The Day in 100 Words or Less
The World Cup keeps on giving. It was the day that gave us one of the finest World Cup finishes in history. A day that showed off FIFA's fancy goal-line technology tool, saw a French talisman get the start he desperately needed in Brazil and saw Honduras kick out at anything they could. Ultimately, though, the day's most defining image was a smiling Lionel Messi celebrating with thousands of Argentina fans inside the famous Maracana.
Argentina 2-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina
- It will be remembered as the day Lionel Messi scored his first World Cup goal in eight years.
- Let the record books state that the ball went in the net at the 64:29 mark. Fifty-five seconds before that he blasted a free kick over the bar and sections of the stadium booed him.
- Twenty minutes earlier Twitter buried him. Yes, his first half was average but so was Argentina's, strangely sent out in a 5-3-2 shape that gave absolutely zero width.
- What it did do was make Argentina more defensive and although they were better in the second half it is clear how they ended this game that their coach is still nowhere near comfortable playing a back four.
- Alejandro Sabella changed it at half-time unleashing Argentina with Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain making them look more like their normal selves in a 4-3-3 shape.
- Argentina were better in the second half but far from great. It was, then, a night about Messi, inside one of the world's most famous stadiums, where a goal finally lifted some of the nonsense pressure that has piled on his shoulders in the build-up to this competition.
- To understand the brilliance of the goal it is important to show why Messi struggled to penetrate and Bosnia-Herzegovina played a substantial part in that.
Messi drops deep and wants to drive with the ball, keep close control of the ball, take more touches than most when dribbling and use team-mates to help him glide into danger zones. He excels better when starting slightly right of centre and moving inside on his left. Opponents know this and Bosnia-Herzegovina's plan in the first half was to allow Messi space to run into but centrally. Too often Messi picked up the ball deep, had no outlets to combine with and saw a defensive structure in front of him that forced him to only go straight.
On the goal things changed. Both subs, Higuain and Gago, came deep to combine and then, importantly, ran on when giving it to Messi as he receives the ball...
Messi then got to penetrate and have Higuain to play off, dragging defenders towards the Napoli striker...
Then Messi had them where he wanted them, able to dribble into space laterally before shooting brilliantly to make it 2-0.
- Argentina would win 2-1 and have many question marks about their World Cup credentials but, at this stage, that is better than peaking really early which is something they have done in recent World Cups.
Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador
- "The World Cup's first draw of the tournament served up another tasty dish." ... That was supposed to be my opening line from this game. How naive of me to write it before a game had ended in Brazil. I should know better by now.
- On day four, in the ninth game of the World Cup, we saw another team come from behind and win a match for the fifth time! It happened just four times in 64 games in South Africa.
- The drama took place in the 93rd minute. Switzerland were on the ropes, Ecuador had been the better team and rather than sit deep and take a crucial point they sensed a weakness they could take advantage of. Their wide players were excellent, particularly Jefferson Montero and Walter Ayovi who dominated down the left in the final third attacks.
- It was, however, on the other flank that started a phenomenal minute of football and when Antonio Valencia charged down the right flank in the final minute, Swiss fans held their breath. Valon Behrami's brilliant tackle and then surge into the opponents' half started yet another counter-attack. He was cynically fouled but the ref played advantage. Ecuador were now the ones on the ropes, they allowed him to be fouled and pick up the ball unchallenged and as they labored back the Swiss switched the play to the left and the excellent Ricardo Rodriguez. The Wolfsburg dangerman sent in another good cross and a second substitute for the Swiss scored as Haris Seferovic's tap in got millions around the globe out of their chairs.
- It was a massive goal in the context of this group. Taking a point, with France next, after an average performance would have been very concerning for Ottmar Hitzfeld's team. They were outplayed by the South Americans for large stretches of this game and uncharacteristically were far more open than the coach would have wanted. However, a win now sets them to have a shot at winning this group and being paired with Group F in the next round that means Switzerland's dream of making the last eight is a real possibility.
- For now, though, the real winner was the sport. This was the perfect scenario for two teams to sit deep and play out for a draw as the second half played out. That didn't happen and it was another game to watch with a huge smile on your face.
France 3–0 Honduras
- We have had a bit of everything so far in the World Cup. This game gave us some brutality and a first real look at the goal-line technology system at this tournament.
- What worked: the ball hit the post and was bundled over the line when goalkeeper Noel Valladares attempted to keep it out.
- What confused people: the system first showed the ball not going over the line and 'no goal' came up on the screen seen around the world. Many thought that was the end of it but seconds later it showed the next area of concern that revealed the ball was over the line.
- What people need to learn: It was not FIFA or anyone's fault that the system first of all said 'no goal'. It is designed to check borderline calls on the line and it took just a second to ensure it wasn't in. Those who got confused and jumped to the wrong conclusion (of which they were many) simply need to be more patient with the system.
- What cannot happen next time: it took close to two minutes and 35 seconds from the moment the ball went in to them kicking off again. This is far from ideal and the game does not benefit when a referee has to come over and explain to a team's bench that you cannot argue against technology. Whenever anything is new and is used for the first time it is always going to confuse some. The key thing is the right decision was made. When we are all old and in a pub ahead of the 2054 World Cup just remember what you saw today because it will be on the quiz.
- As for the game, the butchers from Honduras were out of their depth and proved to be a perfect foe for a French team looking to draw a line from their qualification playoff.
Man of the Day
Ricardo Rodriguez – It has been a World Cup where young, impressive fullbacks have got the attention they deserve. Bundesliga fans won't be surprised at just how good he was against Ecuador.
Jefferson Montero – Another performance like that and he will be back playing in Europe in no time.
Karim Benzema – France can go a long way in this tournament but they need their main striker on form and he was excellent against Honduras.
Lionel Messi – It wasn't a classic performance but he was the headline-maker in Brazil on this day.
Muhamed Besic – the 21-year-old midfielder was excellent against Argentina, drifting in between the lines and causing Javier Mascherano many problems.
Karim Benzema - French football has waited for some time for him to step up and carry them forward. Eight goals in his last seven internationals, after a woeful early qualifying campaign, means the Real Madrid man is dangerously in-form at the right time.
What Comes Next?
Germany vs. Portugal Noon et/9am pt, Iran vs. Nigeria 3pm et/Noon pt, Ghana vs. USA 6pm et/3pm pt.
Burning Question for Tomorrow
Can Portugal play as well as they did in the Euro 2012 opener against Germany and this time ensure the result matches their performance?
Key Stat of Day 4
Through the first 11 games of this World Cup, 10 games have had three goals or more. Through the first 11 games of World Cup 2010, only one saw three goals or more.