We are in the midst of one fantastic World Cup. Football (or soccer in North America) is the world’s game and while it may rank behind some other sports in North America, Brazil 2014 should win over many new fans to the beautiful game.
All teams have now come through their opening matches. We’ve seen drama, controversy, thrills, upsets, and the occasional goalkeeping blunder.
Come-from-behind wins always make for a good story. How many times do announcers trot out the statistic of what a team’s record is when they score first? They might not be doing that much going forward as this World Cup has already seen six come-from-behind wins out of the 17 matches played as of Tuesday.
The four “major” North American sports, have done everything they can to produce a winner at the end of a game. The NHL has the shootout after overtime; the NBA plays overtime until there’s a winner; baseball has extra innings, and the NFL also has overtime (though ties can still occur).
Monday’s Iran–Nigeria game was the first draw of the Brazil World Cup; it was the 13th match of the tournament. According to ESPN, the last time there were no draws in the first 12 games was in the inaugural 1930 World Cup.
In addition, goals have been aplenty. The first half of that same Iran–Nigeria game (not to pick on those two nations) was only the second scoreless half of the tournament up to that point (25 of 26 prior halves of soccer had goals scored in them.)
In the 16 first matches for all the teams, 49 goals have been scored, which is the most at this point since 1958. That’s just over three goals a game.
Speaking of goals, a couple of great ones stand out for me that show how great the World Cup has been so far.
Robin van Persie of Netherlands knows a thing or two about scoring goals. But his long-range diving header near the end of the first half against Spain demonstrated timing, accuracy, and ultimately set the Dutch on their way to arguably the most stunning result so far—a 5–1 demolition of defending champion Spain.
Switzerland and Ecuador looked to be heading for the tournament’s first draw, but deep into second-half stoppage time, Valon Behrami took matters into his own hands.
The Swiss midfielder made a fine tackle on the Ecuadorian forward Michael Arroyo who was in goal scoring position. Then he raced out of his zone, was clearly fouled, but instead of writhing on the ground acting as if he’d been shot, he carried on into the Ecuadorian half.
It should be noted that for all the incorrect decisions that referees have made in the World Cup (won’t go into them here), Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov played the advantage rule brilliantly by not stopping play to award Switzerland a free kick.
The Behrami-led counter resulted in Haris Seferovic beating the nonchalant Ecuadorian defense and smashing home the winner.
It was a beautiful sequence that showed Switzerland’s superior desire and should serve as an example to all soccer players at the World Cup to not feign injury to win a free kick or get an opponent booked or sent off.
Hockey fans know that a goalie can literally steal a win. NHL playoffs over the years are full of stories of goalies like Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers or the L.A. Kings’ Jonathan Quick.
In the first instance of this World Cup of two teams playing their second games, Brazil and Mexico battled to a scoreless draw—something the North American sports fan tends to assume must mean a boring game.
It was anything but boring. Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was simply sensational in preventing mighty Brazil from scoring. He made a wonderful diving save off a Neymar header in the first half, stoned the superstar’s left-footed shot at point-blank range in the second half, and later denied Thiago Silva’s free header off a corner kick with an incredible reaction save.
Those were just three of his world-class saves. Ochoa stole a point for Mexico and put “El Tri” in a good position to reach the knockout stage.
Goal scorers generally attract most of the attention and Thomas Müller’s hat trick against Portugal made him the fourth youngest player, at 24, to score eight World Cup goals. The German has only played seven World Cup games.
Müller got a good start to defending his Golden Boot, which he won at the 2010 South Africa World Cup (five goals, three assists).
As teams now play their second games, the stakes get even higher as the must-win mentality kicks in. The first 16 games and Brazil–Mexico have nicely set the stage for the added pressure of subsequent matches.
It’s an event no North American sports fan can afford to miss.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports