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Jack: Reviewing a truly brilliant group stage at Brazil 2014

Kristian Jack
6/26/2014 6:58:43 PM
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International football badly needed a good World Cup.

The jury is yet to deliver a verdict with the knockout rounds still to come, but all indications are that this will not be a good World Cup. Indeed, it is on track to be a great World Cup.

Two weeks to the day that the opening match of the tournament between Brazil and Croatia came to a close, the curtain came down on the group stages and what a sensational show it was.

We are now already through three quarters of the tournament, but rather than be sad that much of it is over, we should be grateful with what we witnessed. It was a group stage that gave us more special moments than the three previous World Cups combined.

A group stage of surprises, where tactically versatile and organized sides shocked the so-called super powers of the game. A group stage that saw the renaissance of 3-5-2, used so well by surprise teams like Netherlands, Costa Rica and Mexico.

A group stage of counterattackers, comebacks and headers, trends that the Netherlands used in their demolition of Spain back on Day 2.

Their superb pressing and clinical finishing gave us a glimpse of what was to come in Brazil, but not before that look and pass by Daley Blind just before the half-time break. The ball landed on top of the supremely intelligent head of Robin van Persie and his magnificent header over Iker Casillas changed everything.

It became the group stage of headers with 27 more following van Persie's, but none of them beating it.

It became the group stage of comebacks. Spain, massacred by the Dutch 5-1 in the third game of the tournament, was already the second team, after Croatia a day earlier, to lose a game they led. A small, exclusive group of only four from 2010 would grow quickly as Uruguay, Japan, Ecuador, Algeria and Australia joined them in the first week.

During their second group games Germany, Ghana, Portugal and USA all managed to not win games against each other that they led in.

Even Uruguay, Greece and Algeria had comebacks of their own, all qualifying despite losing their opening World Cup match. Only Spain did that in 2010.

It became the group stage of counterattacks, once again ignited by the Dutch over Spain as they scored their last three goals with a combined 29 seconds in possession, and never more highlighted than when Switzerland broke away in the final seconds to score a dramatic, crucial winner over Ecuador.

It became the group stage of creative, left-footed masters who glided across the field into space left open by a transition.

The group stage of substitute goals, 24 in total, highlighted by Miroslav Klose joining the great Ronaldo on 15 World Cup goals and James Rodriguez dancing his way through the Japanese defence for one of the goals of the tournament.

In the end, though, it was the group stage of goals as an incredible 136 went in (there was a total of 145 scored in South Africa).

It was no surprise that a wind of caution blew around the stadiums as the third group games took place but before they started the goals per game ratio stood at a wonderful 2.96.

It ends the group stage at a beautifully high 2.83. There are still 16 games to go, of course, but no World Cup since 1970 has come close to that average.

It wasn't just about the amount of goals, however. Many of the world's stars were the ones scoring and we already have three world class stars on four goals each through three games.

My 23 man squad of the group stages

GK – Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Keylor Navas (Costa Rica), Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)

D – Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Cristian Gamboa (Costa Rica), Kostas Manolas (Greece), Rafa Marquez (Mexico), Mario Yepes (Colombia), Raphael Varene (France), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica), Daley Blind (Netherlands).

M – Jose Vazquez (Mexico), Hector Herrera (Mexico), Blaise Matuidi (France), Charles Aranguiz (Chile), Toni Kroos (Germany), James Rodriguez (Colombia)

F – Neymar (Brazil), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Karim Benzema (France), Thomas Muller (Germany), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Robin Van Persie (Netherlands)

Group Winners – Brazil, Netherlands, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Argentina, Germany & Belgium.

For the third time in the last four World Cups, three teams that were not seeded won groups. For the second successive World Cup, the only seed that didn't progress through to the next stage was the previous winners (Spain 2014, Italy 2010).

Since the World Cup went to 32 teams in 1998, over the last four World Cups, nine group winners have lost in the next round (average of more than two per World Cup) and there hasn't been a World Cup in that time when all group winners advanced.

Runners-up – Mexico, Chile, Greece, Uruguay, Switzerland, Nigeria, USA & Algeria.

With that stat in mind it is likely that at least one of these teams will beat their opponent. Look for Greece, Uruguay, possibly Mexico, USA and even Chile to continue this streak.

After that? In nine of the last 10 World Cups a group runner-up has made it to at least the semi-final stage. That will be the target of one of these teams going forward.

Ranking teams eliminated at this World Cup based on performances in Brazil

32. Honduras
31. Cameroon
30. Japan
29. South Korea
28. England
27. Iran
26. Bosnia & Herzegovina
25. Russia
24. Portugal
23. Australia
22. Spain
21. Croatia
20. Ivory Coast
19. Italy
18. Ghana
17. Ecuador

Ranking teams left at this World Cup based on their chances of winning the World Cup

16. Switzerland
15. Algeria
14. USA
13. Greece
12. Costa Rica
11. Nigeria
10. Mexico
9. Belgium
8. Chile
7. Uruguay
6. Colombia
5. France
4. Netherlands
3. Germany
2. Brazil
1. Argentina




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