As this years World Cup enters its final round of group matches, we now have a relatively accurate impression on all the sides taking part. Dark horses have been duly unveiled and chronic underachievers have been thrust under the worlds piercing spotlight. Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Netherlands, Costa Rica and Columbia have already booked their places in the second round. Contrastingly, England, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia, Cameroon and Spain are yet to register a point at these finals and will be heading home rather shortly. So what does that mean for the United players in Brazil?
Louis Van Gaal and his Netherlands side advanced to the next round with a game to spare following a 3-2 win over a resilient Australia. In an enticing encounter, Netherlands found themselves 2-1 down as they entered the latter stages of the game. However, Robin Van Persie netted his 3rd goal of the tournament to bring the scores level before suspected United summer transfer target Memphis Depay found the winner. Van Persie will miss the final game against Chile due to suspension. The performance from the Netherlands wasn’t the vintage attacking display that the world maybe expected following the mauling of Spain in the first match, Van Gaal’s team didn’t appear disheartened or frustrated by the scoreline or their performance levels at any point; no finger wagging or thrusting arms in the air, just encouragement and level headedness. The composure emitted from Van Gaal and the team allowed them to do just enough to get over the line despite playing quite distinctly below par, which is quite familiar to the way Manchester United are notoriously able to grind out games. Spain were on the receiving end of a magnificent team performance by Chile in the Maracana. The reigning world champions succumbed to a Chile side with an average height of about 4 foot 6 inches. Juan Mata and David De Gea didn’t feature but are likely play a part in the dead rubber against Australia in Curtiba later today.
Shinji Kagawa started Japans second game against Greece on the bench. The game was far from a spectacle, but one that Japan should have turned the screw in after Greece went down to 10 men in the 38th minute. Kagawa has introduced in the 56th minute but was once again unable to make any lasting impact on a game which ended 0-0, meaning that Japan need to beat Columbia and hope Greece avoid defeat against Ivory Coast if they are to progress to the next round.
Having lost another match 2-1, England are out of the World Cup at the first hurdle for the first time since 1958. Needless to say, I was mortified by the events that transpired last Thursday. A 60% fit Luis Suarez overcame England single handedly as Steven Gerrard once again failed to keep his footing. Danny Welbeck put in a show of great exuberance and commitment once again but found it difficult to be an effective asset on the left hand side. The game was a high tempo and brutal affair in which the Uruguayans became increasingly aggressive as the game wore on. Wayne Rooney scored his first ever World Cup goal as he played in his favoured central position, he still came under some criticism in the aftermath of the defeat due the fact that he could have had a hat trick had he taken his chances, which is certainly questionable.
On paper, France have been the most impressive team of the tournament thus far. Having scored 8 goals and conceding 2 they have the most healthy goal difference out of any of the 32 teams taking part. Patrice Evra has played every minute of France’s 2014 campaign and looks to be a buoyant figure amongst a French team growing in confidence. Antonio Valencia captained Ecuador to a 2-1 win against Honduras having gone a goal down. His performance became more impressive as the game went on as the Ecuadorian attack ought to have put game way beyond a fatiguing Honduran side after they went 2-1 ahead with 30 minutes remaining. Ecuador must better the result of Switzerland in the final round of matches in Group E if they are to progress. Valencia will go up against Evra in the Maracana when Ecuador play France.
Nani became the 4th United player to score at these finals following a defensive mishap by Stoke’s Geoff Cameron in the 5th minute of Portugal’s encounter with USA in Manaus. His finish was one of such typical confidence and nimbleness, it reminded me of the days where Nani single handedly tore teams apart with his indelible sleight and quick feet, his goal gave me reason to believe that maybe he does serve a purpose at United. However, the 85 minutes that proceeded his goal gave me reason to believe that he can join Anderson in Serie A next season instead. On countless occasions, Nani’s touch was poor and his inability to play the easy pass almost forced Raul Merelies to rip his head off. His mercurial performance was unsurprising and upsetting to see in all honesty. Portugal were on the verge of elimination until a moment of magic by Ronaldo kept his side in the tournament via a pinpoint cross to Varela to make it 2-2.
Marouane Fellaini was selected to start Belgium’s second match against Russia in the Maracana following a really impressive cameo in his sides opening encounter with Algeria. Sadly, this performance was all to familiar with United fans. Fellaini found it difficult to find space in behind Lukaku, who was unbelievably passive and counterproductive. This meant he dropped in other positions which ranged from being next to Axel Witsel in the centre of midfield and a false 9 when Lukaku went looking for the ball. His constant meandering around the pitch left the number 10 area vacant on several occasions, meaning the Russians could win the ball easily in the centre of the park due to the large amount of space between midfield and attack. Nevertheless, Belguim did grind out a 1-0 victory which ensures them of a place in the next round. Adnan Januzaj is yet to make an appearance at the finals.