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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

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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