Soccer

Wheeler: The Kids, a veteran and Guardian of the Goal

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Gareth Wheeler
6/15/2014 12:17:33 AM
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Day three was another outstanding day of football in Brazil. The goals kept pouring in – 13 on the day and now 28 goals scored in just eight matches – the most goals scored in that span in the World Cup since 1954. In comparison, there were only 25 goals scored after every team played one match at 2010 South Africa. That's 16 games. 

Three and a half goals per game is a staggering statistic, especially considering most are the product of stellar play rather than poor defending. It's also quickly becoming the World Cup of the counter-attack, where speed and finish on the rush is proving decisive.
 
Day three was also a day of standout individual performances. Specifically, the play of the young, a veteran and a guardian of the goal stole the show. These four players from different teams, representing different confederations and playing different positions, all coming up with memorable performances on a memorable day.
 
Young Toulouse right-back Serge Aurier was a dominant force throughout for Cote d'Ivoire, helping turn around the nightcap of the Super Saturday quadruple-header.

The Ivorian wingback was a constant threat down the wing all night, particularly in attack. A tactical change brought on Didier Drogba for Serey Die in the 62nd minute. The change caused immediate havoc in the Japanese back four, opening up more gaps inside the 18-yard box.

Aurier went to work. 

It took just two minutes for Aurier to provide pinpoint service on crosses to Wilfried Bony, and then two minutes later to Gervinho. The attacking players did their part on the finish but it was the crosses that stood out. Both whipped in by Aurier with pace and precision, finding the open man rather than just hitting and hoping. There was composure about each ball, not usually seen from such a young player.

His relentless energy bursting forward with strength and purpose was a difference-maker. The game shifted because of the goals, where Drogba and company were able to separate and seal the victory. The final scoreline read 2-1 with two assists for Aurier. The performance by the right back is the best we've seen so far from the position.
 
One year his elder, James Rodriguez is a star in the making. The 22-year-old put in arguably the top display over 90 minutes of the tournament in Colombia's 3-0 win over Greece. 

He played a part in all three goals, scoring the third of the game. His most impressive intervention wasn't on his goal – a poised finish after receiving a back-heal from the likewise impressive Cuadrado in the 90th minute. The opening goal was of the Monaco-man's doing. He'll never get the credit Cuadrado will get, but he should. 

Rodriguez started the move from his own end, playing a forty-yard ball over the top with a bend to a on-running Cuadrado. As his teammate pulled the moves out wide, Rodriguez ran the full length of the field showing in the attacking area. Cuadrado played near post to Rodriguez who dummied the ball to an awaiting Pablo Amero who provided the finish. Five minutes in and the tone had been set by the centre-midfielder. 

The pass, the run, and the wherewithal to leave the ball signaled his class. All afternoon, Rodriguez ran wild, covering an incredible amount of ground and setting the tone.

Rodriguez also took the corner leading to the second goal, a near-post service that was flicked before Teo Gutierrez tapped home. It was a day Colombia was able to sit back and pick their spots.

Rodriguez dictated the pace for Colombia. He was the maestro. Even if Falcao were available, it would be the young star that would prove most influential. Watch him as the tournament progresses. Rodriguez is special.
 
Special and/or influential are a couple of apt superlatives used to describe the incomparable Andrea Pirlo. The 35-year-old Italian veteran had himself another match to remember in Italy's 2-1 win over England.

The intelligence by which he plays was another level to his competition. Composure is a theme here, and Pirlo was never rattled in the heat of Manaus.

Pirlo completed 108 passes at a success rate of 95 per cent. Most the completed passes in the first half were without pressure. The passing out of the back in the second half under high pressure was a thing of beauty. England had no player who could limit his effectiveness. Pundits correctly point out to stop Italy you must stop Pirlo. Easier said than done. The savvy by which he plays is another level.

The dummy he laid on Claudio Marchisio's 35th minute strike gave his teammates ample time and space to pick his spot. England players were left without a hope. 

And the moment that will provided the GIF of the night was Pirlo's free kick from 25 yards out, hit dead on by the midfielder with the ball floating and bending outwards before going off the crossbar. The floating ball completely fooled goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was entirely fooled and was left going the other way. Embarrassing for Hart, masterful from Pirlo.

It was another near perfect night from one of the most influential players in the World Cup.
 
Moments can define matches. No moment Saturday proved bigger than the 44th minute of Uruguay and Costa Rica. 

The highly favoured Uruguay was up 1-0 late in the first half, with the South Americans pressing for a second. What happens just before the half can have a distinct affect on what happens after play resumes. 

Case and point, Robin van Persie's 44th minute wonder goal and equalizer Friday, helping turn the tides against Spain. Saturday, a second goal before halftime would have buried the Ticos. Queue goalkeeper Keylor Navas. 

The Costa Rican backstop had an outstanding year at Levante. His prowess was on full display in that decisive 44th minute. Diego Forlan had found space on the back post. His strike took a massive deflection off a defender and had eyes for the top right corner. Navas, caught off his line, lunged back and punched the ball out before it crossed the line. It was an incredible save to make, and a save of the tournament contender. The balance and co-ordination was outstanding at a difficult moment. I'm comfortable saying if Navas doesn't make the save, Costa Rica loses the match. 

Navas remained a rock amidst pressure in the second half. He even guessed right on Edinson Cavani's penalty. Navas was in the zone and gives further reason to believe Costa Rica can remain competitive in Group D. 
 
These were four different contexts and four specials performances on an extraordinary Saturday at the World Cup. The high level of overall attacking play is making for a distinctive tournament. But it's these kinds of special moments and exceptional performances that will live for the ages.

No matter age, position, or method, Aurier, Rodriguez, Pirlo and Navas have already left their mark in Brazil. And to think, the best may be still to come. 



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