The opening goal by Paul Pogba against Nigeria was the 146th of this World Cup, that is already more than the total from South Africa four years ago. My memory of that World Cup is hazy as not a lot really happened apart from Suarez’s handball and celebration against Ghana (surely his behaviour had improved), Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany (surely there’d be goal-line technology this time, Sepp) and deserved last-minute glory for Spain. So much has already happened in this World Cup that it hasn’t even finished and it is being heralded as one of the finest in living memory. This could be down to several reasons; a change in mindset and the death of ‘tika taka’, which was laid to rest on 13th June 2014 in Salvador, being an obvious one. Perhaps it is down to the more reliable Brazuca ball actually hitting its intended target instead of mimicking the flight of a beach ball. The second round has just been completed and there have been several memorable moments so far, here are a few of my favourites. Sometimes you have a moment in a match where everything changes, when all that seemed true and righteous suddenly dissolves before your very eyes. The signs were there that football had moved on from ‘tika taka’ ever since Bayern Munich ripped Barcelona apart 7-0 on aggregate in the 2013 Champions League semi-finals. However, Spain were still being talked about as potential winners of this World Cup, albeit in hushed tones. It took 44 minutes for that expectation to be gazumped. Dutch left-back Daley Blind had already shown Spain to be shaky to a well-aimed long ball and another found Robin van Persie through on goal. Many strikers would have brought the ball down, aimed and shot but the Flying Dutchman has such technique and nous that he made the diving header look effortless. The Netherlands were to run out 5-1 winners, the World Champions were on their way home.
“Anticipation has a habit to set you up, for disappoint”, so sang Alex Turner in ‘The View From The Afternoon’. It’s also a line that brings to mind England World Cup campaigns. For once, the expectation was patted down as England were placed in a difficult group with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy. Many expected the opening game in Group G to be a tepid affair due to the sapping conditions in Manaus yet England actually came out and attacked with a verve and energy rarely seen since 1996. Of course, Italy punctured that early enterprise with a typically considered set piece. Still, England came forward and equalised with a sublime goal; Raheem Sterling feeding Wayne Rooney on the left and an inch-perfect cross found Daniel Sturridge who tapped in from close range. All downhill from there though as England eventually limped home bottom of their group.
Part of me wonders whether Pepe is simply from a bygone era of mindlessness on a football pitch. Back in the early 90’s you could hack a sprightly attacker from behind, stamp on his goolies and get away with it. In 2014 that gains you a lengthy ban and a Daily Mail expose on how no-one is thinking of the children watching this depravity at 5pm. Germany ran out comfortable 4-0 winners yet it may have been less brutal had Pepe not gotten himself sent off in the first half. Alas, Portugal left Brazil with Cristiano Ronaldo still carrying so much hair gel it’d put many traveller’s hand luggage allowance to shame. Had they not lost as heavily to Germany in their opening match they may have squeezed through on goal difference, then again if you have someone as mindless as Pepe in your defence you are always running the risk.
As a Manchester United fan you could forgive me for being harsh on Marouane Fellaini. For £27m you expect a bit more from a Premier League player than a few bookings and a selection of painfully inept performances. Still, he remains in the squad so I was hoping he would demonstrate some worth on the international stage. With Belgium losing 1-0 to Algeria in their opening group game there were several more dynamic substitutions Marc Wilmots could have made. It all seemed hopelessly desperate, a bit ‘David Moyes’ then the cross came in, Fellaini met it and the ball bounced in off the crossbar. Redemption and maybe a bit of hope he can reproduce such form back in M16.
Having witnessed first-hand how mediocre this Australian team could be I expected some tennis scorelines in a group containing Chile, Spain and Holland. They finished bottom with no points yet left with their heads held high following some spirited performances (take note, England). You would be forgiven for thinking that of the Tim Cahill goals I could have picked it would be the ‘worldie’ against the Netherlands, however, that was a 5pm kickoff I missed. Of the 11pm kickoffs I have managed to catch the Chile v Australia game was a welcome surprise. Having gone 0-2 inside 20 minutes I feared the worst but then Cahill scored a trademark header and Australia galvanised. Sure, they eventually lost but against a highly fancied team they arguably deserved a draw. It is weird for Australians to go into a tournament as unfancied so to come out with no points and still feel proud must be a pretty new sensation.