World Cup day 14: Five things we learned

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Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba (11) celebrates after Wilfried Bony scored his side's first goal against Greece's goalkeeper Panagiotis Glykos. Photo / AP
Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba (11) celebrates after Wilfried Bony scored his side's first goal against Greece's goalkeeper Panagiotis Glykos. Photo / AP

Herald on Sunday's Michael Burgess looks at five things we learned from day 14 of the FIFA World Cup.

Argentina are playing "en casa"
Argentina are supposed to be on hostile territory - but it doesn't seem that way. The rivalry between Argentina and Brazil is one of fiercest in world sport and nothing like the love/hate Anzac type scenario. But during today's game against Nigeria it felt like they were in Buenos Aires or Mendoza, as tens of thousands of La Albiceleste fans had flooded across the border to Porto Alegre. It helped to lift a nervy Argentina, who look far from the finished article. That may not be an issue, as eventual champions often grind their ways through the group phase, as we saw with Spain (2010), Italy (2006) and Brazil (2002) and France (1998). However, Argentina will need to prove - quite soon - that they have more than just Lionel Messi magic.

Italians undone by schedule
This wasn't a great Italian team - but the Azzurri weren't helped by arguably the worst schedule of anyone in the tournament.

Their first match was in the Amazonian sweat box of Manaus, the most energy sapping venue in the Cup. They then faced consecutive matches in the far North (Recife and Natal), both with 1pm kick-offs. The temperatures up North are extreme - it's an effort just to stand out in the sun let alone run. In retrospect, it was foolish of FIFA to schedule any early afternoon matches in the far North and that can partly (but in no way totally) account for the Italians' listless performances.

Door opens for Mexico and Holland
Suddenly, either El Tri or the Netherlands have a clear passage to the semi-finals. Instead of facing Italy, Uruguay, England or even Ivory Coast, they will have the much more modest proposition of Costa Rica or an uninspiring Greece side between them and the last four. It is a great chance for Mexico in particular to make history, as they have generally underachieved at World Cups. Mexico have qualified on 14 previous occasions, but only reached the quarter finals twice and both when they hosted the tournament (1970 and 1986).

Everybody loves Didier Drogba
The noise when Didier Drogba was announced to the crowd at the Arena Castelao yesterday was immense, only rivalled by the vocal support for the Brazil side against Mexico last week. When he was substituted in the second half the 36-year-old received a standing ovation, followed by a sustained "Drogba, Drogba, Drogba chant" continuing for more than a minute.
Unfortunately, his Ivory Coast team exited in the worst possible way, with Greece's last gasp penalty. The Africans were undone by naïve tactics and poor strategy while all of their big names played too much like individuals. It's a pity for Drogba, Yaya Toure and his team that had so much potential and most of all a shame for the tournament (and the journalists covering it!), as Greece are by far the most unpopular team here with their suffocating defensive tactics and lack of any attacking intent.

The end of the bore draw?
France and Ecuador's thrilling match today was one of the games of the tournament, a classic slug fest where neither side could land the ultimate blow. Ecuador showed enough to suggest they belong in the top sixteen and the South Americans will rue their poor opening game against a rather fortunate Swiss side.
Today's 0-0 match follows the Brazil versus Mexico encounter last week, another game which had everything despite no one finding the net. It bodes well for the latter stages, traditionally the time of the tournament where the goals dry up.

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