Well football fans, it has been an absolutely pulsating opening to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with shocks abound and goals galore headlining the opening week of competition. And with the first week of competition now in the books, each of the 32 participating nations have now had a chance to take center stage at least once in Brazil, leading footyblog to compile ourselves a list of the first week’s winners and losers…
After a disastrous qualifying campaign, Miguel Herrera has guided Mexico to a solid start in Group A behind an opening victory over Cameroon and a surprising draw against Brazil in which goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was tremendous. While Mexico still have their issues (only 1 goal scored), it has nonetheless been a much better than anticipated start for El Tri with the draw against Brazil incredibly encouraging when it comes to their defensive abilities. As was the thinking prior to the tournament however, their final group match against Croatia will probably decide whether they advance or not, although they can feel much more optimistic about taking a win or draw against the Europeans, with the draw option now a possibility thanks to their 0-0 affair against the hosts.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brazil end up on the loser’s side of our evaluation despite leading Group A thanks to their lackadaisical performances against Croatia and Mexico. They required the services of one dubious Japanese referee in the opener to scrape past Croatia before failing to create enough chances and failing to breakdown Mexico in their second. Add to that the soft goalkeeping they also received against Croatia, and you don’t have a very impressive body of work. Furthermore, the Brazilian attack has failed to fire thus far as Fred has been maybe the tournament’s biggest disappointment and Neymar’s two goals have come via a scuffed shot and a poor penalty. The Brazilian defense still appears decent though, and maybe a final tune-up against the overmatched Cameroonians is just what the doctor ordered, or else they will face even more scrutiny if they are to advance.
Easily the most impressive team through the first week in Brazil, the Dutch played inch perfect football in their opening thrashing of Spain back on Friday, dominating the reigning champions and putting 5 past Iker Casillas and company in the back. Both RVP and Arjen Robben appear 100% on form and nothing should stop them from tearing apart Australia come morning in Porto Alegre. That win would give them 6 points and more than likely a massive goal differential that should see them secure their spot in the knockout rounds prior to their final match against Chile, with coach Louis van Gaal’s only concern being whether or not his team peaked too early.
Going off that, Spain looked just terrible (Iker Casillas) against the Orange as their only goal came off of a questionable penalty and other than that, they didn’t bother Jasper Cillessen a whole lot in the Dutch goal. It was most certainly NOT the Spain we have become accustomed to over the past 6 or so years and they looked slow (Sergio Ramos/Iker Casillas), tentative (Fernando Torres), and out of ideas (Vincente del Bosque). Maybe it was just an off performance or just a sign of dominance from the Netherlands, but La Roja have many more questions than answers as they prepare for a likely do or die match against the team of the similar nickname at the Maracana tomorrow. By the way, did I mention that Casillas was bad?
Winner: Costa Rica
The minnows from Latin America scored the biggest upset of the World Cup’s first week, downing 2010 semi-finalists Uruguay in their Group C opener behind the energetic Joel Campbell of Arsenal and the heading prowess of Oscar Duarte. Indeed, Costa Rica looked vastly superior to their South American counterparts on the night in Fortaleza, despite the lack of Luis Suarez for their opponents. Still, by beating Uruguay, Costa Rica have put themselves in position to potentially steal a place in the next round, assuming they can get a result against either England or Italy. It still remains a tall order for Jorge Luis Pinto’s side, but they have hope and a reason to believe, and more importantly, no reasons not to.
Loser: Fabio Capello
Russia manager Fabio Capello celebrated 68 years on this Earth on Wednesday, and did so in style by turning back the clock 4 years as Igor Akinfeev’s terrible error against South Korea on Tuesday night harkened back memories of Rob Green’s howler 4 years ago in Rustenburg when Capello was at the helm of England. In fact, Capello achieved the exact same result on Tuesday that he did 4 years prior with England as well, a 1-1 draw against the South Koreans that sees Russia frankly drop points against a Korean side that they were expected to beat. That, coupled with a remaining fixture against the Belgians, may gravely endanger Russia’s hopes of advancing from the weak Group H.
The Swiss were the recipients of the latest goal in group stage history at the World Cup on Sunday, downing Ecuador 2-1 behind Haris Seferovic’s 93rd minute winner in the capital of Brasilia. It was a crucial win for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side as well, placing them joint top of Group E alongside France after 1 match apiece. With remaining matches against the French and group whipping boys Honduras, it should be rather smooth sailing for the Swiss into the last 16, assuming they can beat the Hondurans of course.
Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo
Poor Cristiano Ronaldo had a rough old time of it on Monday afternoon in Salvador, watching as his (and it is his) Portugal side crumbled all around him, with the defense having a laugher of a match, Pepe losing his $%#@ and getting sent off, and the Portuguese suffering a couple of key injuries in losing Hugo Almeida and Fabio Contreao, Contreao for the rest of the World Cup. All this resulted in Portugal being dismantled by the Germans 4-0, their worst ever defeat at the World Cup finals. Ronaldo capped the day off nicely for Portugal though, hilariously firing into a one man wall as a symbol of Portugal’s pathetic nature on the day. Things aren’t looking up for CR7 either, with their do or die match set for Sunday against an improved American side that are on cloud nine following their 2-1 victory over Ghana, a win they will hope to follow up by beating Ronaldo and company in the jungle (Manaus).