The World Cup Starts Here! A Preview of Today’s Games

The minnows and the major shocks, the in-house fighting and on-field biting. The ruined reputations and the exceeded expectations. The group stages of the World Cup were as good as we’ve seen in many a tournament, but the knock-out stages are when the fun really begins.

Half the teams that plonked themselves in Brazil at the start of the month have gone home, and yet Greece are still here. Go figure. Nevertheless, the majority of teams left in the tournament deserve to be here. As expected, South American teams have done well so far. Chile and Colombia have been two of the more impressive teams to make it to the last 16, while Brazil and Argentina have been carried this far by the genius of their Messi and Neymar.

Tonight sees the hosts take on Chile in the first of the knock-out games, followed by Colombia’s clash with a Uruguay side lacking some bite. (Sorry)

Here’s a short preview of the two games.

Brazil vs Chile – 5pm

If you get a sense of deja vu from this game it’s because these sides met at the same stage at the last world cup. On that occasion Brazil advanced to the quarter finals but on present form Chile have nothing to fear tonight.

With the exception of Neymar and possibly Thiago Silva, none of the Brazil side has performed at an optimum level so far in this tournament. Chile on the other hand have been a revelation of sorts, with the talents of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez complemented by an intense pressing game which puts pressure on opponents high up the pitch. They may have capitulated to the Dutch in their last game of the group stages but by then they had already qualified, and Juventus star Vidal was rested.

If Chile play in the same manner they did against Spain, Brazil may be leaving this tournament three games earlier than they’d like. However with Neymar in the form he has been in so far, they can hurt Chile on the counter. The Barcelona forward has been magnificent, particularly when you take into account the pressure that rests on his shoulders. Only a superlative performance from the Mexican goalkeeper in the second group game prevents him from being the top scorer so far, but he’ll be keen to add to his four goal tally this evening.

Intriguing sub plots include Real Madrid’s Marcelo being tasked with keeping Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez quiet. Chile fans would be happy to see something like this.

It’s a tough game to call but Brazil have Fred up front so Chile to progress.

 

Colombia vs Uruguay

This fixture is without two of the best strikers in world football, and is all the more intriguing for it. Radamel Falcao was never going to make this game, or indeed the World Cup, but a moment of madness has cost Luis Suarez his role as the the spearhead of the Uruguay attack.

There’s no denying that Uruguay are a weaker proposition without the Liverpool striker, particularly as Edinson Cavani appears to struggle for goals on the international stage. However Colombia seem to be doing pretty well for themselves without Falcao. James Rodriguez has been a stand out perfomer at this World Cup so far, with solid supporting roles played by the likes of Teofillo Gutierrez.

The Colombians had the luxury of resting 8 players against Japan, and without Suarez it’s difficult to see Uruguay progressing against their fresher South American counterparts.

 

 

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Munster and Ulster handed tough pool fixtures in inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup

The Irish provinces learned today of their pool opponents in the new European club competitions.

Munster and Ulster face an uphill task to qualify for the knock-out stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup. It’s a big ask for Anthony Foley in his first year as Munster head coach to lead the Reds out of Pool 1, which contains two other Heineken Cup semi-finalists from last season. Clermont Auvergne and beaten finalists Saracens join Munster and Sale Sharks in the pool.

Ulster’s task is no easier. They must face two time and final Heineken Cup champions Toulon, as well as Leicester Tigers and Llanelli Scarlets in Pool 3.

Leinster look to have the best draw out of the 3 provinces competing in the European Rugby Champions Cup, albeit their task is far from easy either. They face Castres, Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins side and London Wasps in Pool 2.

Jonny Sexton’s Racing Metro must negotiate Pool 5, which contains Northampton, the Ospreys and Benetton Treviso.

Pool 4 contains Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier, Bath and former French powerhouses Toulouse.

The first round of fixtures takes place the 17th, 18th and 19th of October.

In the European Rugby Challenge Cup (the remodel of the Amlin Challenge Cup), Connacht will take on the Exeter Chiefs, Bayonne and La Rochelle in Pool 2.

The remaining pools are as follows:

Pool 1 – Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, (Italian team TBC)

Pool 3 – Stade Francais, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Newcastle, (Italian team TBC)

Pool 4 – Edinburgh, Bordeaux-Begles, London Welsh, Lyon

Pool 5 – Gloucester, Brive, Zebra, Oyonnax.

Robbie Diack to make his debut against Argentina

Ulster back row Robbie Diack is the only uncapped player Joe Schmidt has named to start against Argentina on Saturday afternoon. The 28 year old Johannesburg native has been at Ulster since the 2008/9 season and can play in all three positions at the back of the pack.

Other players in line to make their Irish debut this weekend are the Connacht pairing of number 9 Kieran Marmion and prop forward Rodney Ah You. Both men start from the bench.

Joe Schmidt has chosen seasoned Irish performers to steer the ship, with Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton occupying the half back positions. Ulster duo Darren Cave and Luke Marshall begin in the centre.

Jordi Murphy wins his third cap, taking his provincial teammate Jamie Heaslip’s spot at number 8. Fellow Leinster man Jack McGrath packs down beside veterans Mike Ross and Rory Best in the front row.

There’s a recall for Simon Zebo, overlooked for the successful spring Six Nations campaign. Andrew Trimble takes his place on the other wing. Felix Jones wins his sixth cap for Ireland at full-back, with Rob Kearney not even included on the bench.

Kick-off is at 7.40pm Irish time Saturday (3.40pm in Argentina) and the game is live on Sky Sports.

Teams:

Ireland: 

F Jones, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall; S Zebo J Sexton, C Murray: J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; I Henderson P O’Connell (Capt); R Diack, C Henry, J Murphy.

Subs: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, R Ah You, D Toner, J Heaslip, K Marmion, I Madigan, F McFadden.

 

Argentina:

J Tuculet; S Cordero, J De La Fuente, G Ascarate, M Montero; N Sanchez, M Landajo (Capt): L Noguera Paz, M Cortese, R Herrera; M Carizza, T Lavanini; R Baez, T De La Vega, B Macone.

Subs: J Montoya, B Postiglioni, N Telaz Chaparo, M Alemanno, J Ortega Desio, T Cubelli,, S Gonzalez, Iglesias, L Gonzalez Amorisino.

 

Ireland v Italy: 3 Talking Points

Ireland took on Italy in an international friendly in front of a packed Craven Cottage in London last night. With all the speculation surrounding Roy Keane and the vacant managerial role at Celtic, it was nice for Martin O’Neill and his charges to be able to focus on playing football.

It was a fairly even contest which will serve Italy well as they make their final preparations ahead of their first World Cup game against Italy in less than a fortnight’s time. Unfortunately however the night was marred by a serious injury to midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who has been ruled out of the trip to Brazil after breaking his ankle in a clash with Alex Pearce.

Here are three talking points from last night’s game.

1. Confident play.

Some of the passing and movement at Craven Cottage last night was exceptional, and more importantly a far cry from the long ball tactics of the Trappatoni era.

The ball is utilised better by the whole team, with patient build up play and the courage to play it out from the back. The new management has shown confidence in the team’s ability to play football, and in turn the team has improved with every passing game.

Both Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan gave a strong Irish turnout in London something to shout about yesterday, as they constantly hassled and harried the sometimes lackadaisical Italian midfield into giving away possession. When either of these creative outlets got the ball for Ireland, something looked like happening in attack.

 

2. Where are you, Robbie?

There is still a worrying lack of a cutting edge in front of goal for Ireland when Robbie Keane isn’t around. The talisman is getting on now, and at a time when he should be taking a back seat, (or at least a seat on the bench) Martin O’Neill need’s his predatory instincts more than ever.

Shane Long offers much in the lone striker role. He has pace, holds the ball up well and occupies opposition defenders with clever movement. Crucially however, he just cannot seem to find the back of the net. When the goal looms large in front of him he either takes the wrong option or fluffs his lines.

Yesterday he attempted a pass to Aiden McGeady when world-class strikers might have been more inclined to shoot. When he did have an attempt on goal he wasn’t clinical enough. One was a weak shot that barely troubled Siguru in the Italian goal, and again with a header that found the keeper when the goal was at his mercy.

With Long, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters, Ireland have forward players who will run all day and hold the ball up to give midfielders the time to join the attack. Unfortunately however, when Robbie Keane is not in the squad, it’s hard to see where the goals will come from.

 

3. Summer fixtures the ideal shop window. 

For players such as Norwich duo Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan, these Ireland games are a welcome chance to showcase their abilities following frustrating club campaign.

Both players failed to hold down regular places at Carrow Road in the Premier League last season, but they’ve grasped the opportunities that have come their way in the green jersey during these summer fixtures so far.

Hoolahan has been at the heart of Ireland’s most impressive attacking play, while Anthony Pilkington showed deft displays of skill in London yesterday and was unfortunate not to get the goal that this dazzling bit of play deserved.

It goes without saying that the more Irish squad members playing regular Premier League football the better, and a few more performances like this from Hoolahan and Pilkington will do their chances of leaving Carrow Road and the Championship no harm at all.