So this is what it feels like to be 10-years-old. There hasn’t been a better start to a World Cup in my lifetime. It’s like 1982 all over again. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Brasil 2014 will become a truly great World Cup – the knockout stages will determine its ultimate status – but nobody could have hoped for more in the first 10 days.
The reasons why the football has been so good aren’t easily fathomed. However, it is already clear that most teams are prepared to attack and that we’re not living in an age of tactical sophistication or of legendary defenders. Yet, the feeling here is that the pragmatists will eventually win and deny this World Cup the accolade of best ever.
The arch-pragmatists are, of course, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlos Alberto Parreira, strategists and percentage players of the Brazilian national team. This tournament couldn’t be going better for them. Playing without flair, they’ve successfully lowered expectations. But, crucially, they are still doing enough to qualify when all about them are losing their heads. Spain are going home, while Italy and Uruguay are in a knife fight to avoid joining England on the plane. Argentina already look the one-man team some of us thought they were, while Portugal seem hamstrung by injury and suspension. Best of all for Scolari and Parreira, it looks like it’ll be inferiority-stricken Chile who will await them in the second round.
Brazil have been dull during their first two games, but Scolari’s teams usually are – Parreira’s always. Chile, hungry, full of zip and adventure, will likely be bullied – knocked out by a set piece header or two from one of the grocks at the back. It’s all very well having skill, but Chile have nobody in defence over 5 feet 8. It doesn’t augur well.
Argentina’s easy draw and Lionel Messi’s magic have combined to take South America’s other great hope into the last 16 as expected, but they have been generally unimpressive, labouring to wins over modest Bosnia-Herzegovina and disciplined, admirable Iran.
France have begun with a blizzard of goals, but the quality of the opposition they’ve faced so far diminishes the significance of those eight strikes. All we do know is that they are not fighting amongst themselves just yet.
Holland’s win over Spain was astounding in its magnitude, but Spain were shot. The subsequent win over honest Australia was hard-earned. A draw against Chile will surely give them a match against Mexico or Croatia, with the North Americans the better bet. The Dutch will start favourites, but aren’t as good as their second half in Salvador suggested.
Germany have, once again, started like a train, looked the most entertaining side in the tournament, and then struggled against spirited opponents in their second match. For Serbia in 2010, read Ghana last night. Joachim Loew’s mad insistence on playing the best full-back in the world in midfield – where he then proceeded to gift the Ghanaians their second goal – was doubly shown-up by replacement Skohdran Mustafi’s palpable failure to even challenge for the Ghanaian opener. This continued slavish adherence to the dubious methods of Pep Guardiola threatens to do for the Germans before they can get their hands on Scolari’s flawed, but steady, plodders.