In 6 days, 32 teams have wholeheartedly captivated the footballing world through a seemingly endless mentality that revolves around playing free flowing, imaginative football. This is a pleasant contrast to the previous display of neurotic and cautious football seen in South Africa 4 years ago. As of last night, every team has made their grand entrance to the worlds biggest sporting extravaganza, and with the exception of Iran and Nigeria, we haven’t been let down. 14 Manchester United players are in Brazil representing their respective nations, how have they all done?
Javier Hernandez’s Mexico has made a bright start to the World Cup finals, picking up 4 points from 2 games without conceding a goal has left them with an excellent chance of progressing to the next round. Admittedly, this hasn’t been down to the exploits of Chicharito, who came on in the 74th minute of each game but made little or no impact. Should we monitor the little pea too closely though? A move away from Old Trafford appears to be on the horizon.
Being an 1/8 dutch, Hollands demolition of Spain has been my moment of the tournament so far. The organisation, calmness and menace that Louis Van Gaal has brought to this team was shown in abundance during their 5-1 victory over the reigning world champions. Above all, the unity and discipline within that team was a major factor as to why Holland reacted so well to going a goal down. The beleaguered and despondent Dutch side that we saw in Euro 2012 has been replaced by a dangerous and competitive team under the wise watch of Louis Van Gaal. What really impressed me above all, was Van Gaal’s boldness to change the shape of his side to accommodate the opposition, the use of wing backs and an interchanging front three meant the spanish midfield was stretched out of its comfort zone. Robin Van Persie put in a scintillating performance which culminated in 2 goals. The striker looks invariably restored in the hands of Mr Van Gaal. Holland can become the first team to qualify for the next round later today, should they defeat Australia in Porto Alegre. Juan Mata and David De Gea are yet to feature for Spain, who play Chile in the Maracana tonight.
Shinji Kagawa and Japan made a disappointing start to the World Cup after surrendering a 1-0 lead to Ivory Coast to lose their opening game 2-1 in Recife. It was a dissatisfying night for Kagawa, the playmaker found himself isolated on the right hand side for long periods of the game and was replaced after 86 minutes.
Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck were part of the England side that lost it’s opening game to Italy. Welbeck put in an excellent performance, and one which we’ve seen in the past 3 seasons quite frequently. He sacrificed any real motive to get into goalscoring positions and instead worked unbelievably hard chasing down Italian midfielders and winning the ball in promising positions. His energy and commitment to the cause was a real high point and should be implemented once more as England face Uruguay tomorrow. Wayne Rooney supplied a wonderful cross for England’s equaliser but at times cut a detached and frustrated figure on the left hand side. For Rooney to have a real impact on a game it is vital that he plays centrally. When was the last time you saw him play on the left for United? The last time I remember him playing there was the 2nd half of West Ham away during the 2012/13 campaign, where he must have touched the ball about 7 times. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were unused substitutes.
Patrice Evra (who has recently signed a 1 year extension with the club) was a part of France’s opening victory against a really quite aggressive Honduras who seemed far more interested in breaking Paul Pogba’s legs rather than trying to create anything constructive going forward. Consequently, Evra didn’t have much to do in the form of defending. Out of the 16 games played so far, France do appear to be strong contenders for ‘dark horses’ in the competition. Antonio Valencia suffered heartbreak in his opening game for the World Cup. His Ecuador side conceded a last minute winner to Switzerland after committing too many bodies forward in an attempt to snatch victory. Valencia was pretty anonymous throughout the game and couldn’t affect the game as much as he would have liked. His namesake, Enner Valencia, was actually far more impressive.
After a torrid season for Luis Nani, it didn’t get much better for the Portuguese winger. His side were taken apart by a sharp and disciplined looking Germany team. He was up against Benedict Howedes, who is a centre back by trade at Schalke. This appeared to be a fantastic opportunity for the depleted winger to revitalise himself by taking advantage of a dis-positioned left back. Although he did show a couple of promising moments at the start, he was unable to have an effect on the match after Portugal went down to 10 men and my predicted winners of the tournament begun to run riot in Portugal’s weak midfield.
A man who was unable to score once for United all season made a storming impact with Belgium yesterday. With his side looking unimaginative and stonewalled against Algeria (Who had taken an early lead) Marouane Fellaini came on to net a powerful header in the 70th minute. He was utilised in his natural position, playing just behind the striker. His presence clearly agitated the Algerians, who before Fellaini’s introduction as a substitute seemed very comfortable against a pretty static Belgian team. His rather obvious figure appeared to galvanise Belgium’s attack, who eventually triumphed 2-1.