World Cup: Groups C and D decided today

Posted: 06/24/2014 by levcohen in Soccer

Yesterday’s games were for the most part unexciting if not boring. In Group B, Spain beat Australia in the only entirely meaningless game while Chile-Holland was listless in the first half, with the Netherlands scoring two late goals and condemning Chile to another round of 16 matchup with big bad Brazil. In Group A, there was a second where you thought Croatia might beat Mexico, but Mexico was the better team throughout. There was also a second where you thought Cameroon could take a point against Brazil, but then reality set in and Brazil cruised. After Mexico’s three quick goals, there was even a second where you thought Mexico could sneak past Brazil and win the group on goal differential. But then Brazil scored again and Mexico conceded a goal to Croatia, and the group ended the way it should: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon. That’s not to say that Brazil was particularly good in the group stage, because they really weren’t. But they were still the best team in the group. These results set up two intriguing round of 16 matchups: Brazil against Chile, and the Dutch against Mexico. Brazil should beat Chile, but both games should be exciting.

Colombia is almost certain to top Group C, as they have a +4 goal differential (the only threat, Ivory Coast, has a 0 goal differential). They have looked very good against Greece and Ivory Coast, and should get at least a point against Japan. That would eliminate Japan, who have one point from two games and need three points to have any chance of advancing. That makes the game between Greece and Ivory Coast an elimination game. Since Ivory Coast has two more points than Greece, they have the advantage of being able to settle for a tie. And a tie or Ivory Coast win seems likely, if only because Greece has not yet been able to put the ball in the net. They have almost no playmakers, and have been very flat offensively. That obviously needs to change if Greece wants to advance to the round of 16. Ivory Coast is better, though, and should be able to hold off the Greeks and finish second in the group. Just one thing to look out for: Yaya Toure is due for a breakout game, and I think this could be it. Also, if you haven’t watched Colombia play yet, you need to start. They are exciting and have great attacking options, with James Rodriguez and speedy Juan Cuadrado leading the attack.

Costa Rica is also very likely to win Group D, which would cement their status of biggest surprise of the 2014 World Cup group stages. I don’t think Costa Rica is going to advance past the quarterfinals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t legit, because I think they are. They have wins over Italy and Uruguay, two teams with hopes to win it all and huge talent advantages over the Ticos. Now, they have a chance to add England to the list. I’m not sure they are going to beat England, who will not want to go home pointless. It seems too good to be true for Costa Rica, who was supposed to be the group’s weakest team. Regardless, a point is all they need to top the group, and they might be able to win it even with a close loss. Again, a tie seems likely, and don’t be surprised if England pulls off what must now be called an upset win.
The game between Uruguay and Italy is the game of the day. It’s another elimination game, with a tie or Italy win putting Italy through and a Uruguay win putting Uruguay through. Regardless of who wins, two very talented teams are going home early. Italy is favored because a tie puts them through, but Uruguay looked like the better team the last time we saw them. Luis Suarez transforms this team, and he was the difference against England despite being less than 100%, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win. It’s also time for Edinson Cavani to make more of an impact for Uruguay. He converted a penalty in the first game, but outside of that he’s been invisible. Meanwhile, after looking dynamic against England, Italy’s attack looked flat and unimaginative against Costa Rica. Both teams are capable of going far in the tournament, but each team has already had a poor game and could easily have another. Both teams have been disappointing, and the winner is going to be the team that brings its a-game. I had Italy ranked too high in my countdown (at #6), and Uruguay at #11 still seems right. These teams are probably even, but both are inconsistent enough that this could be a blowout either way.

My predictions: Colombia clinches top spot in Group C with Ivory Coast playing a safe game and going through over Greece. Costa Rica fails to beat England but still wins Group D, while Uruguay edges third-place Italy.

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