Earlier this month, a FIFA friendlies avalanche produced more telling results than routine ones. Some final score lines were downright revelations, providing peeks at what may come this summer in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a series of articles we dissect the significance of 16 of those matches.
Austria 1, Uruguay 1
Uruguay came to Klagenfurt, Austria, on March 5, 2014, to play the host’s national team in preparation for the South American’s 2014 World Cup participation. The hosts were eliminated in European qualifiers and the visitors barely qualified for Brazil.
Uruguay have had a tough couple of years. Los Charruas qualified for the 2014 World Cup, after having come in fifth in South American qualifiers behind Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador, via a November 2013 playoff against the Asian Football Federation’s fifth-placed finisher, Jordan. The Uruguayans dispatched the Jordanians with a 5-0 victory in Amman and a well managed 0-0 tie in Montevideo. Then they exhaled.
Over the past few months the Uruguayans have begun to come together as a team that can realize its potential. Not only did they beat Peru, Colombia, and Argentina in the last few CONMEBOL qualification matches to reach the playoffs against Jordan, they also beat Japan 4-2 in Japan during their last preparatory game before the match against Austria.
The Uruguayans are known for their ability to come back in tough situations and seem at times to relish the underdog role. In the coming World Cup they are paired with England, Costa Rica, and Italy, in Group D and are favored to move on at the expense of the former two teams. But which Uruguayan team will we see in Brazil? Will it be the one that barely qualified, or the one that won the 2011 Copa America and came in fourth in both the 2010 World Cup and the 2013 Confederations Cup?
The match against Austria was the first for the Uruguayan national team since August of 2013, a seven month break. The rust showed and the team fell behind early to Marc Janko’s 14th minute goal. But the Charruas always fight back and at the 66th minute Alvaro Pereira tied the game and the result stuck.
Austria is no pushover, ranked at 44th in the world by FIFA, but Uruguay, despite their troubles are ranked 6th. In this case, FIFA knows something. What was revealed in the match at Klagenfurt was that Uruguay are doing just fine now. Their tactic will be to rest their ageing players until May 30th twelve weeks hence, and then until June 4th, five days later, picking up the pace for the tourney yet giving themselves ten days before their opening match.
A week later, they will be playing a World Cup in Brazil, and the final will be played in the same stadium where the Uruguayans last hoisted the winner’s trophy—a 2-1 comeback win in the final. The comeback kings have their DNA in order and in June they will be ready to make some noise.
Belgium 2, Ivory Coast 2
The Belgians hosted the Ivorians at Brussels on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 and hoped to showcase why they were seeded atop Group H in this summer’s World Cup. What we saw was a young and talented Belgium take a two-nil lead into the 73rd minute only to then watch a wily Ivory Coast team come back to tie the match in stoppage time.
The scoring began early with Marouane Fellaini’s 17 minute goal and that score line held until the 51st minute when Radja Nainggolan cross found the net with some goalkeeping help. Then the Ivorians began to grow on the pitch and Didier Drogba, who else, cut the lead at the 74th minute. Then the Ivory Coast did what we expected, they found a way to tie and did so off what we can also foresee, a Belgian error. Max-Alain Gradel scored off of a poor defensive clearance.
The revelation in this match was two-fold and long foretold. The Belgians are good, talented and young. If they are able to handle the pressure of the tournament in Brazil, they will probably make it out of their group in first place, but they will then meet the second place finisher of group G and then they will be eliminated by either Germany or Portugal in the round of 16. Not a bad run, but not what could have been envisioned when picking the top eight teams to seed for the cup.
The Ivorians did in this match what many probably expect them to do in Brazil. They might advance from Group C, but if they do it will most likely be in second place, and then only thanks to just getting the needed points out of tough matches against Greece, Japan, and Colombia. Given how Japan and Greece can play, and what Colombia could offer, particularly if Radamel Falcao can at least walk on the pitch, Ivory Coast will have to use every ounce of their guile to move on. Their progression is not a given, but they showed us how they could do it in this match.