The first round of the group stage of the World Cup is at an end, and it’s already proving to be one of the more entertaining World Cups in recent history. The first match started the tournament off with no shortage of goals as hosts and odds on favorites Brazil defeated Croatia 3-1. However, the match also began the usual slate of refereeing controversies that cloud every World Cup. The first controversy erupted late in the game, as Brazil was looking to salvage their lackluster showing that left the score 1-1 at halftime. As Brazilian midfielder Fred dribbled the ball into the box, Dejan Lovren held Fred’s shoulder and Fred went down. The referee awarded Brazil a penalty which put Brazil up for the first time in the match, but video of the incident showed no pulling by Lovren, so the penalty should not have been given. Later, Croatia had a goal disallowed as Ivica Olić was judged to have fouled Brazil keeper Julio Cesar as the two jumped up to head a ball. While contact was made, it is dubious that play should have been stopped.
After the opening day, major shocks continued to roll in during the teams’ opening matches as two 2010 semifinalists faced huge upsets. During one of the most anticipated matches of the group stage, Spain and the Netherlands battled it out in a rematch of the final four years ago. Both teams played well at the start, with Spain scoring first on a penalty kick in the 27th minute. It looked as if Spain was going to end the first 45 minutes ahead, but the Oranje were determined to equalize. In the 44th minute, the Dutch sent a long ball into the Spanish third, and Robin van Persie outpaced the Spanish defence to reach the ball as it floated back to earth. Instead of bringing the ball to feet, however, van Persie dove into a magical header that sailed over Casillas and into the net in possibly the most memorable moment from the tournament thus far. With the Dutch rebounding, Spain utterly collapsed. The Spanish side conceded four more goals before the 90 minutes were up, giving the Dutch a rout worthy of the Eighty Years’ War. Meanwhile, in group D, the Uruguayans who reached 4th in South Africa stumbled at the beginning in Brazil. Facing a plucky Costa Rican side, Uruguay scored first but ended up losing the match 3-1 to the Ticos. With England falling to Italy 2-1, this puts Costa Rica unbelievably at the top of the group for now and puts Uruguay’s chances at advancing from the group stage in serious jeopardy.
In group G, the other highly anticipated group, another match that was supposed to be an intense back and forth match turned into a rout. Germany and Portugal, ranked second and fourth in the world according to the FIFA ranking, were supposed to be on a roughly even playing field, with Germany having an edge. However, the match quickly slipped away from the Portuguese as Thomas Müller scored the first goal of his hat trick in the 12th minute. Another goal from Müller and a header from Mats Hummels put Germany up 3-0 by the end of the first half. But Portugal’s despair deepened as defender Pepe was sent off with a straight red card after he lightly headbutted Müller after Germany’s third goal. With Portugal down to ten men, Müller completed his hat trick in the 78th minute giving Germany 4 goals and a shutout by the final whistle. The United States also found success in group G, finally vanquishing Ghana after the Black Stars haunted the United States’ hopes in the past two World Cups. This time around it was the United States who came out on top of the 2-1 scoreline, with a header from Clint Dempsey to put the Americans ahead just 32 seconds into the match and a followup by John Brooks in the final five minutes to clinch the win. With Pepe out of the USA-Portugal match on June 22, the hopes of the United States advancing from this tough group are looking ever brighter.
Elsewhere, the usual suspects came out on top in their first matches. The rest of the South American delegation gave a good showing. Colombia and Chile rounded out 3-0 defeats to Greece and Australia, respectively. Argentina, while they lacked some of their usual flair, overcame an eager Bosnian side 2-1 to sit at the top of group F after the first set of matches played. Only Ecuador lost their first match, despite a spirited attempt and taking the first goal against Switzerland. France also appeared to be out of their slump after their unceremonious exit from the 2010 tournament at the bottom of their group. Facing a Honduran side that famously defeated Mexico at the Estadio Azteca during qualification, the French looked lively and Karim Benzema’s two goals inspired a deserved 3-0 win for Les Bleus. Going into the second round of the group stage, the tournament continues to heat up. Brazil faced Mexico yesterday and despite the goalless result, the match proved an exciting affair for the whole 90 minutes. With the draw, Brazil also continues to struggle, as Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa kept the hosts at bay in a superb performance. The upcoming matches will give a clearer picture of who will advance to the knockout stage, and if the matches are anything like what we’ve already witnessed this World Cup can only get better.