Goals were aplenty in the World Cup opening week as teams sought an early foothold in the race for places in the knock out rounds.
Playing in the false nine role, Germany’s Thomas Muller, who plundered a hat-trick against Portugal is the early favourite to retain the Golden Boot he won in South Africa. We are entering crunch time in which teams will struggle to find the goals. Here are some predictions for week three of Brazil 2014.
Germany 3 Ghana 1
Forget about Holland, Joachim Loew’s Germany were the most accomplished side in the opening round of matches. Loew has transplanted the Bayern Munich tiki taka module and added steel to it. Six Bayern players started against Portugal. Four of the other five were all genuine physical specimens – Benedict Howedes, Per Mertsacker, Matt Hummels and Sami Khedira. Mesut Ozil’s vision will open up a competitive Ghana. The Africans showed their limits in conceding a late USA winner.
USA 1 Portugal 1
Paolo Bento’s Portugal were a shambles as they fell 0-4 to Germany.
Fifa World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo has clearly not recovered well enough from injury to cause a splash at the tournament.
With Ronaldo limited to just 15 first half touches, Portugal played like lost sheep. Without the suspended haywire Pepe, I expect Jurgen Klinsman’s well drilled USA side to compound their misery by holding them to a draw.
Belgium 2 Russia 1
Marc Wilmots’ Belgium looked anything but dark horses as they struggled to a 2-1 victory over Algeria. Belgium need radical changes if they are to overcome Fabio Capello’s dangerous Russians. It took the introduction of Marouane Fellaini and Divock Origi to inject life into their attack. Both should start ahead of Romelu Lukaku and Mousa Dembele who looked out of their depth against the Desert Foxes. Speed demon Origi could be the secret chip in Belgium’s armour.
Argentina 3 Iran 0
Lionel Messi’s impassioned goal celebration in the win over Bosnia-Herzegovina should dispel any notions he saves his best for Barcelona, while giving only 70 percent for the Pumas. With an attack also boasting Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Rodrigo Palacio, Argentina have the tools to sweep aside Carlos Quieroz’s limited Iran. The Asian giants did well to pick up a point against Nigeria, but Messi and company are a a different kettle of fish.
Nigeria 1 Bosnia 2
African champions Nigeria need better tutelage. The Super Eagles were extremely blunt in their goalless draw with Iran, principally because they played too many long balls which kept bouncing back. With gifted ball players like John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi and Azeez, coach Stephen Keshi should use creativity in the middle to break the opposition. I liked Bosnia’s fighting spirit in their opening day loss, and I think they will pick up all three points.
Algeria 0 S. Korea 0
Algeria coach Vahid Halihodzic caused a splash when he accused referees of favouring the big teams. The Desert Foxes were certainly not complaining when Sofiane Feghouli won and converted a first half penalty against Belgium. Algeria were unfortunately extremely blunt and holding the swift South Koreans is their best route to gaining any points from this fixture. The Asian giants pushed Russia to the limit and will do the same to the ambitious North Africans.
Cameroon 1 Brazil 3
Mexico brutally exposed Brazil’s vulnerabilities in a pulsating goalless draw last Tuesday. Unfortunately, Cameroon are incapable of the high octane, high pressure, intensive, shoot on sight game that so rattled the South American powerhouses. Though overly reliant on Neymar, I can see the five-time champions overcoming a very limited Indomitable Lions outfit. But first coach Luis Felipe Scolari must improve his substitutions. He got all three subs against Mexico wrong.
Croatia 2 Mexico 1
I have been impressed by the work of Mexico coach Miguel Herrera. From the depths of nearly failing to qualify, Mexico are on the cusp of a place in the round of sixteen. Though vulnerable in the air, 39-year-old skipper Rafael Marquez remains an embodiment of professionalism. He will need all his experience as the central Americans try to come to terms with the aerial threat posed by Mario Madzukic and Ivica Olic.
I. Coast 2 Greece 1
African powerhouses Ivory Coast have what it takes to press home for a place in the last 16 if they can sort out their central defensive conundrum. George Samaras will be aiming to punish any laxity shown by Souleyman Bamba and Didier Zokora, who is a midfielder playing as a defender. But the Elephants can destroy the 2004 Euro champions.