Pockmarked

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 9th 2015)

Licence Revoked

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Colombiaʼs Golden Boot winner James Rodríguez Rubio – a joy to watch during Brasilʼs World Cup – was denied the right to play when Brasil and Colombia met in the quarter-final. Rodríguez was targeted as was Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and also Neymar in retaliation later. A match that should have been a mouthwatering tie was pockmarked by a tournament record 54 fouls.

Arguably the challenge that ended Neymar’s tournament would not have happened if control had been taken by the officials and maintained. This was a match that illustrated the need for the rules of the game to be respected and enforced. Without it matches like this descend into chaos.

Rodríguez and los Cafeteros lit up the World Cup previously with their delightful attacking play and infectious joy they were experiencing while playing. They were up to that point the only team to have won all their matches in that tournament in regulation time. They and football fans were robbed as their licence to entertain was revoked and cynical fouling and other cheating rewarded instead.

Responsibility

But Colombia bears responsibility too. In the first 20 minutes they outfouled Brasil, but the nature of those fouls was interesting. They were nowhere near as cynical or brutal as what followed. Brasil deserved their lead in that period, but their fouling even then was cynical and it was no coincidence that the main target throughout was Colombiaʼs star Rodriguez with the entertaining Cuadrado not far behind.

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When asked about their World Cup experience Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca said “I am happy”. Despite their best performance ever in the World Cup Finals, this team was capable of more. They were genuine contenders. They did very well, but they were robbed of the chance to do even better. And football was the ultimate loser – cheated of a good example leading to success, just four years after the disgraceful exhibition in the World Cup Final of Africaʼs World Cup.

Blatant

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James Rodríguez was denied protection from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, normally a strict no-nonsense official. Brasil flouted many rules, including distance on free kicks without consequence or sanction. Colombia naïvely largely observed them until they cottoned on to the fact that Rodríguez in particular had been targeted by a cynical Selecão, lacking Rodríguezʼ ability with few exceptions.

The ultimate insult was Rodríguez being booked for a tackle that bore no comparison to the hacks he had endured. David Luiz scored a fantastic goal from the resulting free-kick. Interestingly, Colombia had observed the rules on that free-kick. Their wall stood behind Velasco Carballoʼs white line and did not encroach.

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Compare that to Brasilʼs conduct at a free-kick taken by Rodríguez in the first half. The free-kick – admittedly controversially given against Fernandinho over a 50-50 challenge with Victor Ibarbo Guerrero with both players potentially at fault. That decision went Colombiaʼs way, but once given the rules seemed to be discarded.

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Note the position of officials as Rodríguez strikes the ball and those of the two defenders who had plainly rushed out of the wall long before it was taken. Even the line drawn by the referee was invisible as the wall had encroached anyway. Some payers never stood on the line, let alone behind it. The encroaching began as soon as the referee turned his back on Brasilʼs wall.

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Nevertheless, it was obvious that there had been massive encroachment when it was taken. Both Velasco Carballo and his assistant referee cannot have failed to see it. So what were the consequences for this blatant cheating? Nothing. Not a yellow card – not even the free-kick being re-taken. Not even talking to. Play continued as if nothing had happened.

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The Shameful Precedent

And it wasnʼt Brasilʼs first offence of that nature. Fernadinho had brought Rodríguez down near the half-way line previously. Rodríguez wanted to take the free-kick quickly, but was prevented from getting up by Fernadinho and more so Paulinho, who had to be pushed out from in front of Rodríguez.

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The much-maligned Fred – less than a yard away – tried and failed to intercept it when it was taken. Ibarbo received it, but seeing the referee running towards him thought that Velasco Carballo had called play back. The result of such unsporting play? Brasil got possession and counter-attacked from it. All of this unsporting conduct took place under Velasco Carballoʼs nose. He did nothing. No card, no talking to, no warning – nothing. Small wonder it was repeated.

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And then there was Thiago Silvaʼs shameful shove on Cuadrado with the ball yards away – unsporting conduct to put it mildly. The Brasilian captain should have been booked then with less than 40 minutes played. He was far from the only player to deserve a card by then. Worse was to follow – far worse.

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Pride

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 10th 2014)

Dangerous

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History does not bode well for Sporting Clube de Portugal. No Portuguese team has succeeded at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea are smarting from their first loss of the season at the weekend. And the rejuvenated on-loan Nani is injured. Defenders Cédric and the Brasilian Jefferson are also out injured. “If we talk about my team Nani is out. Jefferson, Cédric is also out”, the 37-year-old coach Marco Silva said. “I believe in my players. We will fight. Chelsea is always difficult, especially here”.

José Mourinho likes to win, but he knows that Chelsea have not only already qualified, but will top the group anyway. Chelsea have nothing to prove. Their first loss of the season means they are dangerous, but Mourinho has already said that youngsters will feature in his squad tonight. It doesnʼt faze Silva.

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The young players of Chelsea are good for sure”, he said. “They are playing for Chelsea. We are prepared. They are not second choices. They are not just playing. We know they are good and important”.

Focused

But Silva is focused. He knows that a draw guarantees progress to the lucrative knock-out stage of the Championʼs League. “Iʼm very pleased with my teamʼs performance”, he said. “Itʼs just one more match. It will be crucial. Itʼs important for us, especially for Sporting. We have just been to the second stage once and it would be fantastic for everybody, especially the club. We will fight”.

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Slovenians Maribor could do the Portuguese a favour by beating former Blues manager Roberto di Matteoʼs Schalke04, but Silva is not bothered by that match. “Football is too complicated to pay attention to the other match”, Silva said. “One point is our target. If we fail we will wait for the other result, but that would be making trouble. I will not tell the players about the other match. Letʼs see. We want to achieve our objective. I think we [Portuguese teams] havenʼt won any points, but we will fight for our target, one point”.

Mourinhoʼs Wish

Mourinho cut his teeth in management as the late Bobby Robsonʼs interpreter and local coach at Sporting Clube in 1992. Robson was sacked in 1993. Mourinho went with him to Porto and later Barçelona, where he also worked with Louis van Gaal. Mourinho later became phenomenally successful in his own right, winning the Championʼs League with both Porto and Inter. He won trophies in his first spell at Chelsea and at Real Madrid too before returning to Chelsea.

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He has made no secret that he wanted both Chelsea and Sporting Clube to reach the knock-out stage. Chelsea has already achieved their part. “Mourinho said the same thing in Lisbon for the first match between the teams”, Silva said. “He said his desire was to qualify in first place and Sporting in second place, but we want to win regardless of what Mourinho said”.

Aims

A draw is enough, but Silva doesnʼt intend playing for one. “[Playing for] the draw is dangerous” he said. “We know that Chelsea will be very hard, but we have to play within our limits. One point is enough, but we want three points. All my players are important, but nobody was believing in us. Tomorrow we can show everybody. If we qualify there is justice in this group, because we are playing very well and we want to win to qualify. We are guaranteed Europa League [at least]”.

Despite the success of Algerian striker Islam Slimani (2 Championʼs League goals in five matches) who will depart in January for the African Cup of Nations, Fredy Montero will play tonight.

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Montero ruled out excuses, such as Chelseaʼs first defeat and the weather. “The defeat of Chelsea last weekend doesnʼt change anything”, he said. “On the pitch it is eleven against eleven. We respect Chelsea, but we want to play our game. The weather doesnʼt change anything. It is the same for both teams. They are used to playing in this temperature but itʼs okay, we are ready”.

Ambitions

The Colombian striker has played in four of the five matches so far. He has yet to score. “ I am here to help the team when it needs me”, Montero said. “I havenʼt scored in the Championʼs League but it is my dream. I am confident that I can score. I always believe that I can score. I am here to help Sporting and I hope that the manager believes in me. I donʼt think I am the best Montero ever, but I will try to do my best”.

Montero knows that his country has an embarrassment of riches up front. Los Cafeteros shone at the recent World Cup despite the absence of their then talisman Radamel Falcao. James Rodríguez Rubio won the Golden Boot and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado wowed too. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca was an option too as was Portoʼs Jackson Martínez. And thatʼs without Falcao, who despite his loan move to Manchester United, may never return to his lethal best.

Still Montero refuses to give up on forcing his way into José Pékerman Krimenʼs plans. “Every game is an opportunity for me with my national team”, Montero said. “I am happy to play for Colombia. I want to show my worth and be in the national team after the World Cup and for the next year”.

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Colombia down the USA

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Enhorabuena los Cafeteros

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A record-breaking crowd for an international at Craven Cottage saw Fulhamʼs ground turn into a suburb of Bogotá for the night as Colombiaʼs World Cup stars beat Jürgen Klinsmannʼs new look USA 2-1. Sunderlandʼs Jozy Altidore converted a penalty to give the USA a shock lead, which they retained until the hour mark. Second half goals by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca and River Plateʼs Teófilo Gutiérrez gave los Cafeteros the win.

I think in the first half of the match we started off well” US midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “We imposed ourselves physically and we started off aggressively which is the things we talked about to make Colombia problems. I think we were able to do that, but then again in the second half we fell off, stopped being as aggressive and dropped our lines too deep and allowed them too much space to play and when you give a team like Colombia too much time and space they have great players who can find the ball between your lines and it showed in those two goals they scored”.

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Shock

Bedoyaʼs tenth minute free-kick created havoc in Colombiaʼs defence. AC Milanʼs Pablo Armero handled it and the Polish referee pointed to the spot despite protests from the Colombian players that Rubio Rubin had fouled Armero. The officials remained steadfast although the replays suggested that the Colombian had been impeded.

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Altidore out-thought Camilo Vargas deputising for the injured Arsenal goal-keeper David Ospina to give the US team the lead. Colombia, captained by Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez had the better of the play in both halves. Brad Guzan was the busier keeper. A 20th minute Rodríguez free-kick fizzed past Guzanʼs left-hand post. Slightly earlier Bacca headed over from Rodríguezʼ cross and the the Sevillaʼs striker also hit the post from Gutiérrezʼ cross.

Competitive

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Colombia should also have had a penalty as the first half drew to a close, but Polish referee Szymon Marciniak waved away protests led by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca, whose shot had been blocked by Jermaine Jonesʼ hand. Moments later Rodríguez was left in a heap after being scythed down by John Brooks. Marciniak gave nothing – a familiar story for the gifted play-maker.

But it wasnʼt all one-way. Abel Aguilar, who plies his trade for Toulouse in Franceʼs Ligue Un escaped sanction for a terrible foul on DeAndre Yedlin. He didnʼt learn, receiving a well-deserved booking for another bad foul on Alejandro Bedoya. Altidore was also booked for fouling Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado in an eventful first half that Colombia shaded, but trailed at half time.

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I think James is the play-maker of this Colombian team. Heʼs absolutely fantastic player, but I think Cuadrado is an amazing player. I donʼt know if he had his best game today in terms of showing his pace when going behind the lines, but you could see how quick he is and how the way he moves off the ball and everything. Heʼs a great player as well, but James is the key to this team”.

Class Tells

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Two minutes into the second half Rubin had the chance to double the USAʼs lead from Bedoyaʼs cross, but his diving header went wide of Vargasʼ left-hand post. With an hour played Colombia got their equaliser, although it had an element of controversy to it. “It was offside”, Jones said emphatically and he had a point of sorts. “I am happy with the goal”, Bacca said. He was also satisfied with Colombiaʼs performance in the World Cup.

With an hour gone Gutiérrez was in an offside position when James Rodríguezʼ deft flick was latched onto by Bacca who rounded Guzan and scored from a tight angle. Gutiérrez never touched the ball or went for it – Bacca, who was onside, did. According to the rules it was not offside even if perhaps it should be. The US youngsters have a stark lesson to learn – play to the whistle.

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The greater quality told as an incisive move by the Colombians culminating in a sumptuous cross by substitute Edwin Cardona was finished by Gutiérrezʼ header to the delight of the raucous crowd – didnʼt know there were so many Colombians in London.

Bedoya was in reflective mood. “We have to fix something mentally, because I feel like the last three or four games weʼve given up late goals, but this what we play these games for – to learn from these games and keep progressing”, he said.

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Real outclass Sevilla

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 12th 2014)

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Cagey

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Despite a typically cagey opening where chances were at a premium, it was Real Madridʼs World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed the headlines with a brace that defeated the obdurate defensive display of the Andalusian club. Gareth Baleʼs homecoming was overcome by a fine display by Toni Kroos. Germanyʼs World Cup winner belied his recent move, looking as though he was born and bred in Madrid.

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Club legend el Buitre (the Vulture) was impressed. “Well, they did it very well today”, Emilio Butragueño told us. “In fact, both Kroos and James [Rodríguez Rubio], they play a great game. Iʼm sure in the following weeks theyʼre going to get better, because they need time to adapt themselves to their team-mates. Iʼm sure that theyʼre going to gel with their team-mates. Well, we are optimistic about the future”.

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Ronaldoʼs first effort was a weak shot after 3 minutes that posed no threat to international colleague Beto (António Alberto Bastos Pimparel) – the hero of Sevillaʼs Europa Cup penalty shoot-out triumph in Turin last May. Baleʼs hopes for a penalty after clashing with Sevilla captain Federico Fazio were waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg after less than ten minutes. Ronaldo won a 13th minute free-kick after bamboozling Coke on the left wing. Ronaldo brushed aside his team-mates and took the free-kick himself. It deflected off Coke, brushing the roof of the net.

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By his own exceptionally high standards the Colombian phenomenon James Rodríguez had a disappointing match, but provided glimpses of his undoubted ability – he has only had a week and a half as a Real player. Rodríguez almost provided the assist for the opening goal. His cross from the left wing was enticing, but the angle at the back post proved too tight for Bale.

It took almost 20 minutes for Sevilla to pose any kind of threat to Iker Casillasʼ goal. Casillas has been below his usual high standards last season, but proved on top of his game when required tonight. A swift break found Vitolo on the left of the area. Vitoloʼs shot was pushed round his near post for a corner by Casillas. It was the closest to a goal up to that point, but against the run of play.

Five minutes later Ronaldo ought to have opened the scoring. A sumptuous 40 yard pass by Fábio Coentrão spread play to Karim Benzema on the right wing. Benzema squared it to Ronaldo who turned and shot. Beto saved well to deny the World Player of the Year.

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Resistance Cracks

Three minutes later Bale crossed from the left wing to the back post. Ronaldo stole in to sweep past Beto to give Madrid the lead. Rodríguezʼ free-kick was met by Pepe, but his header was easily dealt with by Beto. Rodríguez, eager to impress made a complete hash of his defensive clearance, but Daniel Carriçoʼs shot was deflected over. There was still time for Vitolo and Daniel Carvajal to be shown the yellow card before Clattenburg ended the first half.

Sevillaʼs task soon became harder as Ronaldo gave Portugalʼs first choice goalkeeper Beto no chance when found on the left of the area by Bennzema less than 5 minutes into the second half. Ronaldo acknowledged Benzemaʼs crucial role in providing the assist in his celebration of the goal.

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Despite requiring goals Sevilla continued to absorb the pressure and were indebted to Beto for keeping them in the match with a fine save to deny Benzema after Coentrão and Ronaldo had combined to create the chance for the French international to test him. The rebound was squared by Coentrão, but eluded everyone. Beto was required again midway through the half after Rodríguez controlled Baleʼs pass on the edge of the area. His half-volley was well saved by Beto.

Attack

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Benzema and Luka Modrić wasted excellent opportunities to extend Realʼs lead, blasting well over when well placed. With less than ten minutes remaining Grzegorz Krychowiak kept Sevilla in with a chance denying Ronaldo in full flight with a superbly timed tackle to thwart the danger. It set up a frenetic end to the match as Unai Emeryʼs team finally tested Realʼs defence and keeper.

With two minutes of normal time remaining the ball broke to Krychowiak, just inside the area. His powerful shot was parried by Casillas at the expense of a corner. Less than a minute later substitute Diogo Figueirasʼ shot was deflected for a corner as Sevilla piled on the pressure resulting in Carlos Baccaʼs injury time shot from the edge of the penalty area being blocked by Sergio Ramos. A rapid counter-attack released Bale for the final effort of the match, which Beto saved.

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No Expense Spared

At £364m this was the most expensive football team ever assembled. At that price there was no excuse for failure and they didnʼt. The Copa del Rey and Championsʼ League winners face a tough test this year. Success is demanded, especially after such an outlay on talent, but after the historic La Décima has their hunger been sated.

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Butragueño is having none of it. “Every season we start the same”, he told us. “We have to fight for every title to try to do our best and we know itʼs going to be difficult, because there are great, great teams in Europe and in Spain and we know that we have to play very well to perform at a very high level if we want to achieve our goals, so we have just started the and then itʼs step by step”.

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The legendary striker want more from his beloved team – much more. “Well, weʼre really happy”, Butragueño says. “Weʼre delighted with the performance of the team. I think we well deserved the victory tonight and taking into consideration that some players started practice one week ago, we did well and now we have to prepare the proper way for the Spanish Supercup, which we are going to play next week”.

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Festival of Samba Football

by Valery Villena © Valery Villena (May 18th 2014)

History

Brazil’s second World Cup is almost here. I can’t wait. CONMEBOL is a a giant of a federation with few members – an almost exclusive club that punches well above its weight. The first World Cup was won by the best team in the world at that time – Uruguay against Argentina in the football equivalent of the Battle of the River Plate.

Europe hosted the next two World Cups – both won by Italy. Brazil hosted in 1950 and were surprised by Uruguay who won their second and to date last World Cup. The tournament returned to Europe for West Germany to surprise the superb Hungarians of Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti. The only break in the hosting and winning pattern came when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm in 1958.

South America hosted again in 1962. Chile achieved their best ever finish – third – while Brazil became the first and so far only South American team to retain the World Cup beating Czechoslovakia in the final. Four years later England hosted and won and then a CONCACAF country hosted for the first time. A sublime Brazil dismantled Italy 4-1 in that final. Twenty years after surprising football West Germany won again in 1974 – the first of the Netherlands’ consecutive defeats in 1974 and 1978. Argentina hosted and won controversially in 1978 – the last time our continent has hosted to date.

Spain hosted and Italy won for the third time in 1982. Colombia was due to host in 1986. México stepped in to become the first country to host twice. Argentina won again, inspired by one of if not the best player ever Diego Maradona. The result of the 1986 final against West Germany was reversed in 1990 in Italy.

The USA hosted in 1994. Brazil beat Italy on penalties in a dire final. France hosted for the second time in 1998, 60 years after Italy triumphed on French soil. Inspired by Zinedine Zidane. South Korea and Japan hosted in 2002. Both South America and Europe fancied their chances with Brazil prevailing over Germany in Tokyo. Germany finished third when they hosted in 2006 – all four semi-finalists were European and Italy beat France. The last World Cup was Africa’s first. Spain beat the Netherlands in the

final.

So what does this prove? The only teams to have won the World Cup are South American or European. I can’t see that changing in Brazil. European teams almost always triumph in Europe. South Americans have always won when hosted in Central or North America. It’s up for grabs in neutral continents Asia and Africa, but this World Cup is in Brazil – the most successful country in the history of the World Cup. I firmly believe that a South American team will win. So her’s my assessment of them.

CONMEBOL’s Finest

Brazil:A Selecção’ is a well-balanced team. Their talented midfield is tactically flawless and they may have the best defense on the planet. The creativity of Brazil is most evident in their lethal counter-attacks, and they have a certain Neymar, who is ready to explode. They are expected to win the tournament. Can Brazil handle the enormous pressure? Brazil may do that with aplomb.

Argentina:La Albiceleste’ is arguably the best attacking force in the world. Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María can score against anyone. However, there are question marks on defense and midfield since these areas don’t come close to matching the quality of their colleagues up front.

At any rate, the defense isn’t too shabby, but it doesn’t promise any guarantees either. Obviously, reaching a good balance is the key for Argentina to succeed. They may reach the Final because Messi will probably shine more than ever before and this may be Messi’s World Cup after all, just like Maradona’s in 1986.

Uruguay:Los Charruas’ have excellent forwards in Luís Suárez, fresh from a superb season for Liverpool and PSG’s Edinson Cavani, a strong midfield, and an experienced defense. Diego Forlán can be a super-sub and change the outcome of the matches too.

Uruguay’s tactics in the World Cup will be very conservative; it will have a lot of players in midfield trying to steal the ball for a quick counterattack. They dream of another 1950, and they have enough inner strength and team spirit based on a solid defense and midfield, along with effective striking up front, to reach another semi-final, just like in 2010 is a distinct possibility.

Chile:La Roja’ is very good tactically; everyone knows his role to perfection and the team play really well. They like to press and win the ball back immediately. La Roja has some talented players who can breach the best defenses. They are capable of passing their adversaries to death and/or counter-attack with the best.

Nevertheless, Chile may be vulnerable to a physical side that’s very organized in defense. Such a team may stop them, although everyone this side of Brazil will find them extremely tough to beat. If Chile can win their group – thus potentially avoiding Brazil in the Round of 16 – they may go very far in the World Cup.

Colombia:Los Cafeteros’ are a good counterattacking team. They are most comfortable having nine men behind the ball. They defend with intensity and wait to pounce with swift counter-attacks by using their wingers. Radamel Falcao is out injured and may not be fully recovered in time, but they have capable replacements – Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado is in the shop-window. Expect to see the pacy winger move to a big club, especially if he excels in Brazil. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca is another to look out for.

This team is expected to win their group with few problems. However, their lack of success in previous World Cups could be a huge factor against them in the Round of 16 when they face an opponent with World Cup experience.

Ecuador: ‘La Tricolor’ is a solid team, tough to break down and well-drilled. They have a strong midfield that covers a lot of space. Jefferson Montero is a very important and highly skilled player, who may surprise, but Ecuador is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The key game for Ecuador will be their first against Switzerland; a win there, and they may be on their way to the Round of 16, where they hope to improve on their 2006 World Cup showing. They play England in Miami just before the World Cup starts.