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Executive Sports Co. and FIFA World Cup 2014: What we learned, Day 2
NETHERLANDS 5, SPAIN 1
The Netherlands are contenders: The Dutch cruised through their European qualification group without having to break much of a sweat. But uninspired performances in friendlies leading into the tournament, as well as some injury concerns to some of the team's aging stars led to some belief that the Netherlands might have a tough time repeating their run from the 2010 World Cup, where they lost a 1-0 final to Spain in extra time. If Friday's clinic of a second half against Spain proved anything it is that this side are not only fit to repeat that feat from 2010, but possibly to exceed it.
Spain don't like to be attacked: Spain looked relatively like Spain for much of the first half, controlling possession of the ball, the tempo of the game and having the majority of the run of play. However, in the second half, it was the Netherlands on the front foot from beginning to end. They continually tested Spain's back four, finding spain behind Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba, who are much better at venturing forward than they are tracking back. They also found space in between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique. Spain is blessed with defenders with great on-the-ball skills, who can help keep pressure on the opposition by maintaining, and often initiating Spain's tiki-taka attack from their back line. But when teams like the Dutch are willing to flip the script and put the pressure on them, they aren't nearly as comfortable and often look out of sorts in the back. Considering the fact they may face a Chilean side that only knows how to attack and won't back down regardless of the opponent, Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque may need to tighten up his back line. And he might have another tough decision to make with Van Persie and Robben are still a force: Robin Van Persie is coming off an injury-plagued and disappointing season with Manchester United. There was some concern he was not 100 percent coming into the World Cup and that he wasn't at his peak scoring prowess. Then he did this. And added another goal thanks to the kind of hustle that hungry strikers have when they are on the verge or in the midst of a scoring binge. And there's Arjen Robben, a player that many have said has seen his best days. His effort and drive have at times come into question. But one thing the master-class he put on in Salvador on Friday should remind everyone is that he remains one of the most talented wingers in the world. His darting runs and shifty maneuvers drive defenders mad and forces them to stay back. He creates space for others and finds it for himself ceaselessly. The rest of this World Cup field beware.
MEXICO 1, CAMEROON 0
Mexico will be fine with Chicharito on the bench. Javier Hernandez is without a doubt a thrilling goal-poaching talent, but the way Gio Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta are playing, there's simply no room for him in Miguel Herrera's starting 11. Peralta simply can't stop scoring goals for Mexico right now, and Dos Santos was the clear Man of the Match -- Cameroon's defense simply had no answer for his combination of quickness, movement, and incisive passing. It wasn't really a matter of if the two would combine for a Mexican goal, but when Rafa Marquez isn't done by a longshot. At 120 caps and with his Barcelona heyday long behind him, there were questions whether the Mexican legend still had enough in the tank to handle the demands of a World Cup. Brazil and Croatia will surely ask more questions of him than the passive Cameroonians, but on the evidence of Friday's match -- when he was stout in defense, solid in possession, and even played more than one clever attacking ball out of the back -- he may still have the answers.
Cameroon's World Cup might already be over. Brazil are the hosts (and are Brazil). Croatia will be desperate (and have the sort of steady defensive presence the Indomitable Lions have struggled against in recent World Cups, assuming goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa recovers from his nightmare outing vs. Brazil). The sort of open game favored by Mexico seemed to offer Cameroon their best shot at points in this tournament, but despite a handful of bright spots -- Benoit Assou-Ekotto stood out at left back -- the Lions simply didn't show enough overall quality, 1 through 11, to take advantage. It's only going to get tougher from here.
CHILE 3, AUSTRALIA 1
If I'm Spain I'm not all that worried. Yes, Chile did come away with the three points in its first match, but the Chileans didn't really show me anything to make me think they'll be able to hold off the Spaniards. Chile scored twice in a two minute span to take a 2-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the match, but after that I'd say Australia outplayed them over the final 75 minutes.
Chile's biggest problem will be its backline. It's nice to have Arturo Vidal available, even if he's not ready to go a full 90, but Vidal's contribution in the attack isn't enough to hide Chile's weakness in the back. Australia's Tim Cahill -- who is only 5-foot-10 -- dominated the Chilean back line in the air, getting his head on numerous crosses. Sure, he only converted one of them, but if Tim Cahill can expose Chile's lack of size at the back, just wait to see what happens when Spain and the Dutch get their chances.
Australia should be happy with the effort, if not the result. I don't think the Socceroos are going to get a point in group play this summer, but the effort tonight was impressive. This Australian team is a bit of a transition team, as it's very young, but it represented itself well against Chile on Friday night. In fact, I'd say the Aussies dominated the second half, getting a number of chances to tie this match, but they just couldn't finish. Then they just seemed to run out of gas at the end.