x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The 10 things we learnt from World Cup 2014 group stages

From Luis Suarez to goal-line technology to guessing camels, Paul Radley breaks down the 10 things we learnt from group stage at 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

A supporter celebrates Costa Rica's classification at the end of the World Cup group D match against England, at the Mineirao Stadium, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Costa Rica finished first in what many considered the World Cup's toughest group after a dour 0-0 draw against England. AP Photo/Bruno Magalhaes
A supporter celebrates Costa Rica's classification at the end of the World Cup group D match against England, at the Mineirao Stadium, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Costa Rica finished first in what many considered the World Cup's toughest group after a dour 0-0 draw against England. AP Photo/Bruno Magalhaes

1 Camels are not mystic

Or, at least the ones we found were not. They were not even good at guessing, let alone knowing the football scores.

To be fair, the owner of Waslawi and Shaheen did warn us as much.

“Camels don’t understand football,” said Matar Al Jabri, whose pedigree camels forecasted the results of four pool matches for The National ahead of the competition. “It’s an animal, not a person.”

But did we listen? Despite being reared by a football-obsessed Emirati – Al Jabri has worn yellow kanduras for the past 20 year’s in homage to Al Wasl – they were, indeed, way off the mark in predicting results.

Watch video: Dubai camels pick the winners of World Cup matches

The had too much faith in the underdog, unsuccessfully picking Portugal to beat Germany (they lost by an avalanche) and Croatia to beat Brazil (the referee would not let them).

Neither did England manage a draw against Uruguay, as the camels thought they would.

At least they guessed the Netherlands would beat the holders Spain. One out of four is not bad – but they have got nothing on Paul the Octopus.

2 Neymar is in fact untouchable

Brazilian supporters all said as much before the tournament started – and it turns out you cannot get near him either by fair means or foul.

The bantamweight wide man plays Jogo Bonito 2.0. A series of flicks in the cakewalk against Cameroon, for instance, were especially dreamy.

So why he needs mollycoddling by the match officials, as he routinely gets, is beyond reason.

The man is plenty good enough without Fifa’s additional assistance, thank you very much.

He should not get free kicks just because a defender has sneezed in his vicinity.

And if he consciously gives someone a forearm smash, like he did to fellow wondering waif Luka Modric in the opening game, he should suffer the same consequences as everyone else. Poster boy or not.

3 Time has ticked on tiki-taka

Tiki-taka has been a dead man walking for some time. First there was Bayern Munich schooling Barcelona to the tune of 7-0 on aggregate in the Uefa Champions League last year.

Then there was Real Madrid meting out a similar hiding to the new Munich of Pep Guardiola, the method’s most famous purveyor, in this season’s competition.

The final, knockout blow was dealt by the Netherlands in their opening 5-1 win over Spain before Chile picked over the dregs of the soon to be deposed champions with a facile victory. Possession, it appears, is not all it was cracked up to be.

So what now? Hoof it in the mixer and let Andy Carroll get his head on it? The future is not guaranteed to be as pretty as the immediate past.

“Eras end with defeats,” said Xabi Alonso, the Spain midfielder. “It was unexpected but we have to take the great sadnesses in the same way as we take the great joys, as men.”

4 Fellaini can play after all

If ever there was a sign that there is another way other than pitter-patter passing, Marouane Fellaini proves it.

The big Belgian spent a season being useless at Manchester United. He made the squad for the World Cup, but was granted only a place on the bench at first.

The multi-talented Belgians appear to covet possession every bit as much as Spain. Yet it does not always work out.

They passed themselves into a cul-de-sac against Algeria in their opener.

So Marc Wilmots, the coach, took the uncouth, antiquated step of throwing on the big man and ordering crosses to be sent his way. And he headed one in. Simples.

It counts for the same on the scoreboard as one preceded by 52 passes.

5 Souness does not rate anyone

Graeme Souness is arguably just as good a pundit as he was a player, not least because he infuses his analysis with the same amount of spite as he brought to his midfield snarl.

Is there anything he will not find to be contrary about, on beIN Sports? If he and Michel Salgado do not come to blows at some point during the tournament, Brazil 2014 will be all the poorer for it.

Does he rate anybody? Mathieu Debuchy? Has not got it, says Souness.

Wilson Palacios? What is he even doing here? He cannot get in the Stoke City team. Forget about the fact he has the best part of 100 internationals caps, he will only embarrass himself.

Arjen Robben, maybe? Presumably not good enough to get a game in the Liverpool side of the early 1980s, but maybe a spot in their reserves on a good day.

Chile’s Arturo Vidal came up with one of the best quotes of the tournament when he termed his side’s tactics as “almost suicidal”.

Souness acknowledged that was highly admirable, but that Chile did not have the players to deliver on the plan. They then took the great Spain side to the cleaners. But, still . . .

6 New regs good

So, we are all agreed: so far this has been the best tournament ever, right?

What is the reason? Mainly, a combination of some decent attackers, sides that are brimful of passion and the fact that, hey, it is Brazil, stupid!

A minor point it may be, but this tournament has also flourished because there has been so little conjecture over the refereeing. The officials have been far less visible than in past tournaments thanks in many ways to new regulations.

One argument against goalline technology was the fact it would be inordinately costly for something that rarely occurs. Maybe two major incidents in the past 48 years or something.

Yet it has happened twice already here, with France’s Karim Benzema and Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica benefiting.

The definitiveness has been transformative. No feeling sorry for yourself. No excuses. Just get on with the game.

Ditto, the referee’s portable line marker. No pinching inches. No debate. Who would have thought a bit of frothy shaving foam could revolutionise football?

7 Brazuca bazookas the Jabulani

Another reason for the good reviews and the high standard of football is undoubtedly the match ball.

Watch video: The Brazuca is likely to get better reviews than the last World Cup ball

A bit like referees, match balls are at their best when they are not being talked about.

In South Africa four years ago, the Jabulani had loads of airtime, mainly because it flew like a Dh2 plastic ball. All publicity is good publicity for sales, but can make for poor football.

The Brazuca, by contrast, has barely been mentioned. And still, the world’s best have been managing to control it, curve it, whack it, dribble with it.

Even the goalkeepers have not had much call to complain. Russia’s Igor Akinfeev had only himself to blame for his mistake against South Korea – but there have been some outstanding performances by glove men, otherwise.

Guillermo Ochoa has become a cult hero thanks to his exploits in the Mexico net, while Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas has embellished a reputation forged last season in the Primera Liga.

8 Suarez is deluded

Luis Suarez was right to celebrate so emotively when he scored the goals that effectively knocked England out of the World Cup. He had just gained the revenge he craved, revenge he so deserved.

For he has always been persecuted in England. The land where he is paid obscene wages to kick a synthetic leather ball around a field.

Read more: Luis Suarez needs to realise only he is at fault

Where he was unfairly deemed racist for calling an opponent “a little black man”. Where there was such a fierce witch-hunt after he innocently nibbled an opponent’s arm.

Then he did similar to Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. But it was probably the English photo-shopping the pictures. Or the cheating Italians doctoring the video footage. Or something.

Really? Please. The apologists need to stop indulging him. Luis Suarez is clearly not right in the head.

9 It is never Capello’s fault

Football does a good line in spurious excuses. Few will ever better that which Suarez’s children will be able to use when they underperform at school: “My Dad ate my homework.”

But Fabio Capello landed a good one when his Russia side were knocked out after a 1-1 draw with Algeria. He suggested defeat was all down to his goalkeeper being zapped by a laser beam.

“This is not an excuse, it is a fact. There was a laser,” said the desperate-sounding Italian coach.

Capello claimed he has never made an excuse for anything in his life. He has never been overly forward in claiming responsibility for failure, either.

Deny, deny, deny. Nyet, nyet, nyet. Not my fault.

Stroll on, Don Fabio.

10 North beats west in Africa

For much of this World Cup, the rabid passion Algeria’s players have shown for the cause has suggested each would happily sell their grandmother if it meant getting to the knockout stages.

The exuberance of the north African side has contrasted starkly with that of most of the other participants from their continent.

Cameroon’s players kicked up a fuss about pay before they even got to Brazil, then played like petulant schoolkids when they arrived.

Even their manager described the actions, which included Benoit Assou-Ekotto aiming a headbutt at a colleague, as “disgusting”.

Ghana sent two players home for ill discipline, even after a plane had been chartered to take US$3 million (Dh11m) in cash from Accra to stop them boycotting their final group game.

And even Nigeria, who are extremely likeable on the field, reportedly cancelled a training session to discuss bonus payments ahead of their last-16 tie with France.

Fair enough, players should get their dues. But this is the World Cup. Could they not sort it out after?

pradley@thenational.ae

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