For sheer entertainment value, Brazil 2014 is surpassing all expectations. With literally all so-called small teams punching above their weight, we are experiencing upsets aplenty, goals galore and all the ingredients you have come to expect from a reality TV blockbuster.
I am sure those watching the event live in Fortaleza, Rio, Curitiba and Sao Paolo are living their dreams. Beneath the veneer of entertainment and race for the top prize are several sub-plots which you might overlook. Here are some of the most absorbing battles at the global showpiece.
Battle of federations
With the world football governing body set to expand the 2018 World Cup in Russia to 40 teams, there is a race for the extra places. Which federation will get the lion’s share of the eight places up for grabs?
At this point in time, I have to say it is Concacaf. North and Central American football has for long lived in the shadow of their more illustrious South American counterparts. But you will agree with me they have come of age.
Trailblazing Costa Rica and their hard as nails Mexican counterparts have already booked their places in the knock out stages, and they will, in all probability, be joined by USA.
That would translate into a 75 percent success rate as Concacaf sent just four teams to the World Cup.
Asia has, on the other hand retrogressed. From the dizzy heights of the 2002 World Cup when South Korea reached the last four and Japan the round of 16, at the time of submitting this column, no Asian team stood a realistic chance of qualifying for the knock out rounds.
Africa will have a fairly good shot at landing two extra positions to add to our traditional five, if Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Algeria press home the advantage they accrued from their strong start to the group stage matches. The rest of the federations have always cast amorous glances at Europe which already commands 16 slots or 50 percent of all World Cup places.
Though Europe is the headquarters of the global football economy, it would be foolhardy for Fifa to add them more than one extra place. After all Russia are already hosts, which translates into an extra place. Additionally, Spain, England, Croatia, Bosnia and Portugal already out. This means the rest of the world has caught up with Europe.
South American powerhouses Brazil, Argentina and Colombia are already through, which implies they too will be clamoring for an extra position.
Defensive diamond thriving
There are two diamonds in football. Except, each time we talk about a diamond, the assumption is that we are referring to the midfield diamond. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the defensive diamond. In Brazil, three of the five most outstanding teams to date – Costa Rica, Mexico and Holland are playing the defensive diamond.
In yesteryear, it was referred to as the sweeper system. In this system, teams are playing with five defenders, with two of them converting into winger-backs each time they win possession.
You could say it is a 3-5-2 that turns into a 5-3-2 without the ball. In front of those back five is a midfield holder who not only mops up and protects the back four, but also initiates attacks. Costa Rica’s Yeltsin Tejeda, Holland’s Nigel de Jong and Mexico’s Jose Juan Vasquez Neymar have excelled in this role.
Group Stage Awards A
Most Valuable Player: Holland’s Arjen Robben ahead of Brazil’s Neymar Junior
Biggest flop: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Spain’s Diego Costa
Best team: Costa Rica ahead of Mexico
Best goalkeeper: Mexico’s Carlos Ochoa ahead of Chile’s Claudio Bravo
Worst goalkeeper: Spain’s Iker Casillas ahead of Cameroon’s Charles Itanje
Best coach: Costa Rica’s Pinto ahead of Mexico’s Miguel Herrera
Worst coach: Spain’s Vicente del Bosque ahead of England’s Roy Hodgson