Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia
And so dawned a new day… a day full of potential, a day full of promise, a day full of football. Rainbows streaked across the sky, gently arcing downwards like a perfectly pin-pointed pass, and landing in a great big pot full of football. Ahhh… football – despite its current abundance, more valuable than gold. “Really?” I hear you mutter as part of a neat rhetorical device, “Why’s that then?” Well, I’m glad you asked…
Can gold score a scorching free-kick from 25 yards out? No, no it can’t. Can gold comfortably dominate a game despite enjoying less possession than its rival and looking quite handy on the break? Nope, not a chance. Can gold, I ask you, bide its time and wait, with calm assurance, for a chance to come and then take it with clinical poise? No. That’ll be Serbia you’re thinking of.
Their opponents, 2014 quarter finalists Costa Rica, started well enough and had some early chances to make their mark, but I think it’s a fair bet that they won’t be enjoying as long a stay at these finals. It’s a young man’s game, and Costa Rica have precious few of those. Only Johan Venegas, Francisco Calvo and David Guzman were making their World Cup debuts – everyone else was a 2014 veteran. Not that experience isn’t important. Age brings with it level heads, calm composure and intelligence. Having said that, age also brings lower back pain, muscle loss and IBS, so age can sort of fuck off.
Keylor Navas showed all of these (the level head, calm composure and intelligence stuff, I can’t comment on the rest) and couldn’t have done anything about the goal. In any other tournament, Kolarov’s 25-yard belter would have been a clear favourite for free-kick of the tournament, but it’s been an embarrassment of riches so far.
And on that thought, we leave the Samara Arena with its odd metal lid, like an extravagant peep-hole bra cup, and head to Luzhniki Stadium where the champions were getting ready to start their campaign.
Germany 0-1 Mexico
No one could have predicted this. Yes, there’s something of a precedent for defending champions making a less than auspicious start (Italy were held 1-1 by Paraguay in 2010 and Spain were dumped on their arse 5-1 by the Netherlands in 2014), but this was extraordinary.
It didn’t look like a blip, either - it looked an awful lot like a problem. The sort of problem where Joachim Low’s side were simply outplayed. It may be a tired cliché to talk of German efficiency, but that’s exactly how they won in 2014: peerless pass completion, incredible shots on target ratios, tight defending… this was nowhere to be seen as they consistently lost the midfield to a team whose pace they seemed, for the most part, unable to contain.
In short, Germany looked leaky at the back, and not the sort of leaky that can be remedied by cutting back on alcohol and high-fibre foods. The build up to Lozano’s goal didn’t even look to be Mexico's best chance – his second touch seemed to have reduced both his angle and window of opportunity. Mexico could have (and possibly should have) been at least two up by half time. It wasn't all one-way traffic though. At the other end, Kroos struck a lovely free kick, forcing a superb save and proving once and for all that you’ll never get Mexico to pay for building a wall.
The second half was better for Germany, if your definition of ‘better’ is pummelling away for ages with no discernible end product. But that’s not a definition anyone would use, except, perhaps, Jerry Hall. It was immaterial in any case; Mexico defended and clung on as they needed to, Teutonic hearts sank and half of England Googled the German for schadenfreude.
Phew, still, Brazil Switzerland next, eh? What could possibly go wro…
Brazil 1-1 Switzerland
You have GOT to be kidding me... I know the Switzerland are ranked 6th in the world, but those are just made up as soon as you get outside the top five aren’t they? Like Eurovision scores, or high-profile tax returns…
So what happened? I mean other than one team failing to score more goals than the other, obviously. I know it’s late (for me in any case), but I think we can do better than that.
Many have concentrated on Neymar (channeling the haircut of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore for the evening) and the degree to which he was fouled. Extraordinary grooming choices aside, it was snide on the part of the Swiss defence who targeted him – that level of fouling will take the shine off any player, no matter how good they are. On the plus side, this means that Switzerland can now add cynicism to their national traits of neutrality, prompt timekeeping and the hoarding of Nazi gold.
This was Brazil’s first experience of anything other than a win in an opening match since 1978, but that statistic may flatter them a little. The draw means they have now three World Cup games without a win, and the desperation started to show as the shots flew in. Too few of them were on target, however, and none up to the quality of Philippe Coutinho’s strike, but then not much is.
There were suggestions that there had been a push before Steven Zuber’s equaliser, but they were less convincing than Jesus’ claims for a 74th minute penalty. I can’t help but think past form may have played a part as he’s certainly got previous for diving – he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Here though, they should surely have used VAR – it’s what it’s for, after all.
Brazil will feel they could have done better, and it's true, they should.