Winners and Losers from International Friendlies: No Stopping Record-Breaker Ron
With now just 98 days to go until the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, many of the participating nations have been busy fine-tuning their preparations for the summer’s show-piece event by taking part in a series of friendly internationals across the globe.
These were the main winners and losers in terms of Brazil 2014 from those contests on Wednesday...
Young Saint Breathes New Life into Stale-Looking Three Lions
Southampton midfielder Adam Lallana was given just over half an hour in which to impress manager Roy Hodgson in England’s friendly international with Denmark at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night as the clock slowly begins to tick down to the announcement of the Three Lions squad for this summer’s World Cup.
However, the 25-year-old did not waste his opportunity after producing an eye-catching cameo at the home of football, culminating with his impressive assist on Daniel Sturridge’s late winner.
Receiving the ball on the left-hand touchline following a short corner from Raheem Sterling, the Saints captain used a clever bit of skill to crucially work himself some space in which to deliver a delicious centre straight onto the head of the in-form Liverpool striker, who was not about to pass up the inviting opening.
Now, the English starlet has all but booked his place on the plane to Rio.
Drab game enlivened by a lovely cameo from Adam Lallana. He'd have been in my squad anyway but surely tonight has sealed his place in Brazil— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) March 5, 2014
Are Veteran Italian Shot-Stopper's Days Numbered?
Legendary Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon may be about to embark on what will be an incredible fifth appearance in the World Cup for his country in Brazil this summer, however, the 36-year-old was just starting to show signs that his age may be catching up with him during Wednesday evening’s friendly international against Spain.
In what was a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, the four-time world champions were more than holding their own against the current world champions at the Vicente Calderon—that is, until La Roja coach Vicente del Bosque decided to introduce both David Silva and Xabi Alonso at the break.
Thereafter, the home team moved up a gear, although it still took an uncharacteristic blunder from the Italy goalkeeper to break the deadlock; Buffon failed to react quickly enough to get down and keep out Pedro’s winner just past the hour mark.
Neymar and Co. Set to Shine at Their Own Party This Summer
Neymar and host nation Brazil warmed up for the festivities in June by thrashing South Africa 5-0 in Johannesburg on Wednesday to maintain their impressive recent form.
FC Barcelona’s club-record £48.6 million signing, who will be the poster boy for the five-time world champions at their own tournament this summer, scored on either side of half-time in Soccer City, completing the hat-trick in stoppage time. It's the second time that the playmaker has managed that feat for the Selecao after his treble against China two years ago.
It appeared as though the decision by Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari at the break to change the visitors’ kit from their famous yellow and blue design to an all-blue ensemble had the desired effect on his team, and especially Neymar, who went on to net twice more in the second period.
As a result, the precompetition favourites appear to be hitting peak form at exactly the right time, and now, with less than 100 days to go until the party begins in Rio, Brazil have won their last seven encounters in a row and 13 of the previous 14 friendlies they have contested since Big Phil replaced Mano Menezes as manager in November 2012.
The Benz Gears Up for Brazil 2014
Striker Karim Benzema continued his sensational form in front of goal of late for Real Madrid by turning in a man-of-the-match display to help France beat Netherlands 2-0 in Paris on Wednesday night.
The 26-year-old may have started the season off-colour in the Spanish capital, however recently, the attacker has been hitting the back of the net with great regularity, scoring 11 times in his previous 13 matches for Carlo Ancelotti’s in-form side.
At the Stade de France, Benzema was the catalyst behind an impressive performance against an Oranje outfit that had not lost for 17 matches in a run, stretching back to August 2012.
Not only did the Frenchman open the scoring with an unstoppable effort against the runners-up from the 2010 World Cup, but he also created the home team’s sensational second goal for midfielder Blaise Matuidi.
50% - Karim Benzema has scored 4 of France's last 8 goals. Rebirth.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Benteke Gets His Bearings All Wrong, Again
Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke may be assured of his place in the Belgium squad at this summer’s show-piece event in South America in what will be their first appearance in the World Cup since 2002.
However, many more glaring misses, such as that which the normally deadly marksman produced in his country’s entertaining 2-2 draw with fellow finalists Ivory Coast on Wednesday, and the 23-year-old may soon see himself out of Marc Wilmots’ starting lineup come the time of their Group H opener against Algeria on June 17.
With his side leading 1-0 in the first half in Brussels, Benteke was given the ideal opportunity with which to double Belgium’s advantage, only for the front man to somehow side-foot over from just six yards out in a contender for Miss of the Season.
And what makes it worse for the youngster is that this is not the first time he has been left with egg on his face in such circumstances; check out this howler against Serbia last June.
Costa’s Costly Miss?
Atletico de Madrid striker Diego Costa was handed his Spain debut as the world champions entertained Italy at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night, with the in-form 25-year-old looking to catch the eye of la Roja head coach Vicente del Bosque by making a goalscoring debut on his home ground.
However, while the Brazil-born produced an accomplished display up front as the hosts recorded a fully deserved 1-0 win in the Spanish capital, Costa was unable to mark his first start with the goal that would have made him the favourite to lead the line in his adopted nation’s opening match of the defence of their trophy against Netherlands on June 13.
And with there now less than 100 days to go until the tournament gets under way in the country of his birth, Costa knows there won’t be too many more opportunities to make his dream of playing in a World Cup in Brazil a realisation.
Diego Costa was okay tonight but nothing more. Gives Del Bosque some questions with little time to integrate him before WC— Carlo Garganese (@carlogarganese) March 5, 2014
There’s Just No Stopping Record-Breaking Ron
The world’s best player appears to be moving into top gear at exactly the right time ahead of what could be a career-defining tournament for him in Brazil this summer. Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed yet another two goals against Cameroon on Wednesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo becomes Portugal's all-time top scorer in 5-1 win against Cameroon: Cristiano Ronaldo became... http://t.co/5vzrcqQcb6— Barclays PL News™ (@BarclaysLeague) March 6, 2014
What is more, the recently crowned FIFA Ballon d’Or winner’s brace in his side’s 5-1 victory in Leiria were Ronaldo’s 48th and 49th international goals for his country, taking him past Pauleta to the top of the all-time Portuguese scorers list in the process.
So just another normal night’s work for the 29-year-old, although you do get the distinct feeling that the Real Madrid superstar is getting ready to make this a year to remember in the Ronaldo household.
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