Monday, 16 June 2014

Match Day 4 - Review - Messi Arrives (Eventually)

The high scoring, free flowing football continued on yet another entertaining day at World Cup 2014. We have been spoiled so far, with there being only one match where there has been less than 3 goals, and there has still not been a draw in the competition.
Day 4 was our first glimpse at many people's tips for the title, Argentina, and whilst they edged passed an unsurprisingly strong Bosnian side, they won't have been causing many nightmares on that one performance alone. We also got a look at a young and inexperienced French team as well as the efficient Swiss.

Match of the Day: Argentina v Bosnia

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the lead up to this match was that manager Alejandro Sabella opted to start with only two of his triumvirate of Messi, Ageuro and Higuain, the latter dropping to the bench. This was clearly designed to counter a physical and stubborn Bosnian side with their five man midfield. expect to see him revert to three up top in an effort to blow away their weaker Group F opponents Iran and Nigeria.
The match got off to the worst possible start for the Bosnian's with an extremely unfortunate own goal by Kolasinac after only 2 minutes. A good free kick from wide was flicked on by an Argentina head, and simply hit the defender on the knee, giving Begovic in goal no chance.

Terrible start for Bosnia
Rather than spur the South Americans on, they took their foot well off the pedal, happy to play at walking pace, trying to draw the Bosnians out with high possession in deep areas.
Bosnia's first chance arrived with a delicious chipped ball from the excellent Pjanic into the stretching Lulic, who just about managed to bring it down, before keeper Romero smothered. As the ball broke loose Dzeko was on his heels and the defence managed to clear it away.
Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero were struggling to impose themselves on the game, marshalled well by a strong Bosnia rearguard. Their physical game, coupled with their larger size mean they were dominating the two diminutive forwards.
It was the size difference that seemed to be Bosnia's best way back into the game, with corners and set plays causing problems with the shaky looking Argentina back line. Romero in goal making a superb save down low at his post to turn away a bullet header from Lulic from a corner.
If the Argentina performance on the pitch hadn't quite taken off, their fans were certainly doing their best to raise them. Their continued chanting and wild noise as impressive from any set of fans we've seen yet at the tournament.
By half time, Argentina only had one shot on target, a long range effort from Mascherano, no trouble for Begovic. It had been a disappointing showing from the favourites by this stage.
There was a noticeable change in pace from the Argentines at the beginning of the second period, their passing at a much higher tempo, plus they were pushing more player forward. Messi was seeing more of the ball, and it was he who fed Aguero, but the Manchester City hot shot ballooned high and wide.
Messi then had a free kick 30 yards out which he put well over the bar, but moments later he provided the moment we'd all been waiting for. Picking up the ball deep in midfield, he surged forward, playing a one-two with Aguero, slalomed across the edge of the area before curling the ball in off the inside of the post. It was a typically Messi-esque goal, one we've seemingly seen a thousand times, but one that no defence is able to stop.

Messi lights the blue touch paper
The goal was to breathe new life into Argentina, and as they pushed for a third, it looked like the game was over. Bosnia responded by bringing another forward on to supplement the isolated Dzeko. It was the sub, Ibisevic, who gave them hope when he scored against the run of play on 84 minutes, slipping in under Romero, the ball just having enough on it to take it over the line.
Disappointingly, the Bosnian's didn't push for the equaliser, nor did they raise the pace of their play, something which they will need to do going forward should they want to progress. They'd been a little underwhelming, as despite their individual quality, it just didn't feel that they could change things when they needed to.
The final action of the match saw the game stretched, and Messi broke away, but could only hit the side netting when it looked likely that he'd wrap up the win in style.
Overall, Argentina won't have persuaded many that they are going to go all the way in this tournament, although you feel there is more to come from them, and you can't rest a moment with the likes of Messi around.

Elsewhere, an impressive looking France brushed aside a physical Honduras 3-0. After 15 minutes Matuidi headed towards goal, the keeper making a great save onto the bar. Griezmann too was soon thwarted by the woodwork after good work down the left from the impressive Evra.
The first flashpoint of the match came just before the half hour when Paul Pogba was knocked to the floor by Stoke's Wilson Palacios, who then trampled all over the Frenchman. Pogba understandably took umbrage to this, kicking out at the Honduran, who made the most of minimal contact. By the letter of the law, the ref should have dismissed Pogba, but he was very fortunate when both were shown a yellow.

Pogba can count himself very fortunate after lashing out
The same duo were then involved in the incident that gave France the lead. Palacios needlessly pushing Pogba in the back inside the area, and seeing red for his troubles. Benzema made no mistake from the spot, wrong footing the keeper and smashing high into the net.
The lead was doubled early in the second half, as a diagonal ball over the top found Benzema, who met it first time, crashing a sumptuous volley off the far post. As the ball came back across the goal, keeper Valladares fumbled the ball, but seemed to clasp it back just before it crossed the line. The goal line technology was called upon for the first time this competition, a farcical turn of events seeing the goal at first ruled out before then being awarded. I still have my doubts, as camera angles proved inconclusive.
There was no such debate about the third goal, Benzema again, hammering high into the net from a tight angle.
France had been quietly impressive against the worst side we've seen yet in Brazil. They should negotiate their weak group with ease, and it'll be interesting to see how they compare against other top nations.
In the other Group E fixture, Switzerland overcame Ecuador with a 2-1 victory, scoring their winner with the last kick of the match, a sickener for the Ecuadorian's who deserved a point from the match.

Hero of the day: Lionel Messi - despite a quiet first half (at which point he was looking like featuring as my disappointment of the day), the little genius burst in to life in the second period, scoring the conclusive goal that saw off Bosnia. A lot is expected of the Argentine, but if anyone can deliver, Messi can. He'll need to find his best form to carry this team to the final, something his predecessor Maradona did back in '86.

Disappointment of the day: Eden Dzeko - Offered very little, with no movement or work rate. Admittedly isolated in a lone striker role, but did not do his bit for the team, and had only one shot in the match, a shot he put well over the bar when arguably he should have been passing to a team mate.

The most movement we saw from Dzeko all night
Villain of the day: Wilson Palacios - The Stoke midfielder was sent off for two bookable offences, but could have been dismissed even earlier. Summed up a poor Honduran side who's only chance of matching France was to kick them off the park.

Wanker of the day: Clarke Carlisle - In the commentary box, ITV treated us to a man best known for his appearance on Countdown. His appointment is one of the least inspired from the channel, and I'd go so far to say I'd rather listen to Andy O'Townsend than this smug, self indulgent man. And that is saying a lot.

Moment of the day: Messi's goal. Not only a great solo effort, but a brilliant reaction from the Argentine fans in the stadium.

How impressed were you by Argentina? Are they really good enough to win the cup? Are France dark horses here or will they come unstuck against better opposition? Is my bet for Honduras to get the most yellow cards in the group stages nailed on?

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