Ten things we have learned from the World Cup so far

GOLDEN GOAL: Robin van Persie's headed goal against Spain was one of the moments of the World Cup so far

GOLDEN GOAL: Robin van Persie's headed goal against Spain was one of the moments of the World Cup so far

First published in Sport
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

Attacking football is holding sway


The Northern Echo:

In South Africa in 2010, there were 25 goals scored in the entire opening round of World Cup group matches. Four years on, and we’ve already seen 37 in just 11 games.

Pretty much every side so far has adopted an attacking philosophy, with the vast majority of managers setting up their midfield to take the game to the opposition rather than sit and protect the defence.

Most of the star attackers have hit the ground running – Neymar, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, Karim Benzema – with a dearth of top-class defenders also contributing to the openness of the action so far.

This is a very un-Brazilian Brazil

Neymar and Oscar had their moments as the hosts beat Croatia in their opening game, but this is a Brazil side that prioritises organisation and work rate over individual flair.

That might make them less exciting to watch than some of their celebrated predecessors, but it arguably makes them much more likely to be lifting the World Cup trophy above their heads come the middle of next month.

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Thiago Silva and David Luiz make a formidable centre-half pairing, while Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho form a reliable shield at the base of midfield. It’s hard to think of a better balanced side so far.

Robin van Persie has rediscovered his mojo

Dispirited and disinterested under David Moyes, Robin van Persie looks a completely different player now that he is working for Holland boss Louis van Gaal.

His diving header against Spain was the goal of the tournament so far, while his predatory finish for Holland’s fourth goal smacked of a striker bristling with confidence and energy.

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Along with Arjen Robben, he will be crucial to Holland’s hopes of making an impact in the knockout stage, and with van Gaal heading to Old Trafford, he looks set to spearhead a Manchester United revival next season.

Iker Casillas is an accident waiting to happen


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He was shaky during the Champions League final, but just about got away with it despite contributing to Diego Godin’s headed opener for Atletico Madrid.

There was no reprieve for Iker Casillas last Friday though, as his hesitancy and obvious lack of confidence proved a major factor in Spain’s capitulation against the Dutch.

The shambolic concession of Robin van Persie’s second goal led to mounting calls for Casillas to be dropped, but a subsequent injury to David De Gea means the Real Madrid veteran is likely to remain in the side for Spain’s crucial second game against Chile tomorrow.

Colombia can overcome the absence of Radamel Falcao


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Touted as potential dark horses in the build-up to the tournament, it was widely felt that Colombia’s chance had disappeared when star striker, Radamel Falcao, failed to recover from a knee ligament injury sustained in January.

Falcao was never the only goalscorer in the Colombian squad though, and both Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez impressed as Greece were contemptuously brushed aside on Saturday.

Neither Jackson Martinez, who has scored 44 goals in 56 games for Porto, or Carlos Bacca, whose goals helped fire Sevilla to the Europa League title last season, can get in the starting line-up, underlining Colombia’s enduring threat despite Falcao’s absence.

Wayne Rooney is not a left midfielder


The Northern Echo:

Another major tournament; another fevered discussion about what England should do with Wayne Rooney. Whatever Roy Hodgson comes up with for Thursday’s game against Uruguay, it should not involve Rooney playing in front of Leighton Baines on the left.

Throughout his England career, Rooney has failed to adhere to positional instructions, preferring instead to wander wherever the mood takes him despite the potential negative effects on the rest of the team.

If Rooney is in the starting line-up in two days time, it has to be in a central role behind Daniel Sturridge. Otherwise, it is time to bite the bullet and drop him to the bench.

Red cards look like being at a premium


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Maxi Pereira saw red in the closing stages of Uruguay’s defeat to Costa Rica, while Wilson Palacios was dismissed in Sunday’s ill-tempered game between Honduras and France, but on the whole, referees have been extremely reluctant to reach for their cards.

Palacios might well have gone before he did after a clash with Paul Pogba that should probably have seen both players dismissed, while some of the tackles in the Uruguay game in particular would have received much harsher treatment had they been made in the Premier League.

In previous tournaments, there has been a flurry of red cards in the group stage. This time around, leniency appears to have been the FIFA directive.

Goalline technology works – and so does a spray can


The Northern Echo:

Jonathan Pearce might have been completely flustered during his BBC commentary – not for the first time, it must be said – but the introduction of goalline technology to the World Cup setting proved a huge success as France beat Honduras on Sunday.

While Karim Benzema’s initial header might have hit the post, the ball crossed the line after rebounding off goalkeeper Noel Valladares, and within a couple of seconds, referee Sandro Ricci was correctly signalling for a goal.

The technology involved in giving the officials a spray can to mark out a ten-yard distance from free-kicks is rather more rudimentary, but it too has proved a successful development in Brazil.

This tournament could be Messi’s crowning glory


The Northern Echo:

Argentina’s leading light wasn’t at his mesmeric best in his side’s 2-1 win over Bosnia, but scoring a memorable individual goal in the Maracana isn’t exactly a bad way to kick off the tournament.

There has been so much hype surrounding Lionel Messi that it has been easy to forget the all-round strength of the Argentinian team, not least in defence where Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez look a formidable pairing.

Ultimately though, if the Argentinians are to win the World Cup on Brazilian soil, you suspect Messi will be their star. One game in, and he’s already up and running.

A European side could win in South America


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It hasn’t happened before, and in the build up to the tournament, plenty of people were confidently predicting that once again, conditions would make it impossible for a European side to triumph in South America.

That might still be the case, but from the outside looking in, the Brazilian environment doesn’t look too daunting for European sides. Manaus might be stifling, but there has been plenty of rain to cool things down and the coastal venues in particular appear reasonably temperate.

Holland, Switzerland, France and Italy all won in the opening four days, and while two of those were playing against European opponents, the South American climate does not appear as hostile as envisaged.

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