Costa Rica
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South Korea
12:00 PM UTC Jun 18, 2018
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3:00 PM UTC Jun 18, 2018
Match 13
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6:00 PM UTC Jun 18, 2018
Match 14
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Duarte: Dunga's return is complicated

John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Every team has an Achilles' heel

Spain showed defensive ineptitude as they crashed out of the World Cup,

The selection criteria of national football teams make the reach for perfection even more impossible than in club football. There is no oligarch's chequebook to complete the jigsaw. Instead, youth development takes years, and even then, there are few guarantees.

At this World Cup, every team is a broken team; each has a glaring weakness. Nobody looks perfect, especially after Spain's demise. As this is not an individual sport -- despite the best effort of Messrs. Messi and Ronaldo -- a team's success often rests on the performances of the lesser players, rather than the stars.

ESPN FC runs down the weak points that could convert the leading contenders into broken teams.


The team that is already broken beyond repair. It had been thought the addition of a goalscoring striker in Diego Costa might make them yet more effective, but the truth was that decay in other departments meant the team were never going to allow the parachuted-in Brazilian to shine.

This was a high-grade engine grinding to a halt after overuse, with the most vital cog in the machine, Xavi, finally going the way of all flesh. Rust had set in, too, with Iker Casillas playing like an underused goalkeeper. Metal god Carles Puyol, even though he also sat out Euro 2012, was missed most of all once Gerard Pique's loss in form became so damaging. Sergio Ramos' macho posturings were no substitute for the man of steel.

The formula no longer worked, and in the second half against Chile, the Spanish were still trying to walk the ball into the net. A tournament too far, and one of football's finest dynasties has been bundled into history.


Luiz Felipe Scolari is not one for changing. His attempt to play this World Cup as if it were last year's Confederations Cup looked somewhat misguided during his team's 0-0 draw with Mexico.

The fall-guy had looked like Fred, the lumbering forward who played as prosaically as his name. That was until his replacement, Jo, lolloped onto the field in Fortaleza and looked even more unlikely to score a goal. This is Brazil, the home of some of the tournament's greatest centre-forwards. How the Selecao cries out for a Romario, Ronaldo or Careca. At this point, they might even settle for Serginho or a Walter Casagrande. Luis Fabiano, the unpopular striker from 2010, looks like a significant upgrade.

Fred and Jo are hardly strikers who get the blood pumping.

In mitigation for Fred and Jo, they are not exactly backed by much in the way of creativity. Neymar is expected -- and expects -- to do it all on his own. Oscar could not replicate his excellence against Croatia. Behind them, Paulinho's presence suggests that Felipao has not been watching too much of Tottenham's 2013-14 season.


It is already apparent that the Dutch will need their attackers to bail them out. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are in a much richer vein of form than they showed for much of the 2010 tournament, but behind them, a mix of callow and fading looks extremely fallible.

History has already blurred the first half against Spain, in which the Dutch defence was troubled by the defending champions who eventually forgot themselves. The signs were even more apparent against the Australians' brand of brute force. Ron Vlaar looked equipped to deal with it, but the rest floundered, having not been offered enough protection by a fading Nigel de Jong or Jonathan de Guzman, for whom defence is not a strongpoint.

The loss of Bruno Martins Indi to concussion forced Louis van Gaal to reshuffle his pack. Bringing on Memphis Depay suggested LVG had lost trust in his previous three-at-the back combination. The Dutch may struggle to meet the requirement of holding Chile to avoid Brazil in the round of 16 if their shaky defensive efforts so far are repeated.


It could hardly have gone much better than the 4-0 destruction of Portugal. Jogi Low's lack of an out-and-out striker was nixed by Thomas Muller positioning himself as a frontman who played off the shoulder of defenders, rather like a true striker does. The falsehood of his being a nine was a double bluff.

There are concerns in the German camp around the scheduling of their matches. Salvador was blisteringly hot, as will be both Fortaleza and Recife; conservation of energy will be difficult.

The Portugal match presented few questions marks, though Mats Hummels' latest injury is a concern. Per Mertesacker is susceptible to pace, as is widely known, and the Germans do not seem to be able to churn out the type of all-out stopper whom Jurgen Kohler was when they last won the World Cup in 1990.

Germany have a very different approach to the power outlet from Kohler's era, and for all their invention, do seem to lack the type of domineering midfielder that Lothar Matthaus once provided. Bastian Schweinsteiger struts at times like Stefan Effenberg, but he is not such a leader.

And in any case, nobody is likely to be so bad as Portugal were.


Lionel Messi's postmatch flash interview after Sunday's unconvincing victory against Bosnia was rather instructive. He was utterly dismissive of Alejandro Sabella's initial three-man defensive strategy. "If we don't use that system, we suffer a bit more," he said of the half-time switch to 4-3-3. "We have to continue doing this, what we did in the second half."

Javier Mascherano looked a little out of sorts in Argentina's opening game.

That change, and the introduction of Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain, allowed Messi more space to run into, and he scored his goal. Goals should not be a problem for Sabella's team. What lies behind is a far greater issue. As anchorman, Javier Mascherano looked exactly like a player who spends most of his time playing centre-half for Barcelona, while Vedad Ibisevic's late goal exploited a channel down the right-hand side of Argentina's defence.

It all suggested what was widely feared: Having Messi may not be nearly enough.