I couldn’t watch all four games of course. Guess which ones I only caught the highlights of!
Netherlands 2 – 0 Chile
Chile got off to the better start in this top of the table clash, their unique brand of dominating attacking play forcing the Dutch back into their half and limiting the forward options of Robben and co, now absent the talents of Robin Van Persie. They limited themselves to long balls while Chile tried to work down the left in their pursuit of goals.
It took over 20 minutes for the first real chances to be created though, Gutierrez volleying wide from a corner, before Sneijder’s weak free kick was easily saved by Bravo. Chile continued to press and pressure their opponents in whatever part of the field they were able to get the ball and the results were obvious, even if they continually failed to make the space to shoot at goal (and relied too much on falling over in the box, the referee consistently not interested). The Dutch were relying almost entirely on the few set-piece chances they could get, with De Vrij failing to connect properly with Robben’s cross late on.
With the game winding down towards half time it was another individual run of brilliance from Robben that created the next opportunity, beating two defenders, but his scuffed shot was a bad finale. Before the half Chile were also to have one more opportunity, with Guiterrez, routinely finding a lot of space among the Dutch central defenders, heading badly wide from a Diaz free.
The Dutch started better in the second, Dirk Kuyt getting more involved in both defence and attack. But neither team was showing the required urgency if they really wanted a goal, with too many long passes and scrappy play. With the exception of a thumping Sanchez shot straight at the goalkeeper, mirrored by Robben a few minutes after, it seemed as if both sides were satisfied with the draw.
It wasn’t until the 75th minute that the next serious chance came, Depay forcing Bravo into a save from distance. Perhaps that woke the Dutch up to the possibilities, because a few seconds later they were in front, Fer’s first touch after being subbed on being a wonderful diagonal header from a Janmaat cross. It was a lead they scarcely deserved on the basis of play.
Sanchez and co made a medium effort at trying for an equaliser, but mostly accepted their fate. Robben’s fine individual work set up Defay at the death, and that was that. Chile presumably have no fear of what comes next. The Dutch converted one of the few chances and are looking a good bet to go far.
Australia 0 – 3 Spain
Spain dominated the first, as you might have expected, with Iniesta crucial to their movement just about every time they were creating chances. This was a much changed line-up, with something to prove, and Villa’s fine opener was a just reward for their attacking impetus in the first half, the Aussies rarely finding a sniff of goal.
The Australians did improve a bit in the second, but missing the vital Cahill upfront severely limited their chances of gaining an equaliser. The Spanish controlled the flow of things for the most part, and Torres smart turn and finish killed the game off. It was practice from there, with Juan Mata’s third as simple as it could be, the Australian back line long since past caring.
A bad world cup for both sides, with a sliver of self-respect regained by the Spanish.
Croatia 1 – 3 Mexico
The the game was mostly quiet for the first 15 minutes, until Ferrera’s blistering shot cannoned back off the woodwork. Mexico were finding the space for opportunities that Croatia weren’t, and Peralta should have done better when sent through on goal 18 minutes in.
The pace of the game was a bit beyond Croatia, who held their own while looking just a little out of sorts at the back. When they did go forward nothing much was happening, with Modric guilty of some wasted possession, and Pranjic’s arching wide shot was the closest they came to hitting the target in the first half hour.
So, as the half drew to a close Mexico could say they were having the better of the affair, even if they were being very wasteful from corners and allowing Croatia the opportunity to try and hit them on the counter. The half ended scrappily, with late tackles, elbows and much complaining to the ref, both teams’ nerves on a knife edge.
Croatia came out for the second with a bit of an overtly attacking mindset, with Modric finally deciding his job description involved beating men and providing proper final ball to the strikers. But with nothing really threatening the Mexican goal, Kovacic was sent on to try and boost their flagging prospects. Mexico responded in kind with Hernandez, as they too were having difficulties in the final third.
Things started to get scrappy and bad tempered again in the final half hour, as Srna should have been penalised twice inside the Croatian area, shoving Hernandez and blocking a Guardado shot with his hands. An incensed Mexico were able to get their composure back, and Marquez’ header with less that 20 minutes to play was the dagger to Croatian hopes. Another was planted by Guardado a few minutes later, at the end of a wonderful sweeping move, and that was that.
Hernandez, with a typical poacher goal of his, made it three in what I would call, borrowing a Gridiron term, “garbage time”. Croatia had given up. Modric and Mandzukic had disappeared, and the rest of the team had nothing left, save Rakatic and Peresic combining well for a late consolation. But even that couldn’t really soothe Croatia, with Rebic’s red card the final bitter pill. Mexico have impressed deeply in this group. Croatia flattered to decive against Cameroon.
Cameroon 1 – 4 Brazil
Brazil have been humdrum so far, but faced very poor opposition in this game. Despite Cameroon giving a good enough account of themselves early on it was inevitable for Brazil to go ahead, and Neymar’s nice finish off Gustavo’s low cross was that moment. What was not in the script was Matip’s equalising goal a few minutes later, a tap-in that illustrated how the back four are the key weakness of this Brazil team, Luiz and Silva far from at their best so far. Neymar’s gloriously precise second righted the ship soon after, but the whole thing seemed a nervy affair for the hosts.
Brazil moved to kill the game off quickly in the second, and Fred’s close range header did that. From there it was a training ground experience, before Fernandinho’s late bullet to make it 4-1. A pedestrian encounter for the hosts overall, and they top the group as expected.