32 teams arrived, 16 remain. 13 Manchester United players arrived, 5 remain. The first two weeks of the 2014 World Cup has been littered with wonderful goals, valiant underdog performances, people biting and fighting each other and inspired managerial decisions (24 goals have been scored by substitutes so far, a record already) in the most likely of circumstances, the World Cup will become more attritional as it wears on. The business end of the tournament merits more caution and focus, meaning that fewer mistakes will be made. But which Manchester United players continue to fight on in Brazil? And who is making the long trip back to Manchester?
Javier Hernandez and Mexico turned a few heads in light of a compelling display against Croatia in Recife. The Mexicans only required a point to ensure progression to the next round. After a quiet first half and a red card for Ante Rebic, Mexico started to take advantage of a weary Croatian team. They stormed into a 3-0 lead before being pegged back to 3-1 after a late consolation goal. Javier Hernandez capped off the performance with an instinctive header at the far post after eluding his marker, it has been a very long time since I’ve seen Hernandez that happy. Hernandez is yet to make a start for Mexico, but has appeared off the bench in all 3 games. He will almost certainly be involved in Mexico’s clash with Holland in Fortaleza on Sunday. Chicharito will come up against his strike partner Robin Van Persie in an encounter where very few are expecting Mexico to come out triumphant.
Despite having the third lowest pass completion rate out of anyone in the tournament and not having the most of possession in any of their games, Holland are emerging as one of the favourites to win the World Cup. Louis Van Gaal has masterminded his teams to 9 maximum points in a group containing Chile and Spain with a goal difference of +7. The style of play Louis Van Gaal implements isn’t pretty but severely effective. The patience and equanimity in defence quickly shifts into a rapturous storm of counterattacking football, reaping devastating results. Van Persie didn’t feature in the 2-0 win over Chile due to suspension, but is available for his country’s last 16 match; which is more than I can say for Luis Suarez. Juan Mata made his first World Cup appearance after coming off the bench to net Spain’s third goal against Australia. Mata stroked the ball past the Australian goalkeeper in deft fashion as Spain left a disappointing World Cup on a strong note.
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really watch Japans first two matches. Not because I have anything against the Japanese (I don’t) but because they played after England each time, and the last thing I wanted to do after that was watch more football. I did see Shinji Kagawa and Co get torn apart by Columbia, however. Japans performance was reminiscent of Manchester United’s performance against Everton back in April; lots of possession and sideways passes, very little penetration and an evident susceptibility to being torn apart on the counter. This meant Kagawa got a lot of touches on the ball and had a good pass completion rate, but was still very ineffective. He drifted across all areas behind the striker but was unable to make a definitive impact. Japan left the tournament with 1 point having scored 2 goals. Remind you of anyone?
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling made their World Cup debuts as England bowed out of the tournament after a goalless draw with group winners Costa Rica. The game had a lacklustre feeling about it, with the Costa Rican’s not showing much attacking intent and the English not showing much attacking capability. England dominated the game throughout, producing the majority of the chances but failing to have a serious impact. Jones and Smalling made a shaky start but grew in confidence as the contest wore on. The number of last ditch tackles each player had to make was certainly limited. Wayne Rooney made an appearance off the bench and for the 874th time in his career attempted to chip the keeper from a ridiculous angle and range.
Patrice Evra was an unused substitute for France’s goalless draw with Ecuador. The result meant France won their group and will face Nigeria in the next round and are one of the 5 teams who are yet to go behind in a game. It was a frustrating evening for Antonio Valencia, who didn’t see a lot of the ball in a game that was dictated but not impacted by the French. Valencia eventually lost his rag and wiped out Lucas Digne, which rightly merited a red card. It has been a difficult World Cup for Antonio Valencia, the winger cut a frustrated figure for lengthy periods of time during these World Cup finals.
Nani was unable to prevent his sides exit from the World Cup despite Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana, their inferior goal difference due to the trouncing they received from Germany in the first match meant USA went through instead. The 4-3-3 system employed meant their midfield was vulnerable and lacked structure at times. Nani’s performance was more mature and profitable and he was unlucky not to net his second goal of the tournament. The defensive side to his game still requires a lot of work, his positioning and ability to track back came under scrutiny when Ghana scored after exploiting the right flank that Nani was supposed to be occupying.
Adnan Januzaj became the second youngest Manchester United player to play at a World Cup. The 19 year old started the game out on the right hand side and by no means looked out of place in a Belgian team that seems to be growing in confidence. Although he didn’t make much of an impact in an attacking sense, he found good positions and tended to stay wide in order for the South Korean team to be stretched and less able to create chances, Januzaj was replaced after 60 minutes. With the likes of Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard absent the onus was on Marouane Fellaini to provide that attacking spark from midfield. His performance became more impressive as South Korea fatigued and Belguim began to take control. With South Korea needing a win, Fellaini had to avoid meandering forward as often in order to combat an energetic but overall ineffective Korean side who were evidently missing the talent of Ji Sung Park.