The story of the 2014 World Cup so far…

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We’ve reached the halfway stage of the World Cup.

After two weeks of day in, day out action, we take a small breather from World Cup action on Friday before the knockout stages begin. That provides a perfect opportunity to review the incredible action so far.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ] 

Upsets, stunning goals, intense rivalries and much, much more, here’s your one-stop shop for everything that happened during the group stages.

Enjoy. And remember, we’re only halfway there!

Attacking soccer excites…

Brazilian soccer is always know to excite the palate and get everyone salivating over the Samba flair, but nobody thought it would rub off on so many other teams this quickly! Here are some stats from the tournament so far, as it is the highest scoring World Cup since 1970.

  • 136 goals scored in group stages (average of 2.83 goals per game)
  • Top scorers: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil), Thomas Muller (Germany) – 4 goals
  • Top scoring teams: Netherlands (10), Colombia (9), France (8)
source:
The defending champs crashed out in the group stages.

Changing of the guard…

Spain. The reigning world champions… remember them? Yeah, the Spaniards crash out of the World Cup after the first two games and just six days of the tournament. Losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in their opener (the heaviest defeat a champion has ever suffered when opening their defense) didn’t bode well, then they lost to Chile in their second Group B game and it was curtains. Vicente Del Bosque’s all-conquering side look to have come to the end of the line. Legends like Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas and Alonso failed to lead Spain out of the group stages, let alone to the fourth-straight major title many were expecting.

U.S. surprised us all…

Well, well, well. The old “Group of Death” wasn’t so erm, deadly, after all, was it? Jurgen Klinsmann masterminded the USA’s escape from European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, while the U.S. also finally beat their arch-nemesis Ghana and exacted revenge for being knocked out of the last two World Cups by the Black Stars. “Great success!” Now the U.S. face Belgium in the Round of 16 match. Who seriously predicted the Americans would still be in this World Cup? Not me. USA! USA! USA!

Three bites, you’re out…

The Luis Suarez story has taken over this World Cup. FIFA banned him for four months after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and now he will miss the rest of Uruguay’s World Cup campaign. What does that mean for Uruguay, and Liverpool? This madness has to end from Suarez.

source: Getty Images
After biting Chiellini, Suarez has been banned for four months.

Group stage flops…

Spain. England. Italy. Cameroon. Russia. Ivory Coast. Portugal. Out of the 16 teams who left Brazil after the group stages, the seven aforementioned nations really messed up. The likes of Spain, England, Italy and Portugal are considered among the best in Europe, yet they never got going and too many silly errors cost them dear. As for emerging nations like the Ivory Coast, it was a case of the same old story of heartbreak.

Group stage shocks…

Costa Rica not only advancing, but winning Group D ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay. Seriously… who saw that coming? Fair play Los Ticos, fair play. Also, Greece and Algeria battled until the end to seal unlikely berths in the last 16. Kudos to them, too.

Americans, North, South and Central, prosper…

CONCACAF has three teams through to the World Cup second-round for the first time in history. Five of the six South America teams who qualified are through to the last 16 and up and down the Americas, everyone is feeling pretty good about themselves right now. Well done. Congratulatory back slaps are the order of the day.

Memorable moments…

  • Jermaine Jones blasting the U.S. level vs. Portugal in Manaus. Absolute stunner from the USA’s best player so far. Also, he ran into a referee vs. Germany, as ref Ravshan Irmatov dropped his shoulder and sent Jones tumbling to the ground. Sit down, Jermaine. Both memorable, but for very different reasons.
  • Colombia’s wonderful dance routine following their first goal of the tournament by Pablo Armero in Belo Horizonte. The stadium was packed with Colombian fans as a sea of yellow rejoiced. Superb.
  • Guillermo Ochoa’s stunning display for Mexico to clinch a 0-0 draw vs. hosts Brazil. Save after save from El Tri’s ‘keeper helped them on their way to the last 16.
  • Tim Cahill’s stunning strike for Australia vs. the Netherlands. It was an amazing way for Cahill to score in what will turn out to be his last game for the Socceroos. Wonderful volley. Top bloke. Legend.
  • Robin van Persie’s diving header vs. Spain was just an amazing goal. Given the fact that the Netherlands won this match 5-1, it was even better. Plus RVP’s high-five with Louis van Gaal was pretty epic, too.

Team of the group stage…

Here is a list of the top 10 players at the World Cup during the group stages. Below is my team of the tournament so far.

—Ochoa—

Blind—Kompany— T. Silva

Neymar—Jones—Aranguiz—Robben

Van Persie—Messi—Muller

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.