In perhaps the most highly anticipated match of the World Cup so far, all eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal took on Germany. Football fans are so often enraptured by the romantic notion of one player seizing the moment to drag his team through the tournament singlehandedly. Of course even Maradona in 1986 needed a competent supporting staff, and Sunday’s match up between Argentina and Bosnia only reinforced that fact, with Messi unable to exert his influence to inspire his colleagues to victory once Sabella made the switch to 4-3-3.
Ronaldo received no such help against the Germans, his Portugal team mates unable to take control of possession and provide him with service. An early break by Portugal was fluffed by the inept Hugo Almeida, and after that it was all one way traffic. The opening goal came after Joao Pereira dragged down Mario Gotze in the box and was perhaps lucky to avoid a sending off. Thomas Müller stepped up to convert. The defence was again at fault, a sloppy zonal marking system allowing Mats Hummels to convert a Toni Kroos corner. The game was effectively ended as a contest once Pepe was sent off. The temperamental Real Madrid centre back left an arm trailing and Müller took a dramatic tumble. Pepe overreacted to Müller’s amateur dramatics, leaning a head in.
From then on, the Bayern Munich man took control of the match, completing an impressive hat trick to cement his reputation as a big game player, and throwing himself into contention for a second consecutive Golden Boot. If Müller were to run out as top scorer for a second World Cup running, he would be the first player ever to achieve the feat.
Brazil has thus far been an incredibly entertaining affair, eclipsing South Africa in terms of goals to game, but the day’s second matchup was a dour affair. Nigeria went in as heavy favourites against tournament minnows Iran, but were unable to break down Carlos Queiroz’ disciplined side. Stephen Keshi’s men are much more effective on the counter attack, and always struggle when having to chase a game, but nevertheless, Keshi will be disappointed in his side’s display. Nigeria too often employed the long ball, leaving lone striker Emenike without midfield support.
After that energy sapping affair, Ghana versus the United States brought the fun back, the African side singing and dancing their way into the dressing room, showing no bitterness at the unfair manner in which their last World Cup ended. The USA also played their part, opening the game with verve and endeavour, Clint Dempsey scoring inside of thirty seconds to net the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history. The USA continued to press and probe for most of the first half, and could have recorded a second, but injuries soon took their toll, both Belser and Atltidore forced off the field and Ghana moved into the ascendency.
Ghana began to play with pace and menace, carving out a number of chances, most of them falling to Asamoah Gyan. The equaliser finally came in the last ten minutes, Andre Ayew tucking home from a Gyan back heel. Despite looking favourites to go on and secure the win that would have knocked the United States out for the third consecutive World Cup. Instead, it was the Americans however, who earned some measure of revenge, young centre back Brooks, nodding home four minutes from time to snatch the win on his World Cup début.
What’s the significance?
Iran would have entered the World Cup with little hope of qualifying from their group, more there to learn from their experience than seriously compete. Nigeria on the other hand will have been confident of their chances of beating Bosnia to second place, and failing to beat Iran has seriously damaged those hopes.
Portugal will also need to lift themselves following their mauling by Germany. As bad as the result was though, Portugal will have faith in their abilities to despatch Ghana and the USA to progress to the later rounds.
Clint Dempsey’s lightning fast goal within the first minute of the USA’s contest with Ghana was a joy to watch; receiving the ball on the left, shimmying past a defender on his way to side footing the ball past the goalkeeper to score the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history.
It could only be one man, Thomas Müller. The Bayern Munich forward’s rotational interplay with Gotze and Ozil was brilliant at times, the Portuguese defenders unable to cope with their movement and thrust. His hat trick was a fantastic contribution to a Germany side that look as if they could go a long way in the competition. If Germany are to become the first World Cup winners on South American soil, a second consecutive Golden Boot win for Müller may be crucial.