The World Cup kicked off on Friday but the build up to the 2014 tournament has been dominated by controversy. The $11bn cost to host the World Cup, rather than invest the funds on much needed education and welfare services, has understandably led to strikes and numerous protests throughout the country.
Add uncovered scandals in the form of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup into the mix and football finds itself struggling to justify its beautiful game tag.
The big kick-off: GROUP A
Brazil 3-1 Croatia
When the action eventually started, Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura did his utmost to aid the hosts a victory against Croatia.
Croatia were good value at 1-1. A Marcelo own goal had given them the lead with Neymar restoring parity from distance before a curious number of dubious decisions stopped the Balkan side from seizing a precious advantage.
Brazilian poster boy Neymar luckily remained on the pitch after elbowing Luka Modric, while Selecao striker Fred won a highly questionable penalty—television replays concluded there had been no contact from his marker, Dejan Lovren.
Furthermore, the Croats had a legitimate goal chalked off due to what was deemed a foul on Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Caesar.
Brazil wrapped up the match in stoppage time as Oscar toe-poked to make it 3-1. The relief was evident for all to see as Brazil took the three points to settle the Selecao’s anxiety following their high expectations.
Mexico 1-0 Cameroon
Elsewhere in Group A, Mexico narrowly beat Cameroon 1-0 but should have been victors by a far greater margin as two goals were incorrectly ruled out for offside. Oribe Peralta scored the winner in a relatively poor match as Cameroon displayed little ambition to create any chances until late in the game.
Holland 5-1 Spain
The most significant headline of the World Cup thus far concerned the repeat of the 2010 Final, where revenge was sweet for the Dutch, as they thrashed holders Spain 5-1.
Manchester United-bound Louis Van Gaal won the intricate battle of the minds, over Vicente Del Bosque, as the Dutch pressed the Spanish superbly, turning over possession in key areas.
Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben both scored a brace with the former scoring a superb header. Ajax’s 24-year-old left back Daley Blind (son of Danny) was the most influential player on the pitch in an impressively dominant performance—four chances created, two assists, two tackles won and 100 percent of aerial duels won.
Having only conceded three goals in total across the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships, La Roja’s centre-back pairing of Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Barcelona’s Gerard Pique were ravaged by Robben and Van Persie’s pace.
Although footballing purists will point out that Spain also lost their first game of the 2010 World Cup, the manner of this defeat, particularly where skipper Iker Casillas made numerous errors of judgement, could be seen as the beginning of the end for one of the world’s most successful international sides.
Chile 3-1 Australia
By contrast, the Dutch will now turn their attentions to Australia who were 2-0 down after 15 minutes against Chile. The South Americans moved the ball with devastating accurate pace as Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia dismantled the Socceroos with ease during the early skirmishes. However, a Tim Cahill header brought Australia back into the game and they battled courageously in the second-half until Chile’s superior firepower helped them cross the line as Jean Beausejour added an injury-time third.
Group C: Colombia vs Greece; Ivory Coast vs Japan
Group D: Uruguay vs Costa Rica; England vs Italy