Really tremendous first group of matches. Hard to describe how entertaining the tournament has been across the board. One grim nil-nil draw, but 13 matches that were won and lost, many in the last few minutes. On pace to match 1958 for most goals in World Cup — over 3 goals per game on average, 44 from the first 14 games. Some great upsets and some dazzling play. Really fantastic stuff.
Brazil looked about as unconvincing as you can look winning 3:1 against Croatia. All of their goals could have been saved by a more in-form keeper (of course, the cynical dive-induced penalty shouldn’t have been given at all), and they never really looked comfortable in possession. Meanwhile, Mexico held off a really poor Cameroon 1:0 in a horrendous downpour, looking good in spurts but vulnerable, too. This is the “show me” game for Brazil — if Mexico keeps it close or even draws then the knives are going to come out for Brazil as false favorites.
Spain were utterly humiliated in the match against Holland, in which the five goals they conceded exceeded the number they allowed in all of qualifying. They looked old and slow and out of ideas, and Diego Costa was totally out of place in the system. And in many ways Chile could be a more difficult match for Spain. Spain only narrowly beat Chile in a very competitive match in World Cup 2010. The aggressive Chilean attack may give their leaky back line as much trouble as Holland. However, Chile didn’t exactly live up to pre-tournament billing themselves in a closer-than-the-score 3:1 victory over Australia. A loss or draw by Spain and they are gone from the tournament. Backs to the wall time for Spain.
England were really decent in a 2:1 loss to Italy in the opening match. The younger generation looked very good — Sterling, Sturridge, Wellbeck, Barkley and Wilshere all saw action and with the exception of Wilshere, they lived up to expectations. Same can’t be said about the older players — Rooney in particular was a mess in front of goal, although did provide an excellent ball for Sturridge’s goal. Uruguay were run off the field by Costa Rica 3:1 in the biggest upset of the tournament so far. Without Suarez they had no edge in the final third. Both teams need the full points from this match to get back in the hunt — Uruguay is cooked if they lose and need to beat Italy; and England will not beat Costa Rica easily. Could have a situation where Uruguay, England and Costa Rica all finish with 3 points and second place in the group is decided on goal difference.
France saw off a very poor ten-man Honduras 3:0 in a match that didn’t really tell us much about what to expect from Les Blues without Ribery. Switzerland played a very even match with Ecuador that probably should have been a draw, until some last minute drama denied Ecuador the winner when their striker hesitated in the box and lost the ball, the Swiss then taking it all the way to the other end and scoring with 30 seconds left in extra-time. France seems more likely, but this should be a decent match. I could be convinced that Italy v. Costa Rica will be more fun if Costa Rica is up for it, but I think this one is more interesting for the second round.
Picking a match with more implications for the second round, rather than the one from the USA’s group. Winner of this match is in the best position to go through to the Round of 16. Bosnia played really well against an in-form Argentina, a game that Messi essentially won on his own. While I totally understand Bosnia’s tactics of playing with only a single striker (Dzeko) against Argentina, I thought they played better, and scored their goal, when they went back to their traditional two forwards. Nigeria were boring in a very even 0:0 match with Iran — disappointing, really. But they are always decent, in good shape and very athletic, and should give Bosnia a good game.
USA looked absolutely abject against Ghana while still managing to steal the game, 2:1 on a wonderful bit of skill from Dempsey 34 seconds in, and a miraculous header from 21 year old John Brooks in the 86th minute. But the rest of the match was just awful: Altidore is likely out with a hamstring injury, Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen them play. But if USA played like crap, at least they stole a victory; Portugal was just crap. Germany destroyed them 4:0, with Pepe sent off and Ronaldo absent. The USA’s 3 points and Portugal’s -4 goal difference are about the best the USA could hope for out of the first match day, and makes a draw with Portugal potentially good enough for advancement from the group.