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The World Cup does not need a lot of time to give fans more than they bargained for.
While this campaign is yet to see drama of Nicolas Anelka proportions, the introduction of VAR, the ravishing Russians and the underwhelming Germans have given onlookers much room for thought as the stage is set for one of the most open campaigns in history.
VAR – Well this ought to be a point of discussion
When it has been called upon so far in the tournament the video assistant has succeeded in rectifying any errors in play. The system was best put into practice when it rightfully awarded Peru a penalty and after removing the Australian lens the decision to award France a penalty ultimately proved to be the right one.
VAR will always be criticised for its consistency.
How England’s Harry Kane was not awarded multiple penalties after being the victim of rugby-like tackles from Tunisian defenders is still astounding.
But on a positive note having VAR could result in defenders thinking twice before they perform various holds in the penalty area during corners and set pieces.
Japan did what they had to given the circumstances.
The Japanese came into the tournament uncharacteristically as one of the great unknowns.
For a side which prides itself on efficiency everything seemed very much up in the air. Especially following Vahid Halilhodzic’s sacking and there were concerns as to whether the newly appointed Akira Nishino had the capability to play defensive football when coming up against much favoured opponents.
But the early dismissal to Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez allowed Japan to channel glimpses of their manager’s aggressive Gamba Osaka outfit which reigned supreme as the best Asian side in the early 2000s.
Any concerns for this Japanese side and the nation’s 50-year football plan were put temporarily put to ease as Japan, despite having an extra man, looked comfortable on the ball and defended the desperate Colombian attack well.
Now to one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history.
Without question there will be millions of Mexican shirts having the name Hirving Lozano printed on the back as the 22-year-old announced himself to the world in his side’s historic victory.
In what was the most open and free-flowing match of the tournament so far, Mexico took the game to the Germans and exploited the holes left by the German midfield and full backs.
Germany’s full back issues were amplified with Marvin Plattenhardt in particular being exploited for drifting too far up the field numerous times.
While Germany dominated the shot count, the result could have easily been further skewed Mexico’s way as the Central Americans caught the Germans napping on more than one occasion and would have added to the tally had
Javier Hernandez has not lost a yard of pace.
Mexico are now in pole position to top the group which throws a massive spanner in the works as it could potentially set up a Round of 16 match featuring Brazil and Germany.
Spain versus Portugal
This was football from the very top shelf.
After having to bare through an insipid Saudi Arabia it was refreshing to see a contest which lived up to its hype.
Spain looked far from rattled and Diego Costa wound back the clock with two goals justifying the faith placed in him to lead the line up front.
The last half hour could be hung in an art gallery.
The Spanish took the lead through Jose ‘Nacho’ Ignacio who has never a ball sweeter and then dictated possession as though Portugal weren’t even there.
But when there’s a Cristiano Ronaldo there’s a way and if there was ever a way to get his country over the line it would be with a stoppage time set piece which not only rescues a point but completes a famous World Cup hat-trick.
Iceland – The nation with just over 300,000 people once again defied the odds, this time against a South American powerhouse led by the best player in the world.
Hannes Halldorsson works as a film director but managed to keep out Lionel Messi with a save which sent shockwaves around the world.
Peru – Denmark may have won the match but Peru one our hearts. The Peruvians left everything on the field in a performance driven by such ardour and emotion which deserved victory but were ultimately left empty handed.
In particular, their midfield.
A team where Julien Draxler is arguably the fourth or fifth best midfielder should be not leave as many holes and allow Mexico to seamlessly waltz through time again.
Sami Khedira has been a general in the middle for Real Madrid and Juventus but was inexistent and Toni Kroos had little to contribute, aside from hitting the crossbar from the set piece, due to being tightly marked by Carlos Vela.
Germany’s full back woes were further amplified which is a major concern considering the very real possibility of a meeting with Brazil in the Round of 16.
The Germans should have no trouble getting out of the group but now rely on Mexico dropping points which based off this opening game is highly unlikely.
For a side which boasts a lot of attacking promise the Nigerian side failed to deliver in their match against Croatia.
Nigerian manager Geront Rohr made a big call in starting 19-year-old Francis Uzoho in goals and the Deportivo number one made decent saves throughout the night despite conceding two.
The side looked a lot more disciplined under Rohr in comparison to previous campaigns especially through Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi but the side failed to test Croatia in the final third.
Alex Iwobi failed to make the impression many hoped he would and despite having recently performed for the national side Odion Ighalo was unable to fire.
While Rohr’s disciplined style might be better suited for the team’s in Nigeria’s group, questions must be raised as to whether this is limiting the players’ attacking creativity.
The Polish superman was met with kryptonite in the form of a Senegalese defence.
Lewandowski came into the tournament on the back of yet another solid season in the Bundesliga as well as scoring 16 goals for Poland in qualifiers.
Albeit for some reason Lewandowski has failed to deliver on the big stage and in such an open group Poland must find a solution very quickly.
The combination of Kamil Grosicki, Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zielinski, who has received similar praise to Kevin De Brunne, failed to support their star striker and amplifies concerns Poland are too reliant on Lewandowski.
Poland face Colombia in their next match in what is make or break for both sides.
The French left-back who made himself known to all Australian football fans, albeit for the wrong reasons.
His exaggeration for free kicks was a disgrace and an embarrassment to the game, considering football is a contact sport to a degree.
Throwing himself to the ground after every aerial duel frustrated the Australian players and fans in what was a very stop-start match with the referee being lured in every time.
The various incidents with Hernandez fortunately do not overshadow what was an entertaining match.
Aaron Mooy and Trent Sainsbury played their best games for Australia and on a night where France’s stars failed to deliver N’Golo Kante stepped up to the plate and successfully shut down Tom Rogic.