Second-phase games went largely to form


In the search for tactical supremacy, soccer's big guns and some young pretenders have turned to the chapter marked 'counter-attack' to blast their way into the World Cup quarter-finals.

Mouth-watering matches between Argentina and Germany, and Netherlands and Brazil are next in line while neutrals will no doubt be willing on Uruguay, Paraguay, who are in the last eight for the first time, or Ghana, who carry the hopes of Africa.

Spain marched on by ending the challenge of neighbours Portugal as number two in the world overcame number three in as dominant a 1-0 win as is possible, while Paraguay got past Japan on penalties after the only goalless encounter.

After the 48 group matches produced an average of just over two goals per game, the 16 second-round games delivered just under three.

On the downside there were two monumental blunders by the match officials with England and Mexico on the receiving end, which immediately reopened the debate over goalline technology and even prompted a rare apology from FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

After the upsets of the group stage when Italy and France were sent packing, the second-phase games went largely to form.

Photographs: Reuters

Image: The World Cup trophy


Brazil, seeking to win the World Cup on a fifth continent, looked ominously impressive in a 3-0 victory over a Chile side who played right into the hands of Dunga's team.

With marauding fullbacks and fizzing front men showing the counter-attacking approach they have perfected under Dunga, Brazil were like a venus fly trap and when Chile ventured too close, too often, they were picked clean in an instant.

Brazil's second goal, a high-speed combination by Robinho and Kaka to set up Luis Fabiano, was a classic.

"Brazil, which has always been the country of attacking football and pressure, is now the country of defence and a powerful counter-attack," 1970 World Cup winner Tostao wrote in a recent column.

"Brazilian football which is admired all around the world for its touch, for exchanging passes and dominating the game, no longer exists. Now it's a game of tough marking and counter-attacks -- often brilliantly carried out."

Image: Brazil

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Germany's counter-attacking was even more devastating, though they were helped by some terrible England defending.

Two Thomas Mueller goals in three minutes moved Germany on from a precarious 2-1 lead to a 4-1 thrashing and came after an England throw-in and a free kick respectively were given away in the German area.

Seconds later on both occasions the ball was in the English net as Germany's youngsters roared forward with deadly intent.

Netherlands always looked in command against Slovakia but they too turned the match by breaking up an attack.

Wesley Sneijder delivered a perfect 60-metre pass into the path of Arjen Robben and the winger cut inside to put his side on the path to a 2-1 success.

Image: Germany

Argentina, growing in confidence with every game, Uruguay and Ghana also cooked up decisive breakaway goals and though Spain bucked the trend with their usual crisp-passing pressing game, in general counter-attack has become the tournament trademark.

"Normally, you see the stronger teams pressing but here you have Brazil and also Germany, first they drop back a little bit and then they wait for that one mistake," Frank de Boer, former Netherlands defender and now assistant coach, said.

"Then two or three guys will come out very quickly, like with us Sneijder who you can give the ball.

"These days you don't have that much space so you have to create your own space.

"A wasted pass can be deadly and, especially with Brazil, if you lose the ball in midfield, it's almost suicide."

Image: Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring a goal with team mates

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