2014 FIFA World Cup: What we learned, Day 4
Here's what we learned on Day 4 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
This World Cup really is that good: On paper, Switzerland vs. Ecuador should have been about as unexciting as group-round action gets. Both teams arrived with potential fitness issues in the Brazilian climate (Ecuador due to altitude, Switzerland to "we're from Europe"), both lack a top-shelf striker, and neither is exactly known for a gung-ho, damn-the-torpedoes offensive philosophy. And there were times in Sunday's match when the expected lulls materialized.
But by and large things remained entirely watchable, and the jaw-dropping end-to-end climax in stoppage time will go down as one of the most thrilling moments of the tournament. When even Ecuador and Switzerland are giving us entertainment of this quality, yeah, things are good.
Switzerland is in fantastic shape: Haris Seferovic's last-gasp goal seems entirely likely to decide second-place in Group E, given that little about Honduras' display against France suggests it's capable of winning even a point. Especially considering that the Swiss were the better team for the majority of Sunday's match, six points -- and the second-round berth that will very likely go with it -- are there for the taking.
Les Bleus look like the class of Group E: We saw Switzerland barely scrape by Ecuador, and the Swiss were expected to challenge France for Group E supremacy. That could still happen, but France did what it needed to do in terms of goal differential to separate itself from the underwhelming foursome. Karim Benzema proved, once again, that he's a world-class finisher. No, not with the penalty he scored late in the first half, but with the two goals (he was only credited with one) that he notched in the second half.
The controversial second goal brought FIFA's first use of goal line technology, and it appeared that the referees got it right. After deflecting off the post, the ball trickled off Valladares over the line. Benzema's left-footed touch was sublime. His third goal, from an impossible right angle, was just as impressive. Even without Franck Ribery, France's offense is lethal.
Honduras may remain winless: The Hondurans have never won a game in the World Cup, and they're not going to do it this World Cup with an offense as meager as the one it showed today. There was one significant chance for Honduras to score and it came from an awful angle. The handful of other opportunities came off highly ambitious crosses that oftentimes didn't even land in play. Too often they threw away possession for an unrealistic shot at goal. The unofficial shot chart was somehwere around 20-4 in favor of the French. Honduras also took a number of dirty tackles once the game was out of hand. They showed well in the first half, especially when they had 11 guys on the field, but as the tally mounted they became more and more reckless, prompting some French subs.
It's not always smart to doubt Lionel Messi: Despite Messi being the set-piece taker on Bosnia-Herzegovina's own goal, his first 60 minutes on Sunday weren't great. He lost the ball in possession constantly, with Bosnia swarming him with multiple defenders whenever he got the ball, especially in a dangerous position or when he moved the ball to his left foot. Moreover, Messi looked somewhat tentative, passing the ball once he got near the 18 or inside the 18 -- something he doesn't often do on a regular basis. Of course, that all changed with one magical run in the 65th minute. He beat one defender, laid it off to a teammate, got it back, beat another defender (forcing him to collide with a teammate), and then placed it inside the post past Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. As the game progressed, he continued to show why he's considered the greatest player of his generation. His turn to start a counterattack after a Bosnia foray forward in the second half was magical, and it looked like he would get a second goal or an assist late in the match.
Messi hasn't been his Barcelona best with Argentina, going scoreless in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America, with only one World Cup goal to his name heading into this month. This is a major proving ground for him, as he can cement his spot among the sport's greatest players ever with a deep run in Brazil.
Bosnia-Herzegovina could be a threat if it gets out of the group: In its first World Cup match ever, Bosnia-Herzegovina showed it wouldn't be a pushover in the group. A popular pick to finish second to Argentina, they didn't back down whatsoever, especially after the initial own goal. They took the match to Argentina for the first 45 minutes, constantly creating chances, whether on the counterattack or off a set-piece. They came close to getting at least one goal, and likely deserved to be level heading into the break. The second half was more of the same -- until Messi scored his goal and took the wind out of Bosnia's sails somewhat. They defended Argentina's dangerous attacking group effectively, forcing Messi to lose the ball several times, and marking Sergio Aguero out of the game for the most part.
Scoring won't be a huge issue for Bosnia; this is a side that scored 30 goals in 10 games in qualifying. They are playing a more defensive-minded formation in the World Cup, but they still have Manchester City target man Edin Dzeko and several options off the bench. If they continue to play as well as they did on Sunday, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them in the knockout stage.
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