Why Daniel Sturridge Will Continue to Flourish at Liverpool Without Luis Suarez

Since the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona was confirmed 10 days ago, the question on the lips of Liverpool fans has been: How can we cope without Suarez’s goals this season?

Which, in reality, translates to: Will Daniel Sturridge be enough to shoulder our goalscoring burdens this season?

With Brendan Rodgers active in the transfer market and securing a number of signings already at Anfield, the obvious lack of a proven goalscorer at the highest level is glaring and often prompts worried discussions.

Yet amid all the nerves and apprehension with which Liverpool fans consider that Suarez is one of the very best players in the world and replacing him is a tall order, there is one thing that they have overlooked.

The current squad-trumps-all setup at Liverpool provides the answer to their most burning question: Yes, Daniel Sturridge will continue to flourish at Liverpool without Luis Suarez.

 

 

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Pace Coursing Through Anfield

A quick glance at Liverpool’s highlights and attacking play from last season shows the stunning number of goals they scored because of the pace coursing through their side.

And while Suarez was an excellent player on the break due to his pace, first touch, close control, creativity and one-on-one ability, not to mention his much-improved finishing under Brendan Rodgers, his departure will not affect the dynamic and quick nature of this Reds side.

Because his departure, in terms of pace, has already been offset (and arguably eclipsed) by the signing of Lazar Markovic from Benfica and the likely arrival of Loic Remy from Queens Park Rangers, as reported by BBC Sport. Both players showed their acceleration—and most of all, their attacking output at pace—with their respective clubs last season (Remy, of course, having spent the campaign on loan at Newcastle United).

Add these two speedsters to the already lightning-quick Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe, and this is a side with pace written all over it. Sterling will be looking to further stamp his authority on the Liverpool first team after a stellar first full season, and Ibe will have ample opportunity to make the step up to senior football over preseason.

It’s this speed and acceleration with which the Reds can play that makes Daniel Sturridge so dangerous: Whether he’s supporting a main striker (for the time being, Rickie Lambert) or leading a three-pronged attack himself, his ability to play off the shoulder of the last defender makes him a tough prospect for opponents.

Suarez’s departure has deprived Sturridge of a partner who can reliably and consistently deliver the unpredictable and whose individual talent will occupy more than one defender at a time, but across the forward positions Sturridge has already gained much more he can be working with.

 

 

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

 

All-Rounded Midfielders in Support

Behind Sturridge and his forwards and wingers, the Liverpool midfield has already featured some significant upgrades this offseason, with further additions likely to arrive at Anfield before the transfer window slams shut.

Already Rodgers has added the silky skills of Adam Lallana and the versatility and all-rounded skill set of Emre Can, both of whom will be adding vision, passing and pressing in equal measure to a tactically and positionally intelligent midfield contingent of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard.

The maturation of Coutinho from a stereotypical Brazilian No. 10 into a dominant No. 8 capable of bossing the midfield, with a newfound pressing mentality and his trademark flair and passing skills, has been nothing short of impressive. And there has already been enough made of Henderson and Allen’s contributions from both a central and a more advanced position in the midfield.

The potential of Can to become Liverpool’s very own resident box-to-box dynamo is surely mouthwatering to both his colleagues on the pitch and the fans in the stands, as will the prospect of even more seamless transitioning from defence into attack.

All of which will contribute to an overall attacking approach that will be designed to unleash the collective and electric talents of Liverpool’s forwards, and Sturridge is a key part of this exciting system designed to create as many goalscoring chances as possible.

Add the considerable all-round technical ability of Rickie Lambert, whose playmaking skills from centre-forward can be as productive and devastating as his midfield colleagues’, and Sturridge surely stands to benefit even further.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

Collective Intelligence and Brilliance

Throughout his reign at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers has constantly and consistently championed the importance of the team over any individual, and that message was reinforced loudly and clearly when Liverpool confirmed Suarez’s departure in July.

But those who paid attention to Rodgers’ preparations last season will know that this wasn’t just a statement to appease Reds fans in the wake of a star’s departure; he has constantly set up his team to make the most out of their collective intelligence and brilliance.

Given Suarez’s goals and scintillating match-winning performances last season, this may appear to be a statement in vain, but a clear example of the varied attacking approach that Liverpool have adopted and introduced came last season in the form of set pieces, where they were arguably the most dangerous team across the Premier League.

The team’s movement and awareness is a product of their two years drilled in Rodgers’ system, and their fearlessness and dynamism were on show during their exciting 11-game winning streak from February to April last season, all of which will surely last the distance regardless of Suarez staying or leaving.

What Liverpool have lost is a genius and a maverick capable of breaking scoring records, but what they have potentially gained in return is a hard-to-beat mentality honed by a title challenge last season—with more quality still to be added. Only this time, it’s Daniel Sturridge who stands to benefit at the tip of everything attacking coming out of Liverpool’s half.

If it’s a team working for one another and who knows each other’s moves and contributions inside out that is capable of going places, then as much as Liverpool fans may miss the individual brilliance week in, week out—they will look forward even more to the success that the Suarez-less Reds are capable of.

Germany didn’t seem to mind earlier this summer.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

How Liverpool Can Get New Signing Rickie Lambert to 20 Goals This Season

With Luis Suarez’s departure for Barcelona and Iago Aspas’ likely exit from Anfield, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo, as it stands Liverpool’s senior forward options to start the new season are Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and new signing Rickie Lambert.

On paper, a far cry from Suarez and Sturridge’s 52-goal partnership last season, which did more than just prove prolific: Their pace, movement and dynamic creativity struck fear into the hearts of opponents up and down the country.

With Alexis Sanchez, originally a target to be included in Suarez’s deal with Barcelona, having joined Arsenal, Liverpool have missed out on arguably one of their most attainable forward options in the summer transfer window.

Yet as Brendan Rodgers continues his scour for striking talent across the world, all is not lost: In Rickie Lambert, he has a talented, all-round striker who will be giving his all upon a dream return to his boyhood club.

And as the Reds fight on four fronts this season, whether they sign a new first-choice partner for Sturridge or not, Lambert might well have it in him to chip in with 20 goals in all competitions.

Here’s how.

 

Jon Super/Associated Press

 

 

The New SAS

Out goes one half of the famed SAS partnership; in comes another to replace him. Life goes on.

Suarez may be a once-in-a-generation kind of talent, and his performances last season certainly elevated him into the echelon of the greatest players ever to have played for Liverpool, but there was another “S” that blossomed last season, also with Rodgers’ coaching.

That player, of course, is Raheem Sterling, who, having spent almost a full season in the Liverpool first team and forcing himself into thePFA Young Player of the Year candidate pool, will be looking to take off and reach his full potential.

From being whispered in conjunction with a loan outside of Anfield to starting for England in the World Cup within just a few months, Sterling showed rapid enough progression last season to potentially win over even the toughest critics. He showed a turn of pace and the dribbling technique to rival Sturridge‘s, and his vision, work rate and interpretation of space perhaps even exceeded the No. 15’s.

With Rickie Lambert in the side, Sturridge and Sterling will be flanking him as the focal point of the Reds attack. Lambert’s first touch, close control, passing, positioning and chance creation will no doubt play a pivotal role in setting the platform for the new SAS to thrive.

In return for the space that he helps put them into, their pace and off-the-shoulder runs will occupy the attention of enough defenders to create enough space for Lambert himself to get into. And Lambert is as cool, calm and collected in front of goal as anyone in the Premier League.

 

Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

 

Movement, Movement, Movement

For all of the assists that Suarez laid on for his team-mates last season, he was the undisputed individual star of the team, who frequently passed to him and relied on him to bail them out of trouble or get through a sticky patch.

That is no criticism. Far from it; it is merely an acknowledgement of the individual brilliance that he brought to Liverpool, who will undoubtedly be worse off from a magical game-changer point of view.

Yet as hard as Suarez might’ve been to mark, potentially still harder is Liverpool’s collective movement that will be on display this season. Three years into Rodgers’ reign, his team finally look confident and comfortable enough to carry out his tactical and positional plans, and it’s no surprise he has signed players this summer that will help his team achieve that as a collective.

Adam Lallana, Lambert’s captain at Southampton, may always be considered overpriced at a reported £25 million, per Andy Hunter ofThe Guardian, but he dovetailed with Lambert to great effect at the Saints and will offer plenty of movement between the lines in Rodgers’ system.

So too the effervescent Jordan Henderson and the underrated Joe Allen, as well as the electric new signing Lazar Markovic.

If there is a style of play that Lambert thrives in, it is one that is based on sound movement and intrinsic understanding of each other’s positioning. And not only will Lambert be a creator of goals just like his team-mates; he will also score them.

 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

 

 

Set Pieces

There is also the small matter of set pieces, and Liverpool, with pace and technique coursing through their side, are one of the most prolific set-piece winners in the Premier League.

Not to mention one of the league’s best at scoring from them. And adding Lambert into the equation will only help things.

First, for all the talk about Lambert’s technical ability, passing and close control, he remains a fine option in the air. He might not be quite as aerially dominant as Anfield flop Andy Carroll, but his positional intelligence and timing more than makes up for it. Getting Lambert on the end of a Steven Gerrard corner or free-kick would be a quite sumptuous prospect for Reds fans.

Then there are direct free-kicks, another area of expertise for Lambert, who has scored a few screamers for Southampton in his two-year Premier League journey with the Saints, including one against Crystal Palace last September. Suarez’s exit has deprived Liverpool of a strong alternative to Gerrard on free- kicks, but Lambert may prove just as prolific from range.

Finally, Rodgers’ squad will be strengthened by the addition of another composed mind from the spot. With 48 penalties scored from 49 attempts over the course of his career, Lambert is arguably one of the finest penalty-takers in the Premier League; his record eclipses even that of regular specialist Gerrard. Could he even usurp his new captain on penalty duty?

Regardless, Lambert’s versatility and well-roundedness offers his boyhood club a valuable option up front, both off the bench and from the start. In a team that creates chances in abundance and almost oozed goals last season, even without Suarez, Lambert stands to thrive.

An improvement on his total goal tally of 17 across all competitions last season might not be too far-fetched.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why Javi Martinez Is the Transfer Signing Liverpool Need to Win a Title

Now that Luis Suarez’s transfer to Barcelona has been confirmed (via BBC Sport), Liverpool fans, players and management alike are eager to secure a big-name signing to keep spirits up at Anfield ahead of the 2014/15 Premier League season.

With Alexis Sanchez moving to Arsenal instead of Liverpool as part of a deal for Suarez, perhaps one of the more attainable potential world-class targets has escaped from Brendan Rodgers’ clutch, leaving the Reds manager to set his sights elsewhere on a replacement for the Uruguayan striker.

Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony (per the Mirror) and Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez (per the Daily Mail) have recently surfaced as potential reinforcements up front. But instead of trying to replace the 30-plus goals that Suarez invariably brings a season, Liverpool should be looking to strengthen their defence.

To be sure, Rodgers has already been linked with moves for Southampton’s Dejan Lovren (per the Standard) and Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno (per the Daily Star), but there is another name out there that has been floated as a possible Liverpool target, and would instantly improve their defensive setup.

Step up Javi Martinez.

The Bayern Munich man has already been linked to the Reds in the off-season by the Mirror, and while any pursuit for Martinez would be difficult and likely expensive to bear fruit, he might just prove to be the transfer signing Liverpool need to win a Premier League title.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Javi Martinez: The Complete Midfielder

Let’s start off with considering Javi Martinez as a defensive midfielder, the position he started his senior career in with Athletic Bilbao.

At 6’3”, Martinez represents a fearsome physical package at the base of the midfield, but also an accomplished passer of the ball and tactically and positionally excellent, with accurate and timely tackles a hallmark of his game.

His excellent defensive skills have propelled him to become one of the premier midfielders in Europe, while his complete technical base also allows him to switch from a specialist defensive midfielder into a dominant box-to-box player when needed.

Indeed, Pep Guardiola deployed him as a box-to-box attacker on occasion for Bayern last season, which offers much more of a tactical option to any team.

ESPN’s Graham Hunter once wrote, when Martinez was still at Bilbao, that his abilities “put him in the same class as [Patrick] Vieira as well as Roy Keane, Fernando Redondo, Edgar Davids and the much-underestimated Rino Gattuso (Daniele De Rossi, too).”

Both on paper and on the pitch, then, Martinez would be the ideal world-class option to anchor the Liverpool midfield.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Potential First-Choice Central Defender?

As if a versatile midfield option in the mould of the imperious YayaToure weren’t enough, Javi Martinez also boasts the awareness and positional sense to allow him to excel as a center-back.

Guardiola has proved as much already, having played Martinez in that position to great effect at club level. And per Bundesliga.com, Paco Garcia-Caridad, the head of sports station Radio Marca, called for Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque to field Martinez as a central defender in place of the hapless Gerard Pique as recently as in the aftermath of Spain’s disastrous 1-5 defeat to the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.

Another Bundesliga.com editorial even claimed that Martinez is leading a football revolution with his reinvention of the much-vaunted libero role in Guardiola’s team, recalling the masterful Lothar Matthaus and the legendary Franz Beckenbauer.

While Martinez, at 25 years of age, is evidently yet to match the levels and legacy of the two German greats, his understanding of the game and defensive intelligence allow him to excel all throughout the central core of the defence and midfield.

Considering Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for tactical innovations, he may well experiment with alternate formations outside of his favored 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2—which Rodgers has used prominently—would see a libero/sweeper role become one of the team’s most important positions.

Martinez might even usurp the likes of Martin Skrtel into become Rodgers’ first-choice center-back and marshall a three-man defence featuring the precocious Mamadou Sakho.

 

 

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

 

A Statement of Intent

Lastly, away from what Martinez would bring to Anfield on a football level—which is a whole lot, and most importantly a unique package that Liverpool currently don’t have—he also brings the weight and stature in the game that would instantly reflect the Reds’ ambitions.

And in the aftermath of Suarez’s departure, the club may feel that they are in need of a big-name signing to both placate unsettled fans and show their intent on competing on all fronts to prospective player signings.

With Bayer Leverkusen’s Emre Can already secured as a potential long-term replacement for club captain Steven Gerrard this summer, Martinez would be a signing who would be able to hit the ground running and establish himself at Anfield.

And who knows—Javi Martinez may well be the ideal heir to Gerrard’s legendary No. 8 shirt. After all, he’s already wearing it for Bayern Munich.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Strengthening Defence More Important for Liverpool Than Replacing Luis Suarez

So after a good few weeks of speculation, it’s finally official: Luis Suarez has left Liverpool to sign for Barcelona, as confirmed by BBC Sport, for a fee of about £75 million.

As Liverpool fans across the world start to come to terms with the news that one of their greatest-ever players has left after leading the Reds to within a whisker of the Premier League title last season, they might be feeling just a little apprehensive about the coming 2014/15 campaign.

And who could blame them? After all, it’s not just any ordinary forward who has left Anfield: Suarez left at the peak of his powers, having matured from a profligate finisher to a world-class forward, setting scoring records in the Premier League last season despite missing his first five league games of the season.

Yet—unbelievable as it may be—it’s not all doom and gloom for the Reds. Sure, it will be a tough ask replacing the 30-plus goals Suarez now guarantees a season, but there should be other priorities in Brendan Rodgers’ mind even now.

He must focus on strengthening his defence.

 

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

 

 

Defence a Red Achilles’ Heel

By the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season, when Manchester City had finally usurped Liverpool as champions-elect, it was too little, too late to realize where Liverpool had lost the title.

Perhaps Steven Gerrard will forever shoulder much of the blame for his fatal slip against Chelsea, when he mistakenly put Demba Ba through on goal. And perhaps it was the throwing away of a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park that confirmed their fate.

But throughout the whole campaign, it was Liverpool’s defence that let them down. A total of 50 goals conceded—the second highest among the top eight, just a solitary goal behind sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur—said it all about a shaky defensive unit that frequently had to rely on an admittedly all-star attack to bail them out.

Suarez’s departure will add more pressure to his ex-strike partners to come close to the astonishing 101-goal haul last season, but it will also place the spotlight on a leaky defence that has to get better.

There are always two sides to the same coin and two contrasting ways to look at a trend: Namely, that Liverpool showed both strength in character and mentality to secure comebacks and outscore their opponents by one goal to get the three points—but equally, Rodgers’ back four weren’t exactly a reassuring presence when they needed to be.

Of course, it didn’t help that due to injury, Rodgers was deprived of his first-choice back four for most of the season—though that was the opportunity that Jon Flanagan took with both hands to resurrect his career at Anfield—but the time has come now to address these problems.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

 

Upgrades Are Needed

It seems strange to see Liverpool building bright young midfield and forward lines, especially with the signing of Emre Can and the blossoming of Raheem Sterling, on a foundation provided by an increasingly erratic Glen Johnson, an inconsistent Martin Skrtel, a hesitant Daniel Agger and a perpetually injured Jose Enrique.

Though Johnson seemed to have rediscovered his form at times toward the end of the season, it is telling that he has yet to sign a contract extension. As things stand, he will be a free agent next summer.

As prolific as Skrtel was last season, scoring seven league goals in 36 games, he was also responsible for four own goals, and his concentration and leadership have yet to truly convince.

Vice-captain Agger is a curious case. As one of the Reds’ most loyal servants in the group, he seems to have lost the faith of Rodgers, with Mamadou Sakho often preferred as the starting left-sided center back, and he is even linked with a summer exit from Liverpool, according to Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo (h/t Vaishali Bhardwaj of Metro).

Finally, Enrique’s brand of physical and brazen football doesn’t fit in well with Rodgers’ preference for intelligent tactical play; even Flanagan’s displays seemed to have worked better in his system.

Given the high-profile links with Southampton’s Dejan Lovren, per Gary Jones of the Daily Star, it seems evident that Liverpool have identified center back as a priority position, but the reality is that upgrades are needed all across the back four.

And we haven’t yet touched on the hotly debated position that is goalkeeper.

 

Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

 

An Unlikely Smokescreen Would Be Nice

Yet for all of the strengthening that Liverpool’s defence need, the rumor market is still in a frenzy linking the Reds with a forward to replace the goals of Suarez.

Now that Alexis Sanchez, previously a candidate either to play with Suarez at Anfield or to replace him as part of the deal taking the Uruguayan to Camp Nou, has joined Arsenal, the seemingly most adequate successor has slipped out of Rodgers’ grasp.

Cue the rumors linking the Reds with a move for Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, via Sam Cunningham of the Daily Mail, and the apparently imminent double deal for Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic, via BBC Sport‘s Ben Smith.

All well and good, except they seem to hint that the club are preoccupied with filling the Suarez-shaped void up front and neglecting the obvious issues at the back.

Besides Lovren, Liverpool have not been seriously linked with any central defender, while an on-again, off-again approach for Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno seems to be their only lead in the full-back areas.

Which leaves arguably more than half of all the defensive positions in need of upgrading, if we include Simon Mignolet’s position between the Anfield posts.

Shave away Suarez’s 31 league goals from Liverpool’s total tally, and they would have scored just one fewer than Chelsea. Contrast Liverpool’s 50 goals conceded with Manchester City’s 37 and Chelsea’s 27—even Arsenal’s 41—and we arrive at the root of the Reds’ failure to win the league.

There are big issues to address at the back for Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool fans should be hoping that the incessant and never-ending striker rumors are but a smokescreen for the real revolution that needs to take place in defence.

Otherwise—Suarez’s goals or not—they’ll be in for a rough ride.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

10 Defining Moments from the 2014 World Cup Round of 16

After eight exciting games in the round of 16 that featured two penalty shootouts and three extra-time contests, we are now officially into the quarterfinal stage of the 2014 World Cup.

Over Friday and Saturday, we have plenty of mouthwatering action to look forward to. Hosts Brazil welcome impressive dark horses Colombia and France take on Germany in two continental clashes on July 4. July 5 sees the Netherlands come up against surprise package Costa Rica, while Argentina play Belgium.

As we look forward to the next round in one of the most scintillating and unpredictable World Cups in recent memory, let’s look back in chronological order at 10 key moments from the round of 16 that defined how the ties were settled.

 

Mauricio Pinilla Hits the Bar

Mauricio Pinilla Hits the Bar

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has since attributed his team’s struggles in the World Cup to pressure, but we didn’t need his confirmation to know just how hesitant they have appeared this summer.

Their performance against Chile at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte on June 28, when Jorge Sampaoli’s men looked the home side with their dominance of possession, showed just how big of a challenge winning a sixth World Cup on home soil would be.

They would ultimately prevail in the penalty shootout, thanks to Neymar’s coolness under unimaginable pressure and Gonzalo Jara’s miss, but they only escaped the jaws of defeat in the final minute of extra time, when Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar with Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar already beaten.

Pinilla has since gotten a tattoo of the miss on his back, according to Charlie Scott of the Daily Mail, with the inscription, “One centimeter from glory.” A cruel but defining end to an impressive tournament for Chile.

 

James Rodriguez Scores a Screamer

James Rodriguez Scores a Screamer

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Luis Suarez’s biting incident with Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in their final group-stage match and the former’s subsequent ban threatened to overshadow the entire buildup to the round-of-16 clash between Colombia and Uruguay on June 28.

Suarez’s replacement in attack, Diego Forlan, showed just how much Oscar Tabarez’s side would miss the Liverpool striker, but perhaps not even Suarez would have been able to save them against an irrepressible Colombia side in top form.

James Rodriguez had stepped up to become his country’s talisman in the absence of star striker Radamel Falcao by scoring in every group-stage game, and he didn’t disappoint in the round of 16.

A scintillating moment of magic on 28 minutes saw him unleash an exquisite left-footed volley that cannoned off the crossbar and into the back of the net to send Colombia into a lead they never looked like conceding. He followed up with another goal 22 minutes later.

 

Arjen Robben Hits the Deck

Arjen Robben Hits the Deck

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Perennial underachievers in the World Cup, the Netherlands stormed into the round of 16 with a series of excellent performances in the group stage. Then they met Mexico in Fortaleza, where they were given a tough challenge in a game that had all the drama associated with the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Mexico even looked on course to knock out the Oranje, as Giovani dos Santos’ volley on 48 minutes gave them a one-goal lead for 40 minutes before Wesley Sneijder managed to equalize for Louis van Gaal’s side.

And right at the death, Arjen Robben, who has been a revelation in Brazil this summer, attracted controversy by going to ground following a Rafael Marquez challenge, winning an injury-time penalty.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar showed composure in reserve to score the winning goal, but Robben, who has since admitted he dived in the first half, stole all the headlines with his theatrics.

 

Keylor Navas Saves Costa Rica

Keylor Navas Saves Costa Rica

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

The Arena Pernambuco in Recife probably didn’t expect to play host to Costa Rica and Greece when the group-stage fixtures were announced, but on June 29 the crowd witnessed a historic moment as Costa Rica reached the last eight for the first time ever.

They had Navas to thank, as his stellar saves from shots by Kostas Mitroglou, Theofanis Gekas, Kostas Katsouranis and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos kept the Central Americans in the tie after extra time. By the end of a heroic 120 minutes, Navas had saved seven of the eight shots he faced in the game.

And he wasn’t done yet: After his normal- and extra-time heroics, Navas stepped up to the plate and faced off the Greeks in what surely had to be one of the most accurate penalty shootouts in recent World Cup history.

Costa Rica scored from their first four attempts, which meant that a Gekas miss on Greece’s fourth penalty would take the shootout to match point. Navas pulled off the defining save before Michael Umana notched past Orestis Karnezis to send his side into rapture.

 

Emmanuel Emenike Is Offside

Emmanuel Emenike Is Offside

Ian Walton/Getty Images

In the end, France’s win seemed to be routine, as Nigeria finally relented to Paul Pogba’s header and Joseph Yobo’s own goal to let France through to the quarterfinals.

But the June 30 tie in Brasilia wasn’t without controversy: On 20 minutes, Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike latched onto Ahmed Musa’s cross and poked past Hugo Lloris to hand the Africans a shock lead.

Or so they thought.

A raised flag from the linesman cut short the Super Eagles’ celebrations. It was a tight but seemingly correct decision in hindsight, one that might have greatly affected the outcome.

 

Andre Schurrle Conjures Backheel Magic

Andre Schurrle Conjures Backheel Magic

Sergei Grits/Associated Press

It’s been a difficult World Cup campaign for Andre Schurrle—so impressive and reliable as a goalscorer at club level for Chelsea but overshadowed by the supreme Thomas Mueller and evergreen Miroslav Klose in Brazil, despite wearing No. 9 for Germany.

So he was due a moment to breathe life back into his personal tournament and did just that after coming on as a half-time substitute for Mario Gotze against Algeria on June 30.

With two attackers spearheading the German offense in Mueller and Schurrle, Joachim Low’s side finally broke the deadlock, and it was Schurrle who delivered with an outrageous backheeled goal in the second minute of extra time past Algeria keeper Rais M’Bolhi.

It proved to be the decisive moment in Porto Alegre. It took the Germans another 18 minutes to score through Mesut Ozil, which rendered Abdelmoumene Djabou’s goal in injury time mere consolation.

 

Angel Di Maria Finally Produces

Angel Di Maria Finally Produces

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

On July 1, Angel Di Maria spent 118 minutes twisting and turning, running and dribbling, shooting and missing, threatening but failing.

Some argued that his performance was worthy of a Man of the Match award due to his constant threat to Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland, while some insisted he was the most wasteful player in Sao Paulo that afternoon.

No matter: At 118 minutes, Di Maria finally produced the goods.

To be sure, it was Lionel Messi who capitalized on a mistake to run at the Swiss defence and lay off the ball to his El Clasico rival. But the Real Madrid man still needed composure in abundance to finish past the impressive Diego Benaglio, and Di Maria answered Argentina’s call when his country most needed him.

 

Blerim Dzemaili Misses Two Sitters

Blerim Dzemaili Misses Two Sitters

Sergei Grits/Associated Press

It could’ve been so different, though: Switzerland were literally inches away from taking the tie to a penalty shootout.

But instead of scoring an equalizer in injury time, Blerim Dzemaili managed to hit the post from a few yards and then prod the rebound wide, turning Switzerland’s golden chance into a “coulda-woulda-shoulda” moment to rival Pinilla’s for Chile.

Dzemaili’s miss wasn’t quite as picturesque as Pinilla’s to merit a commemorative tattoo, but it almost provided the cherry on the top of what was an intense final few minutes of extra time on the back of 110 minutes of testy football.

Argentina survived to fight another day.

 

Chris Wondolowski Misses from a Few Yards

Chris Wondolowski Misses from a Few Yards

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The United States’ Chris Wondolowski rounds off our pick of close shaves in the round of 16 and joins Pinilla and Dzemaili as those who will regret their crucial misses for some time to come.

Wondolowski’s chance came against the run of play against a technically superior Belgium side, but it was a simple piece of Route 1 football that almost undid the Belgians in injury time, as he was sent clear after Jermaine Jones headed on a Geoff Cameron long ball.

With the goal—and Thibaut Courtois—at his mercy, Wondolowski contrived to blaze over the bar, letting the game stand at 0-0 and taking it into extra time.

The Americans may offer the defence that the assistant referee had put up his flag to indicate offside, which would’ve ruled the goal out anyway, but we’ll never truly know what could’ve happened if Wondolowski had completed his task first.

 

Romelu Lukaku Comes off the Bench

Romelu Lukaku Comes off the Bench

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Funny how some things work out.

For Belgium’s three group-stage games, Romelu Lukaku failed provided the thrust and attacking threat he was asked to and instead was outshone by teenage striker Divock Origi, who took Lukaku’s place in Marc Wilmot’s starting XI on July 1 against the United States.

So who better to turn the game in Belgium’s favor than Lukaku himself? The Chelsea striker came off the bench to replace Origi for the extra-time period and finally announced his arrival in Brazil with a barnstorming performance that led to Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal.

Lukaku scored Belgium’s second goal to render Julian Green’s 107th-minute effort futile, as he provided exactly the presence that Jurgen Klinsmann lacked after Jozy Altidore’s injury.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.