So we have seen every team play once. The first round of the group games is done and what a set of games its been so far. The first 17 games has produced 48 goals, 6 penalties and 3 red cards. Eventful. Its been the most enjoyable start to the World Cup in ages. Great games, great goals and plenty of surprises.
So what of the big boys who were expected to set the tournament on fire?
Brazil — Seen them twice now. Been a distinct disappointment. As expected Neymar has been their main man but the attack has been disjoint mostly and he has not inconsistent support. A win versus Croatia was marred by poor refereeing and a dreadful penalty award for the hosts. The hope for a better show vs Mexico quickly disappeared as the well organised Mexicans really caused Brazil problems. Yes, their goal-keeper made the save of the tournament and more to keep out Neymar and others but only off set pieces and by and large, Brazil’s attack has been turgid. The defence looks all over the place. Croatia and Mexico caused them huge problems and the fact that the full backs leave so much space means teams can quickly counter and get at that back three.
Overall — Scolari has a problem. Fred is a passenger and Brazil look ordinary. The defence is a mess and bench quality is an issue. They will get out of the group but will be lucky to make the quarters on this form.
Spain — Have a defending champions ever started so badly? Holland’s 5-1 demolition of Spain shocked the world. The signs were there that the Spanish weren’t the same but a host of dreadful individual errors added to the Dutch delight. Spain’s World Cup and European success was based on intensity, especially when they didn’t have the ball. That is all gone now and Spain invited the Dutch to run into space and were punished for it. The issue for them also lies in attack. No front man to score goals and a midfield that lacks pace and penetration. Del Bosque would be well to play Navas as he at least provides cutting edge.
Overall — Have a real fight to survive the group. Chile a very real threat and Spain must show greater will to beat them. Should they do that, they could well recover at this tournment. You worry about where the goals will come from though.
Holland — Coming off a miserable European Championships, no one had talked alot of the Dutch at Brazil. They changed that on the second night against holders Spain. Despite going behind to a dubious penalty, Robben and RVP struck twice each to dismantle the Champions. The Dutch could have scored more. Incisive in attack and solid in defence, the Dutch looked like a team that can go very far in the tournament. They should now easily make the quarter finals but need to watch their discipline at the back. De Jong worries me. Looks like he could explode. Must match the intensity they displayed against Spain. Van Gaal has a massive part to play in that. RVP scored the goal of the first round and Holland were the best side too.
Overall — Look like they can dream about finally breaking that World Cup jinx. Would be popular winners for me. Robben is key though and his form and fitness will determine how far they go. Good to see RVP scoring goals too. World class strikers are at a premium.
Italy — Played England in the best game of the tournament. Hot and humid in the Amazon but both sides delivered a game of great quality won by the Italians to their great credit. Pirlo still the master for them. Dictated everything and ruled the midfield. Brought class and experience to the side helped by some youthful exuberance from Darmian and Candreva who were very impressive. Solid at the back too as expected, the Italians will get better as they drained in the heat. As fitness improves so will they. Balotelli won them the match and so much depends on him you feel to score the goals. If he is in the mood, Italy have the side to deliver the goods. But can he keep his head? Disappointing in 2010, the Italians, off some mixed results, look like their 2006 vintage.
Overall — Still work to do. Tough game vs Uruguay and the surprising Costa Rica mean that Italy still need to focus. Prandelli though will keep them hugely committed and with Pirlo putting the strings, the quarters beckon for Italy. After that, who knows?
France — How poor were they in 2010? Disjoint and dumped out in round one. France have alot to prove in Brazil and when Ribery was ruled out of the tournament you feared the worst. To be honest, we don’t quite know what to make of them yet. They cruised to a 3-0 vs Hondurus in their opening game but were hardly stellar. They struggled in the first half and only made it count when the South Americans tired. They are in a fairly easy group but I worry about them against the better sides. Their clash with Switzerland will show more what they are made of. Benzema started well and that is a good sign but the jury is still out on Dechamps side.
Overall — Should get out of the group easily. But from there who knows. Defensively strong so can grind out results but do they have the class to go all the way? I doubt it but there were encouraging signs especially in the second half in their opener.
Argentina — My favourites for the tournament. Argentina started at the Maracana and the stage was set for Messi. Sadly he was mostly missing and they stuggled against a well marshalled Bosnia. But it takes one moment for a genius and in the second half it arrived. With a tricky run he sliced open the defence before striking a beautiful left foot drive home. It sealed the points for Argentina but honestly Messi won’t be happy. Neither will the fans. Top gear needs to be found which could be hard as the remaining group opponents aren’t great. Still the quality is there and although Aguero and the rest didn’t do brilliantly, they did enough. Di Maria was my star man and I think he could be the guy to take the pressure of Messi. Burrachaga to Messi’s Maradona.
Overall — Argentina remain my favourites despite a lukewarm opening. They will improve and should sail smoothly through to the quarter finals. A lack of real quality opposition is a worry but they can use that to get Messi, Aguero et al into top form.
Germany — The European favourites started with a potentially tough tie vs Portugal and C-Ron. At the end of 90 minutes, the Iberians were mauled and the German machine looked as efficient and ruthless as ever. In a mirror to the Spain — Holland game, the Germans and Mueller in particular cut apart Portugal, who were down to 10 men after a Pepe brain explosion. Perhaps could have got more but 4-0 was emphatic enough at this level. The lack of pace at the back still worries me and early on C-Ron caused them some problems. In a tighter game, that defence could be an achilles heel. But they looks so fluid in attack. Like a German automobile, the cruised through much of the game switching flanks and probing expertly. Real hope that they can improve on near misses in 2006 and 2010.
Overall — With Holland have been the most impressive side. Mueller already on 3 goals and more will come. Amazing to think he is still only 24. Should be good for a semi spot at least but the defence must work on its positional play to avoid being caught with pace.
Others of note? England were decent against Italy. Good to see them attack and give it a go. You think their defence isn’t up to it at this level and that their young attack will need another 2 years to challenge though. Chile looked good in beating Australia. Can hope to upset Group B and give Spain a real challenge for the second spot especially in the wake of the Iberians being thumped by the Dutch. Belgium, much hyped, huffed and puffed to a win over Algeria. They aren’t in a strong group and should improve quickly.
Shocks? Costa Rica beating Uruguay is the shock of the tournament so far. Uruguay, highly fancied, now face a real struggle to make the knock out stages. USA also beating the rated Ghanians was a surprise but the US always play with heart and spirit and this time, it was good enough. Surely Holland and Germany’s wins go down as a suprise but for the margin if not the result. Brazil failing to overcome Mexico ranks as a disappointment if not a real shock.
There you have it. A run down of the first set of games. Been fun thus far. Much more fun still to come. What do you think?