World Cup excitement in danger of fading out
After a blistering first round, Brazil 2014 has seen a dip in goals, thanks to a lack of emerging stars
The first three days of the 2014 World Cup gave us a bit of everything.
A masterclass from Neymar against Croatia, the stunning Dutch obliteration of reigning champions Spain, and the tiny footballing nation of Costa Rica upsetting mighty Uruguay.
Even before all 32 teams had taken to the field, there was raging debate from experts that the tournament in Brazil is going to be the best-ever World Cup, or at the very least, since Mexico'86.
By the time the group stage was over, the first 48 games tossed up a whopping 136 goals - an all-time record which leaves the 101 group-stage goals scored in the last World Cup in the dust.
Then something happened.
The goalscoring cooled down considerably. The frenetic end-to-end action on the pitch ceased. Suddenly, the giants, such as Germany, Argentina and Holland, seemed to prefer defensive caution to adventure and goals.
On paper, the quarter-finals promised so much but the five goals scored are half of that at the same stage in South Africa. In fact, it is the joint-lowest quarter-final tally of all time, equal with Korea/Japan 2002.
The all-European battle between France and Germany, rival nations both on and off the pitch, threatened to be dramatic. Instead, it was played in an insipid manner, under the sweltering heat of Rio de Janeiro.
The Germans scored early, closed shop, and France, who banged in 10 goals in their earlier four games, bowed out with a whimper, rarely threatening an equaliser over 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi's Argentina also gained the early advantage against the talented Belgians, but they, too, expressed a reluctance to venture forward and kill off the game. They defended in numbers, blocked shot after shot, and struggled through without any flamboyance.
Holland were the worst of the lot.
Against a Costa Rica side set up to defend from kick-off and take the game to penalties, the Dutch insisted on a needless three-man defence, and just one out-and-out striker in Robin van Persie, who was frustratingly mobbed by defenders from start to finish.
The game ended scoreless, and though extra time came to life like a bolt from the blue, most fans might have fallen asleep during the regulation 90 minutes.
After a sensational start, the World Cup has turned on its head.
From potentially eclipsing France '98 - which still holds the record of 171 goals - the tournament is now reminiscent of Italia'90, where goals - a record low 115 - were preciously few, and teams were focused on fouling rather than creating, avoiding defeat rather than winning.
Another factor that's been missing and one that is a must-have for any great World Cup are new stars.
Granted, Colombia's James Rodriguez is one but, apart from him, where are the new Neymars, Messis and Ronaldos?
Before the tournament, worldwide media was rife with articles on potential rising stars of the World Cup.
Not one player on anyone's list has truly fulfilled his potential.
France's Mathieu Valbuena and Colombia's Juan Cuadrado showed promise against the lightweights during the group stage, but failed when it mattered most against Germany and Brazil respectively.
For Brazil, Oscar fizzled out quickly after a bright opener against Croatia.
So that leaves everyone depending on the old favourites to lift the game. But with Ronaldo watching from home, and Neymar on his bed, that leaves only Messi and perhaps Arjen Robben and van Persie. Add to that the kiasu mentality that has infected the games now, you may be set for one of the worst World Cups yet.
Our only hope is that Holland, Argentina, Brazil and Germany change the way they played in the quarter-finals and do what they did in the group stages - show courage and a relentless impetus to attack.
If they can't do that, then they don't deserve to lift the trophy.
Another factor that’s been missing and one that is a musthave for any great World Cup are new stars. Granted, Colombia’s James Rodriguez is one but, apart from him, where are the new Neymars, Messis and Ronaldos?
— Ali Kasim
Expect a cagey final four
No. of goals so far: 10
Shots on target during group stage (3 games): 35
Shots on target during last two games: 15
Scorers: Neymar - 4; David Luiz -2; four others on 1.
- Watching them desperately clear their lines against Colombia, with still more than 20 minutes to play, summed up this Brazil side. They are a far cry from previous Selecao teams, who would never resort to hit-and-hope tactics when winning or losing.
- No Neymar, no attack. If they win, they'll have to do it ugly.
No. of goals so far: 10
Shots on target during group stage: 24
Shots on target during last two games: 28
Scorers: Thomas Mueller - 4; Mats Hummels - 2; four others on 1.
- The ruthlessness displayed in their opening 4-0 drubbing of Portugal has not been replicated since. The Germans have scored just twice in the last three games, within 90 minutes.
- Their second top scorer is a defender, Hummels - enough said.
No. of goals so far: 12
Shots on target during group stage: 33
Shots on target during last two games: 23
Scorers: Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben - both 3; Memphis Depay - 2; four others on 1.
- Scored 10 of their 12 goals during the group stage, but have since struggled.
- Played out arguably the worst game of the World Cup against Costa Rica, where Holland lined-up in a conservative 3-4-2-1.
No. of goals so far: 8
Shots on target during group stage: 27
Shots on target during last two games: 29
Scorers: Lionel Messi - 4; three others on 1; own goal - 1
- Have won all their five games by just a one-goal margin.
- Without Messi and his goals, the team would not have even progressed past the group stage.