The World Cup began with a bang in yesterday’s opener. However, as many great aspects of the game as there were, Brazil vs. Croatia will likely be remembered outside of Brazil for all the wrong reasons. With the whole world watching, and with many people giving the sport attention for the first time in four years, Fred and referee Yuichi Nishimura gave soccer a bad name.
All the cynical viewers out there who criticize soccer for the flopping that goes on saw an egregious dive by Fred rewarded with the winner at the penalty spot. It’s a sad reality that such theatrics will mark the game of soccer at its biggest stage. But even though Fred should be heavily criticized for diving, the real problem here is that the referee felt he had to make that decision. With thousands of Brazilians around him, and millions more watching nearby, Nishimura was afraid to make the wrong call in this game. And that is a problem. Referees need to believe they are safe to make the correct call, even if they will be hated for it. As Croatia coach Niko Kovač pointed out, if the referees provide a home field advantage to the hosts, everyone else “better give it up and go home now.”
As far as the game itself, it was a pleasure to see Neymar step up when Brazil was struggling. He is ready to claim this World Cup as his own and everyone watching will be all the better for it. Going down a goal might ultimately do wonders for this Brazil team. It forced them to see that they need to be focused at at times. They will need to play their best throughout the tournament, and any lackadaisical play like that seen in the opening minutes will be punished by good teams like Croatia.
On that note, Croatia should be given a lot of credit for coming out on the front foot in this game. Many teams would have sat back and approached it much more cautiously. But it’s a credit to Kovač, that his team believed they could win this match. This performance should be an inspiration to all underdogs in this tournament. Nothing good will happen if you sit back against a team with the superior talent and the home field advantage. But if you attack, anything can happen. Croatia will feel aggrieved that they aren’t leaving Sao Paulo with a point, but they should take with them the belief that they are good enough to beat Mexico and Cameroon handily.
Now it is time for my predictions for today’s triple header of games.
Mexico 1 Cameroon 1
These two sides go into Group A with a lot of problems. For Mexico, 2013 was a disaster and coach Miguel Herrera has only made the atmosphere around El Tri slightly better since taking over. For Cameroon, many of the issues have been off the field, with the threat of a players’ strike overshadowing much of their preparation. I see this match starting slowly, with Mexico stymied going forward by Nicolas N’Koulou and his fellow defenders. Samuel Eto’o will strike first for Cameroon from the penalty spot. But a spirited Mexico will quickly find an equalizer through Andres Guardado. They will search for the winner but ultimately will fail to find it. Mexico’s main attacking threat will be on the left, with Guardado and Miguel Layun creating the chances. This might end up being the most exciting game of the day.
Spain 1 Netherlands 0
With all the hype that has been surrounding the rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, there is little chance this game will live up to expectation. It will be a drab affair, with both teams afraid to lose knowing that the dangerous Chile side will likely top Australia later today. This Dutch side and the one that played Spain four years ago are entirely disparate. They are inexperienced at this level now, devoid of the leadership that Mark Van Bommel and Giovanni Van Brocnkhorst provided. As lethal as Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder can be, few would call them great leaders. As such, the Dutch will struggle for cohesion. The Spaniards will be patient, probing all match looking for space behind the backline. Early in the second half, a goal will come, with David Silva providing for Diego Costa. Once they find the goal, they will keep the ball, satisfied with the one goal lead. Some will call it boring, but Spain will play their game and leave with the three points.
Chile 4 Australia 0
This match will not be much of a contest. Alexis Sanchez’s dazzling form will see him score two and provide another. And Arturo Vidal’s mere presence on the field after injury concerns will inspire the Chileans to a romp over Australia. Jorge Valdivia will convert a third, and the fourth will be scored by Eduardo Vargas. It will be an attacking clinic for Chile, who should be aware that goal differential could be crucial in their efforts to qualify out of a tough Group B. The Socceroos are not ready for this World Cup, taking a very young squad and a manager who has yet to control the side in a competitive game. For the neutral observers who like seeing goals, this will be a fun game to watch.
Lastly, what an effort by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I don’t see a way back for Miami. Anyway, have a great day. And please comment and help spread word about my blog.