The twelfth day of the World Cup was consistently similar to the previous ones—full of surprises.
The Mexican National Team delivered a great performance against Croatia completing two back-to-back upsets, managing a draw against Brazil and a victory against the team most thought would progress at Mexico’s expense. The victory was thorough, convincing and well deserved. Coach Miguel Herrera has a lot to be proud of and his next tactical scheme will be fun to watch.
The Brazilian team earned a win thanks to Neymar’s will. He would not be denied today and when replays of his second goal make the rounds it will be considered one of the best of the tournament. Freezing a goalkeeper form twenty yards away and having him face in the wrong direction before you shoot are incredible feats. To have accomplished them while racing at and eluding two defenders, is a testament to his still-emerging talent.
The Spanish team said its goodbyes today and they did so with a nostalgic performance that earned them a 3-0 win in what was probably the last big tournament for most of their amazing generation of stars. It will be good to read what comes of their return home, as Coach Vicente del Bosque, or someone on the team’s vast entourage, explains the thinking behind benching tiki-taka for the long ball in Brazil.
The Croatian team did themselves proud with a great game against Australia, and an unfortunate one against Brazil, but they muddied the waters of their own reputation with their pre-game bravado, their less than stellar performance today, and their culminating red card.
The water breaks seemed to take place today as the temperatures warranted it and the refs seemed versed in their duties. Perhaps it was FIFA’s intent to follow their own rules, but they had not until the Brazilian Courts ruled they had to. This will be an interesting issue to see reported in the FIFA Technical Report for World Cup 2014.
Still, the officiating of the games continued to be troublesome. The double penalty suffered by Mexico within minutes of Chicharito Hernadez’s entry into the game was unconscionable. Had the Mexicans not won, this would have been a difficult tournament to believe in going forward. The officiating performance today was a major blow to FIFA’s credibility. Not only was there a clear, intentional, two-handed block in the box of a shot on goal, but an instant before the block Hernandez was simply thrown down by his marker as a way of getting him out of the play. How all officials missed both infractions is a wonder.
Tomorrow we have a feast of games to savor. In the game with the top billing Italy and Uruguay play for a chance to progress next to Costa Rica from Group D. England plays Costa Rica for a hopeful conclusion to its tournament while the Ticos want to complete the sweep of former World Cup winners and wrap up the top spot in the group. Greece and the Ivory Coast will likely dispute the second slot in Group C, and Japan plays Colombia with the hope that the game’s result will salvage something for the Asian team.