How's your team doing so far? 32-team World Cup report card
TOP OF THE CLASS
GERMANY – Germany vs Portugal was supposed to be one of the most evenly-matched ties of the opening round, a heavyweight clash of European giants. In the end it drew comparisons with Froch v Groves II – three-time world champions Germany dominated before landing a series of brutal knockout blows in an imperious 4-0 win. The Germans were in total control even before Pepe’s red card, and though the early sending off denied us the chance to fairly assess just how good Joachim Low’s side actually are, they dismantled Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. with ease. Ominous for the rest of the world.
Star man: Thomas Muller
NETHERLANDS – Who saw this one coming? To read some of the pre-match chatter now you’d think Holland were a bunch of chumps led by a know-nothing manager with one eye on Manchester – there just to fanny around, hit the beach, check out Christ the Redeemer and sail back home. Not on your nelly. The Dutch put in the performance of the tournament so far, ripping world champions Spain to shreds in a second half display that will be remembered for years. Louis Van Gaal’s intelligent 5-3-2 carved Spain open and Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben ran riot. Contenders to win it? If they continue to play like this, possibly.
Star men: Arjen Robben, Daley Blind, Robin van Persie
ITALY – Italy seem to come alive in tournament football. Their wealth of experience, tactical know-how and game management nous make them a dangerous opponent. Despite England putting in one of their most enterprising performances in years, Italy bettered their Euro 2012 performance against the same opponents and finished England off inside 90 minutes. Andrea Pirlo – he of the coolest beard in football – put in another pass masterclass, while Antonio Candreva, Daniele De Rossi and Matteo Darmian impressed. On this evidence, Italy are contenders.
Star man: Andrea Pirlo
Bonus points to France for making Jonathan Pearce lose his mind"
FRANCE – Though Honduras are probably the weakest team at this World Cup, you can only beat what’s in front of you. And that France did, in an encouraging display that would have yielded more goals had les Bleus not taken their foot off the pedal to safeguard their limbs. Before the Honduras hack job clicked into full gear, France showed why they’re considered a decent outside tip. A solid defence, wonderfully balanced midfield and potent forward line stands them in good stead. Bonus points too for making Jonathan Pearce lose his mind.
Star man: Karim Benzema
On the naughty step: Paul Pogba – lucky not to see red for a Beckham-esque lash out at Wilson Palacios.
COSTA RICA – The Group D "makeweights" stunned South American champions Uruguay with a brilliant and fully-deserved 3-1 win. Los Ticos played to their strengths: a disciplined, hard-working unit playing in a sturdy 5-3-2 system and relying on set pieces and the prodigious talent of 21-year-old Joel Campbell – who remains on Arsenal’s books. After going a goal down Costa Rica made a stirring comeback and can look to their remaining two games with confidence.
Star man: Joel Campbell
Must do better: Bryan Ruiz
SHOWN GOOD PROGRESS
ENGLAND – It’s a strange paradox, but England won more praise for losing in 90 minutes against Italy in Manaus than they did for drawing with the same opponents 0-0 at Euro 2012. Both games ultimately ended in defeat, but the mood around Roy Hodgson’s team is far more upbeat thanks to this vibrant, fresh generation of young starlets. Indeed the two most disappointing figures in Manaus belong to the old guard: Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard failed to impress, but England can approach the all-important game against Uruguay with their tails up.
Star man: Raheem Sterling
Must do better: Leighton Baines, Steven Gerrard
BELGIUM – If Belgium have one key strength it’s the depth of quality in their squad. This showed in a 2-1 win over Algeria, with Divock Origi, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens all coming on to swing the game – and result – in Belgium’s favour. Not to be underestimated.
Star man: Marouane Fellaini
Must do better: Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli
IVORY COAST – A slow start, a cautious middle, a riveting end. Cote d’Ivoire’s victory hinged on two factors: first, Sabri Lamouchi’s tactical switch to a 4-4-2 at 1-0 down, taking off midfielder Serey Die and introducing a striker. Second, the identity of that striker: the man, the myth, the legendary Didier Drogba. His sheer presence alone seemed to spur the Ivorians on, and Serge Aurier’s brilliant crossing helped them become the only African team to win so far.
Star man: Serge Aurier
Must do better: Salomon Kalou
USA – Finally ended The Ghana Curse in Natal, winning 2-1 with a dramatic late goal against the team that knocked them out of the last two World Cups. Though they laboured at times, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is organised, compact, fiercely committed and hard-working. Beat a Portugal team in disarray in their next game, and USA are all but through. A series of muscle injuries picked up against Ghana will concern the coaching staff, though.
Star men: John Brooks, Jermaine Jones
Must do better: Michael Bradley
IRAN – Before the tournament Carlos Queiroz said his team were like camels who had walked through the desert and planned to enjoy themselves at the World Cup oasis. You wouldn’t know it – Iran worked like never before against Nigeria, securing a valiable and deserved 0-0 in the process. But for Vincent Enyeama, Iran may even have won it. Whipping boys? Not on this evidence.
Star man: Carlos Queiroz, for moulding a solid, committed team.
COLOMBIA – This was almost like a home game for Los Cafeteros, who put in an assured display to see off Greece 3-0. At present Colombia are up there for best kit, best crowd and best goal celebration, Pablo Armero’s shuffle and jive sure to be mimicked in playgrounds from Bogota to Cali. Who needs Falcao?
Star man: James Rodriguez
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA – Bosnia were widely praised on social media after a narrow defeat to Argentina at the Maracana. Few expected Safet Susic’s side, playing at their first World Cup, to do anything but lay down and die against Messi et al. But make no mistake – Bosnia are a decent side and played well. Had Edin Dzeko turned up, they may well have grabbed a point. Qualification looks a real possibility.
Star man: Miralem Pjanic
Must do better: Edin Dzeko
After Spain's defeat, Chile are one of the last teams they'd wish to play"
CHILE – Many people’s dark horse, Chile were rampant in the opening 20 minutes against Australia, storming into a 2-0 lead. It looked like their whirlwind, high-intensity, ultra-attacking approach would overwhelm Australia, but the storm soon eased and a lack of height in defensive situations was brutally exposed by Tim Cahill. After Spain’s surprise defeat, Chile are one of the last teams they would wish to play in a must-win encounter. The last time they met Spain needed a last-minute goal to salvage a draw. A trap game awaits.
Star man: Alexis Sanchez
MEXICO – Laboured to a 1-0 win against a limited Cameroon side before earning a heroic 0-0 draw with Brazil in Fortaleza. Tactically astute, solid defensively and threatening in wide areas, Mexico look good ahead of a decisive game against Croatia. And Ochoa is the new Jorge Campos.
Star men: Hector Herrera, Memo Ochoa
Must do better: Andres Guardado
CROATIA – On- and off-field controversy has overshadowed Croatia’s World Cup campaign so far, but that shouldn’t sidetrack from what was a heartening display against Brazil, even in defeat. Besides, who cares if they want to swim nude? If a penalty that soft was given against us, we’d take a dip butt-naked too.
Star man: Luka Modric
Must do better: Nikica Jelavic
AUSTRALIA – After a dreadful start against Chile Australia showed character, heart and all that other good stuff we attribute to valiant losers in defeat. This is a young side in an eye-wateringly tough group, and Ante Postecoglou’s team did well to rally, before a late goal sealed their fate. Er, just Holland and Spain next, lads…
Star man: Matthew Leckie
Must do better: Tommy Oar
SWITERLAND & ECUADOR – Not much to separate these two after the battle of Brasilia. Switzerland’s perseverance paid off in the end, but if Michael Arroyo had taken his late chance in stoppage time it could have all been oh so different. How the two teams react now in contrasting situations will determine this group’s outcome.
Star men: Ricardo Rodriguez, Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler, Enner Valencia
MUST TRY HARDER
Fred plays with about as much Brazilian flair as his name suggests"
BRAZIL – Roused by an impassioned belt-out of the national anthem, hosts Brazil kicked off the tournament with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Croatia. But despite the setting there was little samba football on show. The Seleçao laboured for long periods, went 1-0 down and needed an opening day gift from Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura to secure three points. This was followed up by a heavy-handed 0-0 draw with Mexico in Foraleza. Worryingly for Brazil, the midfield looks desperately short of creativity and over-reliant on Oscar, while Fred plays with about as much Brazilian flair as his name suggests. Unconvincing.
Star man: Neymar
Must do better: Fred, Paulinho
ARGENTINA – Playing in Brazil’s spiritual football home, the Maracana stadium, Argentina made a wobbly start against Bosnia, shackled by an unsuitable 5-3-2 system. A tactical switch in the second half loosened them up, and Lionel Messi’s first World Cup goal in eight years fired them to a 2-1 victory. Still, a lack of cohesion between Messi and Sergio Aguero and a suspiciously flimsy defence remain concerns. “There are things to be improved on,” admitted Messi.
Star men: Lionel Messi, Fernando Gago
Must do better: Sergio Aguero
CAMEROON – Too negative. Volker Finke’s 4-3-3 formation against Mexico was more of a 6-3-1 for most of the game and Cameroon showed almost no attacking intent, losing 1-0. Samuel Eto’o’s injury only adds to the woes of the Indomitable Lions, who currently look more like Eminently Domitable Cubs. A big turnaround is needed or they’re going home very soon.
Star man: Charles Itandje
Must do better: The whole class – Alex Song in particular
GHANA – After equalising in the 82nd minute against USA, Ghana were in the ascendency, and looked the more likely team to grab a winner. But the Black Stars lacked invention for much of the game and defensive lapses in the first 30 seconds and last five minutes cost them dear. The team’s balance looks wrong. With games against Germany and Portugal to come, Kwesi Appiah’s men face an uphill struggle.
Star man: Kwadwo Asamoah – Ghana must find a way to involve the Juventus man more - he’s their best player by far.
Must do better: Jordan Ayew, John Boye, Adam Kwarasey
JAPAN – Japan were desperately lax against Ivory Coast - surprising given their usually diligent, quick-witted style, not to mention the fact they took the lead. Pundits back home have criticised Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, and captain Makoto Hasebe also hinted at latent discontent with the tactical approach. Concerning.
Must try harder: Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki
Greece could be heading home faster than you can say 'Why is Samaras playing at left wing?'”
GREECE – A poor performance, murmurs of discontent behind the scenes, criticisms of the team’s playing style (or lack of) – it’s not going too well for Greece right now. Having been well beaten by Colombia, they need a performance in their next game, against Japan in Natal, or they’ll be heading home faster than you can say “why is Samaras playing at left wing?”
Must try harder: The whole class
ALGERIA – Showed good defensive organisation but little going forward, and seemed only too happy to sit back against Belgium and cling to what they had. Will need more against Russia and South Korea if they’re to qualify.
Star man: Rais M’Bohli
Must do better: Ryad Mahrez
RUSSA & SOUTH KOREA – Played out a low-quality 1-1 draw that showed both teams’ limitations. An open group provides reason for optimism, but based on the evidence of their first game distinct improvements are needed if either team is to go far.
See me after class: Igor Akinfeev
STAY FOR DETENTION
SPAIN – A disaster. “World humiliation” screamed one Spanish sports daily after the champions were thrashed 5-1 against Holland. Vicente Del Bosque’s team were carved open like Copacabana coconuts by a rampant Dutch side, and are one slip up away from doing an Italy 2010 and crashing out early as holders. Xavi and Iker Casillas took much of the blame but in truth it was a collective failure. The most experienced team in the tournament just looked, well, rather stale. A place on the naughty step for Spain.
See me after class: Gerard Pique, Xavi, Iker Casillas.
NIGERIA – In the first 0-0 draw of the tournament and arguably the most boring game so far, the Super Eagles found new ways to disappoint their fans against Iran, putting together a performance that seemed clueless at times. Yes, Iran parked the bus, but rather than try and knock it down Nigeria seemed content just to walk around it and admire the artwork. “We were lacking inspiration,” admitted Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi post-match, as the west Africans’ World Cup winless streak extended to nine games.
See me after class: John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa, Emmanuel Emenike
Totally outclassed in Salvador, Portugal looked hapless"
PORTUGAL – After desperate, confidence-shattering performance that could destroy them mentally ahead of a difficult test against a highly-motivated USA team, Portugal are in trouble. A 4-0 thrashing against Germany was bad enough; the manner of it was even worse. Totally outclassed in Salvador, Portugal looked hapless. To add injury to insult, Fabio Coentrao will miss the rest of the competition with a thigh tear and Pepe, who remains a nutcase, will be suspended against USA.
See me after class: Pepe, Nani, Rui Patricio
HONDURAS – Has anyone told Honduras this is a football tournament and not a UFC jamboree?
See me after class: Wilson Palacios
URUGUAY – One of the shocks of the tournament so far, Uruguay were expected to dispatch Costa Rica comfortably, but a creaking defence and unimaginative midfield leaves them with all to play for against England after losing 3-1. Uruguay lack pace in defence, Diego Lugano is no longer cut out for this level and Luis Suarez’s bite in attack was sorely missed. England can approach this one with confidence.
See me after class: Arevalo Rios, Maxi Pereira, Diego Forlan