After four years of waiting, four years of watching Spain bask in glory and after four years of watching the heart break of the Dutch team, the FIFA World Cup is back, this time being held in Brazil. This was the 5th tournament being held in South America and the first since Argentina held it in 1978. A telling fact was that all the previous five editions held in South America were won by South American teams, which must have been riding at the back of them, this could be their chance.
Spain came into the tournament as the defending champions, having beaten Holland in 2010; they were clubbed with Holland again in this tournament. Brazil was given a relatively easy group, playing Croatia first. The group everyone was talking about pre world cup was the “Group of Death”, Group D which had Italy, England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. We would be looking at all the games played till the 15th of June and select the games which got us out of our seat, made us scream and shot with delight and left us scratching our heads thinking how did this happen?
By the way, this has been an amazing World Cup so far, so here we have it, the highlights from Gameweek 1.
Spain 1-5 Netherlands
The rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final where an Andreas Iniesta goal gave Spain their first ever World Cup title and left the Dutch heart broken. Most people remember a drab encounter with Nigel De Jong Kung Fu kicking Xabi Alonso to another planet and Howard Webb just brandishing a yellow card, this encounter was anything but a close one. The Spanish took the lead thanks to a penalty converted by Xabi Alonso, and then they decided to sit back and play their possession game. The Dutch were not having any of that. The first goal was pure brilliance by the Dutch, a cross played in by an impressive Blind and Robin Van Persie from outside the penalty spot, flew, alright he dived and headed the ball over a stunned Casillas, probably the goal of the tournament so far. The teams headed into the break all level, in the second half it was all Holland. Time after time, they exploited the long ball over a static Spanish defense, Arjen Robben was probably playing his best football and tormented the wing backs of Spain.Robben scored 2, Van Persie added another and Stevan de Vrij got his first goal ever. This was a hammering and could have been more; Casillas made a wonderful save from Robben and Van Persie had hit the bar as well. No defending champions had ever been beaten with this score line in the history of the World Cup. The demons of 2010 would not have been exorcised for the Dutch but they sure have gone a long way to prove that even without Strootman, they are still a team to look out for, playing a fast attacking game and having a lot of youth with some wily old players to help them out. The Spanish don’t know what has hit them and they need to recuperate fast if they want to qualify for the next round.
Uruguay 1- 3 Costa Rica
The group of death was supposed to be a triple threat match with Italy, England and Uruguay fighting it out to qualify from the group. Costa Rica was supposed to be the whipping boys who were not supposed to do anything but limp home from the world cup. Someone forgot to give them the script, their first game was against Uruguay who were thinking of picking up 3 points and putting pressure for the match up being played later between England and Italy. Uruguay took the lead thanks to a penalty with Edinson Cavani converting. They should have been up by 2 but Keylor Navas, the Costa Rica goalkeeper did brilliantly to keep Uruguay at bay. There was one player that was an attacking threat for Costa Rica, Joel Campbell, an Arsenal loanee at Olympiakos. In the second half, it all went awry for Uruguay. Campbell got a ball played to him and he lashed home the equalizer. That was supposed to wake the Suarez less Uruguayan team but it was the Costa Ricans who grew from strength to strength, Oscar Duarte gave the lead to Costa Rica and then substitute Marco Urena scored with a brilliant finish from an acute angle to make it 3 for the Costa Ricans. Uruguay were stunned and had no fight in them, even with Cavani and Forlan, they were toothless in attack and their frustration showed when Maxi Pereira was given a red card for kicking Campbell in the last few minutes. This was the first time that Costa Rica had scored 3 goals in a World Cup and the first time, the group of death certainly is living up to its name.
Brazil 3-1 Croatia
The opening game of the tournament and you would have expected Brazil, with the support of a vociferous crowd to run Croatia ragged. Blessed with attacking options like Willian, Oscar, Hulk and Neymar, the match was supposed to be a formality. Croatia was without their suspended striker Mandzukic and that did leave them a little light up front but the industry and guile of Modric and Rakitic would make up for that. The first goal was scored by a Brazilian but there were groans all around, Marcelo had scored an own goal after he could not deal with a low driven cross into the Brazilian penalty box. Things were not going as planned and it needed a bit of brilliance from Neymar to respond and bring Brazil level. Croatia were still doing well and then the first controversial decision came, a ball was played into Fred and although he was touched by a Croatian defender but fell like he had been hit by a thunderbolt from the Gods above. The Japanese referee blew the whistle and pointed to the penalty spot. Protests by the Croatians fell on deaf ears; the replays showed that the penalty was very harsh on Croatia. Neymar took the resulting spot kick and scored, just about. This was in the 71st minute and Croatia started throwing all their guns to try and level the game. They even had one goal disallowed by the ref, again a questionable decision by the referee who penalized Ivica Olic for fouling Julio Caesar, the Brazilian goal keeper. In the final minute ,Oscar who was also adjudged man of the match, toe poked a third goal for Brazil to confirm the victory. The victory was less than convincing and only Oscar came out with any real praise. The Croatian manager Niko Kovac labeled the decision to award the penalty as “ridiculous” and even went as far as telling reporters that the team might as well pack up and go home.
Chile 3 – 1 Australia
One of the best games of the tournament so far, Chile and Australia took each other on and in the second half were literally attacking like a pair of rabid dogs. One wave of attack followed another and it was Chile who ultimately won in the end. The Australians won a lot of neutral supporters over, even when they were down by 2 goals, they fought back hard to get one back and could have easily leveled the game, the third goal only came in the 90th minute from Beausejour which gave Chile the victory.
England 1-2 Italy
This match exceeded all expectations, it was bound to be a dull affair especially when the two teams had seen Uruguay lose out to Costa Rica but both teams provided another entertaining match. The English started with all guns blazing and had the best of the opportunities at the start, Raheem Sterling started and was the best English player out there playing through the middle. However it was Italy who took the lead from a very well worked corner, Marchisio scored from outside the box with a low, hard drive through a crowd of players. Rooney then provided a brilliant cross for Sturridge to knock in England’s equalizer. The teams went in level at half time before Mario Balotelli scored from an exquisite Candreva cross to guide Italy to victory. England had chances to equalize, especially Rooney who shot wide in the second half but Italy held on to claim all 3 points.
There were routine wins for Argentina & Colombia. Argentina got off to a flying start against Bosnia & Herzegovina who were
playing their first world cup. They took the lead through a Kolasinac own goal before Messi scored to double the lead. Bosnia & Herzegovina scored late on thanks to Vedad Ibisevic but could not muster a second goal. Colombia, with Falcao cheering them on from the stands, easily beat Greece 3-0 thanks to a good performance by James (Hames, the J is silent) Rodriguez.
France, The Ivory Coast and Mexico all registered first day wins as well defeating Honduras, Japan and Cameroon respectively, while Switzerland defeated Ecuador thanks to a last minute goal from substitute Seferovic.
This World Cup sure has gotten off to a great start, still has not gotten a draw in any of the matches played and has had only one goal less half in the opening set of games. Most teams are playing for the win and let us hope that this continues for the upcoming matches. So far, It has been the Best World Cup, ever!.