The longest day of this World Cup continued with this tournament’s nascent tradition of thrilling the neutral. Each of the four games offered its fair share of drama and intrigue as this entertaining and prolific World Cup hurtled forward with intent.
Italy’s triumph over England and Costa Rica’s upset over Uruguay provided the primary highlights on this busy Saturday, but there are other tangible things — including these Five Points — to take forward as well as the tournament continues.
England eventually punished for its endeavor
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Roy Hodgson contradicted his conservative reputation with his team selection for the 2-1 defeat to Italy. He deployed Wayne Rooney on the left and made room for Raheem Sterling in his starting XI. He expected his side to lean on its energy and its mobility to hassle an Italian outfit lacking just an extra yard of pace. It worked by and large in a gripping first half with the first goal – including a lovely Sterling diagonal for Rooney to square to Daniel Sturridge for the equalizer — reflecting the benefits of those brave decisions.
The setup carried some consequences, though. England benefited from the endeavor and the movement of its front four, but it lacked the solidity necessary to cope with an Italian side capable of directing play toward the weak points in its structure. Andrea Pirlo’s masterclass in midfield created advantages in that department because he often played through three or four players at once, while Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian threatened often on the right with Rooney inconsistent in his defensive tracking and Leighton Baines usually marooned two-versus-one.
Italy’s ability to obtain control in the middle of the park and venture forward on the right proved critical once Mario Balotelli nodded home Candreva’s inviting cross five minutes into the second half. Rooney spurned a glorious chance, but England eventually wilted after chasing and harrying the Italians on the ball in the early stages. The final result delivered a painful lesson for an English side still in transition: the attacking intent is a promising change of pace, but the usual defiance and organization must accompany it to reap the desired benefits.
Costa Rica exploits Uruguay with its direct running
Every surging foray through the middle third provided the foundation for the Ticos’ famous 3-1 victory over the reigning South Americans champions. Costa Rica relied on its usual tenets — defend in numbers and rely on Christian Bolaños, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz to drive the counter with some support from the wingbacks — and then watched as Uruguay crumbled under the ensuing duress in the second half.
Clever work on the right led to Campbell’s equalizer. Ruiz rampaged through the middle third and tumbled to the ground to win the foul for Oscar Duarte’s eventual winner. Campbell then exploited the space provided in midfield as Uruguay pushed for its own reply to carve open Diego Godin and Diego Lugano with a pass for Marco Ureña to tuck home the third in the final 10 minutes.
Costa Rica can’t compete with sides like Uruguay man-for-man, but it can rely on its cogent and ingrained approach to match them in other ways. Veteran boss Jorge Luis Pinto trusted his players to keep their shape compact and take their opportunities well when they moved forward. His players repaid his faith in spades to deliver a famous triumph for the Ticos.
Colombia finds its blueprint without Radamel Falcao
Few, if any, sides in this World Cup could afford to compensate for the absence of the prolific Monaco striker. Colombia will still miss its key man as the tournament unfolds, but it possesses the sort of alternatives required to navigate through an opponent like Greece and position itself for a place in the round of 16.
In lieu of their primary touchstone up front, Colombia conceded possession against a limited Greek side and preferred to break directly and quickly down the flanks. The advantages created by those tactics — the excellent James Rodriguez finding space to roam dangerously in the open field against an otherwise compact Greek outfit and the use of both fullbacks and wingers (Victor Ibarbo thrived on the day) to create width — allowed Colombia to eventually proceed to its 3-0 victory.
The key moving forward for the Colombians: retaining the defensive shape displayed against the Greeks. The enterprising runs from the fullbacks — particularly goalscorer Pablo Armero on the left — often leave the central defense exposed. The two holding players covered well – Abel Aguilar even provided a wonderful flick for Teo Gutierrez’s critical second to round off a good display — for the most part, but the firm structure must persist with a more rigorous examination ahead against Côte d’Ivoire on Thursday.
Côte d’Ivoire finds its footing and relies on its strength to defeat Japan
This game always loomed as a critical marker for an Ivorian side frustrated with its inability to progress from the group stage in the past two tournaments. Japan is a good side in midfield, but its frailty in central defense and its inconsistent work in front of goal left it exposed to the pace and the power usually summoned by Sabri Lamouchi’s side.
Côte d’Ivoire frittered those advantages away with a disjointed first-half display and watched Keisuke Honda seize upon slack defending to lash home the opener. It took far too long for the Ivorians to focus on the best game plan — direct and powerful to place pressure on the Japanese center backs under constant pressure — turned the game in their favor.
Didier Drogba emerged from the bench on the hour to give the side an emotional lift. Wilfried Bony — always a good option in this sort of matchup — headed home the equalizer two minutes later. Gervinho snatched the eventual winner by snapping his header at the near post, though Eiji Kawashima should have turned it around the post.
The eventual 2-1 victory provided Côte d’Ivoire with the required result and underscored the lingering concerns about Lamouchi’s ability to get his tactics right from the outset. The disorganization in the first half cannot persist if the Ivorians — the only African side to impress so far — plan to extract anything from the match against Colombia on Thursday.
Argentina debuts with tricky test v. Bosnia-Herzegovina
The draw threw the two presumed favorites in Group F together for the marquee match on Sunday (6 p.m. ET). Bosnia will present some problems for the rickety Argentines with Edin Dzeko looming as a threat to the suspect central defense, but Lionel Messi and his teammates can survive if they push forward earnestly and use their superior movement to slice through a determined, but slow-footed, rearguard.
Similar intrigue awaits in Group E. France must approach its opener against Honduras (3 p.m. ET) carefully. If Les Bleus slip up, then the Hondurans — a limited side, yet coherent enough to present a threat — could surprise them. Switzerland and Ecuador meet in a potentially vital affair (12 p.m. ET) with the Swiss tasked to find a way to rely on their superior shape and their clever interplay to crack a lively Ecuadorian group with some issues playing at sea level.