Tensions have been building off the pitch; with protests and riots over FIFA and the Brazilian government’s organisation of the World Cup, Sepp Blatter took this perhaps inopportune moment to announce he was running for re-election. On it though it is excitement and entertainment that has been building, with goals flying in amidst yet more controversial officiating and some shocking results.
Following the previous night’s enjoyable, yet ultimately undermined matchup between Brazil and Croatia, it was a shame that the day’s early kick off was once again marred by poor refereeing. Mexico showed some of the form that won them the 2012 Olympics, as they put aside some recent poor form to dominate Cameroon in a largely one sided affair. Unfortunately their superiority almost went unrewarded as Giovanni Dos Santos had two goals unfairly disallowed. Miguel Herrera’s men were eventually rewarded once red hot Peralta tucked home the rebound from another Dos Santos effort. Late on Cameroon nearly stole an equaliser, Guillermo Ochoa acrobatically denying Benjamin Moukandjo’s headed effort.
Next up was the huge shock of the tournament thus far as World Champions Spain were demolished by the Netherlands in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final. Spain got off to a decent start, settling into their probing, passing game. However, when the goal did come for Spain, once again poor officiating played its part. Diego Costa went down in the Dutch box to win Spain a penalty, yet replays showed that there was no contact by Stefan de Vrij and is was in fact Costa whom stood on the defender. Nevertheless, Xabi Alonso stepped up to convert. The Dutch roared back however, attacking en masse with pace and fluidity. More controlled than the Total Football of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels, Luis van Gaal’s men remained assured at the back, yet devastating in attack.
The equaliser came quite spectacularly; Robin van Persie latching on to the fantastic Daley Blind’s cross to head home in magnificent fashion. After half-time, the flood gates opened for Holland, individual mistakes by the usual reliable Casillas and Sergio Ramos compounding an overall lacklustre performance. Arjen Robben helped himself to a brace either side of Robin van Persie’s second, with de Vrij also in on the action. In the end it could have been much more than five for the Dutch.
The day’s final match saw Australia put in a plucky display against a vastly superior Chile. Sometime controversial, but often brilliant playmaker Jorge Valdivia was in supreme form, the maverick pulling all the strings for Chile. It was Alexis Sanchez though that created the opener, Eduardo Vargas heading down an Aranguiz cross before the Barcelona man who calmly slotted home. Sanchez was to turn provider for the second goal just moments later, setting up Valdivia for a fine curling finish. Not that Chile had everything their way, Tim Cahill tormenting makeshift centre back Medel with his superiority in the air, pulling one back for the Socceroos just after the half hour mark. For all their hard work though, the Aussie’s couldn’t match the Chilean’s ability and late on Jean Beausejour capped off a convincing win.
What is the significance?
It is of course dangerous to draw too much from early figures, but already Groups A and B are taking shape. Croatia will be feeling pretty aggrieved at propping up Group A and now face the daunting task of chasing down a confidence filled Mexico for 2nd place.
Spain meanwhile need to dramatically improve in their next match against Chile or face the prospect of losing their World Cup crown at the first hurdle. Jorge Sampaoli’s men play with a tempo and aggression that Spain have recently struggled with. The weather in Brazil of course favours the South American sides, and Chile are now favourites to progress from Group B along with the Netherlands.
There were some excellent goals scored last night, but the pick of the bunch had to be Robin van Persie’s equalising goal. A looping header following an absolute peach of a cross by Daley Blind, it is an effort that will surely be a contender for goal of the tournament and no doubt garner repeated replays.
Van Persie, Robben, Valdivia and Alexis Sanchez were all in and amongst the goals, and were all very impressive in wins for their teams, but special mention must also go to Giovanni Dos Santos who tormented the Cameroonian backline and was very unfortunate to see two goals unfairly struck off.
However, last night’s Star Performer was not an attacker, but Dutch left back Daley Blind, who was solid defensively, but also crucial to Holland going forward, giving Chelsea and Spain right back a torrid time with his rampaging runs and fine delivery.