Player of the Round:
Some contenders for this honour were definitely Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, after his double against England, Enner Valencia and his two goals against Honduras, and Karim Benzema with his fine display in France’s 5-2 victory over Switzerland. However, the player of the round is definitely Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. The Mexican shot stopper was equal to whatever tournament hosts Brazil could throw at him. The Neymar header which Ochoa saved was akin to England’s legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks saving a header from football’s greatest, Pele, in the 1970 tournament in Mexico – dubbed the greatest ever save. Ochoa made another three world-class saves, most notably from Thiago Silva’s close-range header. This unexpected result for Mexico gives them a great platform to qualify for the next round.
Shock of the Round:
Chile’s convincing victory over Spain, dumping the defending champions out in the process, was not as much a shock anymore after the Spanish’s utterly embarrassing showing against Netherlands, and so too was USA, as they were literally seconds from another famous victory over Portugal at the World Cup. Still, this honour should go to Costa Rica’s 1-0 victory over Italy. Even after their 3-1 comeback win over a Suarez-less Uruguay, no one expected the Costa Ricans to do it again. A Bryan Ruiz header at the end of the first half sent the Group D ‘minnows’ through to the round of 16 with a game to spare, consigning one of Uruguay or Italy to duke it out in a ‘winner-takes-all’, where the losers join England as a major football nation to crash out at the first hurdle. A positive result for the Costa Ricans against England in the final group game would not be a shock anymore.
Goal of the Round:
This has to go to Tim Cahill’s full volley in Australia’s 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands. Honourable mentions go to USA’s Jermaine Jones and his fine long-range equaliser against Portugal, Granit Xhaka’s full volley for Switzerland, and Lionel Messi’s sublime injury-time winner against lowly Iran. Cahill’s goal, though, was simply sensational. Reminiscence to Marco van Basten’s full volley in the European Cup final, a lofted ball from midfield into the penalty box dropped nicely for Cahill, and the former Everton man’s sweet connection resulted in an unstoppable dipping volley. From his weaker left side no less, though no one would have noticed.
Effect of the Round:
This round simply sealed the fate of several leading nations. Defending champions Spain and perennial failures England are already out, while as mentioned, one of Italy and Uruguay will not progress. Portugal need a favourable last round of group games to progress, Cristiano Ronaldo and co. are in huge danger of not qualifying. Group B qualifiers Netherlands and Chile look the best bet to go far in this competition, and whoever avoids Brazil in the second round will definitely seek to go all the way. With the Chileans more acclimatised to this South American weather, they could be this year’s true dark horses.