In my previous article, I stated that this World Cup will turn into an attritional affair now that we are into the knockout stages. To an extent, I was right. 5 of the 8 second round games went into extra time and only 3 goals were scored in the first half by anybody. Its been gritty and barbaric at times, some of the tackles seen would have made Roy Keane proud. With that being said, the second round has been just as exhilarating as anything already seen at these finals. The World Cup continues to throw up scenarios that just seem absurd. Angel Di Maria lost the ball 51 times in 120 minutes but scored the winning goal. Football really is a marvellous sport.
So how have the 5 remaining Manchester United players got on?
Out of all the Manchester United players left, Javier Hernandez is the only one to be going home after this stage of the tournament. He once again watched from the bench as his team took a 1-0 lead against Louis Van Gaal’s Netherlands team. With Mexico still leading, Hernandez was introduced on 75 minutes in order to act as an outboard who kept the defence busy, subsequently alleviating pressure. The Dutch onslaught was too powerful, however. Mexico eventually crumbled under the punishing Fortaleza sun and the clique of orange shirts surrounding their goal, the match ended 2-1 in Hollands favour. Chicharito was unable to get onto the ball enough to influence the closing stages.
Robin Van Persie had a relatively frustrating game by his high standards. Mexico dictated large sections of the match as Holland struggled to utilise their counterattacking game plan efficiently. RVP resembled an isolated figure on occasions due to Arjen Robben having to drop increasingly deeper to pick up the ball. Mexico’s captain, Rafael Marquez had an excellent game and kept the usually very potent striker at bay. Louis Van Gaal made a bold decision by taking off Van Persie and replacing him with the experienced, yet the seemingly spent force in the form of Klaas Jan Huntelaar. His decision was soon justified, Huntelaar only touched the ball 7 times in 14 minutes but came off the field with a goal and an assist to his name. The dauntless mindset of Coach Van Gaal was there for everybody to see when it came to his tactical modifications throughout the game. The Netherlands performance was once again unremarkable and difficult to watch, but that invaluable knack of grinding out results despite a mediocre performance is still very much present within this Dutch team. Louis Van Gaal’s side will go up against Costa Rica in Salvador for a place in the semi finals.
France remain to proudly carry the title of ‘dark horses’ in this competition. Another attractive and solid performance saw Le Bleu advance to the last eight where they will take on Germany in the Maracana. Patrice Evra played the entire game against Nigeria. It was a slow burning contest where France eventually earned a 2-0 victory. Evra put in a typically steady and reliable performance, any Nigerian threat seldom came Evra’s way. The left back looked comfortable for large stretches of the game but will have a trickier task against Germany on Friday.
Belgium and USA provided one of the matches of the tournament last night, the encounter saw the innovative and imaginative Belgians take the initiative to an unbelievably organised and devoted USA. Although the game was scoreless after 90 minutes, it had been gut wrenchingly captivating. With Kevin De Bruyne playing behind the striker, Fellaini was forced back to central midfield alongside Axel Witsel. It was sincerely disappointing to see Fellaini being played in a position that evidently didn’t suit him. David Moyes had used Fellaini in that spot last season, needless to say it didn’t have the desired effect. He was unable to provide any attacking threat from his position and failed to make any interceptions or tackles. Although Mark Wilmots will be satisfied with his teams performance last night, he must accept the fact that utilising Fellaini in an incorrect position for 120 minutes isn’t something that he should repeat against Argentina in the next round.
If your nation is in still in the competition, you can start to get excited. The bile of the tournament has invariably dissipated and we are left with nothing but world class talent. In my view, Costa Rica have just as much of a chance to reach the final as Brazil do. There aren’t any plucky underdogs left, every team has a right to be at this stage and should be taken seriously.