Now that the men have been separated from the boys, all eyes are on the leading teams in the knockout stages of the World Cup. The toughest battle can be the one between Brazil and Chile, though I expect the hosts will sail into the last eight.
True, Brazil are under immense pressure as their front three — Hulk, Fred and Neymar — are yet to forge the sublime understanding that they are famous for. I have a feeling that Chile would increase men in attack to unsettle Brazil’s fragile full backs.
The ploy may work to some extent with Alexis Sanchez as the main player, but my question is: Do the Chilean defence have the answer for Neymar?
On the other hand, the challenge would be for Luiz Felipe Scolari to get his priorities right. I don’t mind him playing Luiz Gustavo though some people feel it reduces Brazil’s attacking options. Simply, Scolari has to set a midfield that would supply enough passes to Neymar.
It’s the only way to make Brazil’s task easier.
One more match that could turn out to be highly interesting is the one between Costa Rica and Greece. They have qualified in contrasting fashion and the South Americans are really on a high after beating teams like former world champions Uruguay and Italy.
But Greece, from whatever I saw of them in their three group league matches, seem to have mastered the art of shutting shop. It remains to be seen how the Costa Rica coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, beats this ultra-defensive tactics.
Looking back to the group matches, I had become an admirer of Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez for his tactical abilities after their match against England. He used his players, especially Edinson Cavani, in an intelligent manner to leave rival skipper Steven Gerrard ineffective. It actually hastened England’s ouster from the group stage.
Tabarez’s style of football is not sophisticated but very productive because of physical presence and tenacity. However, I was truly disappointed to find Tabarez rooting for Luis Suarez after the disgraced striker was banned for biting the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
I agree that Uruguay, without Suarez, would be half their strength against Colombia but coaches should know where to draw the line. It’s been one of the best World Cups so far, but Suarez has spoiled it with his moment of madness.
At the same time, I can’t blame Tabarez alone. No one raised a finger in Europe, particularly in England, when teams like Portugal, Bulgaria and Hungary regularly hacked Pele down on the pitch in the 1966 World Cup to temporarily end Brazil’s domination.
That was the beginning of trying to reduce the beautiful game to a mockery, all in the name of professionalism.
Back to on-field action, there were many moments to savour in the group stage of this World Cup. It has been a feast of goals, though I have a feeling that fatigue, heat and humidity could have played some role behind so many goals being scored. In football, tiredness produces an environment for mistakes and lapses in concentration.
Despite the heat and humidity, the teams did not really go for too many tactical changes and pressing football remained the popular style.
The Dutch experimentation of 5-3-2 against Spain was highly successful, but they quickly reverted back to 4-3-3 against Australia when things looked bit difficult for them.
The relatively smaller teams like Greece used the well-known strategy of defending in depth and then going on the counter-attack. I do not really blame them as they are pitted against the best in the world.
At a time when the South American and even African teams are doing well, I feel sad for the Asian sides, who crashed out in the first round.
The Asian nations would have to develop their own style and tactics to make the grade. Depending on European methods won’t take them anywhere!