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

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.