Five takeaways from today’s action:
1. Brazil ain’t all that. Brazil came into this tournament as the overwhelming favorite, largely on the back of reputation and its role as host. It should still comfortably escape the group, but this Brazil team isn’t the 2002 team. The stuttering performance against a very good Mexico team coupled with a narrow (possibly undeserved) win over Croatia does not inspire confidence. Perhaps the team is just warming up, but at the moment opponents will not be quaking in their boots.
2. Marouane Fellaini finds some redemption. For a great many fans of British soccer, Fellaini has come to represent everything about Man U’s dark days under David Moyes. After a summer of inactivity, Man U bought the big Belgian on deadline day for around $6 million more than they could have gotten him for earlier in the summer. Whether this drama contributed to Fellaini’s awful season for Man U is debatable, but today he reminded viewers of why the deal didn’t seem that bad back then.
Fellaini’s hair gives him a Sideshow Bob kinda quality, but he is a great big wrecking ball on the field. He changed the game for Belgium, which had been struggling up to that point with stubborn Algerian defense. Belgium now tops the group and could stay there.
3. Substitutes, accept no substitute. Ten goals have been scored by players from the bench so far, including four of the five today. Dries Mertens’ rocket for Belgium is probably the pick of the litter.
4. Thank you, Igor. This World Cup has already provided us with some indelible memories, including Robin Van Persie’s diving header, Lionel Messi’s goal, and Clint Dempsey’s opener for the U.S. Now we have our first truly spectacular blooper. There’ve been a couple of blunders here and there, but nothing to compare to Igor Akinfeev’s total fail for South Korea’s goal. My favorite part is the way the ball ricochets off his face before going into the back of the net.
5. Here’s what we’ve learned so far: As of today, we’ve seen every team play at least once and pre-tournament favorite Brazil play twice. And while no group can be finished after one game, the general theme has been set for each. None of the small teams seems truly awful, with even the less-fashionable nations proving capable of mounting solid defenses (which the “loftier” Uruguay and Spain have yet to prove they can). While Spain was just sad, Brazil and Argentina both struggled for wins. The England vs. Italy match proved they are both teams to watch. The Germans don’t seem to have trouble playing in the heat. The Russians do. The U.S. has a decent shot of advancing to the round of 16. But questions remain: The French were impressive, but can they be equally impressive when not playing against 10 men? Were the Dutch amazing, or was Spain just terrible? Was Costa Rica amazing or was Uruguay just terrible?
No matter what, it’s been an exciting Cup, and it’s only just begun.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: