Women’s World Cup Day 4 — Vero, Spain Debut

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The long awaited World Cup debut of Spain’s Vero Boquete, by any measure one of the best women’s soccer players of her generation, was a dud Tuesday, unfortunately.

But it’s hard to blame Boquete for Spain’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, most of the credit has to go to Las Ticas and their rookie coach Amelia Valverde, who only took over in January after Carlos Avedissian – the man who led Costa Rica to the World Cup by beating Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago last fall – left to take a position in his native Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately for all her greatness, Boquete was surrounded by Costa Ricans at every turn (as Richard Farley demonstrated on his Twitter feed). And they did it in a very modern, organized way. They didn’t hack her every time she got near the ball or man-mark her all over the field, they collectively knew where she was and cut off her space at every turn (primary credit likely going to holding midfielders Katherine Alvarado and Raquel Rodriguez).

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Boquete did get loose a few times and even set up a couple of glorious chances for her teammates, but they were squandered. Unfortunately for Vero, she’s not the type of superstar who beats you with world-class speed or breathtaking individual runs, which doesn’t make her greatness any less extraordinary if you’ve watched her career, but this isn’t basketball or baseball where stars can often shine through whatever the defense throws at them.

And with Brazil and South Korea remaining, a couple more performances like this could see a disappointing short stay to the first World Cup appearance for the Spanish women.

-Ray Curren

Here are some other things we learned from Tuesday’s play in Groups E and F:

England cannot win the World Cup sitting in: It was not exactly a surprise that England played low pressure in their 1-0 loss against France, but it became clear the No. 6 team in the FIFA World Rankings has no chance to win the World Cup playing that style. The first half-hour saw Mark Sampson’s team concede almost every inch of turf to the French. Once they fell behind by a goal there was no choice but to take some changes but the English still went with low pressure and rarely created anything to offer much trouble to the French defense. The most troubling part is that sitting in created little to no traction on the counterattack. This could be different in their other group matches against Mexico and Colombia, but it won’t cut it once they get to the knockout stage and start seeing more teams like France. The catch-22 is the open secret that the runner-up in the group has a softer entry into the knockout phase than the winner so it is possible that Sampson held some cards in this one and did not pull out all stops to get the result.

-Dan Lauletta

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Costa Rica is very young, but… Yes, Costa Rica has improved dramatically at youth levels and they are one of the most improved programs in the world, not just in CONCACAF. They started two teenagers in Melissa Herrera and Maria Barrantes, but the backline of Diana Saenz, Carol Sanchez, Wendy Acosta, and Lixy Rodriguez (who set up Costa Rica’s goal) average 26 years old (with Rodriguez being the youngest at 24). Goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz is also 27, while Shirley Cruz, who has led Costa Rica for so long, is now 29. Some credit also has to go to the American college system, which – at least for now – is one of the best training grounds for young women in the world. Several Ticas, including goal-scorer Raquel Rodriguez (Penn State) have played for Division I programs, and have looked organized and disciplined for the last couple of years in CONCACAF, and now have a point at the World Cup as well.

-Curren

Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)
Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)

Goalkeeping is an issue around the world: Every time Hope Solo makes a big save we hear the familiar refrain that, altogether now, “no one else in the world makes those saves.” That is usually something of an overstatement, but there is no doubt the United States enjoys a comfort with Solo in goal that many other teams do not have. France is very sound defensively but their keeper, Sarah Bouhaddi, was shaky. She made one extremely poor decision to come off her line and on another occasion somehow gave up a corner kick trying to pass off to a defender. Wind could have played a factor in trying to cut off the lofted ball but on television it never looked like she had a chance to get close. In the Mexico-Colombia match, Mexico scored after a series of punches by Colombian keeper Stefany Castano led two a pair of corners. One of them easily could have been caught cleanly, and both of them at the least could have been cleared beyond the 18. Instead Castano was caught off guard by Veronica Perez’s whipping cross/shot that went in for the goal. On the other side, Colombia nearly scored a goal when Mexico’s keeper Cecilia Santiago went up for a free kick but saw it glide through her hands before she was saved by the post. It feels like before the tournament is over, a goalkeeping miscue will play a role in deciding a result.

-Lauletta

[MORE: Colombia’s first World Cup goal earns draw with Mexico]

Brazil won’t be scared If you want to talk about inexperience in Group E, you have to include Brazil, which somehow has only eight players on its roster with World Cup experience. But in its opener, Brazil overwhelmed South Korea with high pressure and it was the ultimate veteran, 37-year-old Formiga, who took advantage, scoring one (becoming the oldest player in World Cup history to score) and setting up the other in a 2-0 win. Newcomers like center back Rafaelle were strong and physical from the opening kickoff, while Fabiana and Tamires had no trouble marauding down either wing with speed and strength and scaring the daylights out of the South Korean defense. In fact, Marta was able to sit back and let the action come to her for most of the game, rarely taking people on with the ball and content to be a playmaker.

-Curren

Brazil may not know much about itself until the knockout round There were some worrying moments in the second half when South Korea finally let go of the reigns and started sending numbers into the attack, particularly Ji Soyun – who, like Boquete, was a world-class player making her World Cup debut and could have used a little more support. With Formiga playing in midfield along with Thaisa (just 26 caps coming into the World Cup) and Andressa, who just turned 20, Korea did have some joy moving the ball around in the second half. I already mentioned Rafaelle, who picked up just her fourth cap Tuesday, who was paired with Monica (just 21 caps). If you’re a Brazil supporter, you can look at the glass half-full and say all these players will be able to get much needed experience. However, you can also look at it half-empty and say that rolling past Spain and Costa Rica won’t get Brazil ready for what could be a tricky knockout-round game against a team with some serious offensive weapons like Nigeria (Australia and Sweden are the other two options with the United States as a wild longshot).

-Curren

Women’s World Cup — Day 4 Preview

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Tuesday is the final set of matches in the opening series so if the team you are following has not played yet, they’ll be on the schedule today.

Here is a look at Tuesday as Group E and Group F finally get underway:

Group F – France vs England
Tuesday, 1 p.m. EDT
Moncton Stadium, Moncton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

The choice match among the openers pits budding European powers, both of whom have legitimate designs on advancing to the latter stages of the World Cup.  The catch is that the group runner-up in all likelihood earns a softer start to the knockout stage than the winner, who probably gets Germany in the quarterfinals.

Speaking of quarterfinals, the last time these two met at this stage was in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup.  The epic match went to penalty kicks when then England coach Hope Powell asked for volunteers and was greeted by a series of dropped heads.  France won it but then lost their next two matches to finish fourth.  They played again in the group stage of Euro 2013 with France winning 3-0.  Powell was moved out of the coaching position after that match.

Group E – Spain vs Costa Rica
Tuesday, 4 p.m. EDT
Olympic Stadium, Montreal
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

The last two of the eight teams making their World Cup debuts will get it on and both will have their eyes on playing on after the group stage.  And both could do worse than to emulate their men’s counterparts.  Spanish men pulled a Euro-World Cup-Euro triple from 2008 through 2012 and Costa Rica qualified to their first Women’s World Cup on the heels of their men reaching the quarterfinals.

Spain are led by the high-scoring duo of Veronica Boquete and Sonia Bermudez but could struggle to score if they have to dig into their depth.  Costa Rica’s best player has been Shirley Cruz who plies her trade in France at Paris Saint-Germain.  They also boast Raquel Rodriguez, a promising striker who will go from the World Cup to her senior season at Penn State.

Group F – Colombia vs Mexico
Tuesday, 4 p.m. EDT
Moncton Stadium, Moncton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on Telemundo)

The bottom two teams in Group F collide in a pivotal match with the winner knowing chances are reasonable to advance while the loser will be left to seek out points against France and/or England.

Colombia went to Germany four years ago and came home without a goal to show for it (they did earn a point in a scoreless draw against North Korea.)  They are back without a single player having celebrated her 30th birthday and few that play outside Colombia.  Many that do are still at the college level.  Mexico struggled to get out of CONCACAF qualifying nearly going belly-up after sandbagging against the United States in order to play Trinidad and Tobago in order to qualify.  It wound up taking extra time to sneak through and avoid a playoff against Ecuador.  Still Mexico has a decided edge in experience in this one.

Group E – Brazil vs Korea Republic
Tuesday, 7 p.m. EDT
Olympic Stadium, Montreal
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

Perhaps it is poetic justice that Brazil be one of the final two teams to be seen at this World Cup.  Marta is widely considered the best player of her generation and despite playing in two Olympic finals and a World Cup final, she and Brazil do not have their names on any global trophies.  Now 29, and with many miles on her world class legs, it could be the end of the window in terms of World Cups.  Marta and her team were certainly on song when they ran circles around the United States last year.

South Korea played the U.S. more recently and held them to 0-0 in a match many observers thought they easily could have won.  They play a very technical game and are well organized, the latter being an absolute necessity against Brazil.

Top Ten Players of the 2014 World Cup’s Group Stage

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It’s quite a task selecting the best 10 performances from 32 teams playing three games each, but in the hard world of being employed to rank world footballers, I stand ready.

It’s especially hard not to just latch onto incredible moments and insert a player on the list. Robin van Persie’s headed goal against Spain still amazes me, but was he the driving force behind the Netherlands’ surprising group stage? Certain teams got by on defending, so does that mean one defender can rise above the rest?

[ RELATED: Complete bracket for Round of 16, more ]

Oh, shoot. Let’s just do this thing. The Top Ten players from the 2014 group stage were:

10. Gervinho, Ivory Coast – No, Les Elephants were not able to charge out of their group stage funk, but that was no fault of the electric Gervinho, who challenged back lines and midfields alike.

9. Arjen Robben, Netherlands – He’s a menace, and his motor never stops going (even during his full-energy dives). Robben drove the Dutch into the knockout rounds.

8. Enner Valencia, Ecuador – The bright spot in a disappointing tournament for La Tri, the ‘other’ Valencia has been linked with a number of Premier League sides including Newcastle United.

7. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico – You watched the Brazil/Mexico match, right? Can you believe El Tri had coaches who didn’t suit this guy up?

source: AP6. James Rodriguez, Colombia – Absurdly-gifted and just as productive, James is one of the main reasons Colombia could emerge from the loaded CONMEBOL quadrant and into the semifinals.

5. Karim Benzema, France – If this guy played in England, he would be one of the most popular players for American audiences. He’s big, talented and hard-charging.

4. David Luiz, Brazil – So PSG is going to team Luiz up with Thiago Silva? Champions League, beware.

3. Neymar, Brazil – If there’s been more stress placed on a younger player by a host nation, we’ve yet to find him. Coming into his own during this tournament.

2. Thomas Muller, Germany – All he does is score goals, and that bullet against the United States was bordering on impossibly well-placed.

1. Lionel Messi, Argentina – Any more questions about the Atomic Ant on the international stage? He was Argentina in the group stage.

Honorable mention: Wayne Rooney, England; Yeltsin Tejeda and Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica; Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard, United States; Daley Blind, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay, Netherlands; Blaise Matuidi, France; Xherdan Shaqiri and Diego Benaglio, Switzerland; Andre Ayew, Ghana; Juan Cuadrado, Colombia; Merhdad Pooladi, Iran; Serey Die, Ivory Coast; David Ospina and Jackson Martinez, Colombia; Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard, Belgium; Ivan Perisic, Croatia; Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez, Chile; Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria; Oribe Peralta, Mexico; Diego Godin and Luis Suarez, Uruguay; Islam Slimani, Algeria; Keisuke Honda, Japan; Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels, Germany.

World Cup Today: Only one of 8 teams out of it in Groups E & F

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How’d you like to win your first two matches of World Cup and not be guaranteed a place in the knockout round? It’s extremely unlikely, but that’s the predicament facing France on Wednesday despite outclassing Switzerland and Honduras to open its tournament and boasting a plus-6 goal differential.

Still, the French should be through barring a three-goal stomping from Ecuador coupled with Switzerland running roughshod over Honduras. And with four matches on tap today, we’ll have to shift our focus from Tuesday’s action and controversy, which saw:

Luis Suarez’s third bite take the focus away from Uruguay’s advancement over Italy.

England’s snoozer of a draw against Costa Rica.

Greece playing the snake-in-the-grass to near-perfection in ouster of Ivory Coast

Colombia reinforcing its status as title threats with a 4-1 thumping of Japan

[ MORE: How will U.S. lineup vs. Germany ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

Two more group finales are in store on Wednesday. Let’s take a look at what’s in store:

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MATCH 43: Nigeria vs. Argentina
Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
The Soccerly headline says that Argentina is out to prove they are more than just Lionel Messi, who turned 27 on Tuesday, but they haven’t needed anything additional than Leo so far. Argentina is through and will win the group with a tie or better. Nigeria is also through with a draw.

What they’re saying
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella on Messi: “Whenever there is a player like Messi, there’s a dependence. We are trying to improve but dependence always exists. We have to try to take the pressure off him between all of us because we are a team. But for a great player there is always pressure at a World Cup.”

History
Argentina holds a 4-1-1 advantage, including a 3-for-3 mark at World Cups 2010, 2002 and 1994.

Premier League Players
Nigeria: John Obi MikelVictor Moses (Chelsea); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City)
Argentina: Manchester City has three representatives: Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis and Sergio Agüero.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source:  MATCH 44: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran
Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
BNH is out, while Iran still advance with a win, a Nigeria loss and a better goal differential (Iran’s is currently -1, Nigeria’s +1). With the two teams having drawn 0-0, there’s also the chance of lots being drawn if the matches both finish 1-0.

What they’re saying
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz on the match’s importance: “This is our World Cup final, it’s as simple as that. We didn’t come here to win the trophy. Nobody expected that from Iran, but we raised our expectations and we raised our dreams. We want to play the match with one goal in mind: to fulfil our dream of reaching the last 16.”

History
BNH has not won in five attempts against Iran with at least three goals scored in each match (Iran outscoring them 16-7).

Premier League players
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Asmir Begović (Stoke City); Edin Džeko (Manchester City)

MLS players
Iran: Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)

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source: AP

MATCH 41: Honduras vs. Switzerland
Location: Arena da Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Believe it or not, Honduras is not out of this thing yet. It would take a crazy dose of CONCACAF magic, as the Central Americans will need to win and see Ecuador lose to France by margins that erase a goal differential of four. Switzerland needs to win and see Ecuador lose as well, though the erasing of goal differential is easier than Honduras’ task.

What they’re saying
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka: “We have a better team and more quality than Honduras. And I think we deserve to go through to the Round of 16. We’re utterly determined to make it, and we’ll show it against Honduras.”

History
Met once at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they drew 0-0.

Premier League players
Honduras – Maynor Figueroa (Hull City), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City)
Switzerland – Philippe Senderos (Aston Villa)

MLS players:
Honduras – Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Boneik Garcia (Houston), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA), Jerry Bengtson (New England).

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 42: Ecuador vs. France
Location: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Time: 4pmn ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Ecuador needs to win and hope Switzerland doesn’t absolutely destroy Honduras in Manaus. France wins the group with a draw, and it would take a grievous and historical loss to eliminate them as well (And what if they had Ribery?!?)

What they’re saying
Ecuador’s Christian Noboa on the match: ““It’s like a final for us and we’re hoping to win it and make our people happy. We can beat France. That’s why we’re here at the World Cup, because every team is capable of beating anyone else. We’ve seen that in the other games, and there isn’t much difference between sides now.

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League players
Ecuador – Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
France – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Moussa Sissokho (Newcastle), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loic Remy (QPR).

MLS players
Ecuador – Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA)

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Switzerland hampered by the loss of Steve von Bergen

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Six minutes into Switzerland’s game against France on Friday, Steve von Bergen and Olivier Giroud collided. The Swiss defender came off much worse for the wear, with blood pouring from his cheek where Giroud’s boot had raked over his skin. Philippe Senderos replaced von Bergen, and the latter was taken to the hospital in Salvador.

The collision left von Bergen with a fractured cheekbone. He will now return to Switzerland for treatment, leaving his teammates attempting to advance in his absence.

The match against France ultimately ended in a 5-2 defeat for the Swiss, who were unable to score until the 81st minute. They are on 3 points in Group E, having beat Ecuador 2-1 in their first match, but an inferior goal difference puts them into third place.

Switzerland might be bolstered by the fact that Ecuador now face France, and could very well receive a similar beating, while their next opponent is Honduras, who’ve scored just one goal thus far. However, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side will likely struggle without von Bergen. Senderos, recently signed by Aston Villa, gave supporters of his new club no cause for celebration in his display for Switzerland. The centerback was caught out of position time and time again, allowing France to have their way with goal.

Hitzfeld also faces a selection dilemma in central midfield. Valon Behrami, once such a solid enforcer, gifted France their second goal with a direct pass, and his link-up play between the defense and attack was abysmal. He was replaced at halftime by Napoli teammate Blerim Džemaili, who scored a wonderful direct free kick for Switzerland’s first goal. But while Džemaili offers more going forward, he is not as strong as Behrami defensively.