Mexico 1 – 0 Cameroon
Played in difficult conditions, another frustrating game for the spectator.
It was Mexico’s first half. With the exception of Eto’o’s effort that glanced off the post (one of his few contributions), it was Mexico that was dominating proceedings, surging forward with gusto, utilising those very fast wing backs that were the lynchpin of the 5-3-2 in defence and 3-5-2 in attack that Mexico were using. Cameroon especially struggled with defending from set-pieces with Marquez having such a golden chance from an in swinging free before he got muddled up with Moreno. Thanks to some lousy work from the linesmen on the near side, Dos Santos was denied two goals, despite doing brilliantly in both instances.
It seemed very much as if Cameroon were treating the game with a remarkable casualness. Time and again they were dispossessed, or struggled to keep Mexico contained past the halfway point of the pitch. Song was surprisingly absent, and the African forwards were either getting no supply or proving themselves unable to make any chances.
The second half heralded more of the same, with Dos Santos splitting the Cameroon defence only for Peralta to waste an amazing opportunity. Guardado was wasting a lot of possession with several aimless curing crosses to nobody, and for a while it seemed as if the game might be heading towards a 0-0 draw. Then the goal: Dos Santos receiving the ball in the massive gap between the two Cameroon central defenders, a poor enough shot, but Peralta racing in to slot away the rebound. A goal made more through defensive frailty, but did Mexico care?
In the initial aftermath of the goal, Cameroon’s efforts to get back into the game seemed lacklustre, with Mexico rarely troubled – when Moukandjo got into space on the right of the Mexico box around 70 minutes in, his cross to Eto’o went straight out of play, which summed up Cameroon’s offensive efforts. Remarkably, they persisted with Eto’o on his own upfront, and Mexico were calm and collected in their play in the final stages (save for Moukandjo’s injury time header), even if they surrendered much of the possession to the opposition.
Again, it seemed as if the officials were the major talking point. Apart from the two disallowed goals, there were poor decisions on penalty shouts, and what should have been a red card for Song early in the second for a nasty studs up challenge on Dos Santos. But a fair result in the end. Croatia/Mexico is shaping up to a very tasty contest.
Spain 1 – 5 Netherlands
Spain started all out of sorts. What looked like a Christmas tree formation, long balls and defensive frailties, with Sneijder failing to put away a gilt-edged chance in the first five minutes. Diego Costa seemed to be the main target main, but he struggled under the catcalls and boos of the ferociously unsympathetic crowd. That was a shame, because the Dutch defence, especially at left back, looked remarkably brittle at moments, only just avoiding catastrophe at several points. Still, the Netherlands actually seemed to have the most hold on the game in the first half hour or so.
Then the penalty. The first few glances made it seem cast iron, but many replays later and I was no longer as convinced. It did seem as if De Vrij caught Costa a little, but not enough to justify the fall. I have far more sympathy for the officials for this kind of decision, it was so hard to tell even for the audience with multiple replays. But still disheartening to see every game so far be marred by such incidents. Alonso took the kick extremely well and the champions were in front.
The Dutch responded positively. Robben was a big problem down the left but the Spanish offside trap was doing all it needed to do, hitting back with Silva’s failed chip after a great through ball from Iniesta. And then a pinpoint in-swinger from Blind, a run timed to perfection, Ramos asleep, a keeper off his line (and not for the first time recently) and a magnificent looping header. RVP, never change.
The Dutch came out for the second half full of fire and it only took seven minutes for them to take the lead from a wonderfully flowing move, finished by the individual skill of Robben. Again Casillas could have done a bit better, but then again so could his defence. They were rocked on the other end too, and Costa’s unseen headbutt was the brief brush with total disaster that resulted. His substitution was not surprising and then Van Persie could have made it three, with the Spanish defence too busy calling for offside to actually defend to crossbar shaking effort.
The Dutch were dominating possession, surging forward and then they were two goals up. It was a nasty scrappy goal, from a debatable free and with RVP muscling in on Casillas to a questionable degree, but I rarely see keepers protected in such instances. Robben, RVP and Sneijder were executing an attacking masterclass.
Spain finally seemed to wake up at that and Silva’s (correctly) disallowed goal came from an almost immediate bout of decent set-up. But any Spanish comeback was destroyed by a shocking lack of judgement from a distracted and just booked Casillas, allowing himself to be robbed by RVP for a relatively easy tap in.
Spain appeared to give up then, and it was Robben who continued the punishment. His pace is amazing, and he simply toyed with Casillas and the Spanish defence before powering his second home.
It was a beautifully efficient attacking display, which left the Kings of international football sunk, humiliated, down and out. The Dutch may just have buried the era of “tika-taka”. And they may have just become one of the prime contenders for the biggest prize.
Chile 3 – 1 Australia
The first five minutes set the tone: a Chile team with an abundance of attacking talent put the pressure on, the Aussies stepped back and focused on the counter game. Australia moved out slowly when working it from the back, inviting the pressure, while Chile’s unique brand of total football made it difficult to discern formation or positions.
The first goal summed that up. The Australians stumbled around unable to clear at multiple opportunities, and several Chile attackers swarmed around the area waiting for the opportunity until Sanchez knocked it in. Australia barely had time to consider a plan B when it was 2-0: Sanchez allowed so much time to advance and draw the defence in before Valdivia was able to fire home in space.
The Australians made some brief forays forward but their efforts were more comical than anything, not least a Leckie cross from inside the Chile box, blasted out for a throw on the opposite side. Chile maintained their hold on the game, passing with ease and biding their time.
And then came the shock. A poor kick-out from Bravo and Australia smelled blood. It seemed as if they had lost the opportunity for a moment, but Leckie’s cross somehow made it to the head of Cahill – the lone Australian in the box when the ball was played – from there it went in. Chile were shell-shocked, all composure lost for a time, and Cahill could have equalised a moment later.
The second half began in the same manner as the first, with Chile swarming, patiently, while Australia sought the counters, but now with a bit more confidence: Cahill’s correctly disallowed header and Bresciano’s effort were the end result. But Chile always seemed that bit more capable, with Vargas’ goal line effort a good example of how their insightful forwards could see an opportunity that wasn’t immediately obvious. Still, at times it was apparent that they had too much of a focus on the spectacular, choosing the pass and one-two attempt when a shot was on.
The game opened up a bit more in the closing stages as Australia were forced to come out of their shell and chase an equaliser, but a pattern of wasted possession and lack of chances emerged from both sides. The last goal came from that increased space, with Beausejour able to run onto the rebound without any opposition and drill it home, a fine finish.
If Australia had a problem it was that they surrendered the wings and allowed Chile to attack them from those areas again and again. That was risky, as the counter-attacks were being moped up without opportunities being made, for the most part. Chile got a bit complacent after a half hour, with star man Vidal out of sorts, but got into a pattern of comfortableness for large parts, especially in the last 20 or so minutes. It in the end, it looked harder than it really was for Chile. On Wednesday, they face Spain, a huge game for both teams.