Monday, 14 July 2014

Day Thirty One: Deutschland Sind Die Weltmeister

Germany were crowned world champions for the fourth time as Mario Götze's extra-time winner beat Argentina in the World Cup final in Brazil. The German substitute demonstrated perfect technique and commendable calm to chest down André Schürrle's cross before volleying in with seven minutes left. Both sides wasted chances in normal time, Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi both dragging wide. Benedikt Höwedes hit the Argentine post with a header late in the first half, but it was Götze's volley which was the queue for wild German celebrations. Argentina, with skipper Messi looking subdued despite flashes of talent, could not respond and Germany claimed their first World Cup since they beat the same opponents in Rome twenty four years ago. The success means Joachim Löw's side have become the first European team to win the trophy in the Americas. Germany had to regroup after losing key midfielder Sami Khedira to injury in the warm-up - and his replacement Christoph Kramer to a blow to the head before half-time - but they shrugged off these setbacks to write another triumphant chapter in their sporting history. Argentina's fans were in the vast majority of a crowd that created a vibrant atmosphere inside the Maracana - although Germany were also well represented and had the support of many yellow-clad Brazil supporters who still turned up despite seeing their hopes of watching the hosts in the final dashed by that stunning semi-final beating. German supporters stayed in their places more than an hour after the final whistle as the victorious side indulged in lengthy celebrations of a win which vindicated the rebuilding plan put in place a decade ago when they suffered the humiliation of going out of Euro 2004 at the group stage, which resulted in then coach Rudi Völler's resignation. It was a process which has also seen Bayern München become one of the most pre-eminent club sides in European (and world) football and it was not an insignificant factor that seven of the winning German side play their club football for Bayern. Germany had reached the semi-finals of the previous two World Cups but have now managed the crowning achievement for Löw, who not only brought the trophy back to Germany, but also ended Europe's grim record in this tournament on South American soil. Argentina failed to have a shot on target in the entire game and four-time world player of the year Messi looked an increasingly jaded figure as the game went on. The Barcelona midfielder never stopped striving to carry his team over the line in the manner achieved by his predecessor Diego Maradona, who inspired a not particularly good Argentina side to their last World Cup when they beat what was then west Germany in Mexico City in 1986. For Germany this completes the transition for a group of emerging players such as Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer, midfielder Mesut Özil, defender Mats Hummels, captain Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and the injured Khedira. After destroying hosts Brazil seven-one in Tuesday's semi-final in Belo Horizonte, this was a game that required different qualities such as resilience and concentration - but Germany have those qualities in abundance and were never found wanting and their ecstatic celebrations at the end were in contrast to the bitter tears of the Argentines. And ominously, twenty two-year-old match-winner Götze symbolises the next generation of Germany players that coach Löw declared would dominate for ze whole vert for years to come when he addressed the media twenty four hours before this final. For now, though, they have another World Cup to celebrate and while it may not have been the extravaganza many hoped would crown this generally thrilling tournament, Germany were worthy winners. Argentina, with Messi's speed and sleight of foot posing problems for the previously untroubled Hummels in the early phases, had the game's first big opportunity courtesy of Toni Kroos' error. The Bayern München midfielder delivered a misplaced header which sent Higuain clear on goal but the striker did not live up to his elevated reputation with a horrible miscued finish that did not trouble Neuer. Higuain had the ball in the net soon after from Ezequiel Lavezzi's cross but he was clearly offside - although his prolonged celebration and then stroppy discombobulation when he finally spotted the flag suggested that he thought differently. As Argentina continued to trouble the German defence, it needed a crucial clearance from Jérôme Boateng on the goalline as Messi pulled the ball back for his in-rushing colleagues. It was not all Argentina though, and their keeper Sergio Romero was forced to make a fine save from substitute Schürrle - on for the concussed Kramer - a stop made even better as Özil ducked right in front of the unsighted keeper as the shot came in. The closest either side came to a goal was right on half-time, when Höwedes crashed Kroos' corner against the post with Romero well beaten. Messi had been threatening and he almost put Argentina ahead seconds after the break, only to pull a poor finish across goal with his normally lethal left foot. As the final entered the closing ten minutes, Kroos had Germany's clearest opening for some time but he sent a sidefoot finish off target after Özil had laid the ball invitingly into his path. So it was extra time - and while Rodrigo Palacio was off target when he lofted a finish over Neuer - Götze showed his class and composure to decide an increasingly attritional and tetchy game with the final flourish of quality this World Cup in Brazil fully deserved as its conclusion.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Day Thirty: Third Is The New Fourth

Brazil's World Cup campaign came to a miserable end as the hosts were convincingly beaten by the Netherlands in the single most pointless exercise in world sport, the World Cup third-place play-off. Goals from Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum condemned Brazil to back-to-back defeats on home soil for the first time since 1940, following Tuesday's embarrassing seven-one loss to Germany in the semi-final. As an added insult, Brazil must now watch as their fiercest rivals, Argentina, take on the Germans for the chance to win the World Cup at Brazilian football's spiritual home, the Maracana, on Sunday. Having backed their side so vocally throughout, home supporters turned on Brazil on Tuesday, cheering opposition attacks and directing loud boos at their own players and their frustration continued in the capital, Brasilia. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari bore the brunt of their anger and his long-term future as national team boss must now be in doubt. Brazil's fans had packed homes, bars and fan parks to watch the action, leaving streets near empty, but the shock defeat by Germany left a question mark over how they would greet their team before Saturday's game. There was little indication in the build-up that their interest had wavered, as thousands descended on the Copacabana beach fan park in Rio, while the Estadio Nacional was close to capacity. When the teams emerged from the tunnel to go through their pre-match warm-ups, the players were greeted by loud cheers, which increased in volume when injured talisman Neymar appeared. The striker - who scored four goals before a back injury ruled him out of the Germany debacle - was wearing a full training kit, but watched from the bench as his team-mates went onto the pitch. It seemed the Brazilian fans were determined to support their team, but they also made it known they had not forgotten the spanking handed out to them by Germany as loud boos rang out when the names of Scolari and beleaguered striker Fred were read out. The hapless Fred was one of six starters against Germany who were relegated to the bench against the Netherlands and several players from Brazil's twenty three-man squad are likely to have played in their last World Cup. Whatever the future holds, it was briefly forgotten about before Saturday's game as players and fans once again sang the Brazil national anthem in unison. It was as rousing a rendition of the anthem as any throughout the tournament, but thoughts of redemption lasted barely three minutes, when Brazil captain Silva pulled back Robben and the referee awarded a penalty, which Van Persie expertly converted. Quite why Silva wasn't shown a straight red card was beyond the understanding of most observers since if that was the very definition of a goal-scoring opportunity, then what the hell is? The home fans were stunned into silence, but it was to get worse barely fifteen minutes later when they conceded a second. This time David Luiz - you know, the chap whom FIFA were bigging up as 'the player of the tournament' just a few days ago - committed one of the cardinal sins of defending when heading a tame clearance straight to Blind on the penalty spot. The Dutch midfielder steadied himself and found the top corner for his first international goal. Brazilian faces were sullen, perhaps fearful of similar capitulation that saw Brazil concede five goals in just fifteen minutes against Germany. They improved, slightly, as the half wore on, but it was not enough for the players to avoid being booed as they left the field at the break. The game slowed to a pedestrian pace in the second half, with Brazil fans continuing to boo Scolari every time the big screen in the stadium showed the sixty five-year-old's miserable face. Ramires flashed a shot wide before Oscar was booked for diving as Brazil strived for some way back into the game. Instead, though, Wijnaldum completed another sorry defeat for Scolari's side with a third goal in stoppage time. Echoing full-time in the defeat by Germany, the final whistle was greeted with a huge chorus of boos. It was a positive send-off for departing Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal - who had whinged before the game, rightly, about what an utterly pointless exercise the whole third-place play-off malarkey was and is - as he embarks on his next assignment, as manager of The Scum. But for Brazil, a tournament that started with optimism and promise for the five-time winners ended in frustration.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Day Twenty Nine: Shoot The Runner

Ray Whelan, head of FIFA partner Match Hospitality, has fled to escape arrest in Rio over alleged illegal World Cup ticket sales, Brazilian police say. Police chief Fabio Barucke said that Whelan was 'officially considered a fugitive from justice.' Earlier on Thursday, a judge accepted an indictment for Whelan - who is British - and eleven others. An 'international gang' is said to have earned some fifty million quid per tournament and may have acted at four World Cups. The gang is believed to have been making money by acquiring and illegally selling on VIP tickets and hospitality passes. Whelan was first detained on Monday at the exclusive Copacabana Palace hotel in Rio and released after questioning. The other eleven suspects were arrested last week. In a statement after his arrest, Match Hospitality denied any wrongdoing by Whelan, and said that he would co-operate with any investigation. However, police in Rio said that they went to Whelan's room in the Copacabana Palace but he was no longer there and they were told he had left an hour earlier. Barucke said outside the hotel: 'We have security camera images of him exiting the hotel through a service door.' Brazilian newspaper O Globo, quoting police 'sources', said Whelan had 'fled the hotel' with his lawyer, Fernando Fernandes, who was now 'negotiating with officials' over the terms on which his client would present himself to police. After his initial arrest, Whelan was reported to have surrendered his passport and returned his FIFA credentials for the World Cup. Switzerland-based Match Hospitality - part of UK sports event manager company Byrom based in Cheadle - said on Tuesday that it was 'assisting the police investigation.' FIFA also said it continued 'to fully collaborate with the local authorities and will provide any details requested.'

Ghana's government has said it is 'scandalised' after two hundred Ghanaian World Cup fans asked for asylum in Brazil, saying they were Muslims fleeing religious conflict. A government statement said there was no religious violence in the country. The group are believed to be part of a government-sponsored delegation, mainly comprising supporters of the governing party. Ghana is seen as one of West Africa's most peaceful and prosperous countries. 'The basis for this alleged request is completely false as no religious conflict is taking place in Ghana,' said a statement from Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu. 'Ghana's mission in Brazil has been instructed to liaise with the Brazilian authorities to investigate the matter.'

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Day Twenty Eight: Orange, Squashed

Argentina will meet Germany in Sunday's World Cup final at the Maracana after winning a penalty shootout to eliminate the Netherlands. After one hundred and twenty somewhat tedious and wholly goalless minutes which were in stark contrast to the spectacular shock of the first semi-final between Brazil and the Germans, Argentina prevailed and a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 finals - when they played West Germany - will be played out in Rio. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the hero with penalty saves from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, while his opposite number, Jasper Cillessen, was unable to repeat the heroic feats of his deputy, Tim Krul, in the quarter-final win against Costa Rica. And for Brazil, a nation still coming to terms with their worst defeat after being crushed seven-one by Germany in Belo Horizonte, there is arguably the even more harrowing prospect of seeing their fierce rivals Argentina lift the World Cup in the iconic surroundings of the Maracana. Germany will be favourites given the manner in which they destroyed Brazil but there is a streak of steel running through Alejandro Sabella's side which offers resilience beyond the genius of Lionel Messi. Dutch coach Louis van Gaal - who will now complete the formalities by guiding his side in Saturday's third/fourth place play-off before taking over at The Scum - employed first the returning Nigel de Jong, then Jordy Clasie, to shadow and nullify the influence of Messi. The plan broadly succeeded but Van Gaal's problem was his side's failure to pose any attacking threat, with Robin van Persie peripheral and substituted and Arjen Robben only able to deliver their first shot on target after ninety nine minutes. That Argentina's chances were at a premium was down, in large part, to Aston Villain Vlaar, the game's outstanding performer at the heart of the Dutch defence. He did not deserve the cruel fate of being one of those to miss a penalty. So to Sunday's showpiece and the repeat of the 1986 final, which Argentina won three-two to record their last World Cup triumph and West Germany's one-nil victory in Rome four years later, which was their last win. Argentina will see the prospect of winning in Brazil's heartland as the perfect incentive. Earlier in this tournament, their supporters had flooded across the border in thousands in a show of support and they will do so again. This was not a spectacle of any sort, but as firecrackers went off among Argentina fans and their players celebrated in front of them in the Sao Paulo rain, they did not have a care. The pattern was set from the opening moments as De Jong's role - upon his surprise recovery from a groin injury which had been earlier reported to be likely to keep him out for the tournament - became clear. He was to stay in close proximity to Messi in an attempt to stifle Argentina's main creative force and, to a large extent, it worked. Messi, however, cannot be kept completely quiet and he produced the only serious test for either goalkeeper in a stale first half when his free-kick was held comfortably by Cillessen after Vlaar fouled Enzo Perez. Robben's lack of influence was reflected in the statistic that he only had four touches of the ball in the first forty five minutes, also an indication of how the Netherlands had failed to test Argentina's defence. As heavy rain poured down on the Arena de Sao Paulo's uncovered stands after the interval and some fans decided to seek shelter out of sight of the game, the stretching Gonzalo Higuain came closest to breaking the stalemate when he steered Perez's angled cross into the side-netting. Sabella made a double change with ten minutes remaining, sending on Aguero and Rodrigo Palacio for Higuain and Perez, but still there was no invention or ambition. Van Gaal even sacrificed the listless Van Persie in extra time - his third change, a move which deprived the coach of the opportunity to introduce Krul again - and the tedium was lifted when Robben produced the first Dutch shot on target after nine minutes of extra time. It was saved easily by Romero. In a rare spell of excitement, Cillessen saved from Palacio and Maxi Rodriguez but there was no escaping the almost inevitable conclusion of penalties. Vlaar had his opening penalty saved by Romero and, when Sneijder missed their third, the Netherlands' fate was effectively sealed. Robben and Dirk Kuyt scored but Argentina were unerring, with Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Aguero on target before Rodriguez's kick sent Sabella's side to Rio.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Day Twenty Seven: Müllered!

'This was a test of character for Brazil,' said the BBC commentator Steve Wilson about five minutes from the end of the first semi-final of the 2014 World Cup. 'And it was a one which they failed, miserably.' That wasn't hyperbole, incidentally, it was, if anything, a staggering understatement. Brazil's World Cup dreams ended shattered into fragments in rank, brutal humiliation as Germany inflicted their heaviest ever defeat in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday evening. A thunderous occasion which began with Brazil riding a tidal wave of emotion and national fervour was reduced to a complete and total post-apocalyptic nightmare as Germany were five-nil up inside twenty nine remarkable minutes in front of a disbelieving, tearful and, ultimately, rather angry Estadio Mineirao crowd. Brazil's players mourned the absence of the crippled Neymar before kick-off, but captain and defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva proved to be a far bigger loss in the ensuing fiasco. The result was Brazil's first competitive home defeat in thirty nine years and the end of their hopes of making it to the World Cup final at the Maracana on Sunday in emphatic fashion. Instead, Germany will meet either Argentina or Netherlands, who play on Wednesday in Sao Paulo. Thomas Müller gave the three-time winners an early lead before a period of utter chaos saw Miroslav Klose break the World Cup scoring record and then Toni Kroos add two more all in the space of one hundred and seventy nine seconds. The superb Sami Khedira added a fifth soon afterwards. Moscow Chelski FC striker André Schürrle, on as a second-half substitute, added two more after the break before Brazil's followers delivered what must be regarded as the defining insult to their own national team - cheering every German pass with an 'olé' and applauding their goals whilst roundly booing their own players; especially the hapless Fred. Many Brazil supporters, swamped with such anticipation as they gathered in their thousands around the ground hours before kick-off, were reduced to floods of bitter tears after less than thirty minutes and were reduced to such a state of shock that it was only at half-time they fully registered their first serious dissent. This calamity equalled Brazil's heaviest margin of defeat, a six-nil loss at the hands of Uruguay in the 1920 Copa America, but the impact of this reverse, not just on the world stage but in their homeland, will put this alongside the 1950 World Cup final defeat by the Uruguayans in Rio as, truly their darkest footballing day. Müller's early goal was a big enough setback in and of itself, but the manner in which Luiz Felipe Scolari's side then crumbled like a pile of damp cardboard in the space of just seven minutes is likely to be a matter of national debate - and national shame - in Brazil for years to come. This was Brazil's first defeat at home for twelve years. The loss for a country built on sporting pride - and at their own World Cup - will be bad enough to take. The scale of defeat, however, will take the inquests to whole a new level. The statistics stacked up like pieces of rubble around the feet of Big Phil and his players. This was the first time a team had scored seven in a World Cup semi-final and the biggest defeat in one of these games since the then West Germany beat Austria six-one in 1954. After the match the victorious coach, Joachim Löw, strutted around like he owned the gaff - and who, frankly, could blame him? - noting that 'scoring three in four minutes the hosts were in shock. We were extremely cool and realised they were cracking up, and we took advantage of that.' He wasn't wrong in the slightest. The five-time champions' team coach bears the phrase 'Brace Yourself - The Sixth Is Coming.' It did, indeed, arrive but only in the back of Julio Cesar's net. With all of David Luiz's defensive indiscipline offering rich pickings for Germany's speed and mobility, the game swiftly descended into a fiasco for Brazil. Luiz - to the ridicule of many in the game named earlier this week as FIFA's 'player of the tournament' - had the defensive frailties, which saw Moscow Chelski FC boss Jose Mourinho offload him to Paris St Germain tout sweet at the end of the recent season, cruelly exposed as he lost the ball in dangerous positions over and over again. The properly cowardly way in which he pulled out of a tackle with Khadira which, ultimately, led to the fifth German goal was the sort of thing one would criticise an eleven year old for doing in a school game and seemed to provide even more evidence that it wasn't just the Brazilian shirts which were yellow. Much has been made of the Brazil side's over-emotion during the national anthem - blubbing like big soft tarts and all that - and there was, in retrospect, an overblown public reaction to the absence of Neymar, injured in the quarter-final against Colombia, in the hour leading up to kick-off. Scolari led his players off the team coach wearing a white Forca Neymar baseball cap before captain Luiz and goalkeeper Cesar held up his number ten shirt during a stirring rendition of Brazil's national anthem. It was all downhill from there - and rapidly. From the moment Müller was the beneficiary of dreadful marking to steer in Kroos's corner after eleven minutes, Brazil simply fell apart and it was an invitation Germany were not going to refuse as Klose scored at the second attempt to set a new World Cup record of sixteen goals in twenty three games. What followed was one of the most remarkable passages of play in any World Cup game, let alone a semi-final, as Germany did not just look like scoring on every attack, for a while they actually did. Throughout this World Cup there has been a suspicion that a mediocre Brazil defence has been disguised and that, eventually, they were going to come up against a team as ruthlessly efficient as the Germans who would take advantage of this. With the shield of Silva - easily their best defender - removed, they were simply taken apart by Germany, wilting under pressure and abject in coping with their attacking variety. To put it brutally, their arse fell out and they, metaphorically, curled up into a little ball and whimpered for their mummy. Kroos side-footed home a finish which Cesar touched but could not save, then the midfielder quickly added another when set up by the unselfish Khedira who was probably the best player on the park. Khedira scored the fifth before half-time in an example of the complete disintegration of Brazil's organisation, discipline and basic defence. He took the ball from Luiz after the curly-haired defender decided that tackling wasn't for him and then strolled towards the penalty area untroubled before exchanging passes with Mesut Özil to score a deserved fifth. It was only then, perhaps as full recognition sunk in, that Brazil's supporters started to deliver a toxic reaction to their team, with striker Fred singled out for particularly vicious treatment. The subject of, again, much criticism outside of Brazil during the tournament but stubbornly stuck with by Scholari, Fred quickly became a symbol for his own supporters of everything that had gone wrong with Brazil. Early in the second half he found himself outside the German penalty area with the ball at his feet but his shot was 'tame and weak' according to Steve Wilson, a description which might have been used to describe his entirely tournament. The ball dribbled towards Manuel Neuer who simply had to kneel down to pick it up. A smattering of boos quickly turned into a crescendo. Soon it was happening every time Fred touched the ball and then, the ultimate humiliation, even after her was withdrawn and replaced by Willian in the sixty ninth minute, the abuse didn't end. Shortly before the final whistle, the stadium's cameras caught a picture of a dejected looking Fred sitting on the Brazilian bench looking for all the world like someone had just kicked him, hard, in the knackers. It was relayed onto the stadium's big screen. The outpouring a bile and anger from the Brazilian crowd to the hapless centre-forward at that moment when he wasn't even on the pitch almost made one feel sorry for the chap. Almost, but not quite. Despite a lively start to the second half which saw Neuer distinguish himself with a couple of superb saves to deny Ramirez (who replaces the lumbering, ineffectual Hulk at half-time), Bernard and Dante, normal service was resumed as Schürrle finished off a fine passing move before drilling a near-post finish past Cesar, who - like his team - should have done better. But didn't. It was at around this point that the home fans, collectively, began to throw their support behind Germany, cheering passing moves and even breaking into applause for Schürrle's second goal - a beauty rifled into the roof of the net from an acute angle. Oscar's late strike was nothing in the way of consolation to them and the crowd turned savagely on their players - many of whom left the pitch in tears - at the final whistle. Scolari described it as 'the worst day' of his life and said that he took full responsibility. 'I will be remembered as the coach to lose seven-one but I knew that risk when I took the job,' said Scolari after the game. 'The person who decided the line-up, the tactics, was me. It was my choice. My message for the Brazilian people is please excuse us for this performance.' Many in Brazil, in their heart of hearts knew that their World Cup dream might have to end without the win that they so wanted. But, no-one could possibly have suspected for a moment that it would end like this.

Steve Wilson might have had a moment of poetic brilliance towards the end of the match but, how disappointing it was to see him make such an elementary schoolboy-type error right at the start during the national anthems. For your information, Steve, the German national anthem is not called Deutschland über alles. It's never been called Deutschland über alles, not even when they used to sing the verse that includes the line 'Deutschland über alles' (which, incidentally, it has been illegal to sing in Germany since 1945). It doesn't actually, have a title - it's just The German National Anthem - although some people refer to it as Das Lied Der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans). Jeez, do some research for once, mate. Twenty seconds on Wikipedia would've told you all of that.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Day Twenty Five & Twenty Six: Alfredo The Great

Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano, regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, has died. The eighty eight-year-old suffered a heart attack on Saturday and had been in an induced coma in Madrid's Gregorio Maranon hospital. Real Madrid confirmed the news, saying Di Stefano, their honorary president, died on Monday. Sir Bobby Charlton, who played against him for The Scum, paid tribute. 'I think Alfredo Di Stefano was one of the best players I ever came across and an extremely intelligent footballer,' said the former England legend. 'He was somebody I really respected, having watched him from the stands at the Bernabeu and then played against him. I have many fond memories of my time with Alfredo and feel privileged to be able to call him a good friend. The footballing world has lost a great player and a great man.' After joining Real in 1953, Alfredo helped to turn them into one of the world's leading sides. They won five straight European Cups, with Di Stefano scoring in each final between 1956 and 1960. The Argentina-born forward also won eight Spanish league titles and was voted European player of the year in 1957 and 1959. He left Real in 1964 at the age of thirty eight having scored more than three hundred goals across eleven seasons. Di Stefano played at international level for three nations though he never appeared at a World Cup finals tournament. He won six caps for Argentina and played four times for Colombia during a spell when he played in the country's league. However his Colombia caps are not officially recognised by FIFA. Once he joined Real in 1953, FIFA said that he could not play for Spain, but reversed that decision in 1957 after he was awarded Spanish citizenship and he went on to win thirty one caps, scoring twenty three goals. Real's official website carried a picture of club president Florentino Perez visiting Di Stefano at the hospital on Saturday. Former Real striker Gonzalo Higuain, whose goal sent Argentina into the World Cup semi-finals in Brazil on Saturday, said: 'I was told when I got to the dressing room. It is not good news for football, for those who know him, for those who are close to him. Alfredo was always very close to me. I only have words of gratitude towards him.' Di Stefano also won four Colombian and two Argentine league titles as a player. As a manager he led Boca Juniors and River Plate to Argentine league titles and won La Liga and the Copa del Rey with Valencia. He also had spells at Sporting Lisbon, Rayo Vallecano and Castellon before taking over at Real in 1982, with the club runners-up in five competitions during his two years in charge. He managed the club again for five months from 1990, winning the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona. Di Stefano became honorary Real president in 2000.

Juan Zuniga has grovellingly apologised to Neymar after the Brazil striker was ruled out of the World Cup following the Colombia defender kneeing him in the back, really hard. Neymar broke a vertebra in his spine during his side's 2-1 quarter-final victory over Colombia on Friday. Zuniga insists that he did not mean to hurt Neymar in the incident - presumably, it was a 'friendly' knee in the spine - which FIFA's disciplinary committee is currently studying. 'I deeply regret the sad injury that Neymar suffered during the match between Brazil and Colombia,' he claimed. 'Although I feel that these situations are a normal part of the game, there was no intent to injure, malice nor negligence on my part. I want to reach out to Neymar, who I admire, respect and consider one of the best players in the world. I hope you recover quickly and return to the game soon, so we can all support a sport full of the virtues and qualities that I've tried to follow in my twelve years as a professional player.'

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Day Twenty Four: Dutch Courage, Belgian Waffle

Argentina reached their first World Cup semi-final since finishing as runners-up in 1990 with victory over Belgium in Brasilia. Gonzalo Higuain scored the only goal at Estadio Nacional, a thunderous early volley that ended his run of six international games without a goal. But Belgium's so-called 'golden generation' were undone by another quicksilver Lionel Messi performance, as Argentina set up a last-four encounter with the Netherlands in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. The two-time champions again failed to reach their fluid best, and it is significant that all five of their wins at this World Cup have been by a single goal. Belgium - every bit as disappointing as the French has been a day earlier in their quarter-final - went out with something of a whimper, lacking cohesion, creativity and precision and only threatening late on when they played one long ball after another towards Marouane Fellaini. But, on the day he equalled Diego Maradona's haul of ninety one caps for Argentina, Messi stood apart, with a performance of majesty that propelled his side into the last four. At times, he was balletic, at others he was bold. He played forty-yard passes with the precision of a master craftsman and pirouetted away from danger time and again. Sharper to the ball, more urgent in possession, Argentina started the quicker of the sides. With Brazil striker Neymar confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the tournament, there was a sense the tournament needed one of its superstars to produce a performance to remember. Messi did not disappoint. Belgium did not help themselves, however. Captain Vincent Kompany gave possession away carelessly inside his own half after eight minutes, the ball running to Messi. The Barcelona forward spun away from two defenders and clipped a pass to Angel Di Maria. His pass was deflected into the path of Higuain, who swivelled and volleyed unerringly beyond Thibaut Courtois to send the tens of thousands of Argentina fans in the stadium into raptures. There was more Messi magic to come. Argentina's talisman danced his way through a crowd of Belgium players before being clipped on the edge of the area. His resulting free-kick curled narrowly wide but Belgium were on the back foot. For much of the opening forty five minutes, the Red Devils were insipid, not inventive. Kevin de Bruyne stung Sergio Romero's palms from distance and Kevin Mirallas headed a Jan Vertonghen cross narrowly wide, but there was little pace or purpose. With Messi in the spotlight, Eden Hazard struggled to escape the shadow. Belgium were caught between wanting to throw caution to the wind and a fear of what Argentina might do on the counter attack. An example came ten minutes into the second half, when Mirallas lost the ball after a swift Belgium break. Higuain raced away, nutmegged Kompany and skimmed a curling shot onto the crossbar. The introduction of substitutes Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens was an attempt to change that dynamic. With time running out, Vertonghen found Fellaini, who headed over. Moments later, Ezequiel Garay almost deflected De Bruyne's cross into his own net. Hazard was replaced by Tottenham's Nacer Chadli as Marc Wilmots played his last card. Belgium poured forward in search of a goal that might take them to extra time, but failed to produce a moment that called Romero into serious action. Messi had a chance to cap his display with a late goal, only for Courtois to smother his shot when the pair faced each other one on one. With time running out, Belgium came again, Lukaku prodding a ball across goal before Axel Witsel fired the rebound over. But Argentina and Messi stood firm.

Goalkeeper Tim Krul came off the bench late in extra time and saved two penalties as the Netherlands beat Costa Rica in a shootout to set up a World Cup semi-final against Argentina. Newcastle's Krul saved from both Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to send the Dutch through after the game finished 0-0. Wesley Sneijder had twice hit the woodwork for the Netherlands, while Robin van Persie also had a shot turned onto the bar. Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal, who will take charge at The Scum at the end of the tournament, brought Krul on for Jasper Cillessen in added time at the end of one hundred and twenty minutes. And Krul's two saves proved decisive as the Dutch - who had lost each of their previous four World Cup matches which went to extra time - coolly converted all four of their spot-kicks. Costa Rica had progressed as winners from a group containing Uruguay, Italy and England, and once again impressed with their organisation and energy. But just as they did against Mexico in the second round, Van Gaal's team found a way through despite being some way short of the fluency they showed in patches during the group phase. Twenty one minutes had passed before the Netherlands managed an effort on goal. A sweeping move down the right ended with Dirk Kuyt pulling a cross back and Memphis Depay laid the ball off for Van Persie, whose low drive was blocked by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who also saved Sneijder's follow-up. Depay might have done better when he was slipped through by Van Persie, but the PSV Eindhoven forward's stab at the near post was turned away by Navas. Costa Rica's only threat came from Christian Bolanos free-kicks, with one flying just too high for midfielder Celso Borges to connect with, and another headed back across goal by Borges only for Johnny Acosta to fail to make contact. Navas showed his quality once again when he tipped a bending Sneijder free-kick away from the top corner, but the Netherlands offered little going forward as the second half developed. After forcing Giancarlo Gonzalez to head off target following a Bolanos set-piece, Ron Vlaar glanced a header high and wide from a whipped Sneijder free-kick at the other end. And when Navas was beaten, Sneijder's curling free-kick bounced away off a post. As the Netherlands exerted some late pressure, Navas turned away a low drive from Van Persie and The Scum's striker failed to make contact with a fine Sneijder cross. Yeltsin Tejeda then diverted a close-range Van Persie effort onto his own crossbar as a tiring Costa Rica took the game into extra time. The Dutch continued to push on, with Navas forced to palm away a Vlaar header, but they could not find a way through, and Costa Rica had a penalty appeal rejected when Vlaar challenged substitute Marcos Urena, who then forced a full-length save from Cillessen. There was still time for Sneijder's twenty-yard curling drive to strike the crossbar, but it went to a penalty shootout and after Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Kuyt all converted their penalties, Krul's save from Urena sent the 2010 beaten finalists through to the last four.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal says that Tim Krul's greater height and reach was the reason he sent the super-sub keeper on for the World Cup quarter-final penalty shootout win over Costa Rica. Krul, who is six feet four inches, replaced the six foot two inch Jasper Cillessen with seconds remaining in the 0-0 draw. And, as all the girls will tell you, two inches can make all the difference in a chap's worth. 'We all thought Tim was the best keeper to stop penalties,' said Van Gaal. 'He is taller and has a longer reach.' He added: 'It worked out. That was beautiful. I'm a bit proud of that.' Van Gaal, who will take over at The Scum after the World Cup, did not tell first-choice keeper Cillessen he might be taken off if the game went to a shootout after extra time. However, Krul was informed he might be called upon. Krul, whose saves from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana were his only two touches of the ball, told the BBC Sport website: 'I psyched them out. You try to do everything you can without being too aggressive. I tried to get in their minds. It is something I have dreamed about since I was a little boy - to have that moment when you make the crucial save and then all the boys are running towards you.' Despite Krul's match-winning saves he will be back on the bench for the semi-final, with Ajax's Cillessen in goal. 'There is no question about who will start the next game, it will be Cillessen, but we felt Krul was the better choice here,' said Van Gaal. Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges said of the goalkeeping change: 'I never saw something like that. But they were right, he did his job.'

BBC presenter Gary Lineker goaded two of his analystis - yer actual Ruud Gullit and Alan Shearer his very self - by bringing up a very touchy subject during Friday's Match Of The Day Live. As Germany led Didier Deschamps' France side 1-0 during half-time of their World Cup quarter-final, sitting opposite Lineker were Gullit and Shearer, who were part of the same Newcastle United set-up during the 1998-99 Premier League season – the Dutchman was in charge of the Magpies, with Shearer as their talismanic striker and captain. And it was during one particularly notorious fixture to which that naughty scamp Lineker alluded to. Complimenting Deschamps’s management skills in having the nerve to drop big-name players, Lineker asked whether Gullit had ever done such a thing during his managerial career. The presenter was, of course, alluding to the night when the Dutchman dropped Shearer for a huge derby against fierce rivals Blunderland - a decision which was, unsurprisingly, met with huge outrage and controversy on Tyneside (especially as the Mackems won the subsequent game 2-1 in a virtual monsoon, a result which, effectively, cost Gullit his job). As TV viewers across the country held their collective breath, unsure as to what the reaction would be from both men, an awkward pause was followed - thankfully for everyone - by raucous laughter. As it happens Rudi and Alan seem to get on quite well these days, which is probably more than can be said for Shearer - never a man to forget somebody taking a rise out of him without an elbow being involved - and Lineker. Expect further developments on this one!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Day Twenty Three: Au Revoir & Adios

Germany became the first nation to reach four consecutive World Cup semi-finals as Mats Hummels' early header proved enough to see them past France at the Maracana. The three-time champions needed extra time to beat Algeria in the last sixteen and several of their players had suffered a bout of illness in midweek, but they were comfortable victors over a hugely disappointing France in Rio de Janeiro. Hummels got the better of Raphaël Varane to score what proved to be the winning goal and Germany can now prepare for a meeting with hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Although the German keeper Manuel Neuer gave another faultless performance, Joachim Löw's team deserved their win against a France side who failed to hit the heights of their performances earlier in the tournament. It was sixty years to the day since Germany recovered a two-goal deficit to upset Hungary in the 1954 final and this will go down as another memorable day in their history. In the build-up Low dismissed talk of France seeking revenge for 1982, when Germany goalkeeper Toni Schumacher - and his nasty perm - escaped punishment for a brutal challenge on Patrick Battiston and went on to save two penalties as his side came through the World's Cup's first ever penalty shootout to reach the final. But what could not be ignored was Germany's greater experience and, despite a reconfigured starting line-up and doubts over their health, they again showed their international pedigree. Hummels returned to central defence after a bout of 'flu-like symptoms', with Per Mertesacker unexpectedly the man to make way as Germany looked to contain France's quick forwards. Philipp Lahm moved from midfield to right-back in place of Shkodran Mustafi, Sami Khedira coming into midfield, and there was a surprise start for thirty six-year-old Miroslav Klose in attack. Germany looked far more balanced than against Algeria in their last match and a period of sustained pressured told when Hummels held off Varane to guide home a Toni Kroos free-kick. It was the first time that France had gone behind in the tournament and the first time they had conceded in the opening half. Their afternoon could have got worse when Mathieu Debuchy challenged Klose in the box, only for referee Nestor Pitana to ignore the German appeals. Les Bleus were struggling to find any rhythm as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Khedira and the excellent Kroos ruled the midfield, but they soon began to expose Germany's dangerously high defensive line. Antoine Griezmann broke clear and crossed for Mathieu Valbuena to force Neuer into a stunning one-handed save, Karim Benzema's close-range follow-up deflected over the bar. Benzema went close twice more as France gained some momentum before half-time and they maintained it after the break as Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi gained control of the central areas, allowing Griezmann and Valbuena to cause damage from wide. But Germany appeared to realise the increased threat, dropping deeper and limiting France to a Varane header and Matuidi strike that were both comfortably saved by Neuer. Löw introduced André Schurrle from the bench and he significantly boosted the tiring Germans, although he might have done better with two opportunities on the counter attack. France counterpart Didier Deschamps turned to Olivier Giroud and he set up Benzema in stoppage time, only for Neuer to repel his angled drive with a strong fist. The atmosphere inside this iconic ground was relatively flat, reflecting an unspectacular encounter.

Brazil secured their World Cup semi-final place against Germany with victory over Colombia on a night of gripping tension and passion in Fortaleza. Thiago Silva set Luiz Felipe Scolari's side on the way with an early goal, and Brazil looked to be set for a comfortable passage into the last four after David Luiz's brilliant second-half free-kick. In a magnificent atmosphere built on a cascade of colour and a wall of sound, James Rodriguez set up a thrilling finale when he pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with ten minutes left. In a frantic closing phase, Colombia were unable to force the chance that could have brought extra time. But Brazil will be without their superstar Neymar, who has been ruled out of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra after being kneed in the back by Juan Zuniga. They will also be missing captain Thiago Silva, who is suspended after being booked. Colombia had complaints of their own, chiefly the lack of protection offered to Rodriguez, who was on the receiving end of some fierce challenges as Brazil sought to nullify his influence. He broke down in tears and blubbed like a girl at the final whistle as he was consoled by the Brazil players who had offered him none of that commodity during a harrowing physical ordeal which proved he has the courage to go with his natural ability. Brazil and their supporters, in contrast, went wild with elation at the final whistle. The goal of reaching the final - and making up for the 1950 World Cup loss to Uruguay in Rio that is still one of this nation's darkest sporting days - lives on. Germany will need to show mental strength to cope with the tidal wave of emotion and support that Scolari hopes will carry Brazil to the Maracana a week on Sunday. Fortaleza offered up a cauldron of noise and a sea of yellow shirts in an atmosphere that ensured Brazil would launch into a series of adrenalin-fuelled attacks. Scolari's hope was to push Colombia into unknown territory and the strategy was helped by a goal built largely on defensive carelessness after seven minutes. Neymar's corner was a routine affair with little serious menace but it was allowed to drift to the far post, where Carlos Sanchez switched off to allow Silva to bundle home. Scolari and his players were just as aware of the threat posed by Juan Cuadrado as the celebrated Rodriguez, and he illustrated exactly why with a shot that was inches away from twenty yards. This was much more like it from Brazil, though, and it would have been no surprise had they extended their advantage by the interval as they showed genuine threat against a somewhat timid Colombian side. It was down to keeper David Ospina that they did not as he twice saved well from the, if you will, incredible Hulk, on the second occasion recovering well to then clutch Oscar's long-range effort. Scolari insisted Brazil had formulated no special plans to deal with Rodriguez, but it was clear they were determined to test the twenty two-year-old in a succession of reckless physical challenges. It was after Rodriguez was shown a yellow card for a foul on Hulk by the extraordinarily lenient referee Carlos Velasco Carballo that Brazil scored the goal that effectively sent them into the last four. Luiz came in off his long run to strike a twenty five-yard free-kick that left the stretching Ospina clutching at thin air as it flew high to his left. That came just after Colombia thought they were back in the game, only to see Mario Yepes's goal ruled out for an earlier offside. To his credit, Rodriguez was undeterred by Brazil's close attentions and it was his astute pass that led to substitute Carlos Bacca being upended by Julio Cesar. After a short delay, and some well-chosen words from Luiz, Rodriguez was calmness personified to send the keeper the wrong way. Colombia threw everything forward in the last moments, but once again Brazil held on to seal the victory.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Day Twenty One & Twenty Two: No Ball Games

No football, eh? Boring, isn't it? Even with this lot playing ...
Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari summoned the squad's psychologist to his side's training base after the emotional second round win over Chile. The hosts won 3-2 on penalties and a number of Selecao players were seen shedding tears during celebrations at the Estadio Mineirao like a bunch of girls. Brazil playmaker Neymar was one of them. He said: 'The game against Chile was exciting for everyone. But the team does not have any emotional problem in the group.'

FIFA says there has been no evidence of match-fixing at any World Cup match and has called on a German magazine making allegations to provide proof. Convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal has denied he correctly predicted Cameroon's result against Croatia before the game. Der Spiegel magazine, which made the allegations, is standing by its report. FIFA's head of media Delia Fischer said: 'So far we have no evidence of any match manipulation.' She added: 'We have requested Der Spiegel provide us with all the communications with Perumal and any other material in order to prove the allegations they have made.' Cameroon lost each of their three Group A games, including a thumping 4-0 defeat by Croatia in which midfielder Alex Song was sent off in the fortieth minute. The Croatian FA says it did not have any concerns 'during or after the match.' A spokesman added: 'We feel like we won that match on the field and at this moment it will stay at that.' Asked if he had seen any evidence or had suspicions of match-fixing at the World Cup, former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier - a member of FIFA's technical support group - said: 'No, not at all.'

Pele has backed FIFA's stance on its decision to ban Luis Suarez from all football-related activity for four months. Suarez's World Cup ended in disgrace, shame and ignominy when the Uruguay striker was retrospectively punished for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on 24 June. The ruling, which also saw Suarez banned from nine international matches and fined sixty five grand, was greeted with dismay, denial and paranoid accusations of conspiracy and gross unfairness in Uruguay. But with an appeal in the pipeline, Pele believes that the governing body was well within its rights to make an example of Suarez. Speaking at an event to promote G-Form shin guards, Pele said: 'If he was not sanctioned in this way, such incidents could be repeated. No player can do what Luis Suarez did. I believe that the punishment is fair. FIFA's decision is good and is correct because it sets an example.'

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Day Twenty: Two Hours Of Your Life You'll Never Get Back

Angel Di Maria's extra-time winner carried Argentina into the World Cup quarter-finals after an unconvincing display against Switzerland. The two-time champions pretty much dominated possession in a turgid last-sixteen tie, but were unable to break through until Di Maria swept in Lionel Messi's pass. It really was a sodding dreadful game, dear blog reader, easily the worst of this superb tournament and bringing to mind Switzerland's game at the same stage against Ukraine in 2006, quite possibly the worst match in the history of the World Cup. Bar none. As in that game, it seemed that Switzerland had decided to play for penalties but, thanks to Di Maria's last gasp winner, we will never get the chance to find out whether they've improved on their wretched from the twelve yard spot which they demonstrated in that tie eight years ago when they also played for penalties, achieved their aim and then, promptly, missed all of their spot kicks. One almost has to admire forward planning like that, dear blog reader. One hundred and twenty minutes of sheer boredom this time around was, at least, enlivened in the final few minutes after the goal as the Switzerland defender Blerim Dzemaili headed against the Argentina post then prodded wide as the seconds ticked away. Argentina will now face Belgium in the last eight on Saturday. It was a remarkable conclusion to a match which saw Argentina, rated among the favourites to win the World Cup, produce yet another distinctly average performance. Real Madrid winger Di Maria was wasteful in promising positions throughout but kept his composure when it mattered most, coolly sweeping an angled shot into the bottom corner after Messi's pass found him advancing into the area. About forty thousand noisy, sweaty Argentina fans were estimated to be inside the Arena de Sao Paulo and Di Maria's late intervention sparked wild celebrations between players and fans. But it was a heartbreaking end for Switzerland and particularly their veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose thirty one-year managerial career ended in such a cruel fashion. The sixty five-year-old German, who was twice voted World Coach of the Year, retires after winning nineteen major club trophies for Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund and Grasshoppers of Zurich. Argentina failed to find top form during the group stage as Messi's brilliance inspired them to three narrow victories against Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran and Nigeria. And, they failed to impress again as Switzerland, who progressed as Group E runners-up with wins against Ecuador and Honduras, frustrated them for long periods. Hitzfeld appeared to have instructed his defence to sit deep and crowd out Argentina's attacking players, which worked perfectly as the South Americans dominated possession but had few clear-cut chances to show for it. Messi was regularly deprived of space in the first half by a host of red shirts. The Swiss offered little forward threat themselves, focusing more on keeping their shape. But just before the half-hour mark, it was Hitzfeld's side who created the best chances of the opening forty five minutes. Xherdan Shaqiri's cute cutback found Granit Xhaka, whose drilled shot was palmed clear by Sergio Romero. And the Argentina keeper then sprang quickly to his feet to block Stephan Lichtsteiner's long-range shot seconds later. It might have served as a warning for Argentina - but they failed to take notice. Shaqiri pinched possession to pick out Josip Drmic but, as an indecisive Romero decided to stay close to his goalline, the Swiss striker's weak attempt to chip him was easily gathered by the Argentine. Although the South Americans began to move the ball more quickly after the interval, only Messi looked capable of unlocking Switzerland's sturdy defence. The Barcelona star sent a vicious volley dipping over the crossbar before jinking into the penalty area shortly after, forcing Diego Benaglio to push out his low shot. Switzerland barely moved the ball out of their own half in the final twenty minutes as Messi continued to orchestrate Argentina's best attacking moves. But neither side could find a late winner as the match went into extra time - the fourth of seven second-round ties to do so. The European side stuck rigidly to their game plan in the additional half-hour, refusing to become more adventurous as penalties approached - before Di Maria finally netted with Argentina's twenty eighth effort at goal. Benaglio joined the Swiss attack in a frantic final few minutes and his side came desperately close to saving themselves when an unmarked Dzemaili headed down onto the foot of a post from inside the six-yard box, before jabbing a leg instinctively at the rebound. There was still time for Shaqiri to hit a free-kick into the wall before Argentina's bid for a third World Cup progressed to a quarter-final in Brasilia on Saturday.

Belgium's so-called 'golden generation' earned the chance to live up to their billing as they reached a first World Cup quarter-final for twenty eight years with an extra-time win over the USA in Salvador. This was another brilliant and breathless occasion and Belgium walked away as deserving winners but only after a performance of incredible spirit and bravery from the Merkins. As it was, Kevin de Bruyne scored the goal that finally broke USA resistance in the second minute of extra time at Arena Fonte Nova. Substitute Romelu Lukaku fired in a second eleven minutes later to apparently end the contest. But, like Algeria the day before, the US would not go quietly into that dark night. From nowhere they found hope with a goal from substitute Julian Green, who volleyed brilliantly past Thibaut Courtois. Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey then both had chances to take the match to penalties but neither was able to convert and extend the USA's dream. That Jurgen Klinsmann's men survived so long owed everything to an outstanding goalkeeping performance by Tim Howard, who made a record number of saves in a World Cup match. In front of him, his team-mates were simply outclassed. Belgium will now play Argentina in a mouth-watering quarter-final in Brasilia on Saturday. On this evidence, they will take some beating. This was a battle of flair against function. Belgium, with their jet-heeled forwards and unquestioned technical superiority, against the organisation and energy of the United States. Eden Hazard and Divock Origi were a pair of nuisances and their willingness to run at their opponents, and sheer athletic ability, caused the US problems throughout the one hundred and twenty minutes. Kevin De Bruyne scuffed two chances wide and sent a third straight at Howard as Klinsmann's side too often left themselves open to the counter-attack - Hazard, De Bruyne, Origi and Jan Vertonghen rampaged into wide open spaces in the US half. DaMarcus Beasley's vital interception then denied Marouane Felliani at the back post as Belgium took the game by the scruff of the neck. The US were reliant on Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to create their best moments and the pair combined to test Courtois just before half-time. If the US had been second best in the first half, they hung on in the second. Belgium monopolised possession as the US dropped deeper and deeper. Toby Alderweireld was finding space down the right from where he delivered a cross that Origi headed onto the top of Howard's crossbar. Hazard went close with flick soon after, and the introduction of substitute Kevin Mirallas only reinforced Belgium's dominance. He scythed through the US defence, the ball running to Origi, whose shot was beaten away by Howard. Moments later, Howard was sprawling low to flick a shot away from Mirallas, his Everton team-mate, before Hazard drew another brilliant save. The veteran keeper was at it again soon after, tipping Origi's fierce shot over. Somehow, the US got over the line and into extra time - but the respite was brief. The introduction of Lukaku had an immediate impact. He burst down the right and although his cross-shot was blocked by Matt Besler, De Bruyne pounced on the loose ball, found a yard of space and shot unerringly into the far corner. De Bruyne then turned provider to find Chelsea striker, who turned the ball into the net with a brilliant finish at the near post. With the US apparently dead and buried, there was a twist in the tale. Green, on as a substitute, latched onto Bradley's floated pass and fired a stunning volley beyond Courtois with practically his first touch of the match. As late as it was, the US found new purpose. Jones poked just wide, before Dempsey found himself in possession eight yards out after a clever free-kick. The stadium held its breath but the American was denied by Courtois once more.

Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong has been ruled out of the remainder of the 2014 World Cup with a groin injury. De Jong was forced off nine minutes into the last 16 game against Mexico on Sunday which they won 2-1. The Dutch face Costa Rica in the quarter-finals on Saturday, but will be without the AC Milan midfielder who had played all three of their group games.