In the first place, there was a common acceptance in England that defeat at the hands of Uruguay on Thursday night equalled a de facto elimination from the World Cup finals for England, but over the following twelve hours, a new narrative started to be written. Ignoring the evidence of their own eyes from last weekend, some journalists attempted to persuade us that Costa Rica might be terrible after all and that Italy would lay them to waste and put England right back into contention in time for the final found of group matches in Brazil. By seven o’clock yesterday evening, however, that fanciful notion had been extinguished once and for all as Costa Rica beat Italy by a goal to nil, elminiating England and putting themselves through to the second round of the competition.
A first half goal from Bryan Ruiz, a header which bounced down off the underside of the crossbar, was enough to seperate the two teams, and it was a result that Costa Rica thoroughly deserved. Italy looked strangely out of sorts, showing little of the effervescence that had accompanied their win against England, and now face a nervy final match against Uruguay in which defeat would see them join England at the airport a little earlier than they may have hoped for. The obituaries for England, which started in earnest in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s loss, kicked into overdrive last night, and most of them may well have been subtitled, “Look, I don’t want to ruin this mood of calm of acceptance of England’s place in the scheme of things, but I don’t get paid if I’m not hysterical enough.” Hodgson stays on until Euro 2016, according to the FA’s Greg Dyke. It’s the right decision.
Switzerland is the birthplace of one Joseph Blatter, so there was a certain irony to the fact that it should be this particular nation that made such a mockery of FIFA’s rankings last night. The Swiss are currently ranked at number six in these rankings, but France inflicted a five-two hammering upon them in a gloriously bonkers match that ended with a crescendo of lunacy. France raced into a five-goal lead and contrived to also miss a penalty – and, directly afterwards, a gaping open goal – before Switzerland finally remembered that beating Ecuador earlier in the week didn’t necessarily put them through to the next round of the competition on its own. As the full-time whistle blew, a long range shot flew into the top corner for what would have been one of the goals of the tournament, but the referee, chanelling the spirit of Welsh referee Clive Thomas, who did similarly at the end of a match between Brazil and Sweden in 1978, blew the whistle shortly before the ball crossed the line.
There may have been many who believed that Honduras and Ecuador could in no way follow such entertainment, but somehow the two nations that some had expected to be the makeweights in this group contrived to manage otherwise, and those tho did stay up until one in the morning will be unlikely to be regretting their decision. Ecuador came from behind to win by two goals to one, thanks to two goals from Enner Valencia in a match that was somewhat agricultural at times, but was as full-blooded as anyone could have hoped for. This was, perhaps, unsurprising. After all, the heaviness of Switzerland’s defeat meant that the winners of this match would be thrown right back into contention for a place in the next round of the competition, although with Switzerland playing Honduras and Ecuador playing Honduras in their final matches, the edge most likely remains with the sixth best international football team on the planet, for the time being.
World Cup Classic Match Of The Day
Argentina (or, as that team has become better known in the press over the last couple of years, “Lionel Messi”) play Iran in their second match of the tournament later today and a win should see them just about guaranteed their spot in the second round of the competition. Quite how Messi manages to cope with the pressures pressed upon him from outside are just about beyond us (perhaps he’ll snap a little later in the tournament and bite a referee’s ear off or something), but his presence in their team automatically lifts them towards being one of the favourites to win this entire tournament. This state of affairs, however, wasn’t ever thus. Argentina arrived at the 1974 World Cup finals having not even qualified for the previous one, and their opening match of that tournament, against Poland in Stuttgart, offered little suggestion that they would be the champions of the world a little over four years later.
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