The Lottery of Penalties and a Star Called James Rodriguez
The World Cup switched to second gear yesterday with the Round of 16 fixtures underway and it started with the hosts, Brazil, taking on a Chile side that was impressive in the Group Stages. Winning Australia seemed pretty routine but knocking Spain off their perch sealed qualification for the South Americans and raised a few eyebrows. The group decider was a clash with the Netherlands that ended in defeat.
From an Arsenal perspective, the name Alexis Sanchez has been mentioned a couple of times and the forward has been linked heavily with a summer move to North London. As for the game itself, it was what I expected from two South Americans locking horns – brilliant attacking football, end to end stuff and all action. After a couple of close shaves, the Brazilians took the lead from a somewhat scrappy David Luiz goal but the Chileans grabbed an equalizer thanks to a brilliant side-footed finish from Sanchez (sign him up!).
Both nations continued to have a go at each other and sadly, 90 minutes wasn’t enough to settle the contest so the game went into extra time. As expected, fatigue started creeping in and the Chileans were hit harder because they did more of the defending in the course of the game but in the 119th minute, Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla had a break and he slammed a shot against the cross bar with Julio Cesar clearly beaten. With the 30 minutes not being enough, it was down to five individuals that would become heroes or villains.
This made me flashback to Arsenal’s Round of 16 fixture against AS Roma in the 2008/09 campaign. After winning with a single goal at the Emirates, the Gunners conceded a goal at Stadio Olimpico and everyone knew that the team that scores the next goal will advance to the quarterfinals. Despite the best efforts of both sides, that elusive goal failed to arrive and the extra 30 minutes wasn’t enough so they had to go all the way to penalties. Arsenal won 7-6 in the shootouts and went on to win Villarreal in the quarterfinals before losing to Manchester United in the semis.
Snapping back to reality, Chile had a couple of bad misses and in the end, the Brazilians advanced to the quarterfinals after Gonzalo Jara’s effort smashed the post.
The other Round of 16 fixture was also an all-South American affair with a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay taking on a Colombia side that has been an inspiration in the tournament thus far. With the controversy out of the way, it was time for Uruguay to let their football do the talking but boy, where they in for a surprise or what.
The first goal was a master class from the best player in the tournament thus far. After receiving the ball on the chest, James Rodriguez had the audacity to blast the ball at goal leaving Fernando Muslera no chance in Hell. Even Uruguay’s manager, Oscar Tabarez confessed that it was one of the best goals he has ever seen. Rodriguez was on hand again to side-foot Andres Cuadrado’s looping header to put the game beyond Uruguay. In the absence of Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan looked out of sorts and as for Edinson Cavani, I reserve my comments.
When AS Monaco signed Rodriguez for over 45 million Euros, everyone thought that he was another overhyped player but in 105 games with FC Porto, the youngster scored 32 goals and supplied 21 assists. He even performed admirably in his first season in Ligue 1 with 10 goals and 12 assists in 38 appearances and next season, he would be featuring in the UEFA Champions League alongside his compatriot, the goalscoring machine, Radamel Falcao.
Today sees the Netherlands take on Mexico while this World Cup’s surprise package, Costa Rica, will play Greece in the late fixture.
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