After all the anticipation, the long wait is finally over. As we have come to expect from the Republic of FIFA, the tournament started on time on Thursday 12 June 2014 despite all the protesting and complaining by certain sections of the Brazilian population, despite the strike action by public transport drivers and despite all the doom and gloom in the buildup to this spectacle.
I’ve been so busy watching, tweeting and chatting about all the games that I haven’t had a chance to summarise the proceedings so far. The schedule from South Africa is not too bad with games at 1800hrs, 2100hrs, midnight and the odd game at 0300hrs. Here’s my view on some of the key talking points since the opening.
Thurday 12 June
I’m generally not a fan of the various ceremonies as I think they’re a waste of time before the all-important kickoff. But I must say I did enjoy the London 2012 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies and I was in the stadium for the 2012 AFCON closing ceremony which was enjoyable. I think a successful ceremony showcases the country/region and has intelligent use of props and pyrotechnics.
The Brazil opening ceremony was none of these and will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It seemed that the creative director may have ingested some hallucinogenic substances as most viewers were unable to figure out the theme and the props used. Things went from bad to worse as my favourite “rapper Pitbull made an appearance flanked on either side by “singer” Jennifer Lopez and Brazilian star Claudia Leitte. Thankfully the audio was so terrible that we were all spared the voices of Pitbull and J-Lo, but the highlight of the performance was undoubtably Pitbull’s high-wasted white pants. I’m still trying to figure out if they were long shorts or short longs…..
Onto more important matters – football. Hosts Brazil were up against Croatia in the opening game, and obviously Croatia had not read the script as they took an early lead via a Marcelo own goal. The poster boy for the Brazilian team, Neymar, drew Brazil level after some excellent work and determination by Oscar. Neymar was on the scoresheet again via the penalty spot after the Brazilian-sounding Fred collapsed like a deck of cards after a gust of wind took him by surprise. Oscar rounded off the victory with a powerful toe-poke in stoppage time as the Brazilians celebrated a comfortable victory in the end. Despite most observers noting Oscar’s valuable contribution and all-round play, the Man of the Match award somehow ended up with Neymar.
Friday 13 June
Mexico squared up against one of Africa’s contenders, Cameroon in the first game. Although much was expected of the Indomitable Lions with Samuel Eto’o leading the attack and with the accomplished Alex Song in the midfield, the West Africans disappointed with a lacklustre performance. Mexico had 9 attempts with 5 of those being on target whilst Cameroon managed 10 shots with 4 being on target. Truth be told, Mexico’s goalkeeper Ochoa was barely tested. The Mexicans had two goals ruled out for offside but finally managed to score through Oribe Peralta.
The eagerly awaited Holland v Spain encounter lived up to its billing. Much was made of this being Holland’s revenge for the 2010 World Cup final and Spain were eager to defy critics who had already started to write them off due to indifferent performances of late. Spain it was, though, that took the lead through a Xabi Alonso penalty. The Dutch were right to be annoyed as another soft penalty was given as Diego Costa fell in the penalty area. Just before half time, Robin van Persie equalised with what can only be described as a phenomenal goal – a diving header from almost the edge of the box that rocketed over stranded ‘keeper Iker Casillas. Van Persie’s celebration with coach Louis van Gaal was as bad as the goal was great. Spain were shell-shocked and it only got worse for them – after the break Arjen Robben added two, Stefan de Vrij and Robin van Persie one each. Casillas looked nervous and jittery, the Spanish defence was non-existent and the midfield could not hold onto the ball as the Dutch ran rampant.
The final game on Friday (Saturday morning for those in southern Africa) was between Chile and Australia. The Chileans raced into a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from one of their stars, Barcelona’s Alexi Sanchez, and Jorge Valdivia. I thought that would be the end of the Australians’ and that they would soon be on the receiving end of a spanking, but to their credit they fought back with a well-taken header by Tim Cahill – I believe Cahill has a vertical leap second only to Crisitiano Ronaldo as he gets a lot of airtime for a vertically challenged individual. The Socceroos continued to fight back in the second half and Cahill was denied a goal for offside. Chile also created chances and had a shot cleared off the line before Jean Beausejour sealed the victory in stoppage time.
Further updates on the rest of the games to follow shortly.