2014 FIFA World Cup: What we learned, Day 14
Lionel Messi and Argentina win Group F after a 3-2 victory over Nigeria, and Bosnia-Herzegovina get their first-ever World Cup win over Iran, 3-1.
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
Lionel Messi is good: This is obviously not something that we just learned Wednesday. We have known this for a long time. But, given his recent play, it's hard not to draw comparisons between him and Diego Maradona -- the man who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. Messi now has four goals in three games, and he's showing no signs of slowing. His cracking free kick beat Vincent Enyeama -- a thorn in his side for years -- quite easily. He has looked near unstoppable, and it will be a trip to see just how far he can carry Argentina.
Ahmed Musa to match: One thing of promise for the Nigerian side was their attack, especially Ahmed Musa who scored twice Wednesday. They ran right alongside Argentina, creating chances and doing their part in lighting up the scoreboard. They weren't able to keep pace with Messi -- few are -- but they showed the ability to bring an attack that could put some pressure on a France side that has seen nothing of the sort to this point.
Argentina back a bit shaky: Musa's play also calls to mind the play of the Argentina defense, which hasn't been exactly dominant against lesser competition. They blanked an Iran side that was mostly disinterested in scoring -- and even then Iran had numerous chances. It's certainly possible that Messi and co. up front can outscore any opponent -- at least most opponents -- but that's not a recipe for success, since the opposition is only going to get more formidable.
Bosnia were the unluckiest team at this World Cup. Particularly after the spirited effort they gave against Argentina, it's impossible to argue Nigeria don't deserve their berth in the Round of 16. But after Bosnia ran out comfortable two-goal winners over an Iran side that had given both Nigeria and Argentina defensive fits, it's also impossible not to wonder what might have been if the Dragons hadn't taken that pre-tournament field trip to the Hallway of Ladders You Walk Under Amid Criss-Crossing Black Cats, where they dropped a whole boxful of mirrors.
In the third minute against Argentina, Sead Kolasinac scored the kind of glancing "didn't know much about it" own-goal that only be chalked up to fate. In the first half against Nigeria, Edin Dzeko finished off a superb passing sequence with a neat finish, only to see it ruled out for the worst offsides call this side of the Mexico-Cameroon match. Later that same half, Emmanuel Emenike appeared to have clipped Emir Spahic while muscling him off the ball -- and though that call was hardly clearcut, it was a surprise to see the foul not given. And of course, Emenike crossed to Peter Odemwingie immediately afterwards for the only goal of the game.
Reverse any of those three harsh spins of the roulette wheel against the Bosnians, and based o nthe quality they showed Wednesday, they're the ones through and dreaming of an upset over France.
Time to mix things up, Carlos. Give Carlos Quieroz credit for many, many things: that the former Real Madrid manager qualified Iran for the World Cup at all despite a glaring lack of talent and resources; that his defensive tactics earned his team a hard-won point against Nigeria and came within one stoppage-time moment of Messi magic from doing the same against Argentina; that he ever agreed to take on the challenge of managing Iran despite his impressive coaching pedigree.
But Quieroz has also now coached seven matches at the past two World Cups, including his 2010 visit at the helm of Portugal. And in the six that have come against a team other than North Korea, his teams have scored a total of one goal -- that one coming Wednesday, from Reza Ghoochannejhad in the 82nd minute. As a result, four years ago Portugal landed a matchup with eventual world champions Spain in the Round of 16 and was eliminated, and in 2014 Iran finished last in their group.
There's an argument to be made that Quieroz is simply getting the most out of the talent on hand, particularly in qualifying. But when it comes to the World Cup itself, it's hard to think that adopting a less defensive approach would yield any worse results than the stiflingly negative philosophy he's employed so far. If Quieroz does return with another nation in 2018, here's hoping he's found a way to loosen up between now and then.
Switzerland is moving on to the Round of 16. Switzerland needed a few things to happen today, but first and foremost it needed a win against Honduras. As that score above told you, that happened. With Ecuador managing a scoreless draw against France it vaulted the Swiss into second place in the group so it will now move on to face Argentina.
Xherdan Shaqiri is pretty good up front. Xherdan Shaqiri is a midfielder by trade, which is where he spends his time while playing for Bayern Munich, but he was used as a striker today and the move paid off. Shaqiri was responsible for all three of Switzerland's goals, becoming the first Swiss player to record a hat trick in a World Cup match since Josef Hugi in 1954. You remember Josef Hugi, don't you?
It's nice to know Switzerland can score when it needs to. For the most part the Swiss have always been a defensive team, trying to win matches 1-0, or settling for scoreless draws as a consolation prize. That has not been the case in this World Cup, as the Swiss managed to score seven goals in their three matches. Of course, they also allowed six goals in those same three matches, which is never the plan for the Swiss, but as a fan I have to say I enjoyed the three Swiss matches in this World Cup more than any other Switzerland match I've ever watched. Keep doing this!
French attack foiled?: Has Ecuador provided the blueprint to stopping France? In short, no, no they haven't. France has been a goal-making machine in its first two matches but failed to find the net Wednesday. There are a few reason for this. First, Didier Deschamps mixed his lineup around significantly, resting midfielder Mathieu Valbuena and attacker Olivier Giroud. Also, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema did what they've done all tournament -- dominate possession and create chances. Those chances just didn't go it.
So while it's probably not something for France's supporters to be too concerned with, there could be a seed of doubt creeping into the minds of the French as they head into the knockout stage.
French defense: The flip side of the 0-0 was the play of France's defenders. Ecuador has had success attacking, but France, employing some backups in place of players such as Patrice Evra, kept them mostly at bay. France mostly dominated the game, keeping dynamic attackers Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero in check and affording few opportunities. Certainly Ecuador made it somewhat easy on them after Antonio Valencia was sent off, but still a job well done by the French.
France's road: Looking ahead somewhat, this is not an easy road through for the French. They'll open with Nigeria, a team they should beat. But after that they'll likely face Germany then, should they win again, Brazil. It's folly to look too far ahead, but this is a France side that has been one of the tournament's most dominant teams. They'll have to prove it now.
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