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John Brewin profile picture Posted by John Brewin
Jun 16, 2014

Five facing the axe in Brazil

The ESPN FC crew break down the massive clash between Germany and Portugal and give their predictions for the United States' match against Ghana.

After just four days of the 2014 World Cup, some big results might prompt some big changes as teams hurry to fix their issues or recalibrate their teams. With that in mind, the following players (and referee) might see themselves sidelined for the second group stage game and beyond.

Iker Casillas, GK, Spain

Jose Mourinho must have watched Spain's slaughter in Salvador with a smirk. Aside from being delighted for friend and mentor Louis van Gaal, this was a game to suggest that the former Real Madrid coach was right all along to remove Spain's captain and most-capped player from his first team during their final season together at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Though he was hardly the only guilty party -- Xavi was equally appalling in the second half -- Casillas' performance against Netherlands was truly awful. His dithering played its part in Robin van Persie's wonder header, and he actually got worse from there. It followed an unconvincing display in Lisbon's Champions League final and suggested why Real boss Carlo Ancelotti has been similarly unconvinced and chooses Diego Lopez as his Liga keeper.

Iker Casillas could use some rest after a horrific performance vs. the Dutch.
Iker Casillas' position as Spain's No. 1 is under threat, according to reports.

Even ultra-loyal Vicente del Bosque might have questioned why David de Gea was not already his first choice. With Casillas pledging mea culpa and the young pup having sustained a training injury, it may now fall on former cheerleader Pepe Reina to play his first finals match since Greece at Euro 2008.

Wayne Rooney, FW, England

Poor Wayne spent last week talking of how experience had taught him to try to enjoy this World Cup. In Manaus' mixed zone on Saturday night, his face betrayed everything but joie de vivre. His mood darkened as he was made ever more aware that back home he had become the scapegoat for England's defeat to Italy.

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Though Rooney might very well point to similarly lacklustre performances from both Steven Gerrard and Leighton Baines, both of them remain in the irreplaceable category. All of a sudden, Rooney has become droppable. Roy Hodgson has already shunted him away from the position he feels most comfortable in; the next shift might see him removed from the team altogether.

Few would expect Hodgson to make such a renegade step. After all, he defended Rooney to the hilt post-match. However, if it is between Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, then the Liverpool striker is way ahead. An England career-best performance is required against Uruguay.

Diego Lugano, DF, Uruguay

There comes a time in every warhorse's career when the knacker's yard beckons. Uruguay's defeat to Costa Rica was the moment the glue factory called Diego Lugano. It was a terrible shame it had to happen to a player who has embodied his country's rise back to the top of the international scene, but the skipper's afternoon peaked with the theatrical handball that became an instant Internet hit.

"The legs went a bit for their third goal," Lugano admitted of the moment that secured the Ticos a famous victory -- Marco Urena's burst through the gaping hole where the Uruguayan defence once was to make it 3-1. Lugano is the captain who gives each Uruguay debutant a book about their country's 1950 World Cup victory, but on the evidence of Fortaleza's fumblings, he might soon be history, too.

Brazil reaped the benefits of a lucky call vs. Croatia -- and not for the first time at a World Cup.
Referee Nishimura came in for plenty of scrutiny for his performance in the tournament's opening game.

Yuichi Nishimura (referee)

After such a torrid last few weeks, perhaps the last thing that the tournament's organisers, FIFA, needed was an officiating performance that brought the sanctity of the sport into question. Nishimura put on what looked a classic "homer" performance in Sao Paulo for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia. Worldwide sympathy lay with the Croats after the Japanese ref gave a dodgy penalty, ruled out a perfectly legitimate Croatia goal and kept the red card in his pocket when Neymar delivered some "afters" to Luka Modric with an elbow.

Nishimura has been backed by FIFA referees chief Massimo Busacca and FIFA's marketing director Thierry Weil, but the governing body was unlikely to publicly chastise the criticised official. Nishimura's chances of taking part in the tournament beyond the group stage look minimal. His remaining hope may be safety in numbers; his fellow referees have hardly been pin-sharp, either.

Maxi Rodriguez, MF, (Argentina)

For the utterly turgid first 45 minutes of Argentina's Maracana meeting with Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was almost tempting to suggest that Lionel Messi himself ought to be dropped. It looked like his eight years of World Cup woes were continuing, but then came a goal to make all the difference.

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Alejandro Sabella's double half-time switches suggested where he thought the problems lay. On came Fernando Gago for Hugo Campagnaro and Gonzalo Higuain for veteran Maxi. Rodriguez's ageing legs -- he is 33 -- and more conservative positioning meant Messi was too often running into traffic when trying to carve through the Bosnian defence. Higuain's movement gave them more to think about, and the golden boy got his goal and a sense of a duck broken.

Unless Sabella finds another use for him, it seems Maxi's third World Cup finals campaign may be over after just a half of football.

John Brewin

Based in London, from where he covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. He reported from the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and was formerly a senior editor of ESPNsoccernet.