thanks to a second moment of genius from Lionel Messi at the death, while Nigeria took control of second spot by eliminating Bosnia from the running.
Iran entered the last matchday knowing that only a win over the new boys would do, but a spirited display meant the Asians fell to a 3-1 defeat. LC
23.00 Argentina 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina (Rio De Janeiro)
20.00 Iran 0 - 0 Nigeria (Curitiba)
17.00 Argentina 1-0 Iran (Belo Horizonte)
23.00 Nigeria 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina (Cuiaba)
17.00 Nigeria 2-3 Argentina (Porto Alegre)
17.00 Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 Iran (Salvador)
Group G was all about the Germans as Joachim Low’s men marched into the knockout phase unbeaten.
Die Mannschaft managed to net seven times including four goals against a disastrous Portugal in the group opener, as Paulo Bento’s men crashed out of the tournament at the first hurdle. Cristiano Ronaldo managed to net his first tournament goal in the final group game clash with Ghana but it proved insignificant in the standings.
The surprise package were the United States who finished as group runners-up. German born Jurgen Klinsmann guided his side to four points, including a vital victory against Ghana by two goals to one, seeing them into the next round.
The Black Stars finished bottom despite showing some promise, having held Germany to a 2-2 draw. The tournament ended on a sour note with Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince-Boateng being sent home from the training camp early due to a training ground altercation just hours before their closing match. GR
17.00 Germany 4-0 Portugal (Salvador)
23.00 Ghana 1 - 2 USA (Natal)
20.00 Germany 2-2 Ghana (Fortaleza)
23.00 USA 2-2 Portugal (Manaus)
17.00 USA 0-1 Germany (Recife)
17.00 Portugal 2-1 Ghana (Brasilia)
Group H had a case for the World Cup’s toughest group, and it showed as three countries scrambled for entry to the latter rounds of the tournament. Belgium, however, joined an exclusive club of nations in having won all of their group matches to make light work of securing top spot, albeit by one-goal margins.
Russia were expected to join them before the group stages had initiated, but they could only muster up a draw with South Korea in their first game. Elsewhere, Algeria produced a marvellous attacking display to defeat the Koreans 4-2, and this was successfully followed up by a 1-1 draw with Fabio Capello’s men in the eventual second-place decider.
There were allegations that Igor Akinfeev’s clarity of vision was distracted by a laser in the build-up to Islam Slimani’s winning goal, but the North Africans’ progression to the Last 16 was the first in their history. LC
17.00 Belgium 2-1 Algeria (Belo Horizonte)
23.00 Russia 1-1 Korea Republic (Cuiaba)
17.00 Belgium 1-0 Russia (Rio De Janeiro)
20.00 Korea Republic 2-4 Algeria (Porto Alegre)
21.00 Korea Republic 0-1 Belgium (Sao Paulo)
21.00 Algeria 1-1 Russia (Curitiba)