SPORT: Top Tenner: Best moments of first round of games

By Jun18,2014

10. Igor Akinfeev throws it in

What is it about Fabio Capello, the first game of a World Cup and a catastrophic error? In 2010 it was Rob Green, and 2014 saw Igor Akinfeev throw the ball into his own net, from a relatively speculative and moderate shot by Lee Keun-ho to give South Korea the lead. At one point it looked like Akinfeev wouldn’t be able to continue, so upset was he about the error, and you can’t blame the poor guy. If Green’s experience is anything to go by, Akinfeev will be in for years of abuse from knuckle-headed opposition fans. It hardly helped that Akinfeev’s gaffe occurred on the same day that Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa produced such a heroic performance to keep Brazil out, but such is the life of the goalkeeper.

9. John Brooks’ goal and celebration

John Brooks probably didn’t think he would be involved in the United States’ group opener against Ghana. He was a substitute centre-back, the sort of player who will see some action generally only if an injury occurs, but luckily for him and perhaps America that’s exactly what did happen, with Matt Besler limping off with a hamstring problem. And even when he did come on, the chances of Brooks scoring were slim, a defender who had only three senior goals to his name before Monday night. So when he did get a powerful header to a corner with just four minutes remaining and it thundered past Adam Kwarasey in the Ghana goal, you can understand why he was so emotional, sinking to his knees and imploring his teammates to just give him a moment to consider the enormity of what he’d done. And for a relatively modest player like Brooks, scoring for your country at the World Cup is about as enormous as it gets.

8. Cristiano Ronaldo’s hissy fit

From one touching moment of emotion to a ridiculous one. It’s fair to say that, utterly magnificent player and specimen though Cristiano Ronaldo is, when things don’t go right for the Ballon d’Or holder, he often doesn’t take it too well. If one was to be kind it might be classed as being a perfectionist, but if he misses a chance or a decision displeases him, Ronaldo’s face is consumed by an outraged confusion, a child’s pout and a sense that the whole world is conspiring against him. Perhaps you need this sort of attitude to perform at the astonishingly consistent levels that Ronaldo does, to have an absolute certainty that he is going to succeed, and if that somehow does not happen it is surely down to outside forces, to something completely out of his control, and therefore not his fault. Not much went Ronaldo’s way in Portugal’s defeat to Germany, from the four goals conceded to Pepe reaching what scientists have called “Peak Pepe” and getting himself sent off in the most pointless manner possible, so when there was a penalty claim rejected by an uncooperative referee, Ronaldo … well, he had a bit of a tantrum. Observe. Even on the rare occasions Ronaldo isn’t doing something absurd with a football, he’s box office.

7. The Swiss counterattack

Switzerland were not an especially popular team at the last World Cup. Their style of play was not exactly easy on the eye, and they managed to pull off the impressive feat of beating all-conquering Spain and still going out in the first round. These days they have a few more exciting players, and this was no more evident than in stoppage time of their clash with Ecuador, a frantic and hugely entertaining encounter that really could have gone either way. In the closing stages Ecuador attacked but dithered, and Valon Behrami came away with the ball and was fouled as he attacked, but a superb piece of officiating allowed Switzerland’s counter to continue. The ball found its way to Ricardo Rodriguez on the left, who crossed low to the near post, where Haris Seferovic was there to lift the ball into the roof of the net, the second of Ottmar Hitzfeld’s substitutes to score as the Swiss nicked a 2-1 victory. An exhilarating moment and no mistake.

6. England being entertaining

Such was the relatively positive reaction to England’s performance in their 2-1 defeat to Italy, it was quite easy to forget that they had in fact lost. However, it was equally easy to see why most were being so positive, because England were, well … so positive. For the first time in years, England were entertaining to watch at a major tournament, playing with a refreshing freedom, a willingness to take risks and a willingness to attack. It’s proof that football fans care about more than just winning — they care about being entertained, and about supporting something they’re vaguely proud of. Obviously if England lose both their remaining group games and crash out that will all be a little bit pointless, but they’ll always have Manaus.

5. Andrea Pirlo’s dummy

Sure, whoever cooked up the plan to play a short corner for Italy’s first goal against England deserves the credit, and of course Claudio Marchisio did brilliantly to smack the low, powerful shot through a thicket of legs and past Joe Hart … but that dummy. Dear Lord, that dummy. Possibly the coolest player at the World Cup doing possibly the coolest thing anyone can do on a football pitch — because like most cool things, if you get a dummy even a little bit wrong you end up looking like an absolute buffoon. The look on Pirlo’s face as he did it was an absolute picture as well.

4. The Brazil national anthem

There’s arguably too much emotion in this World Cup for Brazil. Hosting the tournament for the first time since 1950 and the Maracanazo, there is so much pressure on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men that they must be running out onto the pitch terrified of their own shadows, and it’s hardly a colossal surprise that they aren’t playing terribly well thus far. However, while the excess of emotion might well be harming their chances of getting that 64-year-old monkey off their backs, it’s at least providing the rest of us with quite a spectacle, and no more so than during the national anthem before the first game against Croatia. The Brazilian national anthem (disappointingly called simply “The Brazilian National Anthem”) is a stirring thing on any occasion, but even more so on this occasion, as partly as a protest against whichever FIFA lickspittle decided to limit anthems to 90 seconds, the Brazilian crowd and players completed the second verse of theirs a cappella, chilling the spine of any human being with blood in their body. A quite astonishing moment.


Robin van Persie's flying header versus Spain is one of the several standout moments at the World Cup thus far.
Robin van Persie’s flying header versus Spain is one of the several standout moments at the World Cup thus far.

3. Croatia score, Brazil panics

Not long after that anthem had basically caused an entire planet to “have something in their eye,” things started to go south for Brazil. In the early stages of the game, Croatia attacked down their left with Ivica Olic, who crossed low into the box, looking for Nikica Jelavic, instead finding Marcelo, but it didn’t matter too much that his cross went awry because the Brazilian fullback did the striker’s job and turned it into his own net. At that moment, a nation’s blood ran cold, celebrations stopped, the party was over and 11 men out on the field developed looks on their faces that said “If we don’t win this, we ain’t getting out alive.” Fortunately for Brazil Neymar and some generous officiating saw them through, and everyone sighed with relief, but for a few minutes Brazil panicked, the unacceptable possibility of them losing the first game of their World Cup suddenly becoming very real.

2. Leo Messi scores

The knives were out for Leo Messi after half of Argentina’s opening game against Bosnia-Herzegovina. He looked listless and confused, constantly seeming to make the wrong decision on the ball, dribbling when he should have passed, passing when he should have dribbled, and misplacing most of those passes when he made them. The knock on Messi, spurious though it is, says that he underperforms for the national side, that he’ll be judged alongside Diego Maradona only when he’s won a World Cup on his own, and those 45 minutes looked to be more gunpowder forced into that particular cannon. And then he picked up the ball just inside the Bosnia-Herzegovina half, beat a man, played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain, caused two defenders to careen into one another like a pair of hapless comedy henchmen, and stroked the ball into the bottom corner. Sure, it might’ve taken a slight deflection on its way in, but that’s splitting hairs: this was Messi doing what he does for Barcelona, and we can’t ask for much more than that from this World Cup.

1. Spain 1 Netherlands 5 (Five!)

The Netherlands beating Spain in their opening game was a surprise, if not a shock. This is, after all, a Spain side of which the creative fulcrum is aging, that have probably now passed their peak, and won’t be getting it back in a hurry, and facing a more than decent Dutch side. However, the total and utter dismantling of the defending champions very much was a shock the likes of which the World Cup hasn’t seen in years, and what was all the more astonishing was how easy the Netherlands made it look, especially in the second half when they did most of their damage. There were enough remarkable moments in this game to fill a list on its own, from Arjen Robben embarrassing Sergio Ramos with his pace, to the gaffe by Iker Casillas, to of course that utterly wonderful, absurd and impossible-to-really-define goal from Robin van Persie. Even the celebration to that goal, with Van Persie making a point of rushing over to Louis van Gaal and engaging in a rather inexpert high-five, was a symbol of this Dutch side being different to before — they’re on the same page, they seem to be full of joy and purpose, and perhaps most importantly, they aren’t kicking everyone this time.


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