2014 World Cup Day 5 Lessons: Mental Strength Can Make, Break Heroes


Cristiano Ronaldo and Milorad MazicThe games and goals continued on Day 5 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as did the teachable moments and the lessons we derive from them.

Anyone can spot technical excellence on the soccer field. Physical strength and stamina also are obvious to the untrained eye. It doesn’t take long for a new soccer watcher to spot tactical trends like a seasoned professional, either.

The psychological aspect of the sport isn’t easy to evaluate. It plays out inside the minds of players, coaches and referees and reveals itself in the tiny details that often decide the outcome of games.

That is, until it lays itself bare like it did on Monday.

Here are some things we learned on Day 5 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Can’t win them all
The 2014 World Cup has been exciting so far. Maybe too exciting. The first four days and 12 competitive games produced not a single draw, and at least three goals were scored in all but one. Then Iran met Nigeria in Group F.

The goalless draw between Iran and Nigeria wasn’t bad because neither team scored. It was bad because neither team played well. The crowd at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, spent much of the second half booing and whistling both teams (mostly Nigeria, who had more possession) for the lack of entertainment value the matchup was producing. Many watching on big and small screens felt the same way.

There are 64 games at the World Cup. A few of them are bound to be absolute duds. Nigeria-Iran was the first. There will be others, but let’s hope there won’t be too many more.

Mental strength: done right
The United States started its 2014 World Cup journey on a high note, defeating Ghana 2-1. It wasn’t the prettiest performance from Team USA, but the Americans demonstrated focus, determination and a winning mentality — something that it hasn’t always brought to the World Cup.

Two starters, Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler left the game by halftime due to injuries. Another starter, captain Clint Dempsey, soldiered on despite suffering what looked like a broken nose. The United States then conceded a late equalizer before John Brooks scored the game winning goal.

The difference between the victory the United States is currently celebrating and the lament that it would have felt had the game ended in a draw was the Americans’ increased mental fortitude. We explore the subject in greater depth in our USA-Ghana analysis.

Mental strength: a lack thereof
Germany demolished Portugal 4-0 in its Group G opener. The lopsided outcome wasn’t the result of a classic German performance. It happened due to Portugal’s complete and utter meltdown.

Portugal started well but conceded early on when Germany won, and converted, a penalty kick. From there, Portugal played worse.

Portugal took another blow when striker Hugo Almeida suffered an injury and was substituted. Germany made it 2-0 four minutes later.

Portugal defender Pepe responded to the setback by getting himself dismissed five minutes later. Germany went up 3-0 eight minutes after Pepe’s dismissal.

The level of Portugal’s performance dropped following each setback. Good teams respond positively to adversity and sometimes overcome it. The only fight Portugal showed after Pepe’s dismissal was when Cristiano Ronaldo nearly ran over the referee as he was protesting a non-call.

Portugal must do better if it wants to stay in Brazil beyond June 26 or Day 13. Improvement starts in the mind.

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