Germany beats Algeria 2-1 in Extra Time and France beats Nigeria 2-0

Game Highlights:

  • Djabou scores! 2-1
  • Oezil scores at 120′! 2 – 0
  • Andre Schurrle scores with a flick in extra time to put his country ahead!
  • Extra-time kicks off as teams face up to the prospect of a penalty shootout
  • 1982 scandal revenge sought by Africans
  • Score remains goalless at half-time as neither side manages to find a breakthrough
  • Germany huge favourites to reach quarter-finals against African minnows
  • Desert Foxes into knockout stage for first time in their history
  • Two sides clash in Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre
  • Winner will face France in quarter-finals after they beat Nigeria 2-0

Germany: Neuer, Mustafi (Khedira 70), Mertesacker, Boateng, Howedes, Lahm, Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Gotze (Schurrle 46), Muller.
Subs: Zieler, Weidenfeller, Grosskreutz, Ginter, Podolski, Klose, Draxler, Durm, Kramer.

Goal: Schurrle 92.

Algeria: M’Bolhi, Mandi, Belkalem, Halliche (Bougherra 98), Ghoulam, Lacen, Mostefa, Feghouli, Soudani (Djabou 100), Taider (Brahimi 79), Slimani.
Subs: Si Mohamed, Zemmamouche, Mesbah, Yebda, Ghilas, Medjani, Bentaleb, Cadamuro, Mahrez.

Booked: Halliche.

Referee: Sandro Meira Ricci (Brazil)


Paul Pogba opens scoring as Didier Deschamps’ team wins World Cup round of 16 tie

There can be no position in sport where the dichotomy between hero and villain is defined more cruelly or narrowly than that of goalkeeper.

For 78 minutes, Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama had been inspired in standing up to everything that France could throw at him. But then, just seconds after making a fingertip save to deny Karim Benzema, he rushed at a cross and gifted Paul Pogba what proved to be the decisive goal. A mix-up in added time with Joseph Yobo subsequently gave far more comfort to the scoreline than the French players had felt at any point of the match.

Nigeria had dominated for significant periods and, with Emmanuel Emenike’s first-half ‘goal’ ruled out by the most marginal of offside decisions, they could have easily been the team preparing for a quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

Nigeria were also riled by a series of refereeing decisions, with Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi both surviving moments of indiscipline.

France, though, certainly did finish the match with a flourish and, given their dramatic improvement after Giroud was replaced by Antoine Griezmann in the 62nd minute, it is hard to imagine Didier Deschamps, the manager, keeping faith with the Arsenal striker in the quarter-finals.

“A game lasts 90 minutes and we finished very well,” Deschamps said. “We had a very strong last half an hour with more dynamism and speed. When you look at the recent past of the French national team, I am very proud to be in the last eight of this World Cup. We came very far. Whatever happens now it’s not failure.”

Of Giroud’s specific performance, Deschamps said: “He was a support for Benzema – his headers defensively and offensively were important. I could have started with Griezmann but would it have worked? No one knows.” The caveat for France’s seamless progress through the tournament had always been the relative weakness of their group and it was quickly obvious that Nigeria would pose a considerable threat.

With Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa providing pace out wide and Peter Odemwingie given licence to roam in the space behind Emenike, Nigeria were fearless in how they approached the match. Odemwingie’s running between France’s midfield and defence was a particular threat, with Nigeria unfortunate not to be ahead at half-time. From a free-kick that was cleverly directed towards France’s near post by Musa, Emenike deftly cushioned his finish between Hugo Lloris and the post.

Subsequent replays suggested that Emenike was offside but only by the narrowest of distances.

Deschamps had actually made six changes from France’s previous match against Ecuador when his team were already qualified but, far from benefiting from the rest, key players initially looked jaded. With Giroud handed the responsibility of knitting together France’s attack from the centre-forward’s position, Benzema was asked to play out wide on the left. France’s most convincing passages of first-half football, however, all involved Pogba and Mathieu Valbuena, who combined to produce one particularly slick move that ended with Pogba’s volley forcing Enyeama to make a good save.

Mathieu Debuchy was also threatening with his overlapping runs down the right and, after another clever exchange between Valbuena and Pogba, wasted an excellent chance with a wayward shot. It was soon clear that France’s attacking formation was not working, with Giroud laboured and Benzema peripheral. Giroud had also been fortunate in the first half when he appeared to throw an elbow – albeit with limited force – into the face of John Obi Mikel.

Referee Mark Geiger was then even more lenient when Matuidi’s dangerous studs-up challenge put Nigeria midfielder Ogenyi Onazi out of the game with an ankle injury. The introduction of Griezmann allowed Benzema to move into his preferred role as the main central striker and he was soon clear on goal after an exchange of passes with the Real Sociedad winger.

Benzema tried to slide his shot beneath Enyeama, who got just enough contact to slow the ball and allow Moses to clear off the line. With Benzema clearly energised by the tactical change, France suddenly came to life and played what was easily their best football of the match.

Valbuena had a shot cleared off the line and Cabaye then rattled the crossbar with the follow-up. The quality of Valbuena’s delivery was evident when he crossed for Benzema to force another wonderful save from Enyeama.

The Nigeria goalkeeper was delivering an outstanding performance but, from the resulting corner, the adrenalin seemed to get the better of him. Valbuena’s cross was again precise but Enyeama made an ill-judged attempt to collect the cross and only succeeded in palming the ball towards Pogba, who gratefully aimed his header into an empty goal.

Admirably, Enyeama did not let the mistake affect him and actually made another excellent late save to deny Benzema.

By then, however, it was a case of too little too late for Nigeria, with France completing their passage into the quarter-finals when Valbuena’s cross was turned into his own goal by Yobo.

France beats Switzerland 5-2 and Bryan Ruiz drives Costa Rica past Italy!


  • Switzerland are ending the game the stronger of the two sides, but France won’t mind given their general performance. It’s a case of too little, too late for the Swiss, who have only grown into the game as Les Bleus took their foot off the gas.
  • 90`
    There are three minutes of stoppage time in the second half.
  • 89`
    Switzerland are laying siege to the French box in the late stages, with Xhaka really looking motivated to retain his place in the starting eleven against Honduras. The introduction of Dzemaili at the break has certainly improved Hitzfeld’s side, but they’ll still be disappointed to have seen their shrewd defensive record dashed tonight.
  • 88`
    Yellow Card Yohan Cabaye
  • 87`
    Assist Gökhan Inler
  • AdTech Ad
    Goal Granit Xhaka
  • 87`
    GOOOOOOAL! SWITZERLAND HAVE TWO! Xhaka fires home emphatically at the back post, after being released by a very tidy through ball from Inler. He blasts home on the volley with his left foot, displaying some outrageously good technique!
  • 86`
    Shaqiri forces Lloris into a good save, as the goalkeeper gets down smartly to his right to palm the Bayern man’s effort away. He only needs half a chance to try his luck, Shaqiri has been fairly unlucky not to have found the back of the net this evening.
  • 85`
    Lichtsteiner breaks down the right yet again, but Koscielny puts in a good block to deny the Juve man. France clear their lines, with the Swiss forced back towards their own goal yet again. Dzemaili tries to find Xhaka with a crossfield ball, but the goalscorer’s pass bobbles out of play.
  • 83`
    France don’t have the clean sheet they would have so desperately wanted, but the scoreline is still more than convincing. Griezmann is given a runout in place of Valbuena, who earns an embrace from his coach as he leaves the field of play.
  • AdTech Ad
    SubstitutionMathieu ValbuenaAntoine Griezmann
  • 81`
    Goal Blerim Dzemaili
  • 81`
    GOOOOAL! WHAT AN EFFORT FROM DZEMAILI! The substitute lines up a 30-yard free-kick, which zips through the wall and into the bottom right corner. Benzema is the culprit, with the striker shielding his face rather than concentrating on doing his job. A good strike nevertheless and Switzerland have a consolation goal.
  • 80`
    Senderos releases Mehmedi down the left hand side with a hopeful clearance, but the Freiburg man is closed down effectively by Debuchy. France continue to be professional and efficient in their outlook, with Switzerland unable to find anything in the way of penetration.
  • 78`
    France look extremely comfortable, with this defeat leaving Switzerland with a lot to do if they are to pick themselves up for their fixture against Ecuador. The French supporters are jubilant and so they should be.
  • 76`
    Sissoko exchanges a one-two with Debuchy down the right hand side, before the former squares a cross to Valbuena, who fires straight at Benaglio. France attack again, with Matuidi drawing another save out of the Swiss goalkeeper, before Senderos acrobatically clears his lines.
  • 75`
    A quarter of an hour remains and Switzerland will be hoping for the final whistle to arrive as soon as possible. The crowd are mocking the Swiss, cheering as France hold onto possession comfortably, just to add insult to injury. They’ve been awful this evening.
  • 73`
    Goal Moussa Sissoko
  • 73`
    Assist Karim Benzema
  • 73`
    GOOOOOOAL! SISSOKO NETS THE FIFTH FOR FRANCE! Inler gives away possession needlessly, before a quick French break presents Sissoko with a chance at the back post. The Newcastle midfielder fires a low finish beyond Benaglio and into the far corner!
  • 72`
    Cabaye slots Evra through on goal, before the Man United left-back tries to stab a dinked finish over the advancing Benaglio. It heads high and wide, despite his claims of the ‘keeper making a save.
  • 71`
    XHAKA GOES CLOSE! He’s been a real handful in the air, this time turning Rodriguez’s cross across the face of goal! France look unable to deal with him, but he simply can’t hit the target.
  • 69`
    SubstitutionHaris SeferovicJosip Drmic
  • 69`
    France are looking in fantastic shape, without any suggestion that their form is going to dip any time soon. They’ve been solid throughout, with Lloris looking more than capable on the rare occasions that Switzerland have tested him. The French national anthem rings around the stadium once again.
  • 67`
    Assist Paul Pogba
  • 67`
    Goal Karim Benzema
  • 67`
    GOOOOOOOOAL! BENZEMA SCORES TO MAKE IT FOUR FOR FRANCE! It’s another mistake from Switzerland to allow the Real Madrid man in behind, before a wonderful improvised finish from the Frenchman squeezes in between Benaglio’s legs! Wonderful outside of the boot assist from Pogba!
  • 66`
    SubstitutionMamadou SakhoLaurent Koscielny
  • 66`
    Sakho limps off the field after appearing to feel some tightness in his hamstring, with Koscielny the man to replace him. Not something France will be wanting to see, but the change allows for Deschamps to ensure that his first choice central defender is well rested for their next fixture.
  • 64`
    BIG CHANCE FOR MEHMEDI! Lichtsteiner breaks to the byeline, before clipping a cross to the back post which floats over Debuchy! Mehmedi takes a touch, but Lloris is incredibly quick off his line to pressure the Freiburg man and force him to panic and fire over.
  • 63`
    SubstitutionOlivier GiroudPaul Pogba
  • 63`
    Xhaka is nearly picked out at the back post by an early cross from Rodriguez, but Evra does just enough to put his man off. Deschamps looks to his bench, with Pogba replacing Giroud, which should mean that Benzema will be France’s number nine.
  • 62`
    A lull in both the game and the atmosphere in Salvador, as France look to close space and remain hard to play through. If Switzerland were to find an unlikely goal, things might liven up a little, but otherwise this is going to be a routine second half for Les Bleus.
  • 60`
    Half an hour remains for Switzerland to drag themselves into this game, or at least soften the blow to their goal difference. Benzema sees a shot deflected over the crossbar by Djourou with Benaglio wrong-footed. France are comfortable and the Swiss don’t seem to have any questions to pose to their opponents.
  • 58`
    DZEMAILI GOES CLOSE! The substitute is pressured by Sakho, but the shot evades the French defender and whistles narrowly over the crossbar. It seemed to open up for the Napoli man, but from 30 yards the odds were always against him.
  • 57`
    Switzerland spread play wide to Shaqiri well, with the Bayern man taking a wonderful first touch. Debuchy and Varane double up well on the Swiss midfielder, with the latter sliding in to put the ball into touch. France continue to frustrate their opposition.
  • 55`
    France transition quickly once again, with Benzema feeding Giroud. The Arsenal man takes a poor touch, which bobbles behind him, but recovers well. He shifts the ball onto his left foot, before arrowing an effort out of play for a goal-kick. He puts up an apologetic hand.
  • 54`
    France haven’t pressed forward too readily in the opening ten minutes of this half and appear happy to absorb some pressure. Their lightning counter attacks will be something that Switzerland will be paranoid about. Shaqiri turns Sissoko, before releasing a long-range effort that he drags terribly wide.
  • 52`
    Shaqiri delivers a dangerous cross into the front post from a free-kick, but Matuidi does just enough to ensure that Xhaka isn’t able to steer a header inside the upright. France concede a corner, but the Gladbach man once again fails to hit the target after meeting Shaqiri’s delivery.
  • 51`
    Seferovic ambitiously tries to sweep a left-footed effort across goal and inside the far post, but Lloris is confident enough to let the ball bobble behind for a goal-kick. Drmic will be confident that he will see some second half action, given the Real Sociedad man’s lacklustre display.
  • 50`
    A fractured start to the second half, with both outfits giving away possession cheaply. Switzerland know that they need the mother of all comebacks if they are to take any points from this game, but have moved the ball fairly sharply in the early minutes since the restart.
  • 48`
    Giroud tries to curl a left-footed effort into the bottom corner, but Senderos slides in well to turn the Frenchman’s shot behind for a corner. Valbuena’s delivery is terrible, however, and fails to clear the first man.
  • 47`
    One change at the break for Switzerland, as Behrami is taken off for Dzemaili. Mehmedi and Seferovic play a clever one-two, but Sakho comes across well to sweep up, slide in and dispossess the left winger as he raced into the box. Inler tries his luck from 30 yards, but Lloris collects easily.
  • 46`
    SubstitutionValon BehramiBlerim Dzemaili
  • 46`
    We’re back underway in the second half! This might be a case of damage limitation now for Switzerland, but France will want to win comfortably and show that they’re a strong force in this World Cup.
  • Xhaka had a goal disallowed for offside for Switzerland, while Benzema missed a penalty for France. This game might well be over already, but the former’s late minute winner against Ecuador suggests that there might be slim hope yet. Hitzfeld needs to make a couple of inspired substitutions once again.
  • HALF TIME! France are almost out of sight, leading 3-0 over Switzerland at half-time in Salvador. Goals from Giroud, Matuidi and Valbuena have gifted Les Bleus’ a sizeable cushion, but Deschamps won’t want his side’s level of performance to dip whatsoever.
  • 45` + 2`
    Benzema weaves in between two defenders and releases yet another shot towards goal, but Benaglio is easily able to get down to his left and smother it. That should be that in a great half for France.
  • 45`
    France are allowing Switzerland to have possession, but only due to their confidence in their ability to break upfield. Rodriguez and Lichtsteiner haven’t been able to press up and support whatsoever for the Swiss. There are two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half.
  • 43`
    VALBUENA AGAIN! The Marseille man goes close after receiving a good pass from Matuidi, but Benaglio is able to beat the Frenchman’s effort away from the danger zone! Switzerland are really on the ropes.
  • 42`
    Five minutes until the break and France can’t believe what they’ve managed achieve in this first half. Their fans are delirious, while those with an allegiance to Les Bleus on the field continue to press forward.
  • 40`
    Assist Olivier Giroud
  • 40`
    Goal Mathieu Valbuena
  • 40`
    GOOOOOOOOOAL! VALBUENA MAKES IT 3-0! Les Bleus break upfield extremely quickly, leaving Hitzfeld frustrated on the Swiss bench! France break from the corner, with Giroud racing down the left and picking out the Marseille man at the back post! He fires into the roof of the net, sparking wild celebrations!
  • 40`
    Great challenge from Debuchy! The right-back tracks back accidentally to recover and ensure that Shaqiri can’t deliver from the byeline. Switzerland win a corner, but Giroud is once again on hand to make a defensive header.
  • 38`
    Terrible cross from Sissoko! The former Toulouse man breaks down the right and gets to the byeline, but his clipped cross is way beyond Benzema. Giroud rises at the back post, but can only divert the delivery way wide of the target.
  • 36`
    France are continuing to have a very fluid forward line, with Giroud spending more time on the left hand side than Benzema. When Evra pushes upfield, the Arsenal man is able to squeeze infield and challenge for aerial balls, giving Les Bleus additional aerial presence.
  • 34`
    Just over ten minutes until the half-time break and Switzerland will consider themselves lucky to still be in with an opportunity to take some points from this fixture. Benzema’s penalty should have buried Hitzfeld’s men, but a save from Benaglio means that the goalkeeper atoned for earlier questionable errors.
  • 32`
    Missed Penalty Karim Benzema
  • 32`
    Penalty save Diego Benaglio
  • 32`
    SAVED! FRANCE HIT THE WOODWORK! Benaglio denies Benzema’s penalty brilliantly, before Cabaye fires the rebound onto the crossbar! Les Bleus can’t believe their luck, they should be out of sight by now!
  • 31`
    PENALTY TO FRANCE! Djourou is complaining but the referee has pointed to the spot! Benzema turns his man and gets a small amount of contact on the ankle from the Swiss defender, which is deemed worthy of an opportunity for France from 12 yards.
  • 30`
    INCHES WIDE FOR SHAQIRI! The Bayern man drives past Varane and fires a left-footed effort across goal, but Lloris might have just got an important touch! It whistles past the post and the Swiss midfielder has his head in his hands!
  • 29`
    Switzerland can take from heart from having the ball in the back of the net, but France are still in control. Giroud unleashes a dipping left-footed effort from 25 yards, but the ball balloons high and wide.
  • 27`
    OFFSIDE! Xhaka has the ball in the back of the net, but it has been ruled out for offside! A Swiss free-kick is cleared by Giroud, before the loose ball is hooked back into the penalty area. Xhaka fires home with a scuffed half volley, but the linesman’s flag is rightly raised!
  • 25`
    BENZEMA GOES CLOSE! France break upfield incisively once again, with Benzema receiving possession 30 yards from goal. The Real Madrid man turns smartly and drives through the heart of the Swiss defence, but his eventual poked effort isn’t powerful enough to beat an extended Benaglio.
  • 24`
    Seferovic is looking extremely isolated at the head of the Swiss attack, as he has both Sakho and Varane free to track himself wherever he goes. France are in control, with Rodriguez and Lichtsteiner pegged back due to Switzerland being simply unable to retain the ball in dangerous areas.
  • 22`
    There’s a party atmosphere in Salvador, as France continue to look extremely confident. A long ball up to Giroud is flicked on by the goalscorer, but Benaglio is quick off his line to claim the loose pass. Perhaps the first example of convincing goalkeeping we’ve seen from him this evening.
  • 20`
    A double salvo for France has left Switzerland reeling! Their usual defensive stability has dissipated entirely, with two goals in 20 seconds for Les Bleus leaving Hitzfeld’s men with plenty to do. France deliver a free-kick effort into Benzema, but the forward is caught offside – his headed effort floats high and wide anyway.
  • 18`
    Assist Karim Benzema
  • 18`
    Goal Blaise Matuidi
  • 18`
    GOOOOOOOOOOOAL! IT’S TWO FOR FRANCE! LES BLEUS SCORE TWO IN TWENTY SECONDS! France break upfield immediately, with Matuidi on hand to steer a Benzema through ball into the path of the PSG midfielder, whose effort zips beyond Benaglio at his near post!
  • 17`
    Goal Olivier Giroud
  • 17`
    Assist Mathieu Valbuena
  • 17`
    GOOOOOOOAL! OLIVIER GIROUD GIVES LES BLEUS THE LEAD! The Arsenal forward rises highest to head home a corner delivery, with his attempt just too hot to handle for Benaglio! The Swiss keeper can only palm Giroud’s header into the top corner, leaving Rodriguez helpless on the goal-line.
  • 16`
    Giroud tries to invite Debuchy down the right flank with a stabbed pass, but puts too much weight on it. The French forward three is very fluid, with the likes of Benzema and Giroud exchanging readily. Djourou make a very important sliding interception to deny Benzema the opportunity to poke home a finish from six yards.
  • 14`
    France work their way down the left hand side, with Giroud picking out Benzema on the edge of the box. The Real Madrid man is tackled by Senderos, before Switzerland launch a counter attack. Mehmedi aims for Seferovic with an early long ball, but the Real Sociedad striker is let down by poor distribution.
  • 12`
    Mehmedi is scythed down by Debuchy, with the Newcastle defender getting none of the ball, but the referee is required to make his own decision as the linesman bizarrely didn’t flag. This game is still to come alive.
  • 10`
    The first ten minutes have passed without any real incident, save for the injury to Von Bergen. France are starting to see more of the ball, with Seferovic very isolated up top for the Swiss.
  • 9`
    SubstitutionSteve von BergenPhilippe Senderos
  • 8`
    Senderos warms up, as it is quickly apparent that Von Bergen won’t be able to continue. He’s got a bloody eye, meaning that there’s no quick fix for this particular ailment. His replacement has had plenty of club football this season for Valencia, so he should be an adequate replacement.
  • 7`
    Von Bergen goes down and requests treatment, after clashing in an aerial battle with Giroud. Hitzfeld complains to the fourth official, but there didn’t appear to be anything untoward from the French striker in that tackle. It’s a case of a high foot from the Arsenal man, but an accidental one.
  • 6`
    BENZEMA TRIES HIS LUCK! The two-goal man versus Honduras nearly strikes again, as the Real Madrid forward cuts onto his right foot and fires at goal from the edge of the box. Benaglio is happy to let the curling effort head high and wide of the top right corner.
  • 5`
    Switzerland enjoy some earlier possession but are unable to make any inroads into the organised French ranks. The supporters inside the stadium aren’t appreciating a rather sluggish start. Debuchy and Cabaye try to deliver crosses early on the right, but Rodriguez and Djourou deny them.
  • 3`
    No chances for either side in the opening minutes, with both looking fairly solid due to numbers in midfield. Sissoko has presumably been deployed in place of Pogba due to Deschamps desiring some extra athleticism and pressing in the middle third, as Les Bleus try not to underestimate their opposition.
  • 1`
    We’re underway in the first half, with excellent weather conditions which are perfect for this clash. Both sides are confident and ended their previous fixtures on highs, meaning that we should be enjoying a tightly contested affair this evening. Switzerland are donning their customary red, while France are in their white away strip.
  • Both teams are out on the field in Salvador, meaning that after the respective national anthems we’ll be able to get down to business. Switzerland are a solid side in their own right, but Hitzfeld’s men might just take some inspiration from Costa Rica’s victory over Italy earlier today. Three points are on the agenda for both, given that it is likely the runner-up shall face Argentina.
  • We have just over a quarter of an hour before kick-off, so be sure to stick around for all of the action as Group E’s favourites clash. Switzerland are renowned for their defensive stability, while France have continued to gain momentum over the past month. Les Bleus will be confident, but the Swiss know that they have more than a chance of enjoying an upset this evening.
  • France substitutes: Cabella, Griezmann, Mavuba, Mangala, Sagna, Ruffier, Digne, Pogba, Remy, Koscielny, Schneiderlin, Landreau.
  • France starting line-up (4-3-3): Lloris; Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra; Sissoko, Cabaye, Matuidi; Valbuena, Giroud, Benzema.
  • Switzerland substitutes: Ziegler, Senderos, Lang, Barnetta, Sommer, Stocker, Dzemaili, Fernandes, Gavranovic, Drmic, Burki, Schar.
  • Switzerland starting line-up (4-3-3): Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Djourou, Von Bergen, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka, Inler; Shaqiri, Seferovic, Mehmedi.
  • TEAM NEWS: Ottmar Hitzfeld keeps faith in his substitutes, as Haris Seferovic and Admir Mehmedi start after goalscoring performances against Ecuador. Ricardo Rodriguez starts at left-back after his two assists last time out, with the defence and midfield showing continuity. Any Swiss personnel on the bench know that their contributions will be valued.
  • TEAM NEWS: France re-install Olivier Giroud as their number nine, with Antoine Griezmann dropping to the bench, while Moussa Sissoko is preferred to Paul Pogba in central midfield. Otherwise it’s business as usual for Deschamps’ men, with Karim Benzema presumably drifting out to the left hand side and Mathieu Valbuena being given a free role in attacking midfield

Costa Rica saved the Queen. But there was no saving England. The end of the World Cup dream has been confirmed. England needed Italy to win here in order to cling to the most slender of lifelines, yet the hope was snuffed out by Costa Rica, the tournament’s most romantic surprise. The only consolation was for Her Majesty. Mario Balotelli had demanded a kiss from her if Italy triumphed.

Costa Rica have qualified from the “group of death” that was supposed to eat them alive, and nobody can say that they do not deserve it. After last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Uruguay, they went toe to toe with the four-times world champions and they were the better team.

They shrugged off the harsh decision not to award them a 43rd-minute penalty for a barge by Giorgio Chiellini on Joel Campbell to strike the decisive blow through the captain Bryan Ruiz. The Fulham forward, who spent the second half of last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven, can cherish one of the goals of his life.

Fulham will begin next season in the Championship after their relegation but Ruiz can look ahead to a World Cup knockout tie. The Costa Rican celebrations at full-time were frenzied. They have laughed in the face of those that have belittled them. Their final group tie against England will be a stress-free occasion. Italy have rather more to fight for. Their fixture against Uruguay in Natal next Tuesday is now winner-takes-all. Italy do have the safety net of the draw. But they will have to play a lot better than this. Apart from a gilt-edged Balotelli miss in the first half, they created little. It was Costa Rica’s cool passing, organisation and commitment that defined the occasion.

There has been a Latin American brotherhood of communal support during these finals, and most of the stadium here wanted Costa Rica to win. But there was a corner of Europe that was draped in blue for 90 minutes. It is an indictment of England’s back-to-back Group D failures that it had come to this – praying for a favour from Italy.

Many England fans would gladly have allowed Balotelli to enjoy a bit of petting with Her Majesty in the event of his team doing the business. It was desperation time. Not that Italy or Costa Rica cared about the consequences for Roy Hodgson, the players, Queen or country. This was their opportunity to stride boldly towards the last 16.

There had been temperatures of 29C at the kick-off, with 70% humidity and there was an extended period of feeling out, of sizing up and acclimatising. It was stodgy fare for most of the first half, with the crowd having to wait until the 27th minute for the first shot and the effort from Thiago Motta was hardly worth the wait. After Balotelli had battled with Giancarlo González – a theme of the afternoon – the ball broke for the midfielder but he dragged harmlessly wide.

The overture did, at least, spark a brief purple patch for Italy and it contained the big chance, almost inevitably, for Balotelli. Andrea Pirlo’s ball over-the-top in the 32th minute was whipped with his right foot and Balotelli had timed his run to set up the one-on-one with Keylor Navas. His first touch, though, was heavy and the less said about the second, the better. He got his attempted lob all wrong. Moments later, Balotelli did warm Navas’s palms from distance.

Italy’s first-half performance lacked tempo and was pockmarked by errors. Costa Rica came to sense opportunity, and not only from Christian Bolaños’s dangerous set-piece deliveries. Celso Borges had headed one of them over the crossbar in the eighth minute.

Costa Rica brought the game to life in the closing minutes of the first half, with the trigger being Óscar Duarte’s back header that looped just over. Initially, there was the burning sense of injustice. After Chiellini’s miscontrol had allowed Campbell to burst clear, the Italy defender chased back to bundle him over. The Chilean referee, Enrique Osses, was the only person inside the stadium who did not think it was a penalty.

Jorge Luis Pinto raged on the touchline and when the half-time whistle blew, he thought about striding across the pitch to confront Osses, before being ushered away by his staff. But by then, his team had the lead. From Júnior Díaz’s left-wing cross, Bryan Ruiz got in between Chiellini and Matteo Darmian too easily to head home off the underside of the crossbar. Goal-line technology confirmed that the ball had bounced over the line.

Cesare Prandelli made attacking changes in the second half, bringing on Antonio Cassano to work close to Balotelli, Lorenzo Insigne on the left and Alessio Cerci on the right. Pirlo fizzed in a 52nd-minute free-kick that Navas needed to beat away. But it felt as though the game had become tailored for Costa Rica’s counter-attacking style. Italy laboured. They did not work Navas thereafter.

Pinto’s team sought to carry out their gameplan to the letter. They worked to compress the space between the lines and whenever the ball was played up to Balotelli, one of the three central defenders, normally González, was breathing down his neck, snapping into the challenge. Balotelli felt the frustration levels rise – every Italian did – and he was booked when he caught Díaz with his hand. It was not his day.

During the second half, there were Olés from the crowd for passages of Costa Rican possession. Who could have seen this coming before the tournament? For Pinto and his players, these were the memories that will live forever. Campbell was ever alive to possibilities while there were glorious snapshots when Bolaños skipped away from a full-blooded Daniele De Rossi tackle and Ruiz tricked Insigne.

The crowd loved it. England fans watched through their fingers.

World Cup 2014: Messi magic saves Argentina, Benzema shines in French colours

Lionel Messi ended an eight-year wait for a World Cup goal on Sunday as Argentina edged past debutants Bosnia at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, while fellow No 10, France’s Karim Benzema, put two past Honduras in a man-of-the-match display.

The goals continued to rattle in across Brazil. France cruised to a 3-0 victory in Porto Alegre, and in the other Group E match, Switzerland came from behind to beat Ecuador 2-1 with a dramatic, counter-attacking winner in injury time.

The buildup to the fourth day of action at the 2014 World Cup had all been about Messi, the 26-year-old Barcelona forward who has lit up club soccer like few others but has so far failed to repeat those heroics on the biggest stage of all.

His last World Cup goal came on June 16, 2006, the sixth out of six Argentina put past Serbia and Montenegro in Germany.

Messi’s roar of delight after a fine left-foot strike from the edge of the area on Sunday suggested the goal would lift a huge weight from his shoulders.

“It was important to start with a win and to get three points, but we need to improve,” Messi said after also being named man of the match in the 2-1 victory in Group F.

Until that point Messi’s display had been lacklustre, but it proved a crucial goal when Bosnia scored late on to set up a tense end to a game many had expected Argentina to win easily.

There was a touch of fortune in the outcome, after Bosnia’s Sead Kolasinac netted the fastest own goal in World Cup history in the third minute.

His side recovered from the shock and began to look the better team, but a lack of composure in front of goal saw several long-distance efforts fly high and wide.

Messi’s successor as World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, expects to start for Portugal against Germany in the pick of Monday’s matches.

The 29-year-old said he was fit for the Group G encounter in Salvador, despite struggling with tendinosis in his left knee.

Asked whether a great World Cup was all that was missing from a glittering career, he replied: “I don’t think I have to show anyone anything. If you look at my statistics and my resume… I have no words for that question.

“I think I do not have to demonstrate anything, not now, before, not after. What I have to do is just continue my career, which has been great so far.”

In the other Group G clash, Ghana meet the United States in Natal, while Iran and Nigeria play in Curitiba in Group F.

France reunited

In Porto Alegre, France survived a bruising encounter with Honduras, but passed the test with aplomb in a game where Benzema grabbed two and goal-line technology was used to confirm the ball had crossed the line for the first time at a World Cup.

Benzema’s shot hit the upright and the ball rolled across the goal, only for Honduras keeper Noel Valladares to divert it over the line by inches.

France’s forward Karim Benzema takes a penalty during their World Cup match against Honduras at the Beira-Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre. (AFP Photo)

Honduras were reduced to 10-men after Wilson Palacios charged into French midfielder Paul Pogba seconds before the break in a challenge that earned him a second yellow card.

Benzema stroked home the resulting penalty, and 18 minutes from time he struck again from a narrow angle, earning a rendition of “La Marseillaise” from the red, white and blue clad French fans.

The result will have delighted France coach Didier Deschamps, especially after Les Bleus’ 2010 debacle in South Africa when they failed to win a game amid bitter squabbling that blew up into a national scandal.

Swiss smash-and-grab

Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic celebrates after scoring a goal with Ricardo Rodriguez during their World Cup match against Ecuador at the Brasilia National Stadium in Brasilia. (Reuters Photo)

In arguably the most exciting contest of the day, substitute Haris Seferovic finished off a breathtaking box-to-box counter-attack in stoppage time to give Switzerland a 2-1 win over Ecuador in Brasilia.

A brilliant block tackle by Valon Behrami in his own area instigated the break, which was allowed to continue by an excellent decision from Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov after the midfielder was body-checked.

With more than three goals a game on average, and a surprisingly expansive style of soccer for the early stages of a World Cup, action on the field has grabbed people’s imagination in a country considered by many to be the sport’s spiritual home.

The tournament has gone much more smoothly than many had expected, with protests against the $11 billion spend on new stadiums and infrastructure small compared with mass demonstrations that rocked Brazil a year ago.

On Sunday, police blocked a small group of anti-World Cup protesters who were trying to reach the Maracana stadium before the Argentina-Bosnia game.

About 150 bandanna-wearing demonstrators carrying banners that said “Fifa go home” marched towards the stadium, but police on horseback blocked their path, leading to minor scuffles.

A similar-sized march was held ahead of the Switzerland-Ecuador game, but participants simply laid down their banners in front of a police cordon and dispersed when the game started.