If you were playing a World Cup opening ceremony drinking game, which had you taking a slurp when such time-served events as “man in costume on stilts gurns at the camera” occurred, then you’d have been on the floor unconscious within the first five minutes of the show. Boys and girls with flags on their shirt aimlessly dancing around? Check. Dancers dressed as trees? Check. Jennifer Lopez? Check. Actually JLo, Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte’s performance of the World Cup anthem “We Are One” was a highlight: mainly down to the fact that the song was barely audible for those at home, and Pitbull appeared to be wearing his mum’s white capri pants with a tucked in (!) Brazil shirt. His shoes also appeared to be having a party but forgot to invite his pants. Thankfully the show ended, eventually, and the main event was about to start.
Brazil vs Croatia
Despite looking suspiciously like a thundercat, Neymar thrives as he carries the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders. An injury during the warm up did little to stem the flow of hyperbole from the ITV commentary team, but sure enough Neymar recovered to join his team mates in an enthusiastic and threatening rendition of the Brazilian national anthem. After a shaky start (including conceding the first goal of the world cup, an own goal) which can’t entirely be put down to nerves on the host nation’s part (Croatia had a clear game plan and stuck to it admirably), Neymar dragged Brazil back on level terms with a slightly fortunate equalizer. The game stayed level until the 70th minute when Dejan Lovren was penalised for manhandling Fred in the penalty area. In normal football matches such as those played by men, women and children the world over, it was never a penalty, but when Brazil need help at 1-1 in their opening match of World Cup 2014, it’s a penalty. Neymar dispatched it confidently despite Croatian goalkeeper Pletikosa nearly making a save, and Brazil went on to win 3-1 through a late Oscar goal.
Holland vs Spain
When current holders Spain were drawn to play Holland in a re-run of the the 2010 World Cup final, few people expected such a one sided affair. Spain took an early lead through Diego Costa, who managed to fashion a foul from De Vrij’s outstretched leg as he slid past, only for Holland to equalise less than five minutes later. Van Persie’s goal was a thing of beauty, watching a 40 yards diagonal pass from the excellent Daley Blind drop out of the sky over his shoulder, to then execute a diving header over Casillas into the Spanish goal. It was a goal straight out of Sensible Soccer in 1992. Spain then crumbled in the second half under sustained pressure from Holland as Van Persie and Robben turned on the style to end the match 5-1 victors.
England vs Italy
This was it. England’s first game in World Cup 2014. The press and supporters had wisely managed to keep expectations low in the build-up to the tournament, but after 40 minutes into the game against Italy we began to believe. When Claudio Marchisio struck a drilled shot through a sea of legs past Hart from the edge of the area, after a dummy from the incredibly well bearded Pirlo, it seemed unjust. England had played well, with verve, and pace, and guts, but a familiar story started to unravel until the energetic Sturridge to score an equaliser after a counter attack only two minutes later. What’s happening? This is not our England. Our England plays defensive and dull football, with a squad containing Premier League prima donnas who expect to only turn up and win, who don’t even want to play for their country. After Sturridge scored a very English thing happened though: as the supporting cast of substitutes, manager and backroom staff erupted off the bench, physiotherapist Gary Lewin fell over a water bottle and dislocated his ankle. He now has to fly home, injured. Paging Dr Freud.
After Mario Balotelli scored five minutes into the second half, the match continued in the same vein as the first with both sides playing some stylish and exciting football. Italy had the best of the chances though and ended up deserving winners at 2-1.
France vs Honduras/Goal line technology
According to TV coverage, the goal line technology in use at the World Cup is different to the one used in the Premier League (it’s German, as if that makes any difference), and if you were listening to Jonathan Pearce try to understand Karim Benzema’s first goal for France against Honduras, you’d have been convinced that the technology was from some far-flung future far away from any kind of human understanding. What happened is this: Benzema struck the post from about 10 yards, the ball rebounded along the goal line, hit Honduran goalkeeper Valladares outstretched hand then crossed the line before it was scooped back into play. A selection of Pearce’s comments:
“Well look at the boos and the Honduran players. And look at this again. We’ve seen so many spurious goal line technology replays. AND IT SIGNALS NO GOAL! No goal has gone up on the screen. The fans have heard it, the Honduran players have seen it.”
“OH GOODNESS ME. THEY’VE CHANGED THEIR MINDS NOW. Does goal line technology work or doesn’t it?”
“Well which replay are we supposed to believe? This was supposed to be a flawless system.”
Peace doesn’t seem able to comprehend that events often happen in sequence. One thing happens, then something else happens after it. When the ball hit the post, it wasn’t a goal. When it crossed the line, it was. Simple.
France ran out 3-0 winners after some pretty robust tackling from Honduras lead to an early red card for Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios, and can be convincingly considered one of the favourites to win the World Cup.
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