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As finals go, this was a damn good one. Too often these are tentative affairs where no-one is willing to take a risk so no-one does anything effective. Instead, both sides attacked for a good proportion of the time (Germany more than Argentina)  but both sides had strong and well organised defences that dealt with most attacks before they really got going - shots were 10/7 for Germany and 10/2 for Argentina.

It was concerning to see an obviously concussed Kramer sent back on, only to be taken off about 15 minutes later, visibly distressed and disoriented but then I suppose the stakes were high. It was good to see Messi regain some of his running form - ironically, he scored no goals in this game but I think this was probably the closest to peak performance that I have seen from him all tournament. I suspect that that, had Di Maria been playing, this would have been a very different game. Germany took advantage of every opportunity and when a slim one finally came, Goetze put home the only goal of the game in the 113th minute.

Suddenly it was done - Germany are World Champions and Argentina are runners-up. Probably a fitting result, considering the form of all the teams in the tournament with Germany scoring the most goals and Argentina conceding the fewest.
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Luckily for Brazil, Netherlands weren't as clinical as Germany in their finishing or this could well have ended up 7-1 again. Sadly, Brazil's defence was still all at sea, even with Thiago Silva back but the Netherlands attack just wasn't as lethal as Germany's - mind you, at 17 minutes down, Brazil were already 2 goals down and it was looking like it could go the same way again. I had said earlier that I hoped the Netherlands didn't win any games off a Robben dive but to all intents and purposes, they did in this game. Not that it was the final goal but rather it was the first goal and it was so early (just the second minute) that it quite simply deflated Brazil. They became so nervous that it was going to be the semifinal all over again that almost everyone lost confidence in their own abilities.

It was similar in some ways to that game - David Luiz messed up time and again, both in defence (where he handed the second goal to the Netherlands after a terrible defensive blunder) and also in attack where all of his much vaunted free kick prowess simply evaporated. Also like the semifinal, one of the few Brazilian players who finished this game with any credit to his name was Oscar who ran and junked and twisted and crossed and shot  but all to no avail as the rest of the attack (Willian, Jo, Ramirez and Hulk, once substituted on) just slumbered on.

Robben did get booked for diving (finally!) but then it became very much a game of "Kick The Robben" as the Brazilians knew that he couldn't dive again and risk getting sent off but any time they did foul him, they could simply claim a dive. He did get a few more free kicks but he must have finished that game very sore - isn't karma a bastard, Arjen?

The game finished 0-3 to Netherlands so they finish third and Brazil finished fourth - but I imagine that the blood-letting wont stop for years in that Brazilian team!
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I realise that, in the heat of the moment, commentators say silly things but these two gems really stand out for me:

  1. After James Rodriguez' first goal vs Uruguay "That's a goal that you could pour over your strawberries on a warm summer night ...... *awkward pause* ..... uh, because it is the cream of the goals ..... uh, the cream. Anyway ..... " Even he knew he had gone a step too far!

  2. Five minutes before the end of the Brazil vs Germany semifinal "We've only five minutes to go and Brazil just need to get seven to take this game into extra time." There was a very long pause afterwards - again, even he had to figure that a statement like that was just ridiculous.

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If yesterday was the pleasure, today was the pain. This was a dour, dull struggle between two water-tight defences that didn't shift an inch. Between both teams for the entire 120 minutes (because yes, this went to extra time, not to mention penalties), there were just 8 shots on target, almost none of which were serious chances. With all the attacking brilliance of Robben and Messi and Sneijder and Higuain and van Persie and, well you get the picture, it was a monotonous trail of easily repelled attacks from both sides.

When the penalties finally sorted it (2-4 to Argentina) I was relieved more than anything because this probably one of the dullest matches of the competition to date.

So, the final is Germany vs Argentina and the 3/4 play-off is Brazil vs Netherlands.
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Shocked and stunned! Stunned and shocked! Who would have thought that Brazil would be utterly demolished by half-time and then toyed with to the point of humiliation in the second half? I thought that Brazil might have struggled a bit in attack without Neymar but I didn't imagine that Thiago Silva's loss would be the one that completely destroyed the coherence of the team.
Much waffle follows. )
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Looking like the most one-sided of the the quarter finals, this was the only one that went not only to extra time but also to penalties. The well-marshalled Costa Rica defence frustrated everything that Netherlands threw at it though, at times, it was only by the skin of their teeth (and the paint of the crossbar or upright). The imbalance between the two teams was enormous with shots (20/15 to 6/3), corners (11 to 1) and possession (64% to 36%) all adding up to a picture of Netherlands dominance from beginning to end. Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder all bombarded the goal with shots and either Navas saved it or the woodwork did his work for him. The game finished 0-0 so it was on to extra time.

This began much as the regular time had with Netherlands raiding at will but suddenly Costa Rica woke up and had two agonizingly close shots blocked. Just seconds before extra time finished, van Gaal managed to get Krul (a renowned penalty stopper) substituted on for Cillessen. Extra time finished 0-0 so it was down to penalties.

Van Gaal's tactical genius shone through as Krul saved 2 of the 5 Costa Rica penalties whilst Netherlands scored all of their first 4 so they won 4-3 on penalties.

Netherlands play Argentina in the second semifinal. Given the ease that Costa Rica's defence dealt with the Netherlands attack, I'd think that Argentina would go through to the final.
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A wonderful reflex shot from Higuain in just the 8th minute put Argentina into an early lead. Belgium never really generated much of a reply as Argentina's defence easily dealt with anything Belgium tried. Di Maria went off injured so the Argentina attack became even more reliant on Messi and he stepped up to the mark with a free kick that only just went over the bar. Belgium's sole significant chance went begging as Mirallas headed wide.

The second half saw much of the same with Huguain having two more close attempts early, Courtois dealing with both well. Belgium finally got some attacks strung together and produced a fine save off Romero to avoid a deflected own goal from Garay. The Argentina defence tightened up still further and Belgium never really looked threatening again. Surprisingly, almost every Belgium attack for about the last twenty minutes was via the classic long ball - a tactic that a skilled and disciplined defence like Argentina's had no trouble dealing with at all. Messi very nearly scored Argentina's second but yet another fine save from Courtois kept the score to 1-0.

Argentina are through to their first semifinals since 1990.
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This was a great game, with two sides willing to attack unceasingly on the philosophy of "the winner is the team that scores the most" (as opposed the more common "concedes the least"). A surprising early goal from Thiago Silva put Brazil in front, with strong signs that Brazil had finally found their rhythm. This was born out by the rest of the first half as Brazil utterly dominated, only Ospina's repeated saves keeping Colombia in the game.

Colombia came out in much better form in the second half and troubled Brazil a couple of times. Just as it looked as if Colombia might equalize, a thunderous David Luiz free kick put Brazil two in front. This fired up Colombia even more and a sustained period of pressure finally resulted a a goal for Colombia (admittedly from a penalty, taken by James Rodriguez) so the last 10 minutes was a frantic Colombia raiding/Brazil defending interchange but Brazil held out to finish 2-1.

Brazil face Germany in the first semifinal. I would be quite confident for Brazil after these two quarterfinals but for the fact that Brazil will be missing both captain Thiago Silva (suspended) and star striker Neymar (injured after a clattering challenge into his back which appears to have fractured a vertebra).
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This was exactly the game that you might expect from these two teams - tight football, not too many errors and not too many opportunities for either side. The game had a surprisingly early goal - from Germany when Hummels headed in a Kroos cross off the underside of the cross bar (whoa, far too many "cross"-es in that last sentence). Germany took control after that but it was the German keeper Neuer that had to fend off a Valbuena shot to keep the score the same at half time.

France came out after the break and really took it to Germany but with no result. However, France was doing well defensively, repeatedly cutting out the final German ball. On the other hand, they weren't doing that well up the other end - and, on the rare occasions that they did, Neuer was having another one of days when he could do no wrong. In the dying moments, Neuer showed just how true that was when he kept out a close range Benzema shot that could have equalized the score.

Germany goes on the the semifinals yet again off a narrow 1-0 scoreline. France can go home at least partially redeemed after their miserable 2010 World Cup performance.
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Given that all the quarter finalists are decided, I thought I would look at each of the teams left and see how well they are performing.
Utterly subjective opinions follow. )
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On paper, this was possibly the most imbalanced game of the second round and yet it was close all the way. Belgium benefited by an enormous margin on all attacking statistics (shots 38/27 to 14/9, corners 19-4) despite USA dominating possession 53% to 47%. What this boiled down to was that USA often held possession for a while but was curiously unable to do much in the last third whereas Belgium hurtled up the field time and again and fired away at goal (that 38/27 statistic may well be the highest of the tournament so far, certainly it is for this round). Once there though Belgium were facing Tim Howard who was yet another goalkeeper playing the game of his life, pulling off save after save (16 of them, in fact). Stunningly, this meant the the game finished 0-0 and it was on to extra time.

In the first half of extra time, USA's luck finally deserted them with Belgium scoring twice. USA finally started attacking, ironically in what was probably their best attacking football and they scored in the 107th minute. Now it was Belgium that looked vulnerable and USA kept up a relentless pressure on them until the end of the game. Sadly, this never evolved into a second goal and so it finished 2-1 to Belgium.

Belgium face Argentina in the last quarter final and USA go home after a relatively successful World Cup campaign for a team expected to perform well below their world ranking (14 before the start of the the tournament).
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I was surprised at the result of this game - not by who won it but by how hard Argentina found it to do what was predicted. Well organised Switzerland defence meant that Argentina never really had a good chance for the entire first half where Switzerland themselves came close, never better than Xhaka's chance in 29th minute. Romero not only saved that but kept the follow-up shot out too. First half finished 0-0.

The second half briefly started the same as the first half with a good chance to Drmic and then the Argentina machine finally clicked into gear. The strength of the Switzerland defence was put to the test as Argentina dominated (possession 61% to 39%. shots 29/22 to/14/7 and corners 13 to 5) in every way possible but the vital one. Second half also finished 0-0 and so it was on to extra time.

Extra time continued on exactly as the second half with Argentina fairly battering at Switzerland's defence. Just as it looked like penalties, the Messi-Di Maria combo paid off again, this time with Messi as provider and Di Maria scoring off a lovely curving drive. With only two minutes left, it looked like it was too late for Switzerland but they had one final chance to Dzemaili who sadly just couldn't quite get his strike home.

Argentina won 1-0 but it was a close, hard-fought thing and they should consider themselves lucky to have got through.
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Another second round game where the result was as expected but the pathway there was not as smooth as the scoreline suggests. The first half was very much Algeria's as they did most of the running and much of the attacking. On several occasions, it was only Neuer's anticipation and sprint speed over short distances that kept Algeria at bay. Mind you, he is known as one the new generation of keeper-sweepers so that is not too surprising. Even so, there were occasions where it really was a close call. However, Algeria rarely got behind him so the first half finished 0-0.

Clearly, Germany had copped a real talking-to over the half-time break because they came out transformed and re-energised. Germany really dominated possession (63%/37%) from this time on and came close on a number of occasions. As always, Algeria came back at them from about the 75th minute with Feghouli, Slimani and Soudani all having shorts (or crosses) stopped by Neuer. The second half finished 0-0 so it was on to extra time.

Germany really stepped up yet another gear and dominated extra time from beginning to end with Schurrle finally scoring with a delightfully flicked shot going past Mbolhi. Ozil added a second, just to make sure but Algeria still didn't give in and finally got a goal through Djabou in the dying seconds of extra time but it was too little too late.

The game finished 2-1 to Germany and put them through to a quarter final against France.
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For a good proportion of the first half, Nigeria were the dominant team by a long shot but often lacked punch in the last third. It was also a very congested game because of the French high pressing strategy that often meant all 20 infielders were compressed into the central third of the pitch. The result was that even though Nigeria may have often started moves, they gave possession away time and again. The French attack was sadly lacking so that, even though they often got possession back from Nigeria quite quickly, they were also unable to penetrate the Nigerian defence often. When they did, the Nigerian goalkeeper Enyeama was in great form. Consequently, the first half finished 0-0 (though Nigeria did have a goal ruled out for a very close offside).

The second half saw a change as France slowly asserted itself, particularly after Griezmann came on in the 62nd minute. Despite two world-class saves from Enyeama, France eventually broke though, sadly as a consequence of a rare Enyeama error as Pogba headed home a feebly cleared cross. Nigeria really had no effective response and the own goal from Yobo merely sealed Nigeria's own fate. Result was a 2-0 victory to France.

Sad to see Nigeria go because they can be a very exciting team at times but they were second best in front of goal today
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The first half was dull as Greece sought to blunt the Costa Rica attack by slowing the game down to a crawl. Greece was successful in doing this as the half finished 0-0. Of course, it also meant that Greece barely had a shot on target too.

After the break, the game eased up a little as both sides started to get attacks going. The weight of Costa Rica attacks eventually told and Ruiz scored in the 52nd minute. Greece barely even responded until the red card for Duarte in the 66th minute. This eventually roused them out of their slumber and the game became increasingly desperate for Costa Rica as Greece launched raid after raid though generally without an effective shot on target to finish off. Almost within sight of qualifying, Costa Rica finally conceded, after withstanding a veritable barrage of shots from Greece(24/13 to 6/2). The 91st minute equalizer was so late that there was nothing that Costa Rica could do to respond so the game finished 1-1.

In extra time, the Greeks were far and way the dominant team and thundered shot after shot on the Costa Rica goal (it felt like the majority of Greece shots were from this period of time). No-one really had a great chance so it finished still 1-1.

The penalty shootout was the usual lottery but very accurate Costa Rica shooting (they didn't miss a single penalty) meant that they won, 5-3 on penalties.

Costa Rica now meets Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
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This game was a prime example for the changeability of a game over time. The Dutch keeper Cillessen had a horror start to this game and every time the ball went near him, I cringed to see just what he wound do but he eventually settled down without conceding a goal. Mexico kept up a steady stream of attacks and always looked the team more likely to score but even the Netherlands were not without chance. Despite all the action, the first half finished 0-0.

After the break, the same pattern reasserted itself and soon paid off for Mexico with Dos Santos scoring a goal damn near as good as James Rodriguez's yesterday. The Dutch really didn't have much response to this but gradually stepped up the pace and a steady stream of corners followed, slowly building the pressure on Mexico. Mexico definitely looked to have won when a thundering drive from Sneijder finally rammed home off one of those innumerable corners. The Mexicans were shell-shocked but looked to be thinking that it was close enough to the end of the game to hold on. Stunningly, in the 94th minute, Robben took a dive was taken down in the penalty area. Huntelaar scored the penalty for a stunning victory to Netherlands - but by the skin of their teeth.

Don't get me wrong, I like Robben as a player and there two things I like and one I don't about his play. I like those wide, high-speed raiding runs down the wings and I like the cut across the top of the penalty area. I don't like the dive that he takes - this was blatantly a dive and I think they should name the dive "the Robben", just like they name distinctive moves in gymnastics after the person that originated and perfected that move.

Still Netherlands goes through 2-1.
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In a somewhat similar start to the Brazil-Chile game, this started as a real hack fest and I was starting to wonder if Uruguay had returned to the bad old days when they were certainly one of the hardest sides in South America. They really didn't present much of an attacking threat and their defence was containing the Colombia forwards well - that is, until the irrepressibly James Rodriguez popped up and scored what has to be the goal of the tournament so far. That really changed the game for Uruguay who just had to come out now and attack. Suddenly, they looked vulnerable at the back and a little ineffective up front, despite the valiant efforts of Cavani who seemed to be the only dedicated striker. I will say it and say it just once - they really did look flat in attack without Suarez but then no team should ever be about just one person. The first half finished 1-0 to Colombia.

The second half was much the same as the first and who should score again but James Rodriguez who scored from close range after a wonderful sweeping team move. There was still plenty of time to play but Colombia increasingly retreated into an 11-man defence and at times risked letting Uruguay muscle and blast their way back into the game. Just as that happened, Ospina stepped up and pulled off a series of saves that denied Uruguay any joy in front of goal. The game finished 2-0 to Colombia so they will face Brazil in the quarter finals.

This was a great game to watch and a wonderful advert for the game with so much attacking potential on display in both teams.
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For a few minutes there I thought that this was going to become a classic hack fest with a "If in doubt, kick out" philosophy but both sides settled down to actually kick the ball rather than each other. The Brazil attack was in full swing fast, with Marcelo coming close early in the game. Chile really didn't get much rhythm going before David Luiz (or was it Jara?) scored the first Brazilian goal. Brazil continued to hammer home and it looked likely they would score a second, only for a careless defensive play to let Sanchez in with a relatively easy shot on goal. 1-1 it was and that's how the half finished.

The second half saw Chile gradually get going and eventually gain the ascendancy. However, for all that gain, Chile just couldn't get the ball in the back of the net and Brazil's defence scrambled across time and again to clear their goal. I know that a scrambling defence is a compliment in Rugby League but it wasn't here as Chile repeatedly tore Brazil's defence into rags. Somehow there was always a defender there or Julio Cesar made another great save. Brazil also raided at times but the second half was overwhelmingly Chile's. Hulk was probably the only Brazil player to really stand up and be counted (I was going to try for a "smash" joke in there but managed to restrain myself). The game finished 1-1 so it was on to extra time.

Extra time was a bit frantic with Brazil coming hard at Chile, with Hulk providing what was the only really good chance from players on both sides. Extra time finished 1-1.

Penalties it was and, as always, it was all a bit of a lottery. Brazil eventually came through 3-2.
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Best Goal - Messi's goal against Iran, though Villa's against Australia might be up there for sheer cheek.
Worst missed goal - Probably Busquets' missed "tap in" against Chile.
Most sentimental goal - Cahill's thumper against Netherlands, simply because this is the end for most of that squads's international careers so to go out on that note is great.
Funniest goal - Not sure if it is funny or sad but Akinfeev's fumble against Korea Republic might be a contender.
Best use of new technology - No, not the goal line cameras but the soluble white foam - a wonderful antidote to the creeping free kick (both kicker and wall) phenomena. I was just watching some 1990 replays and it was so common an issue that no-one even bothered to pretend after a while.
Outstanding player - There are number in close running but I think it has to be Messi for his wonderful consistency. There are others who show the occasional flash of even greater brilliance but is just that - occasional.
Most disappointing player - Wayne Rooney again - he was my pick in 2010 too! Sadly, Christiano Ronaldo comes a close second. Suarez for sheer stupidity, of course, but he actually played well until he decided to do his own Hannibal Lecter impression.
Dullest game - not really a game but that Opening Ceremony was so bad it both sucked and blew simultaneously.
Most surprising - For me it had to be the Spain vs Netherlands game. To watch the World Cup holders just torn apart in what I thought would have been a tight close game was definitely a sight to see. The Costa Rica vs Italy game would have been a bigger surprise if it were not for that fact that Costa Rica had already beaten Uruguay who were playing much better than Italy.
Flattest team - Interesting because last time it was between Italy and France - this time it is Italy (again) and Spain but near impossible to pick. I am inclined to Spain since they were the reigning World Cup holders and also because they were eliminated after the second group game. At least Italy were still in the mix until that last game.
Punching above their weight - This has to be Costa Rica who not only finished unbeaten at the top of their group but beat two previous World Cup holders and drew with a third.
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Both teams had a chance to qualify out of this game so both had plenty of reasons to score goals - and it started early with Russia getting the first after just 6 minutes. It might just qualify as the best headed goal of the tournament so far with Kokorin fairly slamming in the header. Algeria and Russia essentially alternated attacks for the rest of the first half with both sides coming close on a number of occasions. The half finished 0-1 to Russia. The sense of pressure on Algeria was evident at the start of the second half and they very nearly conceded a second goal - however, Mbohli stopped the shot well. In the 60th minute Algeria's attack finally clicked and Slimani scored the equaliser. The Russians very nearly pulled the lead back just ten minutes later but Mbohli came to the rescue again, skilfully stopping a Kerzhakov shot. With their supporters roaring them on, Algeria maintained the scoreline, though not without some close calls as Russia attacked again and again. The game finished 1-1.

This meant that Algeria were through in second place with Russia in third. Great game and a pulsating contest throughout.

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