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World Cupstart Review: Day 14

Riley Beveridge has run out of ways to praise Lionel Messi in his latest daily wrap-up from Brazil.

Those who have attempted to describe Lionel Messi ran out of superlatives long ago.

That tends to happen when you’re discussing a player who has scored 269 goals and provided a further 80 assists, combining for a total of 349 goals, from his last 261 matches at club level.

The endless supply of goals has seen him notch in excess of 40 goals every season at Barcelona for the last five years. You would have to go back until the conclusion of the 2008/09 season to find the last time he didn’t achieve this feat (he still scored 38 goals).

For a player who is still just 27, it’s quite simply astonishing.

The only criticism that could ever be levelled at Messi related to his form at international level with Argentina. One World Cup goal from eight matches prior to the tournament in Brazil meant the forward had never received the same level of attention or praise in his homeland as he had around the world.

But even that rare critique of one of football’s best ever players is being chalked off emphatically at this World Cup.

Two more goals to add to his collection, this time in a 3-2 victory over Nigeria in Porto Alegre, took his scoring rate to better than a goal a game in Brazil and saw him notch his 24th goal from his last 23 appearances for his country.

But it’s not just the fact he’s finding the back of the net in Brazil that has the world enthralled in Messi once again. It’s the manner of the goals and the importance of his strikes.

Against Bosnia and Herzegovina, he dribbled past numerous defenders before precisely picking out the bottom corner to seal victory. Against Iran, his stoppage-time winner came when it seemed all hope was lost, bending in a shot from 25 yards.

And now, against Nigeria, he’s found another way to do it again.

His first, just three minutes in, was an emphatic finish past a sea of defenders after Angel di Maria struck the post.

Nigeria levelled immediately though Ahmed Musa, only for Messi to conjure up a deadly 20-yard free kick that had Nigerian ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama beaten all ends up.

Musa would equalise again two minutes after the interval and, due to the scores in the coinciding match between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran, it would almost definitely seal their passage through to the round of 16. Even if Argentina found a late winner, which they did through Marcos Rojo’s scrappy goal soon after.

But it was Messi who again took the plaudits and continued to turn this World Cup into his own.

In the coinciding Group F fixture, Iran needed victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina to seal a remarkable qualification into the round of 16. But their hopes of achieving this historic feat took a blow when Edin Dzeko’s powered Bosnia into a first-half lead.

Miralem Pjanic doubled their advantage after half time and, although Reza Ghoochannejad pulled one back with just eight minutes remaining, it was Bosnia’s day.

They sealed their first ever World Cup victory when Avdija Vrsajevic struck a composed finish to notch a 3-1 win.

Later in the day, winger Xherdan Shaqiri sealed Switzerland’s place in the round of 16 as his hat-trick helped secure a 3-0 win over Honduras.

Shaqiri was outstanding and could have notched his treble numerous times before eventually doing so with a calm finish in the second half.

But the Swiss wouldn’t top the group, as France battled their way to a goalless draw against Ecuador to go through as Group E leaders.

Ecuador, who had captain Antonio Valencia sent off for a dangerous tackle, had goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez to thank for a series of fine saves. However the South Americans limped out of the tournament, unable to secure the two-goal victory they needed to progress.

  • Tweet of the Day
  • Quote of the Day

“There are good calibre players in the team but Messi is from Jupiter. He is one heck of a player. He’s blessed. You can’t take it away from him.”

– Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi

  • Player of the Day

After scoring the 50th hat-trick in World Cup history, Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri was the standout man on Day 14. Scoring twice in the first half and once in the second, the winger could have had plenty more, spurning several opportunities to further embarrass a hapless Honduras side.

  • Tomorrow’s Schedule

The final day of group games for the 2014 World Cup commence tomorrow. In Group G, Germany plays the USA in Recife with a draw enough for both sides to progress. If there is a winner, they will top the group.

In the simultaneous match, Portugal plays Ghana in Brasilia with the result still dependent on the other game. If the coinciding match is a draw, this game becomes meaningless. But if there is a result in the other match, a win for either side could see them progress – but it’s still not guaranteed.

Later in Group H, Belgium plays South Korea in Sao Paulo knowing a point guarantees top spot in the group. For South Korea, they need a win to keep their chances of progressing alive.

Elsewhere, Algeria plays Russia in Curitiba with the knowledge that a win confirms qualification into the round of 16. A draw could also see them go through, but they’ll need Belgium to get a result in the other match to do so. A win for Russia is likely to see them progress.

Riley Beveridge is a third-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University and is the editor of upstart’s Sport and World Cup department. You can follow him on Twitter: @RileyBev.

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