World Cup Day 13: Italy-Uruguay Game Log

Pre-game thoughts: Costa Rica’s match with England in Belo Horizonte will not be of utmost importance, but for an unlikely scenario: Los Ticos have shockingly already clinched the group–without having faced what has now become the group’s weak link in England–and will likely win it outright with a +3 goal differential and four goals scored in only two games. That leaves the Italians and Uruguayans to duel it out for a second-place finish and knockout stage berth (teams which have +0 GD/2 GS and -1 GD/3 GS, respectively, making it highly improbable that their victory even compounded with a Costa Rica loss would result in winning the group). The Azzurri enter the crucial game in Natal with an upper hand, as a draw would allow them passage into the round of 16 as well. But after a stellar first outing against England, the Italians were surprisingly trounced by upstart tournament darlings Costa Rica, a game in which several questions concerning Italy’s defense arose. With a truly powerful attack, one reinvigorated upon Luis Suarez’s return, Uruguay will prove a formidable opponent that has gained key momentum as of late. While the Uruguayans will seek to replicate their WC success–a process that extends with a victory against Italy–the Italians will want the same result (or a tie) to reclaim their sense of European soccer authority, and progress out of the group stages for the first time in eight years. With all the international talent from both sides involved, and the stakes being as high as ever for each country, Tuesday’s clash will surely be entertaining as it is competitive.

First half:

-Mario Balotelli has struggled to settle into his role in Italy’s altered offensive formation that has placed him up top with Ciro Immobile; frustration might have now sunk in for the mercurial striker, as Balotelli commits two dumb fouls within a minute that earn him a yellow card (his second in the tournament, meaning he misses the team’s second round game if they advance today)

-in the first 25 minutes of the contest, while the Azzurri controlled possession and mostly dictated the pace of the game, Uruguay developed more dangerous attacks composed of better runs and spacing in the offensive third of the pitch than their opponents; yet after this mark in the game time, the Italians have gradually begun to translate their ball control into more concerted and fluid offensive pushes

-a couple of quick and effective pass combinations lead to La Celeste penetrating the left-side goalmouth (from the perspective of the attakcers), signifying the best offensive chance for either side in this game–legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon works his magic again though, getting a hand on two Uruguayan shots while situating himself well outside the goal line

-for a Uruguayan side that cannot settle for anything less than a win to advance, it’s a worrying sign that Italy has so heavily and overbearingly dominated the ball in this opening half, leaving with Uruguay with an inadequate amount of chances on goal

-the play of midfield talisman Andrea Pirlo often determines his team’s fate: through 45 minutes of action, he has had 46 touches on the ball, compared to 72 in his first game (a win) and 36 in his second (a loss) at the same halfway point in the game

Second half:

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

A stunned Marchisio contests his ejection. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

-Italian manager Cesare Prandelli abandons his Balotelli-Immobile combo experiment, subbing out Super Mario–who will see his next WC action only if Italy advances to the quarterfinals now–for 29-year old Marco Parolo, also electing to not take the risk of allowing a carded player to remain in the match

-as Uruguay begins to pressure the opposing goal more and more to begin the final half, it receives a massive help: the referee hands Italian midfielder Claudio Marchisio a red card for a dangerous tackle with his cleats up–though it doesn’t seem too egregious (perhaps meriting only a yellow), adding a controversial nature to such a significant, game-changing decision

-GK Buffon, who energetically and furiously sprinted to the other side of the pitch to contest his teammate’s expulsion, will factor in hugely in the remaining time of this game, spearheading his team’s primarly defensive effort playing with 10 men–so far, in the minutes following the red card, Buffon has risen to occasion and already saved a few Uruguayan shots

-despite Italy producing some attacking pushes, it’s feeling more and more like a hockey game in which one team has a power play (a 31-minute one for Uruguay) and the other must settle for clearances downfield (Italy); such a strategy will be effective–notably returning to the team’s traditional, defensive-first mindset–but if the Italians are to close out this game with a tie, they must attain control of the ball in the opposite half of the pitch in order to shave off at least some time

-it’s as if Luis Suarez needed to fulfill his notorious, questionable on-field character in order to truly jumpstart his team and propel it to victory: on the 79th minute, a tussle between Suarez and Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in front of the goal ends with Suarez moving his head into Chiellini’s left shoulder and apparently biting down, as he’s done in two other infamous incidents in the past; interestingly, Suarez also goes down after the clash (a result of taking a hit to the face that doesn’t seem too harmful), perhaps learning from his past biting episodes that if the bitten player falls, he should do the same in order to hide and offset the infraction–then, just within a few minutes of this moment and subsequent dispute, Uruguay earns a corner kick, on which centerback Diego Godin capitalizes with a header (that in fact bounces off his upper left back) to give his team a 1-0 lead (81′)

-a chaotic flow to the game ensues, as while Italy must press forward to look for an equalizer, the team also sustains a few dangerous counterattacks, that fortunately amount to nothing; until the game’s end five minutes into stoppage time, the Italian bench bickers and clamors vehemently–likely stemming from the red card shown to Marchisio and lack of one to Suarez by the referee–with one of the team’s trainers getting sent off, and other bench players and coaches helping to collect and pass balls to on-field Italians to speed up play; finally, about half a minute past the allotted five for injury, as every member of the Uruguayan coaching staff surrounds the line judge and frenziedly motion to their wrists to signal that the final whistle is overdue, the tense and frantic match concludes, as Uruguay advances to the knockout stages, and Italy fails to do so for the second consecutive time in the World Cup

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Godin (3) knocks in the go-ahead goal to vault Uruguay into the second round. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

World Cup Day 6: Brazil vs. Mexico Notes/Thoughts


Oscar (11) of Brazil and Oribe Peralta (19) of Mexico struggle for the ball, as both of their teams used physicality during the game. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Oscar (11) of Brazil and Oribe Peralta (19) of Mexico struggle for the ball, as both of their teams used physicality during the game. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

1st half:

*First 15 minutes…

-the Mexicans have matched the Brazilians’ aggressiveness in the early-going, and for the first few minutes, possessed the ball more in their offensive third of the pitch than in any other zone; the game has generally become more and more chippy

-flank attacks by Brazil–made up of connections between pressing fullbacks and midfielding wings–have gradually increased in dangerous nature, splitting into the Mexican goalmouth

*Minutes 15-30…

-several offside calls have now stalled Brazilian attacks, speaking to the strong and unified play in the back line of El Tri

-both teams have really begun to produce more goal-scoring opportunities, the bigger surprise coming with Mexico’s efficiency of invading Brazil’s goalie box–the Mexicans have not hesitated to fire shots at the goal and test Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar (close to but not on target)

*Last 15 minutes…

-the game has continued to rapidly shift from one offensive third of the pitch, to the other, though Brazil has still maintained the better side of possession (always by at least 10 percentage points) and shots/shots on target

-Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa has done a fantastic job against a potent Brazilian attack in the first half, warding off several shots and effectively interrupting opposing players’ chances

El Tri has instituted a very impactful gameplan–that includes an unyielding aggression and an opportunistic mindset–that has greatly contributed to a stunning halftime deadlock with powerhouse Brazil; essentially, Mexico–though still more defensive–has played as strong a game as possible, a notion that concerns every aspect of their team (from forwards to their goalkeeper), and especially when considering the opponent

2nd half:

*First 15 minutes…

-Mexico has surged to control the game in the early stages of the second half, especially in their offensive third in the pitch: the team has generated crisp and constructive ball movement, and has launched shots–unhindered by Brazilian defenders–near the top of the goalie box that have come dangerously close to entering the frame of the goal

-facing a squad that has forcefully adopted an offensive mentality, Brazil has consequently retreated in full strength back to defend, a situation they would hardly believe to find themselves in at the prior to the game

*Minutes 15-30…

-following a free kick that sails wide left on the 63rd minute, the Selecao seems to have retaken some control of this game in terms of possession, but nevertheless Mexico has still been able to push forward

-Brazil has threatened more and more as of late, piercing through the Mexican defense but failing to attain an adequate touch once a goal-scoring chance opens; Neymar nearly slots in a goal, but Mexican GK Ochoa comes to the rescue again

-the Brazilians have collectively become more composed, organized, and creative, to the point where it feels a goal is approaching

*Last 15 minutes…

-79th minute: Mexico receives a fantastic opportunity on a free kick at the top of box–resulting from a ferocious slide tackle by Thiago Silva on Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, that earns the former a yellow card–but squanders it with a lackluster strike that bounces off Brazil’s wall of players

-86th minute: a free kick cross from left side by Neymar finds a completely unmarked Thiago Silva, leaping just a few feet from the goal, who heads a shot straight at Ochoa, who quickly reacts and deflects it away

-as has been the case throughout the match, offensive pressure by both teams on goal has remained continuous, switching back and forth between threats by Brazil and Mexico

Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa (in blue) had the game of his life between the posts. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa (in blue) had the game of his life between the posts. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

End-game thoughts: In a match that stunned the soccer world, and after which criticism and uncertainty surrounding the Brazilian national team will surely intensify, Mexico could not have played a better game. The defense made little if any mistakes at all (the one exception: leaving Silva unchecked on an 86th minute cross), and did not surrender any ground or easy chances for their explosive counterparts. Although control of the match seemed destined to tilt Brazil’s way, the Mexican midfielders and forwards in large part made sure that was not the case by maintaining productive ball movement on Brazil’s side of the pitch, and generating several excellent goal-scoring chances and shots–particularly on a 25-minute onslaught to open the second half–and thus contributed to a fairly even possession percentage (53-47 Brazil). But above any other player on the field in Fortaleza, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was the unequivocal man of the match. With pivotal saves (six in total) on both near point-blank shots and precise placements on goal by Brazilian attackers, the Mexican goalkeeper played the biggest role in restraining the dynamic Brazilian offense and preserving a remarkable draw against the host nation.

After yet another underwhelming and questionable performance by his team, Luiz Felipe Scolari must alter his lineup in some way, whether in formation or more likely in the combination of players, and not retain the same one from this match, an approach he used following Brazil’s game against Croatia. It’s perplexing to see that he has not yet realized the relative inefficiency of his current setup, and even more so that he seemingly fails to understand how the group stages of the World Cup serve as the ideal circumstance to experiment and tinker with the way he sends out his team.

World Cup Day 5: United States vs. Ghana 2nd Half Notes

*First 15 minutes…

-Ghana has continued to maintain the greater offensive pressure of the two teams; nevertheless, the Black Stars have yet to develop a unified attack once inside the offensive zone of the field

-Bradley has still failed to establish his attacking creativity in the game, in addition to his subpar touch on the ball thus far

-starting at around the 54-minute mark, the Ghanaians develop two dangerous chances, the first a strike that nearly enters the top-left corner of the goal, and the second a header from another cross that sails above the goal; shortly after, another cross finds a Ghana player up top in the goalmouth who heads a ball wide of the goal–at this point, the team is itching for a goal (it just feels that a goal is approaching), and the U.S. will be very lucky to hold this score for the rest of the match

*Minutes 15-30…

-Jermaine Jones at last fires a shot on goal for the United States–the first one in a long period of time–coming at the 63rd minute

-the strain of playing defense for the majority of the game, and doing so in the humidity of Natal, has progressively worn out the entire USA squad–even the forwards, who have languished up top

-67th minute: Team USA grabs control of the ball, passes around among its defenders and then to Tim Howard in the back, who inexplicably lofts it ahead out of bounds near the midfield-line; the Americans must build off any instance of possession they have, and not stick to such an exhausting defensive mindset that includes clear-outs rather than constructive passes to teammates

-instead, a few minutes later, it seems that the American players have embraced this defense-first strategy; midfielders have retreated back to buffer the defensive line, adding to the persistent and effective challenges by the back four

-moving up and down the field on the right side, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has acted as somewhat of an unsung hero in this all-important match, valiantly fighting through obvious pain to remain on the field, until subbed out at the 77th minute

*Last 15 minutes…

-Ghana finally strikes on the 83rd minute, developing a nice run from the left side–where Dempsey netted a goal 82 long minutes ago–with nifty ball movement that leaves holes in the American defense for Andre Ayew to knock in the equalizer

-86th minute: when all hopes looked lost, the U.S. earns a corner amid a weak offensive push–the Graham Zusi corner finds substitute John Brooks at the top-center of the goalie box, who takes a quick step towards the ball and stunningly heads it into the back of the net, shocking himself as much as the USMNT faithful in the Natal stadium


Brooks (center-left) (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Brooks (left center) rescued his team four minutes after it yielded an equalizing goal to Ghana. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

End-game thoughts: In retrospect, Dempsey’s first-minute strike may have set the U.S. back, despite attaining a crucial early lead, as it prompted the Americans to play more complacently, and adopt a wholly-defensive mindset. Preservation of the lead was of top priority thereafter, suppressing any chances of employing creativity or experimenting on the offensive side. Luck played a significant factor as well, or at least the mediocrity of touch by Ghanaians on offense (which they had plenty of time on), as USA’s opponents completely lacked precision in crosses into the box and on shots; the Black Stars edged the U.S. in shot total (21-8), but in terms of those on target, the Americans had more (4-3), making such an effort by Ghana atrocious upon considering their 62-38% possession advantage. The USMNT should feel pretty fortunate to escape with a 2-1 mammoth victory on the heroics of defender John Brooks, as substandard performances by some players, as well as the questionable state of the Americans’ collective fitness, will introduce several concerns leading up to June 22nd’s match against Portugal. Michael Bradley, the midfield maestro supposed to lead this American squad, must take a bigger role in the U.S. attack with more touches, and better impose himself on and settle into future games. Also, Team USA will have to anxiously monitor the health of Jozy Altidore, who left the match with a strained hamstring, in addition to keeping an eye on left centerback Matt Besler, who was subbed out at halftime due to a hamstring injury as well.

World Cup Day 5: United States vs. Ghana 1st Half Notes

Dempsey (8) capped a lively opening-game spurt for the U.S.  with a goal. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Dempsey (8) capped an opening-game spurt for the U.S. with a goal. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

*First 15 minutes…

-Team USA offense pushes quickly upfield first, and finding the Ghanaian defense flat-footed, Clint Dempsey maneuvers his way from the left side straight towards the net and perfectly slots away a 1st-minute goal; the goal marks as about a perfect a start–and not a sluggish one like in past games–that the USMNT can have

-it simply cannot be stressed enough the significance of such a fantastically explosive start, and even though 89 more minutes remain, it appears that this starting XI [presents the best combination of players

-the Black Stars gradually begin to push back towards their offensive third of the pitch, but the American back line has resisted well so far with effective clear-outs, well-timed tackles, and proper positioning

-Ghana has possessed the ball much more after facing a deficit, and as a result of the quick ball distribution among their players, has already penetrated the U.S. goalie box a few times

*Minutes 15-30…

-the Ghanaians have really increased pressure offensively, seeking to create chances through crosses into the box

-19th minute: USA’s midfielders have fed balls to the flanks excellently so far in this game (an area of the field covered during a run that ended with the first goal), and a ground pass from the right wings find Jozy Altidore, who stutters a little too long to release a strong shot

-21st minute: off a tackle and then smart clearance moving upfield by Michael Bradley, Altidore sprints ahead to control the ball through the air, but apparently pulls his hamstring in the process and gets carried off the field in a stretcher–Aron Johannsson replace him in the right striker role, and American soccer fans hold their collective breath

-a worrying sign for Team USA, Ghana has now really grabbed control of this game and its tempo; a good amount of the action has occurred at the top edge of USA’s goalie box

*Last 15 minutes…

-Dempsey sustains a shot to the nose from a Ghanaian player’s leg (somewhat of a high kick, but interestingly not called a foul) and his subsequent bleeding delays the game; U.S. forwards have not exactly stayed healthy during this game

-right fullback DaMarcus Beasley has disappointed mightily in his area of the field; he has neither showed an adequate touch with the ball at his feet, nor has he pressured the attackers he’s marked well, allowing them space to have good lucks at the goal–furthermore, all the crosses by Ghana have come from the right flank where Beasley plays, signifying that he’s not patrolled his area well enough; later in first half stoppage time, Beasley moves ahead to attack, but leaves his man unchecked once Ghana counters (fortunately, no serious opportunity results)

-at the 42nd minute, the USMNT fields a nice counterattack, that creates a buzz among its supporters in the crowd, but concludes with a weak Johannsson shot that trickles into the hands of the Ghanaian goalkeeper

-over the entire course of the first half–notably apart from the first, extraordinary minute of action–the United States has barely produced any chemistry or cohesive ball movement in their offensive third, in large part due to insufficient time of possession in this side of the pitch; Ghana’s 60-40 possession percentage advantage feels larger on the field than in the boxscore, suggesting the need for midfielders–like the team’s fulcrum in Bradley–to better control the ball

World Cup Day 3: France-Honduras Notes

France vs. Honduras 

1st half:

*Through 15 minutes…

-the Hondurans have showed more aggressiveness than their opponents, feisty in 50-50 balls and sharply delivering passes between each other; overall, Los Catrachos have a little more energy in their movements

-France has slowly settled into this game, pushing the ball into the attacking third with intelligent passing and general on-ball skill–great control by the Frenchmen when having the ball at their feet; the team has leaned heavily towards the right flank, from which already a few crosses have originated, as well three free kicks (Benzema, for example, though in the center forward role, has drifted towards this area)

-the first close chance comes from a right-side cross, that bounces back to the top of the goalie box, where Blaise Matuidi collects the ball and fires a shot that the goalie barely gets a hand on, hitting the crossbar before going out for a corner

*Minutes 15-30…

-France has begun to use its height and size well, in a game progressively becoming more chippy; on the 26th minute, Paul Pogba engages in a struggle for the ball–who has so far dominated these kinds of plays–and gets nastily stomped on twice by Wilson Palacios while on the ground, to which Pogba violently retaliates with a kick (both players receive yellow cards)

-23rd minute: Pogba plays a smart ball towards the left wing, from which a cross comes that Antoine Griezmann heads off the crossbar

-25th minute: Les Bleus display a controlled counterattack, that concludes with a header sailing over the top of Honduran goal, a development that still includes positive signs of precise and cohesive passing combinations

*Last 15 minutes…

-the French back line has yielded few opportunities for Honduran attackers with utterly stout defensive play, as well as adding an ability to push the ball upfield; through one half, this unit has performed the best of any for France

-Benzema has underwhelmed in the first half of action, as his touch and awareness have been off–unlike his teammates behind him; furthermore, the striker has acted a tad selfishly and has not cooperated well with teammates up front

-Honduras will have to rely on counterattacking drives to have any chance of pressuring goal, but even then, French fullbacks have clogged attacks with deflections in this type of situation–another testament to the defense’s overpowering presence

-43th minute: Pogba is shoved in the back  and is thrown off the ball while in the goalie box, garnering a penalty attempt for his team (Palacios is also the culprit on this foul, getting a second yellow and forcing Honduras to play with 10 men)–Benzema coolly knocks it in (45′) to give France a 1-0 lead right before halftime

Celebrating after his penalty kick score, Benzema (10) played the striker position very efficiently. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Celebrating after his penalty kick score, Benzema (10) played the striker position very efficiently. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

-only minutes after a goal in stoppage time, France suffers a noteworthy setback: Yohan Cabaye gets booked, meaning two of the team’s three key center midfielders will play the second half with a yellow card to their name; moreover, Cabaye and Pogba will now have to make more judicious challenges and play cautiously in future games, as both of their skill sets are vital to France’s tournament prospects (keeping in mind that another yellow earns a suspension in the following match)

2nd half:

*First 15 minutes…

-France starts off the half composed, and after some connections in the midfield, a cross finds Benzema who smacks a shot off the post and seemingly into the goal; in the first true test of goal-technology, controversy remains as the ball may not have completely passed the goalie line, but nevertheless the goal stands (actually charged as an own goal by the Honduran goalkeeper) and hands the French a two-goal advantage

-rough and scrappy play continues to define 50-50 balls, as both sides have collectively accumulated six yellow cards in just the first 53 minutes (the game eventually ends with a total of seven yellows, a red, and 25 combined fouls)

-Honduras’s defense–lacking adequate support from midfielders–remains as porous as ever, leading to several more goal-scoring chances for Les Bleus as a result of their crafty ball movement, and especially on ground crosses slicing into the goalmouth

-coach Didier Deschamps makes the smart decision to sub out Pogba on the 57th minute, avoiding the risk of him playing with a yellow card, as well as resting the MF after having fulfilled the critical role of enforcer (strongly establishing both France’s physical and technical dominance)

*Minutes 60-75…

-perhaps the first mistake so far by the French back line creates a good look for an opposing attacker, yet even in this situation fellow defenders quickly close out and pressure the Honduran into an innocuous shot on goal

-winger Mathieu Valbuena smartly passes off a free kick on the flank to a teammate a the top of the goalie box, whose shot ricochets to Benzema, who clinically scores (72′) and attains a brace

Sakho (5) put forth a textbook defensive effort. (RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sakho (5) put forth a textbook defensive effort. (RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

*Last 15 minutes…

-left centerback Mamadou Sahko has in particular defended flawlessly and helped stifle any potential Honduran chances, his fantastic play becoming more and more evident through the course of the match; additionally, he showed the capacity late in the game to benefit the French offense with crisp, productive passes in the offensive third of the pitch

End-game thoughts: although French goal-scoring chances defined the flow of the game, it took most of the first half for Les Bleus to settle comfortably; after doing so, the team maintained its impeccable touch, made ball movement more fluid and inventive, and ultimately became more confident in terms of capitalizing on opportunities–of course, possessing a man-advantage helped tremendously as well, especially in the dominant second half performance

World Cup Day 3: Colombia-Greece Notes

Colombia vs. Greece

1st half:

Armero (7) started things off quickly with a 5th-minute strike. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Armero (7) started things off quickly with a 5th-minute strike. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

-considering that Greece readily welcomes (and usually effectively wards off) opposing offensive attacks with a stout defense, it’s surprising how easily the Colombians tore through their offensive third, and following connections within the opposing penalty box, found an open Pablo Armero to slice in the score; this development in the early-going could either speak to the underestimation of Los Cafeteros playing without star Radamel Falcao (retaining their CONMEBOL qualifying form so far), or to the persisting consideration and potential importance of the factor for teams playing the World Cup within their home continent

-after Colombia’s fifth-minute goal, the Greeks seem to have woken up, and for the time thereafter maintain possession and hold the ball away from an explosive opposing attack for most of the half (notably grabbing back the better side of possession percentage, and leading in the category 56-44 by halftime)

-though not necessarily having great technical proficiency, Greece has generated some noteworthy offensive attacks (all of which slow-developing and devoid of any urgency) albeit abruptly ending in the Colombian penalty box, in addition to hunkering down on the defensive end of the pitch and only yielding a few counterattacking opportunities–typifying how Greece’s entire team always operates; so by smoothly executing their gameplan in the first half, the Greeks have shown the scoreboard to be deceptive, playing better through 45 minutes than their foes

2nd half:

-the Colombians have regained their offensive focus in the early parts of the half, pressuring upfield once more; after the Greece is booked for two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes (losing control of the game), Los Cafeteros capitalize on a corner kick (58′) as striker Teofilo Gutierrez situates himself in the opportune place to tap in a score

-the Greeks show signs of offensive life in a reaction to the 2-nil deficit, and combine for a fantastic opportunity that ends when a header smacks off the crossbar

-with about 15 minutes remaining in the contest, Colombian coach Jose Pekermen inserts Jackson Martinez up top, subbing out Gutierrez–another dangerous offensive weapon (and potential WC breakout star) without which his team still somehow managed to accomplish a 2-0 lead; perhaps Pekermen should alter his lineup to include both of his exceptional strikers in the near future

-icing on the cake comes when 22-year old James Rodriguez connects on the third minute of stoppage time against a dispirited Greek defense (3-0 Colombia)

End-game thoughts: entering its first game of the WC, Colombia could have easily hit a roadblock in a defensively dominant Greek team, especially after having to compensate for and adjust to the absence of goal-poacher Falcao (something they have not dealt with in major tournaments); although out-possessed and slightly out-played by Greece, the Colombians have discovered that their prolific offensive play and cohesiveness in the attack, along with a strong counter-attacking ability, will carry them in this tourney

-also of noteworthy recognition: South American teams have now posted an impressive 3-0 record in the World Cup, a mark they’ll likely push to four before the day ends after a Uruguay-Costa Rica match

World Cup Day 2: Notes

Peralta (19) was in the right place at the right to knock in the go-ahead score. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Peralta (19) was in the right place at the right to knock home the go-ahead score. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico vs. Cameroon

1st half:

-the rain poured down from the start in Natal, and sporadically increased, having at least some effect on the players on the field; nevertheless, it did not impede the Mexican ball movement, as passes remained sharp and crisp

-at first, Mexico’s offensive incursion into the Cameroonian defense was met with little resistance, only the Mexicans could not convert on any chances, much less take assertive strikes on goal; once The Indomitable Lions pressed back on a counter-attack, they gradually developed more opportunities, and possession evened out just a bit more

-referee gaffes played a big part in WC Day 1 headlines, and in Day 2’s early game, they have unequivocally robbed El Tri of two goals; both a result of  flagrantly incorrect offside calls, the first came on a perfectly curled ball that met a running Giovani dos Santos who coolly slotted it home, and the second from a corner kick that skipped off a defender’s head to dos Santos in an offside position (of course, offside occurs only when another teammate passes the ball)

2nd half:

-after failing to show the extra push to cap off several dangerous attacks for 60 minutes, El Tri and the rest of Mexico can finally exhale after Oribe Peralta cleaned up on a deflection off an initially-parried dos Santos shot at the 61st minute; produced out of game-long, efficient, unified ball movement, the goal was more than deserved by the team

-Cameroon has sprung animatedly to life in the last 10-15 minutes of the game, puncturing through the Mexican defense and generating chances too close for comfort; the Mexicans could have easily capitalized on a few promising counterattacks in this period, but ultimately escape with a 1-0 victory


Spain vs. Netherlands 

1st half:

-Spanish have attempted several long passes in the air to forward Diego Costa during the early stages

-runs by fullbacks Cesar Azpilicueta (who particularly has so far impressed and fit well with teammates in his first WC action) and Jordi Alba have buttressed the Spanish attack, and consequently allowed for more possession in the offensive third of the field

-despite showing considerable control on the game, Spain commits a mistake, leading to a Dutch through ball that catches Wesley Sneijder behind the defense–he fails to accurately place his shot, with a look that should have been converted into a goal

-26th minute: Spain is awarded a penalty shot, that Xabi Alonso barely slots home under the extended glove of the Dutch goalie, a product of the team progressively piercing through the opposing defense; pedantic, incessant, and harmonious ball movement has lead to truly dangerous opportunities, but only after the team had settled itself in the contest (around the 15-minute mark)

-44th minute: seemingly out of nowhere, Robin van Persie explodes off his man and meets a cross originating close to the spot where the midfield line and sideline meet, and flawlessly heads the ball into the net, leaving GK Iker Casillas motionless; only minutes apart from the halftime whistle, the Dutch have completed the necessary job of capitalizing on one of their breakaway chances (disparate from the methodical and slow offensive style of their opponents) in order to stay competitive

2nd half:

-the Dutch D/MF once again quickly turns a minor Spanish mistake into a fast-break opportunity: Arjen Robben receives the pass in the space in the middle of Spain’s back four, and then creates room for himself to score (53′) on a slightly-deflected strike; akin to its previous goal, the Dutch attack has simply outrun the opposing defense–catching it off guard and flat-footed–en route to landing fantastic chances in the goalie box

-64th minute: a defensive weakness on set pieces factors into a Dutch goal off a free kick coming in from the left side, as the Spaniards cannot clear out the cross (3-1 Netherlands)

-72th minute: an uncharacteristic error by Casillas (losing control of his touch on a regular pass-back to the goalie) leaves van Persie with an open shot on goal, contributing to this all-too-stunning development of the game, as the Netherlands has turned the most anticipated group stage game (and 2010 Finals rematch) into a shocking blowout (4-1 Netherlands)

A 4-goal performance by the Dutch left Spain embarrassed. (JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

A 4-goal performance by the Dutch left Spain embarrassed. (JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

-80th minute: in a game that will likely go down as one of the most unprecedented debacles in World Cup history, mainstay captain Casillas has again poorly played a Dutch attack within the box, as Spain concedes yet another goal (5-1 Netherlands); the Spanish might have to seriously consider replacing Casillas–who has looked like a shell of his former, unyielding self–going into the next match against Chile

-in retrospect, goals that resulted from Dutch speed exposed an unstable and even porous Spanish defense (as well as a midfielding group that did not adequately retreat back enough to help), but the display in Salvador revealed even more about the Netherlands’s counterattacking might–and the potency they have to truly impact this tournament, in addition to putting themselves in position to win Group B

-slippery terrain from continual rain probably disturbed Spain’s tempo as well: while still maintaining a strong 64% percentage of possession, the usual passing expertise was visibly disrupted; nevertheless, changes might have to come to La Furia Roja’s lineup, that failed to operate with the same functionality seen in prior major tourneys

Florida vs. UCLA- Second Half Notes

Wilbekin (5) powered his team towards the end of the contest.

Wilbekin (5) powered his team towards the end of the contest.

-Gator guard Michael Frazier II lead the way for his team in terms of point-scoring (nine points) in the opening half, but as his sharpshooting performance translates into the second half, Frazier’s play takes on even greater significance; draining two threes within the first three minutes of the half pushed the lead to seven for the Gators, but in the greater scheme of things, Frazier has helped his team consistently retain a comfortable advantage over the Bruins throughout the game

-the Bruins have displayed great resolve in their first encounter with a double-digit deficit (at the 15:53 mark)

  • after a Bruins timeout, top regular season scorer Jordan Adams converts a layup and a three-pointer in a span of thirty seconds, cutting the Gator lead to six
  • this instance also highlights UCLA’s overall style of play and mentality in this matchup: continually playing from behind, but not allowing Florida to develop too much of a rhythm and hot streak in order to pull away–now the Bruins must pounce on an opportunity to further tighten this contest

-Florida’s foul trouble–center Patric Young and guard Casey Prather each a foul away from fouling out–really puts the squad out of its comfort zone; around the time of the absence of the two aforementioned players from the court, UCLA cuts Florida’s lead to 56-55 at the 10:04 mark, going on a 9-2 in a 2:05 span

-but the Gators respond in the most powerful of ways, jump-starting a 10-0 run themselves, stretching from the 10:04 to 5:34 marks in the second half

-Gator point guard Scottie Wilbekin leads the way in this impactful effort, as well as beyond the run and for the remainder of the game:

  • the experienced and tested senior has undoubtedly taken command late in the contest, beginning at 6:19, when he knocks down a triple; he then follows it up by converting a layup and free throw on the contact
  • Wilbekin then banks in a circus-shot in heavy traffic–that makes him 3-3 on field goals with eight points in the final seven minutes of the game
  • there cannot be a more auspicious sign for the Gators than for a senior like Wilbekin to rise up and ice the game; perhaps a newfound sense of mental strength of the senior core–unlike Florida’s previous Elite Eight teams–can now will the Gators further in the tournament than in the past seasons

Final Score: Florida 79 UCLA 68


Florida vs. UCLA- First Half Notes

Florida's Patric Young and UCLA's Travis Wear battle to win the opening tip in Thursday's Sweet Sixteen matchup. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Florida’s Patric Young and UCLA’s Travis Wear battle to win the opening tip in Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

-both teams start the game off playing very sloppy, indicated by the boxscore in terms of turnover numbers but also by a simple “eye test’; watching the game, one can observe the dysfunctional and messy play–it’s a frantic pace, that in the early-going, appeared more detrimental than productive for both teams (by the end of the first half, the teams have seven turnovers apiece)

-yet both the Gators and Bruins begin to settle into, and attain a feel for, the stage shortly after a sloppy set of opening minutes

  • UCLA composes itself first, even in time to grab a three-point lead at about seven minutes into the first half
  • effective and sharp ball movement on offense keys a Florida surge, allowing the Gators to impose themselves as the stronger team and the one which will seemingly possess the lead for the most part in this game; they embark on a 13-2 run in a 4:10 span midway through the opening half

-both UF and UCLA extremely willing to hoist up shots from seemingly anywhere near the three-point line; fits the “free style” exhibited by both squads in the opening half–UCLA starts to shy away from this tendency towards the end of the half

-despite a mid-first half surge by Florida, UCLA shows the ability to remain close with their opponents and fighting back from deficits it has faced; a balanced effort across the entire Bruin squad–six players have at least four points–has allowed it to keep pace with the tournament’s number one overall seed

-as the first half is in the books, Florida’s six-point advantage going into intermissions has come in large part due to three-point shooting–launching 13 shots from beyond the three-point line and converting five of them (compared to UCLA’s two), and a rebounding edge (a +7 margin in Florida’s favor)

-foul trouble (ten personal fouls for UCLA and eight for Florida) has also served as a hindrance to both teams’ tempos, possible bottling up explosiveness on both ends of the court

Halftime score: Florida 36 UCLA 30

(14) UCLA vs. (17) ASU: 2nd Half Notes

3rd Quarter

A mishandled snap gave UCLA momentum in the 2nd half. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

A mishandled snap gave UCLA momentum in the 2nd half. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

-UCLA quickly seizes control of the quarter: after Brett Hundley guides his team to an opening-drive touchdown relying predominantly on pass plays, the Bruins get their share of good fortune–ASU suffers a punting gaffe, that sets UCLA up in the red zone; a few plays later, the Bruins capitalize and reduce their opponent’s lead even further to 35-27

-(7:57) putting their special teams mistake behind them, the Devils then go on another lengthy offensive drive–eating up nearly seven minutes on 13 plays–that results in a field goal, cushioning Arizona State’s lead

-the Bruins usually strike quickly on their scoring-drives, but there’s no question that ASU’s significant advantage in time of possession has proved essential to its current lead; not only does it keep UCLA’s prolific offense off the field, but it gives the Sun Devils a psychological edge as well

4th Quarter

-(11:25) Brett Hundley engineers another touchdown drive (beginning in the 3rd quarter) in which the air attack is emphasized once again; the series also includes a gutsy 4th-down call around midfield–UCLA converts, sustaining the drive that would eventually reap five points (a failed two-point conversion makes the score 38-33 ASU)

-following a punt after just five offensive plays, the Sun Devils defense has become noticeably worn out, and is missing more and more tackles on its next defensive stand; yet despite the Bruins tearing through ASU’s defense, their drive stalls and ultimately yields no points–after reaching the Sun Devil seven-yard line, Hundley gets sacked for the sixth time, leading to the Bruins’s second missed field-goal of the day (4:38)

-Arizona State is unable to keep the ball long enough to run out the clock on their next possession, punting the ball to the Bruins who have 3:21 to overcome a 38-33 deficit–more than possible with UCLA’s rapidly explosive offense

-the most important offensive drive of the season for the Bruins starts with a familiar feeling–a sack of Brett Hundley; the quarterback passes his way to a first down, but the Sun Devil pass rush/defensive front has already made its mark: UCLA’s offensive line commits two consecutive holding penalties because of quarterback pressure, and after a few incomplete passes and yet another sack, the Bruins turn the ball over on downs (0:05)

Todd Graham notched his signature win at ASU on Saturday night. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Todd Graham notched his signature win at ASU on Saturday night. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


  • what better way to win a Pac-12 South clinching game, than to do so with the defensive line and pass rush–that has certainly underwhelmed this year–finally coming to life
  • Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly continues to prove how underrated he truly is, this time thoroughly out-dueling the more popularized and celebrated Brett Hundley, the opposing quarterback; Kelly also finally proved his top-rate ability in a high-profile game on a national stage
  • this win is easily ASU head coach Todd Graham’s signature victory of his tenure at the university, coming only in his second year with the team
  • though they have secured a spot in the Pac-12 championship, the Sun Devils cannot let up now–by beating in-state rival Arizona Wildcats a week from today, Arizona State would then host the conference championship at home, meaning a much better opportunity to clinch an elusive Rose Bowl bid