The World Cup Gets Off To A Stunning Start
We wouldn’t want to resort to hyperbole or to tempt fate – but Brazil 2014 already feels like a classic.
Its first week had it all: glorious, free-flowing football, goals galore and controversy, while poster boys put hoodoos to bed and records tumbled like foul-drawing strikers. It also contained one of the great upsets.
The next three weeks have a lot to live up to.
The host’s opener against Croatia may have taught us little we didn’t already know, but it set the tone for the tournament: this was a superb spectacle, the beginning of the greatest show on earth.
Neymar showed flashes of genius while Gustavo and Tiago Silva provided grit. This Brazil team, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s 0-0 with Mexico, may not wow with attacking fluidity like teams of past – but they will get the job done.
Croatia, too, sprung few surprises: Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are an accomplished midfield pairing; Mandzukic’s return will give them penetration.
Friday promised so much and delivered explosively.
Netherlands 5 Spain 1. Has there ever been a greater second-day fixture?
Robben ran riot; Robin van Persie struck twice; one a frankly ludicrous headed goal. The defeat wasn’t simply an upset but eruption of possibility. The pundits screamed: is this the fall of an empire? The end of tiki-taka? The return of Total Football?
Answers came on Thursday night as sorry Spain slumped out to an irresistible Chile who took a commanding 2-0 lead into half-time and never looked back. Not for the first time, Maracanã played host to a historic upset – this was death knell for Spain’s golden generation, one that will echo around the footballing world long after July 13.
Costa Rica’s shock second-half comeback against Suarez-less Uruguay seems tame by comparison, but it restructured Group D after just one game – and took the pressure off England. Hodgson went all-out attack with Rooney, on the left, Welbeck, Sturridge and Sterling starting – a ridiculous array of attacking talent that clicked, but never quite fired. Italy provided yet another passing masterpiece, offering evidence England – and Gerrard in particular – need to be more composed and accurate in possession.
Pepe’s trademark paddy ended any chance of a comeback as Germany, a fluid, attacking force, thrashed sorry Portugal 4-0, with Thomas Muller, last year’s golden boot winner, already adding three to his tally. France, with the excellent but raw Paul Pogba, provided an accomplished, effervescent display against brutal Honduras. Brazil 2014 will be beyond them – but this is a team for the future.
Next, an uninspiring Argentina overcame Bosnia, with Messi slowly finding his old touch, winning the game with a trademark screamer. But this week belonged to the Europeans: the controlled and clever Italy, the outrageous, pacy Dutch and the energetic, free-scoring Germany and France.
Tonight, attention returns to England, with the post mortem after their opening loss barely over. The reaction, for a change, was relatively sensible: England aren’t as accomplished at intelligent, passing displays as Italy, but have shown a willingness to learn and play attacking, clever football.
The big questions for tonight revolve around two Premier League strikers. How do England stop the returning Suarez and how do they start Rooney? Most feel the Englishman must play in the number 10 role or not at all – but with his continuing indifferent form, does Hodgson have the guts to drop him?
Uruguay will want to atone for their appalling display against Costa Rica, but England should run out winners – but will they?
And if they do – can they still win their group?
Let us know what you think. Do you think England have it in them?
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