A potentially crucial away goal from Robbie Kruse has the Socceroos of Australia 90 minutes away from an interconfederation playoff date with CONCACAF in World Cup qualifying following a 1-1 draw with Syria in Malaysia.
Kruse (VfL Bochum) redirected a ball from Hertha Berlin’s Mathew Leckie in the first half of Thursday’s AFC qualifying playoff against Syria in Malaysia.
But a controversial penalty awarded to and scored by Omar Al Soma following a 50-50 challenge won by Mathew Leckie allowed Syria a point.
However, many of those players are already thought of as world-class or otherwise well-known throughout the sport of soccer.
There are plenty of players throughout the group stage that have taken advantage of the global stage to send their stock skyrocketing, many of whom were already playing well for clubs but didn’t have the exposure they deserved.
1. Daley Blind, Netherlands
Ajax winger and son of Dutch great Danny Blind, 24-year-old Daley has been a force in the Netherlands attack. In the demolition of Spain, he burst onto the scene, assisting goals twice with brilliant crosses into the box and completed 36/41 passes (88%).
As many thought he’d played the game of his life, he followed that up with a 42-of-44 passing performance, picking up another assist and two chances created,
He’s a solid defender as well, completing 16 of his 19 attempted tackles in this tournament. He can play at either left-back or in the midfield, Blind has been the Dutch’s best option on their deadly counter-attack, and is sure to get interest from clubs in bigger leagues.
2. Divock Origi, Belgium
With Romelu Lukaku struggling to prove his worth at the head of Belgium’s attack, a young kid has filled the void.
19-year-old Divock Origi – only in the squad because of the injury to Christian Benteke – bagged the winner against Russia as the Belgians looked otherwise listless in front of goal.
All three matches, Marc Wilmots has brought Origi in soon after halftime (15 minutes at most), twice for Lukaku, and all three he’s had an impact. He’s won take-ons in the box, completed plenty of attacking-third passes, and oh yea, a winning goal.
The USMNT central defender has been one of the best and most unheralded at the 2014 World Cup. His man-marking has been near-perfect, all more important as those around him such as Geoff Cameron fail to impress in that department.
Besler has also been a clearance machine, including a 12-for-12 performance against Portugal when nobody on the US had more than five. He threw his body on the line in that match as well, making a last-gasp interception that nearly knocked him out with yet another hamstring injury, but he fought on instead.
Word now has it that the Sporting KC defender’s performances against some quality World Cup teams have put him on the map for a job in Europe.
The old guard of Ivory Coast is headed home after they couldn’t put themselves past Greece in its final group stage match. But just because a team is eliminated doesn’t mean everyone played poorly.
21-year-old Toulouse wing-back Serge Aurier stood out for Côte d’Ivoire, producing a beautiful combination of solid defense, creative passing, and pinpoint crossing. He was especially bright in their opening 2-1 win over Japan, bombing down the right all match, assisting both Ivory Coast goals as well as intercepting a game-high six Japanese pass attempts.
If there’s any knock on his play in Brazil, it’s that he could do with some decaf, occasionally letting adrenaline get the best of him after a bright attack and blasting a cross well over the head of its intended target. But it’s safe to say Aurier has put himself on the map, and rumor has it Arsene Wenger was impressed by the young defender.
When captain Diego Lugano went down, some lamented his loss, but 19-year-old Jose Maria Gimenez has made people forget the injury and remember the kid’s name. He’s the latest to excel in a three-at-the-back system, which has burst onto the scene in Brazil.
His passing numbers are less than impressive, which is a red flag for many central defenders, but his defensive tallies have been superb. He was outstanding in the clean sheet against Italy, and he will be absolutely necessary if Uruguay is to advance now without the presence of Luis Suarez in its attack.
6. Enner Valencia, Ecuador
Few outside the Americas knew who Enner Valencia was or what he could bring to the table. After scoring bags of goals for Pachuca in Liga MX, Valencia has translated his form straight to Brazil and while his country is going home without a knockout stage berth, Valencia will be sure to have a busy summer.
Three World Cup goals in three games is a great number for a relative unknown, and while links to Arsenal might be quite a stretch, there’s no doubt the bright and energetic 25-year-old will get looks going forward.
7. Ahmed Musa, Nigeria
Nigeria surprised many as they progressed into the knockout stage over favorites Bosnia & Herzegovina and a bright Iran side. At the heart of their advancement was 21-year-old winger Ahmed Musa.
After looking listless against the United States in their final warmup before the World Cup, Musa has turned on the jets, outplaying Victor Moses so much that coach Stephen Keshi benched the Liverpool winger for their group stage finale against Argentina – Musa responded by scoring twice and nearly securing a shock result against the South American favorites.
In an attack that relies on multiple players taking turns finding openings in the attacking third, Musa has been Nigeria’s most consistent performer up front and will likely find himself in more dangerous openings come the knockout round. He may be 21, but he’s got 40 caps already, a staggering amount of experience for someone so young.
8. Memphis Depay, Netherlands
We first got a glimpse of Depay as a halftime substitute in the Netherlands’ second match against Australia. Defender Bruno Martins Indi went down under a challenge from Tim Cahill, and on came the 20-year-old PSV midfielder. All he did was assist a goal and score another – the winner.
Depay was dangerous both centrally and out wide, and when he also got 20 minutes at the end of the Dutch victory over Chile, he found time to complete a trio of take-ons that led to a pair of chances on net, and he scored again.
For having only logged 65 minutes across two matches so far, he is a valuable asset off the bench for the Dutch and will be a key part of their team going forward. He may even find himself on the right end of a phone call or two from a coach in a top-four league.
9. Celso Borges, Costa Rica
“Why would anyone in the world of football consider playing the best teams on the planet to be a bad thing?” Those were the words of Borges after Costa Rica shocked the world and not just escaped but won arguably the most difficult group in the World Cup.
The 26-year-old midfielder has been a steady yet important presence in the midfield of Los Ticos. In their statement 1-0 win over Italy, it’s arguable that Borges out-Pirlo’d Andrea Pirlo himself. A maestro in the midfield, Borges was 45-of-50 passing, leading Costa Rica’s build from the back.
It was the same story five days earlier against Uruguay, as Borges completed 41-of-49 passes in the midfield and created a pair of chances for Costa Rica. He’s also a force in the air, as any good holding midfielder is.
Joel Campbell might get much of the praise for Costa Rica as they look to take the 2014 World Cup by storm, but Borges is the man pulling the strings, and many more are sure to take note.
10. Mathew Leckie, Australia
Australia impressed in their very difficult Group B draw. Although they failed to secure a single point, they put the pressure on all three of their opponents, and the 23-year-old winger Mathew Leckie was at the heart of that pressure.
Having risen meteorically onto the Australian international scene thanks to the appointment of new coach Ange Postecoglou, Leckie was a hard-worker all over the pitch not afraid to take opponents on when he had the ball.
He failed with just three of 26 passes and created a pair of chances as the Socceroos nearly shocked the Netherlands, and was equally as effective a few days earlier against Chile. He finished in the top two in take-ons in both those matches.
Currently playing in the 2. Bundesliga (Germany’s second division), Leckie will surely get some hard looks from teams above thanks to his performance in the World Cup.
The Aussies put forth a valiant effort again, but again they could not sustain the pressure as the Netherlands picked up their second comeback win in two World Cup matches 3-2 on a 68-minute winner by Memphis Depay.
The Socceroos led briefly after Mile Jedinak buried an early second-half penalty, but Robin van Persie equalized four minutes later, and substitute midfielder Depay hit from distance 10 minutes later to bury the Australians.
The game started with the Dutch on top, but progressed in the opposite direction than the one against Spain did. Australia slowly built themselves into possession and into the game, and because of that the first Dutch goal came against the run of play.
Australia gave the ball away in the midfield, with Daley Blind stepping in and heading it over to Robben, and the Dutch winger took over from there. He skipped past a foul in the midfield, for which he was given advantage, and found himself 2-on-1 in the box. He passed up a wide-open Robin van Persie and took the shot himself, finishing low across the face to the far post past a sprawled Maty Ryan.
But don’t count the Socceroos out. They weren’t phased, and came down the other end immediately to respond. Ryan McGowan, in the lineup for an injured Ivan Franjic, launched a beautiful long ball to Cahill, who fired a brilliant volley off the crossbar and in. The goal came 70 seconds after Robben opened the scoring.
There was no more scoring in the first half, but Australia asserted their dominance, winding up with 55% of possession. Robin van Persie finished the half with just one shot and 11 touches, while Wesley Sneijder ended the first 45 just 9-of-16 passing.
The second half provided even more entertainment. The Dutch defense proved even more shaky early after the break, and the Aussies capitalized. After a promising attack that went unpunished just five minutes after halftime, the Aussies struck with their next chance.
In the 53rd minute, substitute striker Oliver Bozanic whipped in a cross with Daryl Janmaat covering, and the ball struck the defender’s hand in the box. Replays showed the two men were very close to each other and it was clearly hard for Janmaat to get his hand out of the way, but it was behind him and therefore in an unnatural position, blocking the cross into the box.
With the penalty given, Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak converted low and powerful, and the Socceroos had a shocking lead.
But just like Australia in the first half, the Dutch responded almost immediately. The deficit provided a kick in the rear they required, and van Persie bore the fruit, slotted through by Depay and finishing powerfully for the lead.
Mathew Leckie had a brilliant chance to go in front on 67 minutes after a bad giveaway by Ron Vlaar, but Leckie’s chest shot went straight at Davy Cillessen after the cross by Tommy Oar. It proved detrimental, as the Dutch would take advantage moments later down the other end.
Substitute Depay, on for the injured Bruno Martins Indi, had a go from long range, and the swerving shot crept into the net past a bamboozled Ryan, giving the Dutch a lead again at 3-2.
The Aussies quickly began to tire, and struggled to keep possession. As the Dutch asserted their ascendency just as Chile did late in the game a week ago against Australia, they prevented a second comeback by the underdogs by holding much of the ball in the final 10 minutes.
There were two yellow cards of note. Tim Cahill clattered Indi in the first half, earning him his second yellow card of the tournament and a suspension for the match against Spain along with it. With Cahill at 34 years old, the suspension likely means he has played his final World Cup game, and maybe even his final in an Australian shirt. Indi also appeared to be unconscious after the collision, and was substituted off.
Robin van Persie also picked up a yellow early in the second half – his second in two matches – for a wild elbow, and will miss the Dutch group-stage finale against Chile.
The win gives the Dutch 6 total points, and they will clinch a place in the knockout round if Chile wins or draws against Spain later today. The same situation would see the Aussies mathematically knocked out of the tournament.
Netherlands – Cillessen, Vlaar, de Vrij, Indi (Depay 45′), Blind, de Jong, Janmaat, de Guzman (Wijnaldum 78′), van Persie (Lens 87′), Sneijder, Robben.
Story of the half: Don’t tell Australia what happened to Spain last week, they don’t seem to care.
Despite the Dutch coming off a game in which they torched the defending champions 5-1, the Aussies haven’t just come out competitive, they’ve been flat out better.
The Australians absorbed some early pressure, and have things all square from Porto Alegre at 1-1. In fact, because the Australians have been better, it’s surprisingly appropriate to call the first Dutch goal “against the run of play.”
20′ – Australia were proving up to the task early, but Arjen Robben broke 3-on-1 and took it himself, slotting far post past Maty Ryan for a 1-0 Dutch lead. Thanks to a headed pass from Daley Blind, Robben took the ball from the mid line, passed through a foul which the referee played advantage for, and made it all the way to the box for the finish. It appeared he had a wide-open Robin van Persie on the far side with Robben drawing the one defender, but he took it himself calmly.
21′ – Corner flag, I feel your pain. Tim Cahill responded immediately to Robben’s goal, catching the Dutch offsides and finishing powerfully off the underside of the crossbar and in. Off the restart, the referee played advantage for a Dutch foul, and the ball fell to Ryan McGowan who blasted a long-ball forward to Cahill on the far side of the box. The striker one-timed a volley and the score was level 1-1.
Other key moments:
30′ – The Aussies equalized right after the Dutch scored, and after the scoreline was restored at level, they continued to press the Dutch defense, and had a pair of opportunities on the half-hour mark. Mathew Leckie’s cross trickled through the box untouched and fell to Mark Bresciano who launched a missile just over the crossbar. Just after, an Aussie free kick fell through the Dutch defense untouched but also went unpunished.
44′ – Tim Cahill clattered into Bruno Martins Indi, earning himself a yellow card, his second of the tournament. That means he will miss Australia’s next match, the group A finale against Spain. Consequently, the next 45 minutes very well could be the last we see of the 34-year-old in a World Cup, or even in an Australia shirt altogether. The challenge also knocked Martins Indi out of the game with an injury, replaced by Memphhis Dupey.
Netherlands – Cillessen, Vlaar, de Vrij, Indi (Depay 45′), Blind, de Jong, Janmaat, de Guzman, van Persie, Sneijder, Robben.
Tim Cahill – Always and forever the key man in their attack, Cahill is consistently the target of Australian crosses into the box.
Ryan McGowan/Mathew Leckie – A new addition into the Australian lineup with Ivan Franjic injured, McGowan was a force along the right-hand sideline, and pairing up with winger Leckie, the pair caused the Dutch all kinds of problems.
Arjen Robben – With Wesley Sneijder struggling mightily and Robin van Persie invisible, Robben was the only man involved in consistent Dutch attacks, and scored their first goal with a skillful break.
Numbers to know:
4 – Tim Cahill’s World Cup goals for Australia, half of the country’s all-time World Cup scoring tally.
11 – Successful passes by Wesley Sneijder in 18 attempts, just a 61% completion rate.
11 – Number of touches for Robin van Persie in the first half. He has one shot, one completed pass, and is 0/1 in take-ons.
Questions for the second half:
How will Louis van Gaal mold the offense to get his attack more involved? With Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder ineffective up front, this could be our first look at how van Gaal will work things at Manchester United when it’s not going as planned in the attack.
Can Australia keep up the pressure? Australia held 55% of the possession, and outpassed the Dutch 207-163. It will be interesting to see how Australia counters the inevitable Dutch changes to come.
Game on: Lineups & more as Australia, Chile look to match early Group B game
1. Australia builds for the future with a very young squad.
Goalkeeper Maty Ryan is 22, winger Tommy Oar is 22, Mathew Leckie is 23, Tommy Oar is 22, Jason Davidson is 22, etc, etc. With so much youth, it’s hard to see Australia making much noise in this competition at all, but they could be a force for the future.
2. Can Chile become the dark horse many are predicting them to be?
With the Dutch making a statement and the defending champions still the defending champions, Chile has a mountain to climb in their group, but many have tabbed them as a team to watch for an upset. As the Netherlands put up five goals on Spain, Chile will need as many as they can muster to keep pace. Arturo Vidal is leading the way of a relatively unknown squad, and they’ll be looking to change that, starting here.
Expectation: Chile should win this one comfortably, and they’ll need to if they want to keep pace with both teams playing earlier.
One blogger’s predictions: Chile takes it 2-0, getting their legs early before using their experience to take down a young Australian squad.