Brazil is proving to be a tricky place to play for many of the Eurocentric teams, with the climate wreaking havoc and set to cause dramatic fatigue as the tournament progresses. So, it is not such a surprise to learn that at this World Cup substitutions are proving to be the deciding factor in a majority of the games.
A new World Cup record of 24 substitutes have scored in this year’s competition and we are still only in the group stages. This is a significant increase on South Africa 2010, where 23 of the 145 goals scored were scored or assisted by subs.
Since Wigan’s Jean Beausejour tucked away a stoppage-time strike in Chile’s 3-1 win over Australia, substitutes have had a consistent impact on the tournament.
The following day, Marcos Urena was introduced for Costa Rica against Uruguay and sealed their mightily impressive 3-1 upset within a minute, slotting home an exquisite Joel Campbell through ball.
The USA have also benefited greatly from this, with bench-leavers John Brooks and Graham Zusi combining to provide Jurgen Klinsmann’s side with an invaluable late winner against Ghana that could yet see them progress to the last-16 in a group comprised of Germany, Portugal and the Black Stars.
Belgium’s 2-1 win over Algeria was also rescued by some inspired changes. Divock Origi, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens all wreaked havoc on the North Africans in an enthralling second half, the latter duo scoring the decisive goals.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Memphis Depay are just two more players to claim crucial, game-changing goals, for Russia against Korea and the Netherlands against Australia.
The list goes on and this is a pattern that I would expect to prove pivotal for many teams as the tournament progresses and players become increasingly weary.
Although it’s not just goals that these game-changers have brought from the bench, several players have come on to reinvigorate their teams, providing that much-needed burst of energy or touch of class and composure to change the shape of a match that might just be slipping away.
Didier Drogba provided exactly that for the Ivory Coast against Japan, his introduction appeared to inspire his team-mates and despite him not actually getting on the score-sheet, they went on to win the game 2-1.
This could well be the reason, or one of the major reasons, as to way England have crashed out of the competition at the first hurdle.
Roy Hodgson, in the two defeats against Italy and Uruguay fielded his strongest side, without doubt, but it left him with little room to manoeuvre when the game wasn’t going their way.
Raheem Sterling was by far the stand-out player against Italy, but it has been argued that he perhaps would have had more luck coming off from the bench with 20 minutes to go and the defenders legs tiring.
Ross Barkley, another young starlet who was expected to shine, didn’t really get much of a chance in the first two games, coming off from the bench when it all seemed a little too late.
Hodgson was bold with his selection of the youngsters, but his conservatism and inability to make the big calls and take off his under-performing stars has, in my opinion, been the deciding factor in England’s miserable World Cup campaign.
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