We continue World Cup Month with a look at the 5 best moments so far.
Everything nowadays is overhyped? Your presents on Christmas Day were never exactly what you wanted were they? Yeah, sack that. This World Cup has been everything we wanted and more, with goals, controversy and upsets served up three times a day, every day. Here’s our selection of our five favorite moments from the first round of games.
Robin van Persie’s Wondergoal against Spain
So it’s difficult to start anywhere else than in Salvador last Friday night. A repeat of the previous final on the second day was enticing enough but few predicted quite how insane a result it would turn out to be. Diego Costa, Brazilian Public Enemy No.1 after his defection to Spain, won a penalty which Xabi Alonso despatched to put the reigning champions in front – so far, so routine – but it was the goal seconds before the break that blew the tournament wide open.
Daley Blind flung in a cross from way downtown, and Robin van Persie, maligned most of the year in a failing Manchester United side, glanced up, spotted Casillas off his line and produced a diving header of stupendous dexterity and technique to lob the keeper and level the scores. The second half brought either a monumental, era-ending collapse from the Spanish or a tactically perfect Dutch counter-offensive, depending on your opinion.
In truth, it was a little of both, as the tiki-taka so loved by La Furia Rioja proved completely incapable of coping with the pace and precision of Robin. Rumors of a Spanish succession are probably slightly premature – they’ve still got the best starting squad in the tournament – but this 5-1 shellacking at the hands of the Dutch has destroyed the air of invincibility that has followed them around since Euro 2008. With a loss against Chile, who themselves looked impressive in defeating Australia, Spain faces an unlikely early exit at the Group Stage.
England vs. Italy
England in lose-to-first-decent-team-they-meet shocker. Or was it? England leave the Amazon jungle without any points, but with a lot of heart, having gone toe-to-toe with one of finest sides in the tournament and matched them most of the way. In truth, even the hardest-hearted Italian would probably accept that a draw would’ve been a fair enough result, and with England’s band of young, exciting attacking talent, the Three Lions will be feeling more than a little confident going into their game with Uruguay, who were decidedly uninspiring in their 3-1 humbling at the hands of Costa Rica.
From the third minute, when Raheem Sterling hit the side-netting, this was the game of the highest quality so far, with both sides looking impressive, particularly along the flanks, with Candreva standing out for Italy down the right wing. All three goals were of the highest caliber, Marchisio steering in from 20 meters after a sublime Pirlo dummy, before Rooney laid on Sturridge to equalize immediately. The first half remained frantic, with Balotelli having a chip cleared off the line, and Candreva hitting the post, before Super Mario managed to head Italy in front early in the second period.
The game slowed considerably after that, with the heat and humidity clearly taking its toll on the players, and England struggled to generate enough momentum to threaten the Italian’s lead. Rooney wasted their best chance and Barkley showed moments of inspiration, but it wasn’t to be for Roy Hodgson’s men, who nonetheless can be happy with their efforts, and optimistic of having enough to dislodge Suarez and co. en route to the knockout rounds.
Brazilian National Anthem vs. Croatia
So this is more of a pre-World Cup highlight, if you will, but still a superb moment in the narrative of this year’s tournament. FIFA, in their infinite wisdom, accidentally provoked an image which will endure long after their corporate carousel leaves town. For reasons known only to themselves (unless some nations have a ditty of Pink Floyd-esque proportions), FIFA limited the length of national anthems to 90-second bursts of patriotism.
The result of this nonsense, however, manifested itself moments before the opener, where the Brazilians, reenacting their famed arms-on-shoulders march from 1994, lined up for their hino national, only to hear it cut short after a minute and a half. The players and crowd, undeterred, proceeded to belt out the second verse a capella, leaving nary a dry eye in the house, and inspiring the Selecao onto a 3—1 victory.
USA vs. Ghana
Jurgen Klinsmann has well and truly put the United into United States, if their opening performance against Ghana is anything to go by. The boys in red, white and blue put in a display of grit, determination and skill that defied those (I’m sorry America) who backed them to leave Brazil without a point.
Rap music’s Clint Dempsey fired them in front after just 30 seconds and the USA held out until ten minutes from time, enduring injuries to striker Jozy Altidore and central defender Matt Besler, before succumbing to a beautifully-worked goal from Andre Ayew. It looked bleak for the States, but Berlin-born John Anthony Brooks, Besler’s replacement at the center of defense, trundled upfield to head the USA into a 2—1 lead, which they managed to hold until full-time, sparking ecstatic scenes amongst the some 20,000 traveling Yanks in Natal.
The result throws the group wide open, as Germany laid down an ominous marker, thrashing Portugal 4—0 earlier in the day, and offering the Ghanaians and Americans a glimmer of hope of progressing. The USA could all but seal a place in the last 16 with a victory against Ronaldo and co. in Manaus on Sunday.
Messi’s Goal and Bosnia’s Debut
The scene was already set and the script already written. Argentina, lead by the world’s best player and roared on by 50,000 traveling supporters, in the famed Maracana in Rio, against the debutants from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It should have been a massacre. Bosnia, though, are made of sterner stuff than that. Despite going behind to a fluke own-goal after three minutes, the Balkan side showed no big-match jitters, taking advantage of a bizarre Argentine formation – which appeared to include no midfielders at all – and were more than a little unfortunate to go into the break a goal behind.
Albiceleste boss Alejandro Sabella was quick to spot his mistake in the second half, introducing Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago, and reverting to a more familiar 4-3-3 formation, with Messi in the hole behind the strikers. Immediately, the little master made his impact, weaving through defenders, playing a one-two with Higuain before finishing off the post, eight years to the day since his last World Cup goal.
Bosnia rallied and were rewarded with their first ever goal at the Finals, through Vehad Ibisevic. They can go into their next game with high hopes, as Nigeria and Iran served up the first round’s only true stinker, drawing 0—0 in game which, as the cliché goes, both sides were lucky to get nil.
Raul Meireles (POR) and Charles Itandje (CAM)
For knowing they couldn’t beat France at football and resolving to just kick anybody who looked like they’d ever bought a baguette.
Igor Akinfeev (RUS)
For his fundamental misunderstanding of how to catch a football.
Check out the rest of our World Cup Month features here.
- Photography: Reuters