Coen Lammers: Who's hot and who's not

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Netherlands' Arjen Robben waves to fans following the team's 3-2 win over Australia. Photo / AP
Netherlands' Arjen Robben waves to fans following the team's 3-2 win over Australia. Photo / AP

The astonishing match between Costa Rica and Italy marks the halfway point of the group stage and seems an opportune time to reflect on the FIFA World Cup.

The encounter in Recife embodied what this World Cup has been about with mouthwatering, attacking football, passionate crowds and sensational upsets.

The Italians expected to have one foot in the next round after beating England, but after Bryan Ruiz's winning goal, the Azzuri now have to fight for the remaining qualifying spot with Uruguay.

The Uruguayans on the other hand looked dead and buried after their loss to Costa Rica, but their heart-stopping win over England has put their fate back in their own hands.

Group D includes three former world champions and not even the most fanatical Costa Rica fan would have predicted their side would be the first to go through.

Shocks are the lifeblood of the football World Cup, but reigning champions Spain were not expected to be at the receiving end.

Spain's conquerors Chile are another form team that could go a long way, and unless they manage to beat the Dutch, they may give Brazil a major headache in the next round.

So far the hosts have failed to live up to their billing as cup favourites and the Chileans will be keen to avenge two recent World Cup eliminations by the Brazilians.

Despite their narrow escape against Australia, many experts still see the Dutch as a major threat as their old firm of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder have all hit their straps for a final hurray.

France certainly has to be added to that list of potential finalists after Saturday's comprehensive demolition job on the highly rate Swiss side, who are still expected to progress to the next round.

France had little expectations after losing captain Frank Ribery, but Real Madrid star Karim Benzima seems to have taken on the leadership mantle for the free-scoring Bleus, who just couldn't miss the target in the Salvador goal-fest.

While the Dutch and French have surprised even their own fans, the Germans are the only team to have lived up to their pre-cup hype. They are normally slow starters and the 4-0 with over Portugal has got their competition worried.

The big question of the World Cup is still Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star showed glimpses of his class against Bosnia and a full-throttle Messi could lead his experienced Argentinian side all the way to the final. They are assisted by a weak group and will avoid all the big teams until the semi-finals. After that it's anyone's cup.

But then again, 2014 is the cup of the major upsets and any predictions are risky, so let's just enjoy the flurry of goals and see what unfolds.


Coen Lammers is blogging for nzherald.co.nz three times a week from Brazil.

- NZ Herald

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