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World Cup 2014
 
OUR MAN IN BRAZIL

World Cup 2014: Brazil, Argentina hot to trot

Despite surprises, no European team has won the Cup in South America

Published on Jun 28, 2014 8:38 PM
 

BRAZIL against Chile, and Colombia versus Uruguay will kick off the opening matches of the World Cup's round of 16. On paper, these are ties that may not make the neutral fan on Rio's Copacabana beach go gaga over. They may not even be worth staying up into the wee hours of the morning for.

Yet, the two clashes aptly capture what has been the essence of Brazil 2014, which has been headlined by goals, stars, upsets and controversy.

Who would have thought that we would be missing Spain, England and Italy in the knockout stages? Or that Algeria would make it past the group stages for the first time, making this year's tournament the only time when two African teams will be among the top 16?

But while football traditionalists may lament the absence of the three European former World Cup winners, no one is complaining about the sheer number of goals which have been hitting the back of the net with a frequency not seen in years.

A total of 136 have been scored in 48 matches, just one shy of the overall total in 2010. With an average of 2.8 goals per match, this edition could overtake France '98 (171 goals) as the tournament that produced the highest number of goals.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, whose team were humbled 1-3 by surprise package Costa Rica in their opening match, reckons that history counts for nothing in an increasingly competitive environment where the gap between teams is no longer as wide.

"Favouritism, historic backgrounds are all relative during the competition," he said. "Parity is a distinctive trace of today's football. There are always surprises in a World Cup because there are always teams that were not factored into the calculations."

His team will take on a free-scoring Colombia at Rio's Estadio Maracana today without the services of the banned Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has been sent home in disgrace after he bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. Tabarez will be hoping that his other striker Edinson Cavani, who has just one goal so far, can shoulder some of the burden created by Suarez's absence.

Similarly, Colombia have had to make do without star hitman Radamel Falcao, who is missing the tournament with a knee ligament injury. But in James Rodriguez, they have found a ready replacement. The Monaco forward has scored three of Colombia's nine goals so far while leading them to a 100 per cent win record in the group stages.

Yet, even red-hot Rodriquez pales in comparison to Brazil's Neymar.

One of three players with four goals in three matches - alongside Argentina's Lionel Messi and Germany's Thomas Mueller - the Brazilian has been not only carrying the stuttering Selecao, but also the hopes of a football-mad nation.

But while the fortunes of Spain conquerors Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Algeria make for great reading, it is unlikely their fairy-tale run will end with a place in the final.

One has to go back to the 1962 World Cup in Chile for the last time a team not from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, England, Spain, France and the Netherlands contested the final.

But, even then, Czechoslovakia could not get past a Pele-less Brazil.

By that theory, the 2014 champions will be one of the following: Brazil, Argentina, Germany France and the Netherlands. Given the fine form that they are all in, it is unlikely that anyone would disagree with history.

And if history is such a great predictor, then the likely winner will be one of only two teams - Brazil or Argentina - as no European team have won a South American World Cup.

Yet, if the results of the last two weeks are anything to go by, Brazil 2014 has shown that it is capable of throwing up huge surprises.

As Argentina defender Javier Mascherano said: "We're seeing a World Cup where every team has the ability to fight. If world champions Spain, a team the world marvels at and which I still like, were eliminated, that shows that everything has levelled off."

Will history prevail or will it be rewritten? There is only one way to find out - although it will require you to stay up late to do so.

marclim@sph.com.sg

Twitter: @STmarclim

Background story

The last 16 match-ups

Today

Brazil v Chile

Colombia v Uruguay

Tomorrow

Netherlands v Mexico

Costa Rica v Greece

Monday

France v Nigeria

Germany v Algeria

Tuesday

Argentina v Switzerland

Belgium v USA


RESULTS

  • Group G:

USA 0 Germany 1

Portugal 2 Ghana 1

  • Group H:

Algeria 1 Russia 1

South Korea 0 Belgium 1

TODAY

  • Round of 16

Brazil v Chile

11.55pm *

Colombia v Uruguay

Tomorrow, 4am

TOMORROW

  • Round of 16

Netherlands v Mexico

11.55pm

Costa Rica v Greece

Monday, 4am

NOTE: * All in Singapore time

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