Here we are, on the first world cup Sunday (the Final is today in 4 weeks!), half-way through the first round of matches in the group stages, with 8 games under our belt. There have been plenty of eye-raising and even hair-raising and downright shocking moments … here are my top headlines:
FIFA World Cup Referees …anything but world-class: Right from the very first match the official’s performance has been criticised and scrutinised and the spotlight yanked from the world cup players that so far have delivered a lively, high-scoring and entertaining tournament. After Mexico’s victory vs . Cameroon, despite several inexplicable officiating faux pas, I was seriously contemplating my own for of walk-out … watch less matches because of the horrible and seemingly acceptable lackluster officials. Luckily, Holland’s exhilarating performance and a handful of very high quality matches since — all without official interference, have turned the spotlight back on the players, teams, fans and the host. Let’s hope the next 56 matches are void of ANY officiating controversy.
Dutch Treats: Look at the 8 WC final scores so far and the 5:1 tally stands out … a dismantling of the Spanish compliments of the Netherlands. Who’d have thunk it? Clockwork Orange, true grit, focus, bravery, believe and unprecedented unity come to mind. I said before the tournament that Spain might well have a tough time this WC, primarily based on its aging roster and a lack of hunger (after gorging at the ‘highest level of soccer’ buffet too long) to 4-peat (Euro 2008- WC 2010-Euro 2012- WC 2014), but surely no one expected this. Anyone who knows me, realizes I am not the biggest Holland football fan (mild understatement) but anyone who enjoys the beautiful game was surely licking their lips on Friday. I really hope this was just the beginning of the Oranje show and I’ll be the first to raise a cold glass of Crush to celebrate this Dutch revival.
Mexican Calm: I was thoroughly impressed with Mexico’s convincing 1:0 win over Cameroon … El Tri created plenty of scoring chances and looked like a completely transformed squad from the crew we saw struggling to even qualify to earn a ticket to the big dance. To me, even more impressive than the result, was the squad’s calm and collected, ‘chillin’ attitude after being literally robbed of 2 goals by atrocious officiating in the first half. No one lost their cool and led by Mexican mascot and skipper Miguel Herrera pulled together to still end up victorious. What role models and consummate professionals.
Costa Rican Miracle: Another day, another upset. The Costa Ricans surprised the world saturday with an inspiring come from behind victory versus footballing giants Uruguay. The South Americans who on paper have one of the strongest, experienced squads (even without Luis Suarez who did not play with a knee injury) took an early lead but got majorly out-played by the wily islanders. CR’s win gives CONCACAF member nations an impressive 2 and o record heading into upcoming matches for federation mates Honduras (today vs. France) and the US (Monday vs. Ghana).
Italian Youth: I know this may sound as an oxymoron, especially if comparing the likes of 35-year-old midfield maestro Andre Pirlo, goalie legend Buffon (36), defender Andrea Barzagli (33) and midfielder Thiago Motta (31), but the Italians looked young and fresh versus the crampy, limping English last night. While England took advantage of multiple water breaks and other interruptions to barely survive the rigors of the rainforest humidity, the Italians (who are also European and don’t play in the Amazon heat) looked rejuvenated and ready to run post match wind sprints. Who knows what’s in the Chianti but if your Italian bottoms up!