World Cup ups and downs - Part 4
Thirty-two nations began this World Cup. Only eight are left standing. Iain Macintosh tells us whose reputation has been enhanced by a superb second round and whose has plunged to the ground.
It has been, by any definition of the word, a difficult year for Julio Cesar. Frozen out and granted just a single appearance all season with Queens Park Rangers, he was allowed to leave on loan to Toronto in February in a last bid to get some match practice ahead of the World Cup. It seems to have worked. Cesar's penalty saves helped Brazil through to the last eight, but they also provided a reminder of the brilliance of the former Internazionale stopper. Tied to Queens Park Rangers until 2016, it would surely be in both parties' interest to mutually separate.
In a good week for goalkeepers, Cesar is joined here by Tim Howard, who gave the performance of a lifetime against Belgium, but just couldn't quite keep them at bay. Much improved from earlier in the tournament, the Belgians were rampant, making 38 chances, but almost always finding Howard or one of his colleagues in the way. "It's what I signed up for," said Howard humbly afterwards. At 35, he still looks in top shape. Good news for Everton, who won't have to think about replacing him for at least another season. Less encouraging news for anyone who sits behind him in the pecking order.
Impressive throughout this World Cup, it looks as though Hector Herrera could be the next big-money graduate of the FC Porto finishing school. The Mexican midfielder was everywhere as his nation fought it out against the Netherlands on Sunday, surging forward against the Dutch back three and shuttling back to help close the gaps behind him. He's dynamic, inventive and, as we saw when he took Ron Vlaar's boot in the face, he's brave too. Represented by Nicky Blair, son of the former British prime minister, he's sure to have attracted some serious interest this summer.
This feature is reserved for players whose reputation is going up or down, not for those maintaining a steady level. And yet James Rodriguez has been practically an ever present. Colombia's emphatic answer to the question, "Are you going to miss Radamel Falcao?" just gets better and better. His first goal against Uruguay was astonishing, the sort of thing that lifts people from their sofa from one side of the planet to the other. He's already had a big transfer, but he doesn't yet play for a big club. Monaco must have wondered if they'd ever profit on their 40-million-pound investment. The answer seems quite clear now.
A ferocious display against Nigeria reasserted the view that Paul Pogba is one of Europe's most effective midfielders. He wasn't successful in everything he tried, but it was notable that the occasional error never stopped him from trying again. A relentless attacking force, he has the technical ability to change a game and the stamina to dominate it from start to finish. His surges through the centre of Nigeria's midfield caused all sorts of problems for Stephen Keshi's team. Little wonder that Juventus want 60 million pounds for him. Little wonder that there are plenty who would pay it.
This really hasn't been the international swansong that Theofanis Gekas was hoping for. The veteran Greek striker started the summer badly when he bounced a header off the crossbar against Colombia from six yards out and lost his place in the team shortly afterwards. The nadir came against Costa Rica when he missed the crucial penalty that led to his nation's elimination. But it was more than that. Gekas never looked comfortable. He gave the ball away, he missed chances, he looked far older than his 34 years suggested. It's the end of the line for this one.
Speaking of the end of the line, Diego Forlan is surely joining him there. No one really could have replaced Luis Suarez for Uruguay, but Forlan's efforts did not make for a flattering comparison. The former Atletico Madrid star has had an illustrious career, but his day has now passed. Worryingly, he later told reporters that he has no intention of retiring from international football and wants to stick around, presumably for the Copa America next summer. The 35-year-old would do better to take his bow now. Uruguay need fresh blood and he shouldn't stand in the way.
Never mind the (rightly) disallowed goal, this was another poor display from Hulk. With such power and experience, he should be a more than useful foil for Neymar, but he's offering very little. Culpable for Chile's equaliser, he was poor in possession and also missed a penalty in the shootout. The Zenit St. Petersburg forward already has been dropped once, after a substandard offering against Croatia in the opening match. He'll be very fortunate if he keeps his place after this. Neymar can't be expected to do it all on his own.
There was no shortage of scapegoats on whom to pin the blame for Germany's struggles against Algeria, but Mesut Ozil's display certainly stood out. A point-blank blasted goal doesn't hide the fact that he was wasteful in the final third and was unable to break the North African resistance within the 90 minutes. Ozil had a difficult first season in England, but has so much ability that it would be a surprise if he wasn't able to settle this year. The one plus point to his evening was that he lasted the full 120 minutes.
Angel Di Maria
Scorer of the crucial goal against Switzerland, if you didn't see the game you'd think that Angel Di Maria had given another good performance. The truth is that he was badly out of sorts, giving the ball away an astonishing 51 times, according to the BBC. Di Maria has been excellent for Real Madrid this season and was one of the best players on the pitch in the Champions League final, but here he epitomised everything that was wrong with Argentina. All the talent, all the reputation, no balance and no composure.
In 30 minutes against the United States, Romelu Lukaku caused more problems than he had in two hours against Algeria and Russia, and he did a lot less moaning too. Perhaps he needed to be dropped to spark a reaction.
Josip Drmic made a bold play for miss of the tournament against Argentina, racing through on goal and then gently lofting the ball into the arms of a very grateful Sergio Romero. Chances like that don't come along often enough for them to be squandered.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.