World Cup 2014 Review so far, best teams, star players, and pundits

Roy Hodgson closeup 2

Jake Lane rounds-up the action so far from Brazil, and takes a critical look at the presenters and commentators who have disappointed.

Brazil 2014 has without doubt produced the best start to any international tournament we have seen.

Plenty of goals, free-flowing football, sending offs, contentious decisions, goal-line technology (sometimes needless) and of course, vanishing marker spray or 'shaving foam' if you will.

We have now seen all 32 countries perform at this year's World Cup, some twice and some better than others, mentioning no teams in particular... (Nigeria and Iran).

Let's recap on the story so far and assess the performances of not only the players but the presenters and pundits who have been bringing the beautiful game into our living rooms every evening.

So ITV kicked off proceedings and rather disappointingly paid too much attention to the 'anti-football' protests which were happening across the country. While this remains a serious issue, what ITV should have realised, is that viewers were not tuning in to hear about this but instead to watch the festival of football they had been waiting four years for.

It is common knowledge that FIFA and in particular Sepp Blatter do not have too many fans across the world and many viewers would have been hoping that at least one of the doves used in the opening ceremony would have dropped him a little present from the São Paulo skies!

Anyway, back to the football... Fans with OCD would have been blue in the face when the Croatian line-up was announced; starting with a number 11 at right-back and number 2 at left-back. ITV seem to take some serious stick on social media but one positive for them is the fresh new graphic they are using to show the score during the games; got to give them that one at least.

It didn't take long for the first talking point of the tournament; 11 minutes to be precise and it came in the form of a Marcelo own-goal.

Almost inevitably, the script had been torn up and threw out of the window. Quickly taking away the Real Madrid man's embarrassment however, was the ridiculous decision to show the goal again in all its goal-line technology glory. Then out came the vanishing spray; wow, how football has evolved.

To be fair to the Croats, they warranted their lead and continued to play well for the duration of the ninety minutes. In the end though, the script was re-written and thanks to an equaliser by pin-up boy Neymar, a Fred dive and a very good goal from Chelsea's Oscar, catching the 1998 third-placed team on the break, the home fans got their wish and partied into the night.

Next up was Mexico versus Cameroon and how this match only finished 1-0 to the Mexicans was anyone's guess. In fact, anyone who watch the game would have been able to do more than guess how, they would have seen how; step forward, the match officials. A true blinder played by the men in charge of this one, denying Giovani Dos Santos what could have been a day to remember and two goals, but at least they did get the win.

Then it was the World and European Champions turn to step up against none other than David Moyes' (remember him?!) successor, Louis van Gaal's Netherlands.

Like Spain had been, Holland have been under-achievers on the world stage for a number of years (losing three finals in 1974, 78 and last time around in South Africa) and three minutes before the half-hour mark, found themselves one-nil down to a Xabi Alonso penalty after de Vrij had brought down Chelsea-bound Diego Costa.

Here we go again? No chance... An absolute 'worldy' of a header from Robin van Persie after a pass every bit as good as the finish by Daley Blind just before half-time, equalised for the Dutch and ignited one almighty comeback. You won't need reminding of the final score but for those of you who are reading this by accident, the Oranjes (or Blues as they were on the day) won 5-1 and couldn't have deserved it more, making the Spanish look like a pub team at best.

What made the game even better was the fact that it was shown on the Beeb and if you take Phil Neville out of the equation, they really do have the best team.

Back over to ITV with, dare I mention Matt Smith at the helm. How anyone can be more annoying that Tim Cahill's voice says everything and Smith is the one man who makes Adrian Chiles look good. Name any presenter on television and I guarantee they would be able to do a better job than either of these two.

So Chile couldn't really be called one of the dark-horses of the competition because let's face it, they're not going to win it but probably one of 'the best of the rest', and two quick-fire goals early on against the Aussies illustrated this. Mr Australia, Tim Cahill put the Socceroos back in the game out of nowhere ten minutes before the break but Wigan's Jean Beausejour secured all three points for the Chileans in second-half injury time. This game also saw a goal-line technology replay which actually was worth seeing... just.

Colombia also fall into the 'best of the rest' category and gave a professional display against a poor Greek side. It's a cliche to say you can only play what is in front of you and that they did. Three goals saw the Colombians claimed a well-deserved victory and proved they will be a tough nut to crack with the support they have in this part of the world.

One of the performances in Brazil so far has to be that of Costa Rica's against Uruguay. Coming from behind to win a game nobody expected them to by three goals to one deserves more than just a pat on the back! Receiving much of the accolades after this one was Arsenal's Joel Campbell and rightly so. This led to extreme excitement from pretty much every Gooner on social media but they needn't get too excited as he'll only be sent back out on loan again next season...or will he? Nevertheless, a great performance from the 21-year-old.

So on to England. Again, gladly, the The Three Lions' opener was shown on the BBC (even if their graphics of the players they were talking about looked alarmingly like they had actually just walked onto set like a lost member of their backstage team), unlike their next game, a now must-win against Uruguay which will be shown on ITV.

Cutting to the chase, Italy's first goal was poor from an English point of view but a well-worked corner from theirs, Rooney was frustrated on the left but did well to set up Daniel Sturridge for a tidy finish, Raheem Sterling was class but England missed Ashley Cole.

Many believed it was a risk not taking the reliable Chelsea man and even though he hardly played last season, this only meant he would have been fresh. The left-back who was capped no less than 107 times for his country proved he could do more than just a job without having played regularly when he faced Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Semi-Final first leg back in April.

As good as Leighton Baines is, there were times where he seemed scared to travel with the ball or 'get on his bike' when his team were on the attack like he would do while playing for Everton. There were also times where he seemed unsure defensively which played a part in the cross which led to Balotelli's headed winning goal but all this can be put down to nerves and experience and he can learn from this, just like the rest of the team can.

After the game, captain Steven Gerrard said that Italy had found another gear from two years ago but the fact is, they could have found another one or two if they had needed to. As weird as it sounds though, it could well be an 'invaluable' defeat if there is such a thing and to put a more positive spin on things moving forward; the more you are taught, the more you will learn.

For those who decided to stay up into the the early hours of Sunday morning would have seen an Ivory Coast side come from a goal behind (after an absolutely great strike from Keisuke Honda) to beat Japan 2-1 and they never would have got themselves back into the game if their talisman over the years, Didier Drogba hadn't have been brought on. The Elephants had more than enough chances to have the game well and truly sewn up but it truly was the arrival of Drogba which seemed to up his teammate's efforts to say the least.

Before and during ITV's coverage of this game, they must have shown the goals from England's game against the Azzurri at least a thousand times. Talk about annoying. For all the negatives you can throw at ITV though, one simple but effective fact remains, unlike their BBC counterparts, they do not 'boast' Phil Neville. Wow. They do however, have Clarke Carlisle and if those two ever meet...... sorry, fell asleep just thinking about it.

A pretty standard 1-1 draw between the Swiss and Ecuador or so it seemed until the South Americans broke forward in the last seconds of the game and looked set to win it until a perfectly executed tackle by Valon Behrami led to Rodriguez charging down the left to cross low for striker Seferovic to convert at the near post. What a finish!

Enter the French and the best moment by any pundit so far... 

Then the worst by a commentator, Jonathan Pearce hit a new low. Oh dear, oh dear. What a farce. Can not get his head around...well, anything. When is a goal a goal and when is it not? Don't ask him, nor ask him what the goal-line technology replays are trying to show.

Mr Pearce was already one of the most annoying commentators on the box but this was the straw which broke the camel's back for so many people and he was still going on about it during the next game he commentated on. You could just hear Martin Keown getting more and more frustrated with him and almost had to explain to him what was going on like he had never seen a game of football before.

So France comprehensively beat a Honduras side who looked as though they were only out to injure Les Bleus, 3-0 while later on that evening, Argentina looked less than convincing against Bosnia and Herzegovina who made life difficult for host Brazil's arch-rivals. 2-1 it finished but the game will probably be remembered for Lionel Messi's second goal in nine World Cup games; something BBC's Rio Ferdinand was really happy he was there to see and rightly so.

Germany looked good against Portugal but let's not forget Ronaldo's men had Pepe sent off and although I doubt they were going to find a way back into the game after going two goals down to the disciplinarians that are Ze Germans, it may not have been as bad as the 4-0 score it ended up. Thanks Pepe. This game also saw the first hat-trick of the World Cup; well played Thomas Muller, and it had to be him after the part he played in the lead up to the sending off. He may have 'overdone it' a little with his theatrics but at the end of the day, there was only one crazy guy there.

Phil Neville was in the studio as a pundit for the next game and aptly, it was Nigeria versus Iran. Match Report: 0-0.

Ghana. Oh Ghana. Everyone remembers their last game at the World Cup, four years ago in South Africa saw one of the most controversial moments in the history of the tournament. Luis Suarez and all that. Football fans across the world have failed to get over THAT penalty miss by Asamoah Gyan and there was yet more heartache for the Black Stars against the USA.

After going 1-0 down within the first thirty seconds of the match thanks to Clint Dempsey, the Ghanaians equalised with only eight minutes to go and looked as though they were going to go on to find a late winner. Then completely against the run of play, the Americans nicked it at the death with John Brooks heading in from a corner.

One team fancied by many was or is Belgium but they did little to back this up after struggling to a 2-1 win over Algeria. The Belgians had to come from 1-0 down and wait for Manchester United flop Marouane Fellaini to come off the bench and head home the equaliser on 70 minutes before Dries Mertens smashed home the winner ten minutes later.

Before we saw the last two teams to enter the stage, Russia and South Korea, hosts Brazil were back in action against rivals Mexico. As goalless draws go, this wasn't actually too bad and thanks to one man and one man alone - Mexican goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa. An unbelievable performance which will have Europe's best's mouths watering at the thought of signing him; he wants to play in the Champions League apparently...

Talking of 'keepers, it looked as though we were heading for a second snore-draw until Russia's man between the sticks, Igor Akinfeev, decided to fumble a harmless long-range strike from Lee Keun-Ho and gift the South Koreans the lead. His embarrassment lasted all of six minutes (well...) as Russia equalised through Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The game finished 1-1 and really was nothing to write home about. For the second tournament in a row though, Fabio Capello saw his side draw 1-1 in their opener and his goalkeeper make a torrid mistake ( Rob Green anyone?).

Spain's destroyers, Holland were back in action and won a decent game of football 3-2. Australia put up more than double the fight Spain had shown previously and even found themselves 2-1 up after Cahill had equalised in almost Van Basten style before Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak put them ahead from the spot. Van Persie and Memphis Depay soon put things right for the Dutch who then awaited the outcome of Spain versus Chile.

Now as outcomes go, this one was not expected. Surely the Spanish were going to bounce back? A wounded animal and all that. Not this time.

This was not only a case of Del Bosque's men being poor (which they were) but a case of Chile being brilliant from start to finish and they more than just did a job on the reigning champions. Giving Chile credit, the fact that they beat Spain was not a shock, what was however, was that The Spaniards seemed to go down without a fight - passing the ball backwards in the dying stages of the game when you are two goals down is a case in point.

The Chileans first goal was pure class, a passing move engineered down their right-hand-side, finished off nicely by Eduardo Vargas. Their second came courtesy of yet more confidence-lacking from the once dominant Iker Casillas. The Spanish skipper once would have caught an Alexis Sanchez free-kick just before the break but deciding to punch it instead, only highlighted the man's recent struggles.

The ball fell to Charles Aranguiz, who controlled it well and finished with aplomb. Adios Spain! - they become the fifth reigning World Champions to be eliminated at the first stage of the competition after Italy in 1950, Brazil in '66, France in 2002 and Italy again in '06. Again, don't take anything away from or underestimate Chile who could potentially meet England in a Quarter Final...

A four goal thrashing by Croatia over Cameroon rounded up yesterday evening's action. Croatia took the lead after eleven minutes and although they were edging proceedings, neither team really looked like threatening. Then five minutes before half-time, Barcelona substitute, Alex Song was given a straight red after he decided to lash out and punch Mario Mandžukić in the back while attempting to chase down the highly-rated striker.

This took away any hope Cameroon, who were without captain Samuel Eto'o through injury, had of getting back into this one. Croatia ran away 4-0 winners, with Mandžukić having the last laugh, netting twice. Adding to the African's embarrassment, Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto who spent last season on loan at Play-off Winners, Queens Park Rangers, thrusted his head at team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo during an argument in stoppage time. This was missed by the match officials luckily for the pair of them, not that either player would have cared about any punishment to be honest.

So tonight, Colombia take on Costa Rica before the all important one, England versus Uruguay. Then it's Japan against Greece. More of the same please (but with an England win this time)!

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