Guest writer Stuart Chinaloy (@FalseNlne) writes the first of his World Cup blogs.
What an incredible tournament.
The final 11pm kick off of the 2014 World Cup gave us a dramatic late equaliser seconds from the final whistle – a moment that really sums up this quite stunning show in Brazil.
I apologise sincerely for moaning at any point, as for every Iran vs Nigeria 0-0 and England defeat has given us a Jermaine Jones screamer, Tim Cahill rocket or second half fight back. It really is a pleasure to be able to watch such an action-packed spectacle (and we’re barely half-way through).
I will be bringing you daily blog posts from here on in, hoping to replicate for you, a fragment of the enjoyment that Brazil 2014 has so far given me.
Time for Ronaldo to appreciate his team mates?
Cristiano Ronaldo is a difficult player to watch when at his most petulant. Arms flailing, head down and uninterested, he often portrays a forlorn figure every other summer for Portugal. At his brilliant best no goal is safe, yet he doesn’t have the impact he really should for the Selecção.
His performance on Sunday evening was in many ways abysmal and, yet, that will all be forgotten because of his quite incredible assist for the Varela equaliser (and six seconds of tekkers).
The cross he whipped was nothing less than exquisite, and was in many ways a cruel blow to a gutsy American team, heartbroken to have been robbed almost certain qualification for the last sixteen. My gripe is why he can’t assist and build play like this more often?
The burden of this Portugese side is that bar Ronaldo, the squad lacks real goalscorers. Nani, a player whom is infuriatingly indifferent has scored a solitary league cup goal. Eder, a promising young forward managed only four goals before suffering a cruciate ligament tear in March. His veteran colleague Helder Postiga failed to get on the scoresheet after his January loan move to Lazio. And finally we have Silvestre Varela, Ronaldo’s highest scoring compatriot over the season with seven strikes to his name.
In a post match interview, Ronaldo admitted he didn’t think this side had the quality to compete for football’s most coveted prize.
“Maybe we’re an average team,” he said. “It would be a lie to say that we are a ‘top’ team, we have many limitations”.
So it’s easy to see why Ronaldo would be so incessant on taking the scoring responsibility as he undoubtedly feels no one else is capable. Ronaldo must be more willing to link more effectively and frequently with the best Portuguese passer João Moutinho. He created a third of Portugal’s twelve chances yesterday, while dominating the majority of the play of the middle of the park. Yet he only passed to Ronaldo three times in 90 minutes yesterday.
Dropping off, linking and exploiting the space created in behind would be an effective way of contributing to building Portugal’s lagging build up play. Quite simply for Portugal to succeed Ronaldo has to be both a creator and finisher. A tall order, but one he’s more than capable of as one of the greatest players of his generation.
Fabian Johnson – a new star?
The evolution of the full back has been remarkable, to such an extent that they are arguably the most significant position on the pitch. The likes of Dani Alves, Daley Blind, Glen Johnson, Kwadho Asamoah, Dario Srna and many others have been crucial for their sides. None more so, however, than Fabian Johnson, who has been one of the standout players at this tournament.
The unrelentingly quick German-born American was nothing short of incredible on Sunday evening. Proving a useful outlet, in taking advantage of the acres of space which Ronaldo left behind him while maintaining his task of closing down and jockeying the Ballon d’Or winner.
By regularly moving into space, (highlighted by his agressive heat map) vacated by that of both Ronaldo and makeshift left back Almeida he cause huge problems, particularly for Raul Meireles who as a result was consistently found tracking the full back and as a result didn’t have his normal effect in controlling Portuguese possession.
The Mönchengladbach-bound full-back will no doubt be effective in the final American group encounter against Germany. I suspect the danger he’s caused so far will continue and to devastating effect against Löw’s preferred left back Howedes who was caused problems by the similarly pacey Atsu.
Crunch time for Croatia and Mexico
The final group games should bring very a very tight affair, with a number of caveats to qualification there is an emphasis on both qualifying, as well as topping your group. For a Holland, Chile, Mexico and Croatia the games are significant. These matches which should have some of the most interesting tactical battles, with key match-ups featured throughout both encounters.
Croatia and Mexico will be close to call with the Balkan team edging possession with their highly competent passing engines of a Modrić and Rakitić featuring at the base of the midfield. Long term captain Marquez will be crucial in reading passing moves, intercepting and then starting Mexican attacks, often finding the wingers with direct diagonal balls to both flanks.
Again the flanks will be key, with Srna looking to move into space vacated by adventurous wing back Layún, who was particularly impressive against Cameroon when given license to roam.