SWC Round One in review
Pepe and Thomas Mueller (AFP)
Cape Town - With all 32 teams at the 2014 World Cup now having strutted their stuff, we take a look at some of the biggest talking points from the first round of action.
An unwelcome blight on the first round of fixtures, dodgy refereeing has plagued a number of games, with the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia displaying just how much of a bearing one bad call could have on the entire competition.
The inexplicable decision by Japanese official Yuichi Nishimura to award a penalty to Brazil after Fred's clear dive in the area saw Croatia's mounting threat ultimately dwindle in their 3-1 loss at the Maracana, a result that will likely see them exit the tournament.
Additionally, two goals wrongly ruled out for offside in Mexico's opener against Cameroon nearly cost the Central Americans in their eventual 1-0 win, while a pair of soft penalties won by Diego Costa and Mario Gotze in their respective games cast further doubt on the competency of FIFA's officials.
The Great Shop Window
Much is made of players putting themselves in the ‘shop window’ during the World Cup, with clubs on the lookout for new talent.
Mere hours after Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s heroic performance against Brazil there were reports linking the out of contract shot stopper with a move to Arsenal and Liverpool.
Sometimes players can also remind their clubs what they already have. Arsenal’s Joel Campbell spent last season out on loan, but having made the footballing world stand up and take notice with his top class display against Uruguay, the powerful striker is unlikely to be allowed to leave the Emirates in the upcoming campaign.
The Rooney Conundrum
While Italy ultimately won the game their clash with England, the Three Lions played surprisingly well with a good blend of exciting youngsters and experienced campaigners. However, some poor game management and an out of form Rooney could cost Roy Hodgson’s side.
In the hot and humid Manaus on Saturday, Hodgson took off Jordan Henderson and Danny Welbeck, two players least susceptible to fatigue, and played the Rooney and Steven Gerrard, the two most susceptible to fatigue, for the full 90 minutes.
Next up for England is Uruguay on Thursday evening, and Hodgson will need to be brave in his selection in what is now a must-win game.
There are two ways he can go:
1) Drop Rooney and bring in one of Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana or - if he is fit - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
2) Keep Rooney in the side, but play him up top alongside Daniel Sturridge, with a midfield diamond behind him with Raheem Sterling at the tip, Henderson and Lallana on the sides with Gerrard playing deepest, much like the system Liverpool have employed.
3) There is a third option, and probably the most likely scenario, and it involves Hodgson selecting an unchanged side because 'the lads' played pretty well against Italy.
The 'What Was He Thinking?!' Award goes to...
The unbearable daftness of being Pepe! He has acquired a reputation for being thuggish, hasn’t he? If coach Paulo Bento and his successors have any sense at all then the Real Madrid defender will never play for Portugal again. His aggression towards Thomas Muller masquerading as righteous anger at the Germany striker’s shenanigans was treasonous. Pepe let his country down. At least we have our first contender for the ‘Zinedine Zidane moment’ of the World Cup.
Horses For Courses
Belgium are not going to win the World Cup by trying to fit square pegs in round holes. The ridiculous penalty Jan Vertonghen conceded against Algeria was just desserts for playing a centre-back in a full-back position. What odds on Toby Alderweireld conceding the next penalty? Surely Marc Wilmots has heard the saying ‘horses for courses’?
Fred - A Man Of Few Names And Even Fewer Goals
He must be Scolari’s love child. It’s difficult to see how Fred merits his place as a starter for the hosts, and even more difficult to find a less ‘Brazilian’ striker in the history of the Brazil national team.
It really should come as little surprise that Africa's challenge for the title is look wafer thin, and the countries involved aren't doing themselves any favours, with a few quizzical team selections.
Peter Odemwingie and Kevin-Prince Boateng have perhaps been the on form players for Nigeria and Ghana respectively, yet both players who consigned to the replacements for their opening fixtures.
Both teams paid the price too, with Stephen Keshi and Kwesi Appiah left with some explaining to do after the pair shone off the bench while those around them faltered.
The Unfashionable Striker
Australia are widely expected to be one of the tournament’s whipping boys and having conceded three goals against Chile this perception hasn’t changed much.
However, the Socceroos were no pushovers and got on the scoresheet courtesy of none other than Tim Cahill. The former Everton forward has now scored in three World Cups and has found the back of the net more times on the game’s greatest stage than Lionel Messi and has scored in three different World Cups.
Clint Dempsey also deserves a tip of the hat, with the American’s goal against Ghana adding his name to the list of those who have scored in three World Cups.
Tainting The Beautiful Game
The atmosphere among the supporters in Brazil has been matched only by the flurry of goals scored in the opening rounds, although simulation and cheating threatens to spoil an otherwise festive party. Unsportsmanlike behavior was evident from the very first match in Brazil, with Fred seemingly duping the referee into awarding the Samba Kings a penalty in the tournament opener against Croatia, while Neymar’s theatrics throughout that match drew shock and disgust from many critics and pundits alike.
Thomas Muller’s overreaction to Pepe’s head-touch during Germany’s 4-0 win over Portugal was enough to get the defender sent off, although arguably he deserved a red anyway for even thinking about putting his forehead close to his opponent’s, but that is a decision for the referee to make, and not one for the players to influence. So as we enter the second round of group stage matches, let’s hope it’s the football, and nothing else, that leaves us in awe.