World Cup Round One: The Verdict
By Ed Leahy
Six days of World Cup games allowed us to watch all 32 teams in action at the Brazil World Cup. Some started slowly while others hit the ground running. Here's our first impressions of all 32 teams from the best to the worst on show.
1 Germany Performance of the first round goes to Joachim Low’s side as they dismantled Portugal in their 4-0 victory. Germany dominated every aspect of this game and some fine performances were evident throughout the midfield and attack. Thomas Muller stole the show with a World Cup hat-trick and was also instrumental as Portugal were reduced to ten men.
Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and Mats Hummels also looked to be in fine form, while Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were others to impress in a very solid-looking Germany XI.
2 Netherlands Four years on from a World Cup final defeat to their opponents in the opening game, it was no surprise that the Dutch looked a little tentative in the opening stages of their clash with Spain. And when they went behind, we all feared for Van Gaal's side.
Step forward Robin Van Persie. The Dutch striker's goal lit up the tournament, invigorated his team-mates and knocked the Spanish off kilter. The second half was a masterclass and they went on the rampage finishing with a 5-1 hammering of the World Cup and European champions. That result will instill huge belief for the remainder of the tournament.
3 France The 1998 winners have flown under the radar in the World Cup build-up but Didier Deschamps is another coach who has put the good of the squad ahead of the individual talent available.
France look like a well-drilled outfit with quality throughout the starting XI as well as plenty of options to spring off the bench. Hard to judge against a team like Honduras but the French patience paid off, as did the quality of Karim Benzema. Antoine Griezmann and Yohan Cabaye impressed with their range and accuracy of passing, while they enjoyed a stroke of luck that Paul Pogba was spared a red card early in the game.
4 Colombia Coming into the tournament without their star player Radamel Falcao, many feared for Colombia’s chances of making it through the group stages. But the South American side appeared inspired as they took care of Greece and should now go through to the knock-out stages.
They will likely play Ivory Coast to see who wins the group and there is no reason why Colombia should fear the Africans. Three different players scored their goals, which will breed confidence throughout and they have also performed the best goal celebration so far.
5 Italy A very composed performance by the Azzurri to open their campaign with a victory, and it looks as though the coach has built a squad that can progress through the group and perhaps a bit further.
Italy dealt with a decent attacking England side and used possession well with that man Andrea Pirlo, as usual, pulling the strings. Balotelli’s performance shows the quality of Cesare Prandelli, getting the most out of the controversial striker.
6 Argentina Another of the tournament favourites to struggle in their opening encounter, Argentina’s first-half performance was borderline terrible and they were fortuitous to take an early lead thanks to a third-minute own goal. The coach must take responsibility for the opening 45 minutes naming a defensive formation that left a huge gap between, what was essetinally a back six and a front four.
The coach must also get credit for changing things around in the second half but don’t let Lionel Messi’s wonder goal cloud your judgement about their overall chances. A much better performance is needed for all future games and the South Americans are lucky to be in such a weak group that they can iron out a lot of problems in upcoming games with Iran and Nigeria.
7 Brazil – Showed glimpses of what they are capable of and top man Neymar, at least, looks like he has brought some form into the tournament. Some favourable official decisions helped them open with a hard-earned victory over a decent Croatia side. Capable of much better and need to step up a gear to justify their favourites tag.
Main striker is still a problem as Fred was non-existent in the opening game, while Hulk was another passenger for most of the game. Frailties evident in defence and midfielders appeared too cautious dropping way too deep to pick up the ball.
8 Belgium There was so much hype about Belgium coming into the tournament that it obviously had an effect on the players and they failed to show up in the first 45 minutes with Algeria taking a deserved lead.
A much better second half performance and a few tactical changes by coach Marc Wilmots, which included the introduction of Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini reaped dividends as they fought back to win with the subs grabbing the two goals. That victory should springboard Belgium to better performances and go on and win their group.
9 Croatia A tough task to open their campaign against the tournament favourites in their own back yard but the European side equipped themselves very well throughout and were rewarded for their early endeavours and positivity by opening the scoring.
A very dubious penalty handed Brazil the victory and the last-minute goal flattered the hosts. Croatia also had to play without Mario Mandzukic. A fine midfield with Luka Modric and new Barcelona recruit Ivan Rakitic impressing.
10 Mexico There is no one more confident in Mexico’s ability that their coach who is predicting a quarter-final place and based on their opening performance, they certainly have a chance of getting out of the group.
Giovani Dos Santos saw two fine goals wiped from his slate thanks to some dodgy decisions and Mexico were almost held to a draw but thankfully main striker Oribe Peralta grabbed the all-important and deserved winner.
11 Chile Failed to live up to their pre-tournament hype but still got the job done with two early goals within two minutes of each other. A serious threat going forward but are going to leak many goals such is the way they play.
Looked lost at sea once Australia scored and did well to hang on for the victory. We’ll put it down to early-tournament anxiety but the South Americans will have to improve for their games against Spain and the Dutch. Will still fancy their chance of progressing. Not sure if I do anymore.
12 Ivory Coast Looked to be strolling through their opening game until Japan scored against the run of play and then the Elephants were shown up, as despite all their possession, they were not causing problems or penetrating.
That all changed with the introduction of talisman Didier Drogba and they got the goals they needed to secure the three points. Will need more cohesive performances to guarantee a last-16 place.
13 Costa Rica The unfancied team of Group C, Costa Rica showed that they have the quality to beat sides considered better than them and it was no fluke that they beat Uruguay. In fact, they proved to be the better side and that showed when they took the lead as they then went on and scored a third.
Joel Campbell is proving to be one of the stars to watch and their keeper Keylor Navas is a great man to have between the sticks. Can they replicate that form against England and Italy. Why not?
14 Switzerland The Group E top seeds were very slow to get going and gave away a sloppy goal from a set-piece, which handed them an uphill task early on in their opening game.
It was a poor game with neither the Swiss nor opponents Ecuador impressing but the Europeans put in a better shift in the second half and their attitude cannot be faulted as they went the length of the pitch in the last minute to grab a winner.
15 Spain The world champions looked to ease themselves into the tournament and appeared to be doing a good job until the Robin van Persie wondergoal on the stroke of half-time. That goal knocked the Spanish off kilter and they never showed up in the second half.
Big questions to ask the coach now about the keeper, while the centre-half partnership of Pique and Ramos looked suspect and must improve. Diego Costa may be scapegoated for the next game as Spain look to get their rhythm back.
16 Ghana Possibly the best display from an African side in the opening round, Ghana were undone in the final moments by the USA as they lost 2-1.
But Ghana were the better team and showed lots of what they are capable of, especially down the right wing with Christian Atsu impressing and the hard-working Asamoah Gyan also working well up front. Ghana are up against it now and face Germany in their next game. And they most likely need something out of that game to have a chance of progressing.
17 Bosnia-Herzegovina The Balkan side’s World Cup debut couldn’t have got off to a worse start as young defender Sead Kolasinac bundled the ball into his own net after three minutes. But what followed was a very impressive and composed performace against one of the tournament favourites with midfield players Miralem Pjanic, Senad Lulic and Zvjezdan Misimovic all proving their quality.
Star striker Edin Dzeko failed to get going and if he had shown some form, the World Cup newbies could have grabbed a share of the spoils or perhaps more.
18 South Korea Started slowly against Russia but gradually got the better of their opponents and bossed the possession for the majority of the match. Russia frustrated the Korean side as they sat so deep, restricting them to long-range efforts. Possibly missing a bit of quality that was needed to unlock the Russia defence and got a huge slice of luck with their goal, but Korea will approach the next two games with the same enthusiam and energy and will be confident of taking the runners-up spot.
19 USA Grabbed a fortunate victory in their opening game against Ghana and will be looking to do something similar against Portugal in their next game. A point against Portugal might be enough to get them through to the next stage and they will surely set up in a defensive formation.
Portugal will be looking to bounce back and it will be interesting to see how much that 4-0 defeat affects Ronaldo & Co. Could the weakest team in the group sneak through to the last 16?
20 England Second best in their opening clash with Italy but a lot of positives to be taken out of the performance, especially with their attacking play.
Raheem Sterling justified his selection with a composed performance, however, the Wayne Rooney positional choice was odd, while there are just as many negatives as positives with other players, captain Steven Gerrard included, failing to impress.
21 Russia A real let down for their first World Cup appearance and nothing like the fast-paced, attacking Russia that have turned up at the major tournaments over the past ten years. Fabio Capello's influence has had a very negative impact as they sat very deep against Korea getting every player behind the ball to stifle the attack, while their best player Alan Dzagoev was left on the bench. Korea were allowed to shoot from everywhere and eventually keeper Igor Akinfeev handed them a goal, flapping at the ball and conceding a goal. Only then did Russia start to play something resembling attacking football. Need to be much more ambitious if they want to advance.
22 Portugal All eyes were on Cristiano Ronaldo but it was his Real Madrid club-mate Pepe who stole all the headlines, unfortunately for Portugal it was for all the wrong reasons.
Pepe stuck the head on Thomas Muller and was rightly sent off and ended this game as a contest, with Germany already 2-0 up and cruising. Portugal showed some fight in the second half but will need to improve to progress. USA and Ghana will both provide tough opposition and it will be a tough fight between the three to progress with Germany.
23 Japan Very slow to get going in their game against Ivory Coast but took their chance and grabbed a superb lead through Keisuke Honda.
Both full backs added a fine attacking dimension to the Japan side but there is a lack of quality through the XI and it was no surprise that they could not hold on to the lead. Shinji Kagawa failed to impress in their opener and will need to step up if they are to have any chance of progressing.
24 Ecuador The South Americans grabbed an early lead in their clash with Switzerland but could not build on it and never looked like they had the quality to really hurt the opposition.
Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia was meant to lead by example but proved to be anonymous throughout. Jefferson Montero was their best player but ran out of steam.
25 Australia – A much better side than their FIFA rankings (there’s a surprise) as they put in a fine performance in their opening encounter.
Very slow out of the blocks and the two Chile goals almost killed them but they showed great spirit with former Toffee Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano inspiring the new breed to step it up on the biggest stage. The Aussies won’t make it through but this experience will be invaluable for the next World Cup. Well done the coach for his attention to youth.
26 Algeria Hit the ground running in their opening encounter with Belgium and grabbed the first-half lead against one of the tournament favourites.
Some quality players on show including goalscorer Sofiane Feghouli and a great team spirit and work ethic will bring Algeria close to qualifying for the knock-out phases but should ultimately come up just short.
27 Uruguay Another team to let themselves down in the opening encounter and failed to push on once they took the lead from the penalty spot.
For a team that is built on defence, their inability to deal with balls into the box proved their downfall. Never looked like getting back ahead once Costa Rica equalised and didn’t have the fight or the talent to fight back when The Ricas took the lead. Maximiliano Pereira's nasty kick, which earned him a red card looked like the Uruguay of old and summed up their night. Attacking options are plentiful but that is no use if they cannot create. Luis Suarez should play in the next game but is it too late for Uruguay to get their campaign back on track. Will probably have to beat England and Italy to progress. Unlikely.
28 Iran They set out to spoil in their opening encounter and that’s exactly what they did as they held Nigeria to a scoreless draw to earn a point.
A neat and tidy side and very hard working, Iran will look to do the same against Bosnia-Herzegovina and hope that they can snatch a goal on the counter-attack. A draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina could see them go through with two points should Argentina take maximum points.
29 Greece Renowned for their defensive qualities, Greece were well beaten by Colombia and showed that they will struggle when they go behind in a game as they lack the creativity to punish a quality side.
Greece will need to play with a bit less caution in their remaining two games and will have to beat Ivory Coast to progress to the group stages. This team probably don’t have the quality to do that.
30 Nigeria Guilty for sabotaging the very exciting start to the World Cup, Nigeria and Iran played out a shocker of a scoreless draw.
Nigeria enjoyed lots of possession but for all their time on the ball, they could do little with it. Victor Moses was one of the most guilty parties as he had a habit of running down blind allies or taking the ball out of play. Shola Ameobi added a bit of quality when he came off the bench but Nigeria will need to play much better when they face Bosnia-Herzegovina.
31 Cameroon Hopefully there is better to come from the African side as their performance against Mexico was one of the worst in the opening round of games.
Samuel Eto’o looked like their only chance of scoring, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto was the only other to play well.
32 Honduras Very little to offer to this tournament, Honduras looked second best throughout their game with France.
They did well to frustrate the opposition but once they conceded, they had no plan be to get back into the game – apart from getting stuck in. Even in this weak group, Honduras are unlikely to manage even a point.